TV Review: Treme (2010-2013)

Original Run: April 11th, 2010 – December 29th, 2013
Created by: David Simon, Eric Overmyer
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various, theme by John Boutté
Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Chris Coy, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, David Morse, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Jon Seda, Steve Zahn, Kermit Ruffins

Blown Deadline Productions, Warner Bros., HBO, 36 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

For my 100th TV review on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria), I wanted to dip into the well and pull out an old review for one of my favortie shows of all-time. Something that I felt was completely underappreciated and overlooked by most.

*Written in 2015.

I may need to re-order my countdown of HBO shows (from an older blog), as after re-watching Treme and in its entirety for the first time, I would rank it among the top five HBO shows of all-time.

Created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, the great minds behind HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, this show takes us to New Orleans months after Hurricane Katrina and shows us in intimate detail how the people of that ravaged city rebuilt their town, their homes, their businesses and their lives.

Starting out in a place of despair in a city full of corruption and ignored by the world outside, Treme triumphs in that it displays an unrelenting human spirit, focusing on the underlying morality of many of the characters and teaching the important lessons of appreciating what you have, holding on to what’s dear to you and to always strive for the right things in life. The characters in this show hit the hardest times of their lives but find ways to persevere and triumph. Treme in it’s three and a half seasons has more heart, soul and more morality than shows that have been on for years longer. It is a bright positive light in a medium overrun with negativity and darkness.

The ensemble cast is perfect. From Steve Zahn to Khandi Alexander to Kim Dickens to Wendell Pierce to John Goodman to Rob Brown to Melissa Leo to David Morse to Lucia Micarelli to the amazing Clarke Peters and multiple fantastic cameos by New Orleans jazz legend Kermit Ruffins, there isn’t a character that you don’t fall in love with. I know that I am missing some people but each character has such a dynamic story that truly evolves over the course of the three and a half seasons this show was on. Not a single character is boring or useless. None of them get lost in the shuffle. It is a well-balanced television series that maintained its focus and quality – doing every character and every plot thread justice.

The element that brings everything together so well is the emphasis on representing New Orleans culture in its full glory. The music, the art, the food, the language and the parties are all there. The sense of community and love for they neighbor is there. Everything that truly is New Orleans is embraced on this show and it is the most accurate portrayal I have ever seen of the city and its people, who are usually portrayed as backdrops to action flicks or voodoo horror movies.

Treme is one of those shows, now having seen it in its complete form, that I will probably re-watch almost annually. There aren’t a lot of episodes and it can be binge watched in a week or two. And if you love New Orleans, this show will always deliver that feeling you get when wandering Frenchman Street at night looking for amazing music, amazing food and a great experience.

Also, it is streaming on Amazon Prime. So if you have a Prime account, you can watch this show in its entirety.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The Wire and the Spike Lee HBO documentaries about New Orleans: When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts and If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.

Film Review: Reality Bites (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Helen Childress
Music by: Karl Wallinger
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, David Spade (uncredited), Anthony Robbins (uncredited), Jeanne Tripplehorn (uncredited)

Jersey Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.” – Troy Dyer

This was a coming of age movie that I loved when it came out back in 1994. Watching it nearly a quarter of a century later, I hate most of these characters and just see them as the typical “I’m such a cool counterculture ’90s slacker” type. But the reality is, I watched this film about struggling twentysomethings before I was even twenty. Now, being in my thirties and having survived my twenties, it has a very different effect on me now.

All the philosophical rantings are just nonsense. However, what I may have thought were good points when I was an angsty teenager (but I laugh at now) can’t simply be dismissed as shitty dialogue. If anything, this film is a product of ’90s Generation X culture. It certainly isn’t an inaccurate portrayal of it. These ideas, these philosophies and the living hypocrisy of those who espoused it was real. It’s what a big portion of that generation felt and how they saw the world, as they entered it as adults with a very different point-of-view than their Baby Boomer parents.

If anything, this film serves as a real time capsule to the ’90s. And really, are these young people different than those of other generations?

Everything I’m saying isn’t really criticism, it’s just my understanding of these things now. Sure, every young person thought Ethan Hawke was cool in this movie and Winona Ryder was sort of this elven looking ’90s girl next door that everyone was crushing on hard. However, seen outside of twentysomething eyes, they’re not likable characters. They’re selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and complete hypocrites. I couldn’t find myself cheering for them to make it as a couple. In my thirties, I found that I was more interested in Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn’s characters, as they actually had more interesting stories, seemed more grounded and were infinitely more likable. I knew that they would turn out okay.

Going back and seeing the things I wrote or put on social media when I was in my twenties is always a cringe worthy experience. So I can’t imagine what these characters would think now, looking back at the documentary Ryder’s Lelaina was creating out of their lives. I hope they all evolved well beyond where they were at this point in their lives.

Primarily, the point of this film is to show what it is like for Gen Xers to be leaving college and trying to make it in the real world. Yeah, it’s tough out there, we all get that if we’ve lived through it without uber rich parents. But that is where I can relate to the film. And also because these were people that weren’t too dissimilar from my friends at the same age. Those who I am still friends with evolved and grew into better people. Those I am no longer friends with stayed the same and still rant on about the same crap that neither makes them cool anymore and just makes them come off as poorly aged turds.

But I still like this movie. I like it because it actually is accurate… scarily accurate. Ben Stiller did a good job behind the camera, especially since he had to split his time with acting duties in this as well. But it is kind of sad to relive life through the experiences of these fictitious characters, now realizing that we were all full of shit.

We had high hopes, all this optimism, we thought we’d change the world and fix the wrongs of our parents generation. However, our parents thought the same thing and so did their parents. “Down with consumerism!” “Hey, let’s order Domino’s!” “Don’t be a fucking sellout, man!” “Hey, some major network wants to buy my show!” And in the end, the world is the same. Maybe a bit worse, actually.

This is definitely more of an analysis of this film’s philosophies and characters and less of an actual review but whatever. I can write what I want because I’m not selling my soul to some corporate sponsored publisher that murders whales and dumps crude oil on the heads of Third World infants, maaan!

Someone pointed out to me that the script was written by a 19 year-old girl. Of course it was. Granted, props to her 19 year-old self (who would be in her forties now) for accomplishing such a feat. Seriously. It’s a film that felt truly authentic. It sadly just shows you that young people mostly suck because life hasn’t made them better yet.

I kind of think Troy just stayed a total starving artist douchebag though. And despite the “happy” ending, he probably still sneaked out the next morning.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: SinglesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: SubUrbia (1996)

Release Date: October 11th, 1996 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Eric Bogosian
Based on: the SubUrbia play by Eric Bogosian
Music by: Sonic Youth
Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Parker Posey, Dina Spybey, Samia Shoaib, William Martin

Castle Rock Entertainment, Detour Filmproduction, Sony Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“At least I admit that I don’t know. I know that things are fucked up, beyond belief, and I have nothing original to say about it…” – Jeff

SubUrbia was the fourth picture by Richard Linklater and it is a sort of spiritual successor to his films Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It features many of the same stylistic elements and narrative tropes. It is also set in suburban Texas (and filmed in Austin) like those previous films.

While being a comedy, initially, the humor is very dark and the serious tones push this more towards being a drama, as the film rolls on. It follows the lives of a handful of twenty-something friends, stuck and complacent in their lives, talking about their big plans and their next move but ultimately wasting their time on the planet: drinking and moping around a convenience store parking lot. When one of their high school buddies, who became a pop star, returns home to visit his friends, relationships are tested and the group begins to implode.

SubUrbia feels both like Slacker and Dazed and Confused. It has the visual tone and style of Slacker but is more cohesive and follows a group of young people trying to figure out their futures like Dazed and Confused.

It is also the most serious and darkest of Linklater’s early pictures. While the harshness of the film makes it feel more realistic and authentic, compared to his lighthearted earlier pictures, it also doesn’t resonate as well. SubUrbia feels like kids I knew when I was that age but mostly kids I didn’t want to hang out with. Sure, I had some shitty and annoying friends but none of these characters are all that likable, except for the girl with major substance abuse issues. Steve Zahn, who I’ve always liked, was a guy I just wanted to punch.

Granted, the acting is damn superb. Each of these shitty kids was believable and they owned their parts. Besides, it isn’t a movie where you’re supposed to like anyone, it’s just a reflection of what lower middle class suburban youth were like in the mid-90s, stuck in a time between grunge music and boy bands. A time when the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t yet a mainstream social tool. Being close to this age, around the same time, makes it a film I can relate to.

Giovanni Ribisi showed that he was one of the best actors of his generation and the fact that he never became the star many people thought he would be, is pretty baffling. Nicky Katt, who plays the aggressive asshole of the group (and an aggressive asshole in Dazed and Confused) was dynamite. While he is barely in Dazed, he showed something real in that film and it is cool seeing him sort of expand on that role for SubUrbia. Amie Carey played and interesting character and she was one of the ones I nearly liked. Surprisingly, she hasn’t done much acting outside of this. Also, Parker Posey is in this and I enjoy her in just about everything.

The big standout for me though, was Ajay Naidu, most widely known as Samir from Office Space. His frustration with these shitty kids connects with the audience. The violence brought against him by the characters was sad. The fact that he genuinely wanted to see a few of them do something with their lives just added a lot of emotional weight to the tragedy of this story. As much as I enjoy Naidu in Office Space, this is really his greatest role that I have come across.

SubUrbia gets so real that it becomes uncomfortable. Fans of Dazed and Confused that want to check this out will probably be caught off guard by it, I was. It is a very different movie, even if it does cover some of the same territory. But where Dazed and Confused left you feeling really optimistic, SubUrbia is the stark contrast to that.

I liked SubUrbia, quite a lot, but it isn’t the sort of film you will want to re-watch on a rainy day like its endearing predecessor.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Release Date: July 10th, 2017 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

Chernin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“I did not start this war. But I will finish it.” – Caesar

I’ll be honest, I’ve never disliked a Planet of the Apes movie. Yes, I even found enjoyment in the Tim Burton one with Mark Wahlberg from almost two decades ago. The current series of films has also been pretty spectacular. I wouldn’t expect this one to be any different, especially after reading the great reviews and seeing how excited the fans were after checking it out. I’m a bit late with this review, as I was in Las Vegas for work all of last week, but I made this a priority once getting back to my normal schedule.

War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. Nowadays, I try not to build up expectations in my head, before seeing a film, due to countless times where I have been massively disappointed. Truthfully, this picture exceeds whatever I could have anticipated.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the plot. Based off of the marketing, it seemed like it would be more of the same from the previous film but realistically, this is its own story and differs greatly from any Apes picture before it. It isn’t just all out war between apes and man, it is a story of one ape’s quest for justice against a lone man who just happens to lead an army. In a lot of ways, this plays more like a gritty spaghetti western than any other film genre.

I’m glad that the trailer didn’t really give the gist of the story away and it focused on the big action sequences. Granted, that is what gets asses in seats for summer blockbusters. It is just refreshing to see a film come out and still have some surprises and tricks up its sleeve without the trailer spoiling the whole thing.

One of the film’s many great aspects that I was really impressed with was the score. It was a real throwback to a time when films had powerful music and distinct themes. Blockbusters today have pretty generic and canned music that just doesn’t resonate or capture the imagination like the big films of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, you can probably remember the theme for Superman or Batman from that era but I bet you can’t even think of what Iron Man or Captain America’s themes sound like. Hell, do they even have distinct themes? The score done by Michael Giacchino for this film is astounding and it really encapsulated the spaghetti western vibe of the picture while still maintaining a consistency with the scores of the previous two Apes films. It did stick out like a sore thumb at times but that is due to how unbelievably good it was. It carried an instantaneous realization of just how mundane modern film scores are, which is only to show how powerful, meaningful and magnificent this film’s music is.

Additionally, the cinematography is utterly breathtaking. The huge shots of landscapes and wilderness are majestic. The snowy forests create a totally different tone as the film progresses and it sets it apart visually, from the previous two chapters in this Apes series. The film is cold and bleak but there is always that glimmer of hope, as if spring is just around the corner.

The CGI effects are some of the best I have ever seen. Where just a few years ago, CGI characters still didn’t fully look real and it could be a bit of a distraction, you never question the authenticity of what your seeing on screen. In fact, the apes in this picture are at the forefront more so than the previous two movies that relied on a bigger human element to propel the story forward.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect end to this series of three films. It truly creates a three act trilogy that is powerful, moving and the best overall iteration of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Sure, the original 1968 movie is a classic but its sequels never quite lived up to it. With this series, each film progressively gets better. Granted, the door is left open for more movies but a fourth one will most likely have a clean slate after the events of this chapter.

This film, more than any other, really adds more credibility to the argument that the Academy Awards need to start recognizing the acting performances of those playing digital characters. Andy Serkis never disappoints and from an acting standpoint, this film is the greatest thing he has ever done and this statement comes from a guy who adored his role as Gollum form The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the entire franchise. The original was damn good and still holds up incredibly well but this new picture is truly exceptional. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score, the plot: all of it is as close to perfect as you can get in a film with so many fast moving parts. It has more emotional weight than any of the eight Apes pictures before it and it embodies the entire spirit of the series.

At this point in the year, War for the Planet of the Apes may be 2017’s best motion picture. And honestly, 2017 is panning out to be a much better year for film than I had anticipated or hoped for.

Rating: 9/10