First impressions: "Grimm"

Grimm is every bit as good as I hoped it would be.
Its basic premise is that fairytales are retellings of events that really happened. That werewolves, witches and the like are not simply the product of people’s overactive and fearful imaginations but real, dangerous and capable of causing great harm. In essence, they are cautionary tales, warning a vulnerable humanity to beware of the magical creatures that mean us great harm.
This is precisely why the Grimm brothers, some two centuries ago, collected all these stories together, and published them in written form. Previously they had been handed down via word-of-mouth recountings over camp fires but now a mass audience could reads them, and appreciate the stories anew. 
Standard history has it that the Grimm brothers were German academics and linguists, and quite close in age, desiring nothing more than bringing the collected folk wisdom of a continent into one easily accessible volume. Grimm, however, argues that they began a secretive dynasty that has stretched from the 18th century to the present day, dedicated to keeping humanity safe from those “things that go bump (and howl, and screech) in the night”.
The protagonist of the series, Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli, above) is happily in love with his fiancee-to-be, Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch), blissfully unaware that he is the heir to this most unusual if family lines. Working as a police detective, he has his hands full with the worst of what he thinks the world has to offer when his Aunt Marie turns up unexpectedly. In one short conversation, before they are attacked by a scythe-wielding Reaper assassin (whose day job is as an accountant showing the show does have a subtle but highly welcome sense of humour and isn’t all intense darkness and light), she makes him aware of his true heritage.
It’s news of course that sends him reeling, but it does make sense of the fact that he keeps seeing people of the street, who to all intents and purposes are human, momentarily display the most monstrous of forms. What he finds out from Aunt Marie before the Reaper’s attacks leaves her in a come in hospital is that those nightmarish flickers he is seeing are actually the creatures’ true forms and that as a Grimm, he is burdened with not only seeing them but stopping them doing great harm.
And it is a burden as his Aunt Marie, who raised him after his parents were killed (he thought they had been killed in a car accident), makes very clear. Of course as he processes earth-saking news like this, his first concerns are for those close to him, and whether it is possible to escape his destiny. He discovers that his destiny is set when he encounters, and to his astonishment, befriends a reformed werewolf (or a Blutbad), Eddie Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) who confirms that Nick is indeed a Grimm, that his calling is real, and that the creatures in fairytales are as real as the earth beneath his feet. Hell, he is now friends, and allies with one!
Still, grappling with his new role in life, he is called into a case with his partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) where a female university’s body, clad in a red hoodie, is found torn to shreds just off a jogging trail. No one can work out what attacked her since the only tracks are those of a heavy hiking boot. But it soon becomes clear to Nick that his police work and his newly-discovered calling are merging into one as the culprit appears to be a denizen of the shady world of creatures previously considered by him to be myth and make believe.
Suffice to say, the case bears eerie parallels to Little Red Riding Hood, and when a little girl, also wearing a red jacket disappears, Nick realises his life will never be the same again. 
Nor I suspect will my viewing schedule. This was a sterling pilot episode. In short order, it introduced the characters, gave us a sense of what life means to them and what they mean to each other, and then upends it tautly and with great drama, while somehow inserting a case to be solved into the mix. It’s writing of the highest order, and like any good pilot, hooked me in, wanting more. Much more. This is a show that is riding the current mania for magical realism, but doing it on its own unique and highly imaginative terms. 
For a show about the supernatural, it does a more than credible job of injecting raw human emotion into the mix and the characters and relationships are given just as much time as the fantastical elements (or not so fantastical if you take the Grimm premise that they are as real as anything else we encounter in our lives) which bodes for the show. There is no point making a show about otherworldly creatures, and those who traverse the breach between their world and ours, if the everyday elements of the show are missing in action. There is ultimately nothing of any substance to relate to, and however beguiling the concept, viewers will desert the show fairly quickly.
Happily, Grimm avoids this trap, and does it with verve and sparking imagination. It is as wonderful as the three minute trailer last year gave me hope it would be, and I cannot wait to immerse in a world that is both as real, and as unreal, as any I have ever seen.

Drive (review)

This movie, starring Ryan Gosling as Driver (you never really learn his name), who drives stunt cars by day, and getaway cars by night, was not at all what I expected.


I was aware going in that it is not a Fast & Furious clone, occupying a place in the movie pantheon that is far more intelligent and nuanced than any other those car-focused movies. What I wasn’t aware of was the degree of violence that suddenly explodes in a movie that is largely made up of brooding, quiet menace, bubbling along quietly till it must find someplace to escape…



… and escape it does with a fury that leaves you breathless, but which, in the context of the movie, makes perfect sense given how well the world the exquisitely drawn characters live in, has been conveyed. It is a world with few mercies, governed as it is by the struggle to survive, and for much of the first part of the movie, punctuated only by the most meagre portions of dialogue. But so beautifully written is it, and finely acted, not just by Gosling, but by Carey Mulligan as Irene, and Bryan Cranston as Shannon, Driver’s close friend and employer, that dialogue seems almost superfluous. An expressive glint in the eyes here, or a weary wordless walk to a front door there, gives a richer understanding of the characters, and their sense of dissatisfaction with the lives they lead than mere words I think could do. Certainly Gosling’s taciturn Driver only speaks when absolutely necessary, but it becomes abundantly clear very quickly who he is, what he values, and in the case of Irene, and her son Benicio, who he loves.

Ryan Gosling portrayal of Driver is low key in one sense but rich and nuanced in another, and he remains wedded to who he is even to the end, never removing the bomber jacket

This is a movie for those who like to subsume themselves totally in a world, with characters who live and breathe with a vitality that takes your breath away. This is not to say all of whom are likeable, or make perfect decisions, but you can’t miss them, and they aren’t easily forgotten. So well drawn are these characters that, though much of what they do and say is understated, you find yourselves utterly absorbed in their stories, and heartbroken when everything goes to hell.


The visual style too is distinctive. The colours are subdued, even in the middle of the day, and both the interior and exterior worlds look washed out, which makes the violence, when it arrives, all the more arresting. It was interesting too to see the use of 1980s fonts and pink pastels, and even music evocative of the period.

Driver slowly, ever so slowly, draws close to the world weary Irene



This is a movie that brings to life the car-obsessed darkness and glamour (in equal measure) of LA, that speaks of the hopes and dreams, and the end of all of them, of people with very little margin for error, and which conveys a slow burning then virulent intensity, which makes for a movie that is not even remotely what I suspect most people expect when they go in to see it.


And that, trust me, is a very good thing. 

Husbands (web series)

Zing! Pow!
How can something so hilarously funny, with one liners I am going to have to memorise if my life is to be worth anything, be simultaneously so insightful, articulate and warm-hearted? I have no idea, but the team responsible for this gem, including the very talented Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly among others) have succeeded in crafting just such a clever piece of visual pop culture, and then some!
The series, with each episode roughly about two minutes long (perfect for a short commute – trust me, it lifted mine out of its usual humdrum-ness this morning – or for gainfully occupying those pesky ad breaks), stars Brad Bell (co-writer and creator) as Cheeks, an out and proud gay man of long standing who has spent many years daring America to like him, and Sean Hemeon as Brad Kelly, a more conservative pro-baseball player who only walked out of the closet a scant year before, as boyfriends of only six weeks standing, who end up getting married in Las Vegas one drunken night on the day that federal same sex marriage laws are enacted in USA. (There is also a cameo by the wonderful Nathan Fillion, geek god, and my first choice as a news reader too.)
Horrified at first at their predicament, they quickly decide that they must stay married for the sake of gaydom generally, not wanting to be the poster boys for gay divorce, a noble commitment that morphs into the dawning realisation that staying together might be the greatest adventure of them all, laudable social goals aside. The duo, who come across as totally believable in every facet of their personalities, and lives, are aided in this giant leap into the gay unknown by Cheeks’ best friend, Haley (Alessandra Torresani) who’s outrageously funny and over the top without being a parody, loves Scotch O’Clock, and commits herself in one scene of pure comic gold to being their life coach, writing her plan for the happy but nervous couple with mascara on a taco chip.
The absolutely inspired one liners aside, what sets this wonderful series up on a pedestal all of its very own, is the way it explores what it means to be a gay man in a decidedly straight world, in a way that doesn’t seem patronising or contrived in any way (no mean feat given how easy it is to portray gay characters in any show as vapid, fluffy balls of glittery silliness with no real humanity to speak of), which is accomplished primarily by focusing on the fact that here are two people, in a situation neither expected, grappling with the sorts of issues any new couple would. After all, what do you do after saying ‘I Do’, drunkenly slurred or otherwise? Yes the series uses perfectly executed comedy to explore this territory – the perfect cast deliver an inspired script without a single misstep that I could see – but it is never at the expense of some profound observations, and it hits the mark pretty much every time.
I cannot wait for future episodes – episode 9 went live on the web site http://husbandstheseries.com/ today Australian time (Tuesday and Thursday US time) – from a series that promise to keep being whippet smart, funny and packed full of wry social commentary. You can’t miss this people! 

Crazy Stupid Love (Review)

What a perfectly constructed, beautifully and intelligently written, and brilliantly acted movie. It follows a series of threads that examine love in all its crazy, stupid glory – Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) and his wife Emily (Julianne Moore), high school sweethearts who face major changes in their relationship after 25 years; a bar Casanova, Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling, with abs so perfect they are worth the price of admission alone, and leads to a classic line being uttered by his companion of the moment) who after bedding hundreds of women, and making over Cal into a middle-aged stud of sorts,  finds love when he least expects it, throwing him completely; Hannah, an up and coming lawyer who find her expectations of love turned on their head, leading to momentous changes; and Cal and Emily’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) who falls in love with a girl 4 years older than him, leaving him convinced he has found his soul mate for life.

Yes, there is a lot going on, but it is one of those almost perfect movies where the most exquisite blend of script, production and acting comes together to create a whole so engaging, rich and rewarding that you can scarcely believe it exists, much less in the current sequels and remakes driven insanity of modern Hollywood. It never feels hurried, overdone or crowded and everything plays out with an elegance and restraint you simply don’t see in many movies anymore.

Such glowing praise, you gasp. Are you sure you haven’t waxed just a little too lyrical? For once, and I am saying this as an extrovert prone to emotionally extravagant reactions at times, it really is worth all the superlatives I can lavish on it. That’s not to say it’s perfect – the ending is a tint bit twee and so neat that any Obsessive Compulsive Disorder moviegoers will be sending in their cinema seat in quiet rapture – but it whenever it threatens to veer into cliche and serve up that which we have seen far too many times before, it sidesteps neatly away, throwing up a witty line, or wry observation, or post modern self-referential quip that sends it hurtling off boldly where no romantic comedy/drama has dared to go before. 
There are three scenes in particular where the script writer, Dan Fogelman, pulled the anti-cliche ploy off perfectly, to great effect. The first time, after a particularly unpleasant and publicly embarrassing argument between Cal and Emily at their son’s parent/teacher night, where the estranged couple look to be close to reconciling before things go awry, Emily drives off leaving Cal standing alone. At that point, it begins rains, and just as I was sighing that the seemly perfect movie has resorted to such a cliched device, Cal sighs, sticks his hands in his pocket, and mutters “This is so cliched.” Yes Dan used a cliched plot effect but by referring to it directly, and in keeping with Cal’s generally feeling that the world is against him, it instantly became far less cliched and reinforced the sense that any hope of reconciliation is slipping from Cal and Emily’s fingers.

The second instance of evading cliche with aplomb occurs when Cal has constructed a miniature golf course in the couple’s backyard to evoke memories of the dates they used to have when they were high school sweethearts. With the help of two of their kids, Robbie and Molly (Joey King), they surprise Emily who, in any other movie would be swept up in the grand romantic gesture, realise her heart belongs only to Cal (something she is close to doing anyway in  a very believable progression) and fall into his arms. It’s at this apparently predictable juncture that Dan throws a farcical wrench in the works, employing the arrival of characters, the revelation of whose identities would be a major step into spoiler territory, who send events careering off into everywhere but happily ever after land. Its masterful, fun and advances a number of the relationships with exquisite dramatic and comedic perfection.

And finally at the very end of the movie, with the whole family gathered for Robbie’s 8th Grade graduation, and Robbie’s speech as a salutatorian sliding into an emotional anyss, Cal steps in, and gives the sort of speech that would normally make you wince, but somehow comes across as heartfelt and almost believable. (I say almost because the circumstances simply wouldn’t lend themselves to those events but then you have to give movies a certain amount of belief suspension, or they’d be stuck filming reality all the time, and that just ain’t fun.) Yes, the ending is a tad on the neat and tidy side, but it also leaves enough things hanging out to dry that you can’t be quite certain that things really will play out that easily, and it proves once again what a masterful script this really is.

What is most refreshing about this movie is how real, and yet hopeful and optimistic this movie is. It knows life is seldom as perfect or lovely as we want it to be, and keeps itself very firmly anchored in that appreciation, never losing sight of the grittiness of life. But it also dares to suggest that if we want the beautiful things hard enough, and are prepared to fight for them, and not simply settle for what drifts towards us, that good things can happen, dreams can play out, and we might, just might, find the love of our life, and live happily ever after.

In a non-cliched, well-scripted kind of way, of course.

Charlie’s Angels (Australian Premiere episode)

I really wanted to like this show but I was also aware going into it that it could turn out to be cheesier than a convention of dairy farmers, because let’s face it, we’re not dealing with a HBO series’ premise here, and its forebear, while a warm and fuzzy standout from my childhood viewing, is, well, laughably bad much of the time (that said, I will defend it to the death! Ah nostalgia, you make us do strange things.)
Now I have watched the first episode, all I can say is that I feel dumber from having been exposed to it to a degree I can’t even begin to describe.
This is my original hopeful take on it, admittedly written after just viewing the trailer:

MY TAKE : I really want this to be edgy, sophisticated and clever, and a great revival of what was admittedly cheesy but fun pop culture junk food, but instead I fear it could end up going the way of Beverly Hillbillies the movie, or Bewitched the movie. The one thing that may stop that happening is that Drew Barrymore is executive producing, and she was behind the two revival Charlie’s Angels movies that, while they were by no means perfect, had an uber-cool feel and look to them, and if that sensibility is brought tob this show it may rise up above some the cloying lines that found their way into the trailer i.e. when asked if they’re cops, one of them replies “No, we’re Angels”. Here’s hoping the writers can remember that good writing is still required to underpin even the cheesiest of shows.

So now I have seen a full episode, how do I feel? Well. it does have it’s moments. Despite a rather predictable script (again, hardly a surprise since subtext was never an Angels strong suit), the cast valiantly try to inject modern edge and glamour into the show, with the briefings now involving iPads, outing to hip, stylish nightclubs, and a bright, loud soundtrack that screams up-to-the-minute cool. Sadly their valiant efforts can’t make up for a limp script that plays out like a reject from a 1970s script slush pile. Oh look, the baddies can’t shoot! Oh wait, they randomly shoot in the water and fly off in the helicopter pronouncing the Angels dead mere moments before they surface, gasping for air. Oh wow, the baddies are inept at every turn! Oh, and awww they’re a family. How very Hallmark of them.

One big plus – the new Bosley is gorgeous (not enough though alas to save the show)

Yes, I know I must sound like the Grinch who stole pop culture fun right now. Surely you know it’s intended to be fluff, lightweight escapist entertainment to delight us, and allow us to put our brains into neutral and just….RELAX. Yes I get that, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and as a person with a demanding job I like nothing better sometimes that eschewing the complexity of HBO and wallowing in simple, escapist viewing. But, and you can tell me you didn’t see this coming, even the simplest fare, to truly have any longevity, must have some substance to it, a backbone of complexity that upholds the frothy confection wrapped ever so deftly around it.

It’s possible that the producers of this show may overcome these deficiencies, and get over their need to ape the original series’ lack of narrative complexity (yes despite my vociferous defense of it, storylines were not its strongest selling point, let’s be honest) but somehow I doubt it, and I think my concern that this is a show consumed with form over substance is being borne out.

Terra Nova (Australian premiere)

This show, partly from the hands of Steven Spielberg, but also from the very capable creative minds of Brannon Brag and Rene Echevarria (late of the re-incarnated and awesomely good, Battlestar Galactica), came with hype. Great generous lashings of commercial TV hype, which immediately made me fearful that I was dealing with a dud that they were desperately hoping would be embraced because it featured dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs 85 million years in the past. 


But after some positive US-based reviews (and yet sadly less than stellar debut ratings; they attracted 9 million viewers which sounds like lots but isn’t even close to blockbuster territory in a country of 300 million people), I gathered my friends close, ordered pizza, chilled the wine, and surrendered to the hype, annoying ads every 10 minutes and all. So what did I find?


Well, quite a lot of good things and some points of worry. But let’s start with the positive stuff first since that will make the mild criticisms not look so bad in comparison. The series premise is that mankind has once again destroyed the Earth, this time in 2149, and the only hope for a restart of civilisation is to send colonists back 85 millions years ago into the heart of the Cretaceous period (thus bypassing any allegations that this is Jurassic Park, the series), on what is fortunately a separate time line, which means that the colonists will not change anything in 2149 (though it could do with more than few tweaks to its bleak dystopian hell). The opening scenes are brilliantly done (filmed in Brisbane according to Jason O’Mara, who plays family patriarch, Jim Shannon, who tweeted this fact last night during the screening, leading a response from me that got retweeted by him – see below at the end of the review – which was very geek cool and had me grinning ear to ear), and you can well understand from watching the decaying world, why everyone, and his asthmatic dog, wants to escape, and get to the verdant green of Terra Nova.


For most people, its the luck of the draw that gets them there. But thanks to Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, who’s work as a highly talented doctor gets her noticed by the right people, (she is played by Shelley Conn), the family are offered the chance to go on a one way trip to salvation. The only snag? Jim is in prison for fathering an illegal third child, who also isn’t invited along for the ride. What to do? Well if you’re Elisabeth, you help engineer your husband’s escape from prison, bribe people to get him into the ultra secret Terra Nova departure building, hide your illegal daughter in a backpack, and then bolt like hell for the wormhole until everyone in the family is safely through. All a little convenient, but so much storytelling rests on too good to be true events so who am I to quibble since I do much the same thing in my novels?



Once safely in Terra Nova, with minimal repercussions, they set about creating a new life in what is styled by the leader of the colony, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (a man I would wager is not too enamoured of democratic representational government becoming part of the way Terra Nova is governed any time soon) as a paradise on earth. Naturally enough, while nothing too awful happens, paradise is cracked from one side to the other, though not in clear sight naturally, and in quick succession, it’s revealed that many members of the Sixth Pilgrimage (each new group of colonists is called a Pilgrimage) have rebelled and set up their own colony, that the Commander’s son has gone rogue and is writing odd equations all across the rocks at a waterfall in a forbidden area that may mean something Important, and a possible hidden agenda for Terra Nova itself (is it really the virtuous road to a new civilisation that it’s portrayed or something darker and more sinister?).


This is all very good and meaty and bodes well for a series that won’t be, I hope, Dinosaur-of-the-Week. Some well played conspiracy angles always help keep viewers intrigued, as long as you don’t do a Lost and become so convoluted that people give up watching in despair. Also the idea that no matter where you go, that humanity will still be itself and right royally screw things up, no matter how much hope is attached to the endeavour, anchors a show in some sort of compelling reality, and keeps you watching through any mawkish moments, of which there a more than a few in any Spielbergian creation.


So, so far so good. Good characters (if a little on the cliched side), high drama, dark threads of less than perfect reality against a backdrop of hope and new starts. The major downside? I fear that the series will eschew gritty dark reality for too much of a family drama focus. The producers have essentially said they have toned down the sci-fi to dial up the family angle, and while this is no great sin in itself, it will be a major drawback if the characters are not given some depth and richness, and the storylines are kept simple with no real ramifications for the Disneyfied characters. My cause for hope though is the aforementioned conspiracy angles, and the 6th pilgrimage which should, if not watered down, lead to some darkness in the sunniness of Terra Nova beguiling new dawn.


So is the hype well merited? Yes for the most part. Its a good solid drama with a fantastical premise, some promised, well flagged, elements of flawed humanity and a tableau on which to draw a rich multi faceted drama. Just watch the twee family moments Mr Spielberg and you will richly deserve any hype that comes your way, even if it is from 85 million years in the past.

The Big C

The Big C is one of the standouts in that relatively new crop of HBO-quality shows – even when the shows aren’t from that stable of quality, they are invariably tagged as such – which also includes Hung, Breaking Bad,  United States of Tara, and the much longer running Weeds, which feature a protagonist from the squeaky clean side of the street who is forced by dire circumstance of one kind or another, into making compromises and decisions that lead far across the lines onto the wrong side of the tracks, or at least into almost unrecognisable territory where few in society wish to tread. While they are shocked at first at the things they say and do in the interests of survival, they reach an accommodation of sorts with their new life because they usually have no choice but to do so. They could rail and rant, and scream about their misfortune, but in a society like America, with it’s less than generous welfare net, and resulting dog-eat-dog survival mentality, especially for the lower socio-economic classes, this achieves nothing, and the first of order of the day, of each and every day, is simply to do what it takes to survive.

In the case of the Big C, which stars the supremely talented Laura Linney as Cathy Jamison, a middle class teacher with stage 4 cancer, this means doing whatever it takes to ensure she survives her battle with melanoma in the midst of a broken medical system that too often penalises the very people it is supposed to be helping. She does have allies in her fight – among them, her loving husband Paul (played by the awesomely good, Oliver Platt, who has yet, I suspect, to ever find a role that doesn’t agree with him), and her son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), who plays a teenager torn by wanting to spend time with his mum, but simultaneously wanting to fleeing the reality of her possible death, and a high school student in her class, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe of Precious) who is perhaps the only person she knows, besides her husband, who doesn’t try to sugar coat the harsh reality of Cathy’s present situation.

Oliver Platt and Laura Linney as Paul and Cathy Jamison
Gabriel Basso as Adam

Gabourey Sidibe as Andrea Jackson

But many of the people who should be a source of support end up being very much more than hindrances. Her mentally ill brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) who veers between support and antagonism, his girlfriend, Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon, late of Sex in the City) who styles herself as Cathy’s very best friend but often doesn’t have a clue what’s required to be supportive, and her neighbour, Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), who’s dementia-fuelled acerbic observations of life ultimately lead her to kill herself with a bullet to the brain, which doesn’t end her role in the show at all – she appears thereafter to Cathy as an apparition, usually at the worst possible times.

John Benjamin Hickey and Cynthia Nixon as Sean Tolkey, Cathy’s brother, and Rebecca respectively

Phyllis Somerville as Marlene

But despite all this, Cathy battles on, doing what she must to get appointments with specialists – leading to an hilarious scene where she sneaks into an elite oncologist’s surgery as a saleswoman from a drug company and makes a scene demanding an appointment just as the receptionist is calling her to confirm one – battling everyone’s well intentioned but suffocating sympathy, and trying to hold on to a semblance of a normal life while it breaks apart with gusto around her. 

What is wonderfully refreshing is that she manages to create a new life, full of contradictions, and breaks with her well ordered previous middle class existence, and make it work with a mix of saintliness, screaming frustration, and a heapin’ helpin’ dose of black humour laden one-liners. Her life may have changed beyond all recognition but it is her life, and she will fight to retain it with everything she has in her arsenal, regardless of where it takes her, and for the audience at least, discomforting though it may be at times, where her unexpected journey takes us is entertaining indeed.

I Love the Emmys

I am a TV junkie.

I could say I have tried 12 step programs, detox units, and literary clubs to wean me off my habit but to no avail, and frankly I am not even slightly disappointed. Mainly because, these days, and it is increasingly so, TV is where all the real visual creativity is happening; it’s where many of the true visionaries are plying their trade and creating TV so powerful, clever or funny that you wonder why the movies, now reduced largely to remaking the same tired, dumb movies over and over, don’t just give up, hand their big screens over to TV, and let us all move in and watch wall to wall true creativity writ large. (Of course trying to clean up in of those cineplex bathrooms would require the patience of a saint, and the dexterity of a gymnast, but you get the idea.)




Jane Lynch hits the stage at The Emmys after her opening previously filmed piece of liquid crystal fabulousness.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7C50iY04M8 (such a fun opening piece!)

So what is any TV junkie worth his or her remote doing tonight? Well they’re glued to their set watched TV’s night of nights unfold. Well, truth be told, as I write this, the Emmys have ended, the red carpet has been trod, surprise guests unleashed (no more so than Charlie Sheen popping up to present Best Actor in a Comedy Series), and Jane Lynch has performed her magic, managing to be oh-so-clever and funny all at the same time, and having a bundle of fun with an opening piece that features hilarious interactions with the cast of Big Bang Theory and Mad Men, among others, all based on the conceit that all the characters in every TV show live in the same building. What follows is not an exhaustive roll call of winners but rather my run down of what matters to me and a few choice photos to make it all visual and pretty (even so, a full list of winners and losers follows at the end of the blog since I am nothing if not a completist…. at times.)


First up, I am thrilled that Jim Parsons aka Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory has won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. He is such a supremely talented actor, and while BBT is a true ensemble relying on all its characters to bring on the laughs, it is Jim Parsons gift for comic timing and nuance that holds it all together, and is the focal point for the show. Well done Jim!

Keeping in the comedy vein, and who wouldn’t want to in a world as grim as ours is at the moment, Modern Family got the gong for Best Comedy Series (second win for them in this category), and it is richly deserved too. What could have been just another family-based sitcom, is instead richly nuanced, an accurate reflection of family life, and society generally in the 21st Century, and agent for social change – two gay fathers? Will civilisation survive this?! Of course it will, dear right wing poppets – all wrapped up in a heartwarming (but thankfully for those wanting to avoid pixal-caused pop culture diabetes, not corny) hilarious half hour that is a treat to watch each and every week.

They also walked away with wins for Julie Bowen, Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy (with a dress that must have drawn the heterosexual male demographic to the screen like moths to the proverbial) and TyBurrell, Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy (who wowed the crowd with a very funny stand up routine in lieu of thanking everyone, and his dog.)


And finally in amongst Martin Scorsese deservedly winning for directing Boardwalk Empire, and my one of my favourite comediennes around, Melissa McCarthy, who I have loved and adored since her days on The Gilmore Girls, winning for Outstanding Lead Actress, comedy in Mike and Molly, the English period soap, Downton Abbey with it’s exquisite portrayal of British aristocracy just prior to World War 1 when everything changed forever, romped home with four awards and proved that quality everything can triumph in a sea of mediocre reality TV shows, and poorly written scripted shows. 



I wouldn’t call this year’s ceremony a massive surprise, especially with shows like Amazing Race winning the Reality Show category again (less an indictment on the show itself, which I love, but more a reflection of the paucity of true genius in the category generally) and  Daily Show winning for the ninth straight year (mainly because it is awesomely fantastically hilarious and deserves to just be automatically given the Emmy for as long as it’s on air), but Jane Lynch was fun and refreshing, the genuine joy of many of the winners contagious (Melissa McCarthy’s teary speech was touching), and it managed to celebrate all that’s good about TV without overstaying it’s welcome. 

Melissa McCarthy holding her Emmy statuette aloft

Here are the night’s winners:

Outstanding comedy series: Modern Family
Outstanding drama series: Mad Men
Outstanding miniseries or movie: 
Downton Abbey
Outstanding lead actress, miniseries or movie: Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce
Outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or movie: 
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
Outstanding directing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special: Brian Percival, Downton Abbey
Outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie: 
Barry Pepper, The Kennedys
Outstanding supporting actress, miniseries or movie: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Outstanding writing for a miniseries or movie: 
Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey
Outstanding lead actor, drama: 
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Outstanding lead actress, drama: 
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Outstanding supporting actor, drama: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Outstanding directing, drama: 
Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire 
Outstanding supporting actress, drama: 
Margo Martindale, Justified
Outstanding writing, drama series: 
Jason Katims, Friday Night Lights
Outstanding variety, music or comedy series: 
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Outstanding directing for a variety, music or comedy series: Don Roy King, Saturday Night Live (host: Justin Timberlake)
Outstanding writing for a variety, music or comedy series: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Outstanding reality competition: The Amazing Race
Outstanding lead actress, comedy: 
Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly)
Outstanding lead actor, comedy series: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Outstanding writing for a comedy: Steve Levitan, Jeffrey Richman (“Caught in the Act”), Modern Family
Outstanding director, comedy: 
Michael Alan Spiller (“Halloween”),  Modern Family
Outstanding supporting actor, comedy:
 
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Outstanding supporting actress, comedy: Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Beginners

What would you do if your 75 year old father, just one week after the death of his wife, and your mother, announced to you, and the world that he was gay, always had been, and wanted to explore as fully and richly as he could before he too slipped off this mortal coil?

If you’re Mike Mills, who lived through exactly this scenario, you write a powerful yet quirky script, get Ewan McGregor to play a fictionalised version of you called Oliver Fields, entrust the talented Christopher Plummer (Hal Fields) with the role of your father, throw in an unconventional love affair between the movie version of you and a left of centre Frenchwoman, Anna (played by the lovely Melanie Laurent), and set everyone off on a voyage of discovery the likes of which you never foresaw being taken when life was ordered, and unsurprising. What the movie explores, in a less than conventional but ultimately rewarding narrative, that picks up after his father’s death from cancer five years after his coming out, is what happens when the life you thought you were leading is not at all the life you actually had.

Oliver and Hal exploring a father and son relationship that grew into being just before it was too late

In short order, Oliver’s safe but dissatisfying existence, is shaken up by his father’s coming out, his new life as a gay man (which includes a passionate open relationship with the somewhat juvenile and emotionally stunted Andy, played by Goran Visnjic) which actually draws father and son closer together in ways Oliver never would have imagined growing up as the parents of two people who knew the marriage was a well-meaning sham but played along anyway, and the events following his father’s death when Oliver realises that he must let go of what he knew and plunge into the terrifying, but far more satisfying unknown. 

Andy (Goran Visnjic) and Hal enjoy an unusual open relationship that somehow works

Anna, Oliver and the adorable Arthur

It moves back and forth between the past and the present, uses conversations Oliver has with his father’s terrier Arthur who comes to live with Oliver post his father’s death and can’t bear being left alone, and flashbacks to Oliver’s childhood with his utterly unconventional mother, and his distant father. Through it all, we see Oliver gradually come to terms with the effects his growing up had on him, and the realisation that if he is to ever have a life of any note, that it must be lived with the same joie de vivre and passion that his father displayed in his new life as a gay man. 

Though it is not the conventional movie the trailer would have you believe, it is one of those wonderful movies that moves effortlessly between quirky, funny and moving, with characters you grow to care deeply about it, who reinforce the notion, without hammering you over the head with it, that life must be lived with authenticity, richness and passion if it is to have any real worth at all.

The Help @ Dendy Cinemas, Newtown (Saturday 27 August)

(image via Impawards)
(image via Impawards)

 

 The Help is one of the most moving, inspirational movies I have seen in quite some time.

Set against the first stirrings of the civil rights era in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi where for over a century black woman have been house slaves then maids (sadly in terms of the treatment meted out to them there was scant difference between the two types of servitude, though the latter one meant they were ostensibly free) to the landed gentry of the town.

Everything continues much as it always has until ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), a southern society belle (but worlds apart in attitude and thought from her close friends), returns home from university determined to forge a career as a writer, and decides to write a book about the lives of the maids in the town.

She encounters resistance at first until Aibileen (Viola Davis) decides that the only way that true change is going to come is if light is shone into the darkest recesses of Jackson society, starting with the lives of the close knit black community and the impact that white racism has upon them.

It’s a gutsy move, and while Aibileen’s best friend, Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is at first reluctant to join in, she soon does, and eventually so do many other maids leading to a massive outpouring of stories that highlight the great inequities in southern society.

In the midst of this book being written and then released, great changes are wrought in Skeeter’s friendships, her relationship with her mother, the lives of the maids themselves, and though just a crack or two at first, in Jackson society itself, through the simple act (thought ultimately there is nothing simple in the act of being brave; these women bare their should and risk much to reveal the truth) of the maids talking about their lives.

I found the movie intensely moving. The courage of these women, treated like less than nothing by their employers who actually thought they weren’t racist, in standing up and being counted was beyond inspirational since it mirrored the lives of so many people during the civil rights era who fought hard to be treated as people of equal worth and standing, which, of course, they were.

I always watch movies like this which depict man’s utter inhumanity to man with horror and contempt for the perpetrators, scarcely believing that anyone could treat another as less than human simply because their skin is a different colour, and while knowing it happens, wishing that people could simply look beyond prejudice.

The true genius of the book, and now movie, is that it shone a light on this racism simply by allowing these women to tell their stories, to show that their lives are every bit as valid, and intrinsically worthy as anyone else’s.

Thank god for the courage of the few to start change that will affect the many, and thank god for The Help which shows how powerful those sorts of movements can be.