Film Review: Bad Moms 2 (2017)

BAD MOMS was a smash hit comedy of 2016. It cost US $20 million to make and took an impressive US $183 million at the box office. With numbers like those, a follow-up was always on the cards, however the fact the original debuted in July 2016 and the sequel was released at the end of October 2017, suggests a swiftly made production. On a first watch, it appears the screenplay was the area that could have done with some more time and attention. (The movie is known as BAD MOMS 2 in Australia and A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS in others.)

The set up is the contrived idea that unexpectedly, the Bad Moms are visited by their own moms this Christmas, 2017. Apparently none of the moms were expecting a “visit from grandma”. This is supposed to indicate the essential dysfunction between the Bad Moms and their moms. The believability of the mother-daughter match-up is good with Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Isis (Susan Sarandon) and even more so with Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Sandy (Cheryl Hines). The idea of Mila Kunis being the offspring of Ruth (Christine Baranski) and Hank (Peter Gallagher) requires some suspension of disbelief.

The centre of the story is that the Bad Moms feel overloaded by the responsibility to organise, shop, buy, cook and gift-wrap the perfect Christmas. Then mix in the difficulties of their mother-daughter relationships and stand back for the laughs. Christine Baranski’s Ruth is a perfectionist. Cheryl Hines’ character wants to be too close to her daughter. The Sarandon character seems barely to be in the life of Carla and her son. All three of these family set-ups is tested and the results are some pretty funny scenes, some averagely amusing ones and some acceptably heart-felt hits of emotion.

The original BAD MOMS was a tight-piece of work from co-writers and co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. It was a crude, smart and consistently hilarious movie with top comedic talent in unexpectedly funny situations. There are some mis-steps in the sequel leading to some flat moments. Even within the over-the-top world created by Moore and Lucas, some of their story decisions are poor on this outing. The Amy and Ruth Christmas struggle, which is given the most screen time, is not that believable. What sells it is Kunis and Baranski’s acting talents. They are funny and eventually touching in their connection and you care about what happens to these two. More often than not, the performance skills of this very talented cast is what makes this watchable even when what is happening is not on-point. Having said this, all the scenes with Carla and her potential stripper boyfriend Ty Swindle (Justin Hartley) are great.

So if you’re a fan of the first movie, prepare for the Yuletide onslaught of the Bad Moms and their own learning-to-be-better moms. It’s a level down from the last offering, but if you know that and you knock back a little Christmas egg-nog first, then chances are you’ll (yule) be entertained.

USA | 104 minutes (6/10)

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Film Review: Three Summers (2017)

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The Westival is an annual music festival that attracts great players and enthusiastic folk-loving audiences to a small town in Western Australia. The story begins when Keevey (Rebecca Breeds), a Western Australian fiddler and singer in her father’s Irish band, crosses paths with Roland (Robert Sheehan) an actual Irishman with no interest whatsoever in the folk music of his homeland. He instructs extremely small audiences on that classic electronic instrument, the theremin. Both Keevey and Roland find the other a rather trying person, but in the way of the movies, each also sees something attractive in the other person. And so, begins their comedic and problematic romance, stretching over three Summers.

The film returns to the Westival in all three Summers and so we see how some people have changed and others have remained exactly-the-same. The head of the Aboriginal Dance troupe played by Kelton Pell and the leader of the Morris Dancers, played by Michael Caton don’t see eye-to-eye and have regular run-ins. There is also a quartet of empty-nesters who do the Westival annually; an-all woman rock band called Feminasty; even a group of asylum seekers with a song about their lives and current situation. On stage and in the audience, there are people with stories to tell and live through. Overseeing all of this is radio host Queenie (Magda Szubanski). She is passionate about music and the festival and does her best to publicise all aspects of the event, even when it means broadcasting arguments between rival musicians.

Writer director Ben Elton is well-known as an English stand-up comedian who came to prominence in the 1980s with his energetic act, laced with political content. He also co-wrote BLACKADDER and THE YOUNG ONES, two of the funniest British sitcoms of the era which were highly influential on all the TV comedy that followed. He has since gone on to write plays, musical plays, more television and novels. He is much awarded and quite the cultural icon. His connection to the wide brown land is through marriage. He has managed to live in Australia and raise a family here and to maintain his UK profile and career. Which is how this famous English talent comes to make a feature film in Australia that has characters, actors, themes and a soundtrack reflecting our island home.

Breeds and Sheehan are lovely to watch as the romantic leads. Magda Szubanski is a necessary binding force to a disparate and diverse cast; Pell and Caton have fun in their sparring roles; John Waters is always excellent at seeming like a man with an agenda beyond the friendly exterior he projects. There is an extensive list of players who have quick hits of scenes and amusing moments woven into the fabric of the Westival; fans of Deborah Mailman, Peter Rowsthorn, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier should keep an eye out for their appearances.

THREE SUMMERS is a film about people and situations that Western Australians will recognise immediately. Other audiences, not from the here, will still have the music, comedy, performances and romance to enjoy.

Australia | 102 minutes (6/10)

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Film Review: Breathe (2017)

Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield as Diana and Robin Cavendish

Robin is married to Diana. The Cavendishes are English and live in Kenya. It is 1958 and his business is coffee. The couple live a good life and have made solid friendships. Then tragedy strikes and Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracts a severe, debilitating disease. He is 28. Diana (Claire Foy) is 25. He lives, but his condition is so devastating that he sinks into depression. Diana wonders how their life together is going to work, especially as she is expecting their first child.

BREATHE takes the story of a life-changing disease and documents how it affected an English family for the next three decades. In these years, the 1960s to the 1990s, the world changed greatly in its medical thinking. Robin’s initial disease left him severely physically disabled and as the movie shows, for others with his condition, this meant a life of virtual imprisonment in hospitals, hooked-up to machines. This thinking was dominant in the medical profession, led by a desire to be efficient in the treatment of these patients, however for many, like Robin, this meant an existence that was utterly devoid of the things that make life worth living.

Diana is determined to be Robin’s carer. She works hard to create the circumstances that will improve his days and they have the support of a network of friends. The challenges are daunting, but every hurdle successfully cleared means that others can benefit from the knowledge and experience the Cavendishes gain.

BREATHE is a drama and a romance. At times, it has rather chocolate-boxy visuals but the reality of a broken human body is not completely glossed over. The relationship of Diana and Robin is shown as supportive and happy in the main, but also as ordinary and chafing at other times. Once again, reality is not completely glossed over. Diana and Robin are amazing people, but in the end remain recognizable as suffering and struggling human beings.

Andy Serkis, the actor you know from his motion-captured triumphs (Caesar in the Planet of the Apesmovies and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. Actors who direct almost always know how to get the best from their fellow thesps and here Garfield and Foy create an engaging and believable Robin and Diana.

Some of the timeline and actual medical history presented seems quite loose, but the inspiration is what BREATHE is built for, rather than a documentary-style tale. I didn’t necessarily accept all the events as wholly accurate, however I was entertained and ultimately moved by the portrayal of these lives.

UK |  118 minutes (8/10)

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Film Review: Argo (2012)

The Iranian Hostage Crisis dominated news in the western world in 1979. The militants who occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage committed an act that was particularly newsworthy because it was unprecedented. The concept of embassies works only because everyone agrees to treat them as off-limits in a conflict.

The students and activists who took over the US Embassy in the name of the Iranian revolution were angry at the US for supporting the rule of the former leader of Iran, the Shah. The Shah was in the United States for medical reasons and Iran wanted him back to stand trial. The crisis continued for 444 days. There was a botched attempt at a military rescue and in the end the matter was settled through diplomatic negotiation. Six members of the US Embassy staff escaped capture and hid in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. Eventually, an unusual plan was devised to get them out of Iran. It was decided that Tony Mendez, a CIA operative, would enter the country posing as a Hollywood movie producer scouting locations for a (fictitious) science fantasy film called “Argo”. Later he was to exit the country through the airport with the six embassy staff posing as members of the movie’s crew.

This true story was declassified from CIA files in the late 1990s and is well-known among espionage and political geeks. Actor-director Ben Affleck has used these facts as the basis of his third outing as a feature film director. Another famous hyphenate, actor-director George Clooney, produced ARGO and Affleck’s film shares the kind of solidity and non-flashiness of the movies that Clooney has developed.

A lot of care has been lavished on period details. The sense that hair, wardrobe and props are spot-on is reinforced by the clever side-by-side shot comparisons that run through the end credits. We are allowed to see pictures of the actual participants alongside pictures of the actors who play them. The storming of the US Embassy gates is compared with the recreated footage. The filmmakers are obviously and justly proud of the work that has gone into this.

There are some who have criticised Affleck and writer Chris Terrios’ interpretation of the events of the hostage crisis. There are plenty of moments that one can describe as “Hollywoodised” if one wants to play the part of Captain Suckfun. Suffice to say, history buffs will not be best pleased by the dramatisation of the final moments in the airport. The last quarter of the film, which covers the journey through the airport in Tehran, is very tense indeed. At the screening I attended, the people I spoke with, all agreed that knuckles were whitened and stomachs churned by the dramatic intensity of this end section.The audience is gripped by the fear that somehow airport customs, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will see through the ruse of the phoney movie crew.

The movie is all plot with almost no charcaterisation to speak of. This would be a negative for many films, but here it barely matters. It isn’t necessary for us to have a deeper understanding of the participants. Having said this, I think Affleck erred in casting himself as CIA man Mendez. His performance is under done and I would lay the blame on self-direction.

ARGO begins with an elegant summation of the events that lead to the crisis and proceeds to engage the audience for the next two hours. This is well-made, middlebrow entertainment for adults who want a little more than gunplay and explosions on a Saturday night.

USA | 120 minutes | (3/5)

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TV Review: Narcos Season 3

NARCOS returns to Netflix on September 1st. Season 3 of this ground-breaking series is new territory in more ways than one. Seasons 1 and 2 covered the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The demise of Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel means its chief competitor, the Cali cartel, is now the leading manufacturer and importer of cocaine in the world. They become responsible for 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.

Escobar’s rise to power provided cover for the growth and evolution of the Cali cartel. The Medellin operation was Escobar’s brainchild and relied on the fear he generated. He was a flexible general who could make major changes on a whim. The Cali operation is far more sophisticated and has embedded itself in local government and police through a complex system of bribery.

The Cali Cartel is run by a quartet; the Rodriguez brothers Gilberto (Damian Alcazar) and Miguel (Francisco Denis) and Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann). Viewers became acquainted with these characters in season 2 as their operation clashed with the Medellin cartel. They later help to bring down Escobar by paying the deadly Los Pepes vigilantes. The fourth player Chepe (Pepe Rapazote) is new to Narcos watchers and runs the New York end of the operation.

Season 3 is marked by numerous changes in the large cast of characters. DEA agent Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) has returned to the United States and Agent Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) becomes the series narrator. Peña is in the uncomfortable position of being considered a hero for his role in Escobar’s takedown and for having become too connected to the activities of the Los Pepes vigilantes. In the fight against Cali, he is promoted and has to navigate a difficult course through new personalities and politics.

There are two new DEA agents Feistl (Michael Stahl-David) and Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan) who have plenty to learn about how to do their business in Colombia. A player to look for on the Cali side is Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela). He is head of security. He created the network of telecommunications, wire-taps and human spies that keep the cartel fully apprised with what’s going on in Cali. Jorge finds his job complicated by having to deal with one of his bosses’ sons, the volatile and arrogant David Rodriguez (Broad City fans will recognise him as Arturo Castro who plays Jaimé).

Season 3 is necessarily a resetting of the audience expectations. Although Escobar is gone, the drug war remains. There are different battles to be fought, different alliances formed. We have to learn what the so-called “Gentlemen of Cali” are about; what makes these characters tick? The writers and producers take their time to unfold their narrative and by episode 4, we have a detailed appreciation of this dark and dangerous new crime world.

Season 4 has already been green-lit and there is some indication that the series will eventually follow the cocaine trade into Mexico. It is conceivable that Narcos could become a show with scope like television’s The Wire or the ground-breaking Italian Mafia series La Pivora. Fans of Narcos can be confident that this new batch of episodes-ten in all-is as dramatic and compelling as those of the first two seasons.

Narcos 3 is available on Netflix from September 1. (8/10)

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Film Review: The Boss (2016)

THE BOSS is the latest Melissa McCarthy vehicle. She plays Michelle Darnell, a powerful mogul who markets the attainment of wealth with a glitzy Tony Robbins style seminar. These are arena-sized events for ordinary folks who want to make it big like their idol.  Michelle’s public persona is not subtle. She is a success-driven, A-type personality, who is also a narcissist that expects to be the centre of everyone’s attention.  She has made enemies, in particular a man called Renault (Peter Dinklage). It is a clash with him that results in her being sent to white-collar prison for insider trading. (Not a spoiler, folks, this is in the movie’s set-up).

When she emerges from prison, Michelle Darnell is penniless and friendless. No one wants to do business with an ex-con. Her circumstances are so reduced that she looks for help from the only person who will take her calls, her long-suffering former personal assistant Claire (Kristen Bell). As in any any decent redemption movie, Michelle hatches a plan to get back on top. Hers involves the equivalent of using Claire’s daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, but don’t get overly excited fans of Shelly Long and/or the 1980s, TROOP BEVERLY HILLS this ain’t.

Melissa McCarthy is having her cultural moment right now. Since her breakthrough part in the Paul Feig directed BRIDESMAIDS (2011), she has been money-in-the-bank for producers and studios. THE HEAT (2013) and last year’s hit comedy SPY (also with Feig) have taken in US $200 million plus, each, internationally. Even her lesser-regarded comedies like IDENTITY THIEF (2013) have done brisk business at the box office.

Most audiences find her flat-out funny. I have liked her work since she played Sookie in the Gilmore Girls (2000-07). She was justly Emmy nominated for her three guest starring appearances on Saturday Night Live.  Mike and Molly (2010-16) is a far funnier series thanks to her. Whether she is playing someone down-to-earth and relatable or one of her crazed grotesques, she has a knack for making you laugh hard or feel a character’s vulnerability.

The downside of the film is its story. Michelle Darnell is actually a terrible character, who says and does some awful things. The movie needed much tighter writing and direction to make this the equal of McCarthy’s best work. She co-wrote along with the movie’s director (and her real life husband) Ben Falcone.  It must be said that this outing is an improvement on their last movie project, TAMMY (2014). That was critically drubbed and still made a mint.

McCarthy plays Darnell with her usual sharp comedic skills and excellent timing and this is what saves THE BOSS. The physical slapstick and the verbal gags will entertain fans of her work, yet again. She is ably supported by Kristen Bell. Tyler Labine is winning as Bell’s slightly unlikely love interest. Peter Dinklage is funny as Darnell’s arch-nemesis Renault.

USA  | 99 minutes | (5/10)

This review first appeared on (16/04/2016)

Film Review: Where to Invade Next (2015)

Michael Moore the filmmaker and political activist is back with a new feature, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Moore’s fictional premise is that he has been approached by America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to work out why their nation hasn’t won a war since WW2. He takes it upon himself to travel across the world “invading” countries and “stealing” their best ideas to take them back the US. In practice, he visits a number of predominately European nations to investigate the way their employment, health care and education systems work, to name but three blockbuster societal arrangements. He suggests those darned Europeans are getting better productivity and happiness with their revolutionary ideas. All of which swims against the powerful notions of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny; if one believes in the American Dream, how can any other nation possibly have better ideas than the greatest nation on Earth?

This is exactly where Moore is a provocateur and irritant to many of his fellow Americans. The questions he poses are unsettling. More than anything, his leftist populism is a direct criticism of Wall Street and all the politicians who do the bidding of corporate America. He has held this position since his breakthrough movie ROGER & ME (1989) in which he questioned the economic and social effects of automobile plant closures on his hometown, Flint, Michigan.  His subsequent television work, TV Nation (1994) and The Awful Truth (1999) was in a similar vein and it could be argued this work was the radioactive spider bite that led to the political satire of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, This Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is being touted as somewhat of a comeback for Moore. He is definitely more optimistic here as he searches for answers to America’s problems. His award winning features BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002) and FARHENHEIT 9/11 (2004) are darker and angrier films. Which isn’t to say Moore’s new movie doesn’t examine some of the darker parts of US history, but generally the tone is upbeat and comedic.

Moore seems to be doing his own Bernie Sanders act. In continuing to be who he is, it appears his political ideas are now attractive to many in the post Global Financial Crisis/Occupy generation. If you are the sort of person who believes there is a 1% who own all the wealth and are destroying democracy, then you will probably get behind Moore and his worldview. I will surprise no one by observing this is not a film for political conservatives and will go against everything you hold dear. Although I am largely in agreement with Moore’s argument that we should strive to create a more equal society, his omissions and manipulations are glaringly obvious at times. Even the most pro-Moore viewer will wonder about the one-sidedly rosy picture he paints of some of the nations he “invades”.

The film clocks in at whopping two hours. Television would be a better platform for a project of this length, however Moore obviously knows what works best for him economically. The movie is thought-provoking and although it is aimed specifically at the USA, our own nation is often influenced by American systems. In asking how some of these ideas would work in the American context, we can also ask the same of our own country. (6/10)

This review first appeared in (14/04/2016)

Clouds in my Coffee

I visit my local cafe regularly. For the purposes of this post I shall call it Cafe Proximity. This place is ridiculously near by. How close is it? I occasionally think of walking to the slightly more distant cafe to give my pedometer something to do. But I don’t. The nearer java-slinger plays a steady stream of Generation X hits like Spandau Ballet’s “True” and (perhaps as a result) it is less busy and more in need of my custom. The farther joint, which I will now dub Espresso Hipster, is going gangbusters. It is populated by young mums who have just fast-walked the entire suburb and parked their strollers three deep on the footpath outside. I can’t be dealing with their kind of vigorous energy on a Sunday morning, nor do I wish to be the only person on the premises not wearing yoga pants. So I slump in a Cafe Proximity plastic chair and listen to the likes of Cold Chisel and Carly Simon whilst waiting for a small latte that will be delivered with a complimentary Tiny Teddy clinging to the lid.

As youse know, we’re all about the coffee now. This was not always the case in this continent of Australis. I come from an era when “coffee” meant a nice cup of instant; a Nescafe Blend 43 or its equivalent. As my friend Ed likes to point out, back when we were students, Nescafe was the gold standard for instant and we only bought it when we were in funds, so mostly we drank International Roast. If we were really strapped for cash, we drank “Pablo”. It was a signal moment, somewhere in the early ’90s, when we all moved in unison to drinking the rather pricier Moccona Medium Roast. Suddenly, this was the instant of choice and none of the lesser coffees were acceptable.

Shortly thereafter, the mainstreaming of “real coffee” commenced, although proto-hipsters had been slugging back espressos, short blacks and long maccs for decades. Or to put it another way, the neo-beats, the pre-slackers, the black-clad caffeine cognoscenti, had long purchased their drop from the Italian Australians who brought decent coffee to Oz in the first place. In their restaurants, cafes, continental stores and homes, these Mediterranean folk knew a Moka pot from a Sunbeam ceramic kettle jug.

So we, as a country, skilled up a couple of notches. We learnt to drink flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes. This was deemed “not the done thing” by those in the know. Posers, recently returned from their first tour of the northern hemisphere, explained how these capps etc. were too milky and this is not how they did it in Rome. The changes were coming thick and fast. Chain store coffee arrived and we tried imitating how they did it in America and we got that wrong, too. We joked about ordering a “tall” or a “venti” or a half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, because we saw Steve Martin do it in LA Story.

You see, if the Americans or the Europeans are into it, whatever it is, be it tiramisu, planking or the First World War, we Aussies gotta be part of that action. Which is why we loved it when American movie star George Clooney started shilling go juice in capsules for European food giant Nestlé. The timing was excellent, we had decided a daily store-bought coffee was pricey and we needed a cheaper alternative. The Nespresso machine filled the Nespresso-shaped hole in our hearts.

We in the Wide Brown Land are now perched at the rim of the third millennium of our triumphant Western Civilisation. We’re free to enjoy our coffees in a myriad of ways, including served up chilled in a carton made from liquid paperboard. We’ve never had it so good, people. Any day now, we shall be sitting in our solar-powered, driverless car, taking an Instagram of our drone-delivered, 3D printed, lupin-infused, artisinal, drip-brewed chai-puccino. And in the foam on top, sprinkled in finely milled Ethiopian Teff grain, these words: “I am one of those who think that humanity will draw more good, than evil, from new discoveries – Marie Curie.”

Content Sponge #9

Welcome to Content Sponge, my capsulet reviews of things, usually televisual, but occasionally textual. For the foreseeable future, this semi-regular feature will be an imageless affair, as will this blog. Reason being that I am now super-mature and have no need for the frippery of illustrative pictures. Join me in the theatre of the mind, people!

I watched the following recently, all on Netflix or Stan. Through luck, not design, they are all comedies.


US stand up Maria Bamford is sometimes described as a comedians’ comedian, which is one way of saying “not mainstream”. For years she has been doing stand up which is quite unlike anyone else’s. Her ability to switch between different character voices has been parlayed into numerous animation gigs. In her act, she is prepared to strip down a character into a series of sounds and partial phrases as if to say, don’t be fooled by the appearance of a coherent narrative, we are all moments away from falling to pieces.

Underpinning her sonic presentation is the topic of mental illness. Bamford’s own struggles means she has plenty to say about our perceptions of mental health and sanity. Her new Netflix show is divided into three times zones related to the Bamford character break down (before, recovery, aftermath). This is roughly autobiographical and has been touched upon in The Maria Bamford Show web series (2009) and her video download comedy special The Special Special Special! (2012).

The producers of the Netflix show are Mitchell Hurwitz (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) and Pam Brady (SOUTH PARK)  and they have created a determinedly unformulaic comedy that probably would not be made outside of subscriber television. The meat of the story is Bamford’s fictionalised journey through show business as her manager, Bruce Ben-Bacharach (Fred Melamed) secures her terrible gig after terrible gig. We also see her family relationship and love life. The fourth wall is frequently broken, there are surreal story tangents and characters that may be the product of Maria’s mind.

There is a solid supporting cast that includes Ana Gasteyer, Dean Cain, Mo Collins Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley Junior. The excellent guest-cast of stand ups and comic actors includes Patton Oswalt, Wendie Malick, Missi Pyle, John Mulaney and June Diane Raphael. Maria Bamford fans are likely to enjoy the show. For everyone else, this is a quite different comedy about a comedian. It is nothing like LOUIE (2010-) or GARFUNKEL AND OATES (2014). Watch a couple if these and see what you think.


Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s sitcom returns. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is a young woman who was an unwilling member of a Doomsday Cult. She was kidnapped and trapped in a bunker with three other women by an evil but charismatic preacher, the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm). Season 1 was about Kimmy’s release from the bunker, moving to New York and then confronting the Reverend in a televised court case back home in Durnsville, Indiana.

Season 2 is necessarily less focused on a main narrative thread. Kimmy has gained a new sense of her own identity, lost a boyfriend and is looking for her mother. She is also looking for different work now her former employer and (sort of) friend Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski) has left New York. Her roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess) finds a boyfriend and their landlady Lillian (Carol Kane) fights the gentrification of their area. Hipsters beware.

The diffuseness of this new narrative blunted the overall feel of Season 2 for me. The story felt somewhat forced at times and so I enjoyed the series a little less. Having said that, series regulars Kemper, Krakowski, Kane and Burgess are in absolutely cracking form. As with later seasons of Fey’s 30 ROCK (2006-13), the gags are layered, the pace is blistering and the pop cultural referencing is intense.


The premise for this show is rather high concept. Grace, the retired cosmetics mogul (Jane Fonda) and a hippy artist, Frankie (Lily Tomlin) discover their 40 year marriages to their husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Wasterston) are a sham. The men are partners in a law firm and have been secretly in love with each other for years. Season 1 begins with Robert and Sol divorcing Frankie and Grace. The men move in together and so do the women. This is far from ideal for Frankie and Grace because they can barely tolerate each other.

By the beginning of Season 2, Grace and Frankie have a workable friendship, although it still has rocky patches. As in the first season, this comedy-drama cleverly explores family dynamics, addiction, gender, identity politics, class and ageing. Tomlin and Fonda are consistently great. They had their characters nailed from season one. Waterston and Sheen seem more settled in their roles and are given more drama in their storyline this season. The fact that the four grown-up kids of the two marriages are basically supporting roles, yet have defined story arcs, is a tribute to the depth of the writing and producing talent. The performers, Ethan Embry, Brooklyn Decker and Baron Vaughn are solid, week in and week out. June Diane Raphael plays the daughter who now heads Grace’s cosmetic empire and is frequently the MVP of the offspring quartet. The show has been renewed for a third season.


Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins of PARKS AND RECREATION) stars as hard working veteran LAPD cop Angie Tribeca. The show is the creation of Steve Carrell and Nancy Walls Carrell. It is not a police sitcom like BROOKLYN NINE-NINE (2013-2016), but a parody of police procedurals. It is nothing at all like Paul Scheer’s NTSF: SD: SUV:: (2011-2013) which tackles the action film genre as well as CSI type cop shows (and also starred June Diane Raphael). ANGIE TRIBECA is a parody of older style television police dramas like TJ HOOKER and POLICEWOMAN.

It takes its literalist sight gags and puns from POLICE SQUAD! (1982) and flips the cop partner dynamic from SLEDGE HAMMER! (1986-88). The female cop, Tribeca, is the tough go-getter prepared to break the rules, the male cop (played by Hayes MacArthur) is the sensible, cautious one. His character is named Jay Geils like J.Geils of the J. Geils band. Much of the humor operates at this old-fashioned Mad Magazine level.

Rashida Jones is an unusual choice for the lead. In PARKS and the US version of THE OFFICE she played grounded characters, the comic foil, the feed for the big laugh getters (most often Amy Poehler or Aubrey Plaza). Jones takes a while to find her feet with this new character. The show as a whole begins to click about half way through the season. Or maybe I had tuned into their vibe. Not sure.

I enjoyed this but didn’t find it compelling, precisely because I remember those older parodies. I feel the best audience for ANGIE TRIBECA is anyone who hasn’t seen POLICE SQUAD! Or SLEDGE HAMMER! Season 2 is screening now on STAN.

Film Review: Eye in the Sky (2015)

USA/UK 102 minutes/4 stars

A joint Anglo-American military operation is about to take place. A terrorist group has gathered in a compound, in a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya. The plan is to capture and question the group. The targets are surveilled from on high with a sophisticated drone that has a missile payload on board. On the ground, there are agents with cameras and listening devices. This profusion of electronic eyes and ears on the Nairobi house helps to link together team leader Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) in Surrey with a British government and military panel in London and to US Air Force drone pilots in Nevada. It is these last two, Watts (Aaron Paul) and Gershon (Phoebe Fox) who are charged with the actual responsibility for any kills that might result if an engagement takes place. If a missile is fired, then Watts will be the one to hit the button.

The operation looks set to change as a result of intelligence uncovered by one of the agents on the ground. Jama Farah (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ Barkad Abdi) uses some nifty snooping devices to uncover the unexpected range of weaponry inside the house. The terrorists have even greater lethal capacity than they had imagined. The international team considers whether the objective should now be firing the missile and killing the terrorists.

This begins a complex process of dealing with this question by “referring up” the chain of command. The civil, military, political and ethical points are argued in the United States, Britain and in Kenya by various individuals fighting for their competing agendas. If they attack the house now they have the element of surprise and will likely succeed in killing some significant terrorists. However, in doing so they will cause much collateral damage that will likely result in the deaths innocent civilians. Time is also a pressure because the terrorists are preparing to leave their compound.

The question at hand: How many people is it reasonable to accidentally kill now, in order to save the lives of potential terrorism victims later? And are you prepared to live with consequences?

South African filmmaker Gavin Hood (2013’s ENDER’S GAME) uses his home country to double for Kenya in this British thriller. The film has an international feel that reflects the cast and the choice of location. The audience is given a rare insight into the process of co-operation across borders in order to prosecute the War on Terror. Any idea of the drones providing detachment from the act of killing is soon lost. The film makes it clear that there are some circumstances where having a chain of command and numerous others to share responsibility will not absolve you of your ethical duties to others, nor your moral duty to yourself.

Hood’s film has some solid performances, including one of the late Alan Rickman’s last cinematic outings. It is a think piece with emotional weight. While the diplomats, soldiers and politicians argue on screen, we think about what we might do in the same position. What would we do if the responsibility were ours?

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