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November 2013
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what i watched last year

A summary, sorted by my ratings. I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Thus, the average for the 110 movies I rated in 2013 is 7.5 out of 10.


The Battle of Chile
Before Midnight
Bride of Frankenstein
Children of Paradise
La Jetée
A Man Escaped
Modern Times
A Separation
Sweet Smell of Success
Y Tu Mamá También


Don’t Look Now
The Lady Vanishes
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown
Nostalgia for the Light


12 Monkeys
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Belle de Jour
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Django Unchained
Forbidden Games
Ginger Snaps
Hearts and Minds
The Incredibles
The Invisible War
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Much Ado About Nothing
Pacific Rim
Point Blank
The Red and the White
The Red Shoes
Searching for Sugar Man
The Sugarland Express
Take Shelter
The Thin Blue Line
True Grit
You Only Live Once
Zero Dark Thirty


56 Up
Anatomy of a Murder
Au Hasard Balthazar
Blow Out
Blue Jasmine
Broken Flowers
Bubba Ho-Tep
The Chase
Days of Heaven
Down by Law
The Empire Strikes Back
Goin’ Down the Road
Gone with the Wind
The Hurricane
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Jurassic Park
The Kid with a Bike
The Last Detail
Life Without Principle
Love Affair
Man of Steel
The Masque of the Red Death
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Night Tide
On the Road
Pitch Black
Private Parts
The Roaring Twenties
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Sansho the Bailiff
Sin City
Star Trek into Darkness
True Grit
White Material
Wild Boys of the Road
The Young Girls of Rochefort


Barton Fink
Battle in Outer Space
The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach
The Chronicles of Riddick
Mission to Mars
Olympus Has Fallen
Sleep Dealer


Attack of the Crab Monsters
Eat the Document
One, Two, Three
Seven Psychopaths


Invisible Invaders
Killers Three



what i watched last week

Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013). I didn’t expect to like this movie, but it turned out to be good enough to overcome my fears. It’s a based-on-fact story of an older woman trying to find the son who was put up for adoption at an early age, and the caustic journalist who helps with her search. It’s an odd buddy movie, but then, all buddy movies strive to be just a bit different from the rest. The pairing of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan is closer to Harold and Maude than to Lethal Weapon, without the preciousness of the Ruth Gordon film. A double-bill of those two movies would be instructive: Ruth Gordon does shtick, Judi Dench acts. And Dench does it without excess … in a part with Oscar Nomination written all over it, she refuses to overact to impress voters. There is a lot going on in Philomena: religion, sex, politics, journalism. And I wouldn’t say it goes into much depth on any of those topics, other than religion, where Dench’s Philomena is a woman of faith while the Catholic institution is corrupt. Still, there’s nothing here to outrage anyone, other than apologists for the behavior of Catholic nuns in Ireland in the 1950s. 7/10. A good companion piece would be The Magdalene Sisters, which I liked a bit more than this one. My favorite Stephen Frears film, by far, is Dangerous Liaisons.

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Jacques Demy, 1967). A musical which recalls an earlier period in movie history, wearing its outdated approach with pride.  Often compared to Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which also starred Catherine Deneuve and featured the music of Michel Legrand. It’s been more than a decade since I saw Cherbourg, so it is perhaps unfair to say I thought it was better than Rochefort. And The Young Girls of Rochefort is quite charming on its own. Demy takes performers we know for their acting, and puts them in a song-and-dance movie. The singing isn’t much of a problem, for most of the cast is dubbed, and the syncing is effective. The dancing could be a bigger problem, but Demy solves that by keeping the non-dancers’ hoofing to a minimum. So George Chakiris and Grover Dale always seem to be dancing (and it can’t be a coincidence that some of Charikis’ dance scenes are reminiscent of West Side Story), and while Gene Kelly has a relatively small role, he gets a couple of moments to remind us he’s a real dancer. But the rest of the cast sticks to simple moves. For the most part, the unabashed romanticism squashes any misgivings. (At one point, I went to get a drink and sat with my wife for a few minutes as she watched Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The contrast between that show’s heinous crimes and the pastel loveliness of Rochefort couldn’t be greater.) For obvious reasons, Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac make a very believable pair of sisters, and French stars like Jacques Perrin and Michel Piccoli and Danielle Darrieux are wonderful. (Darrieux is also the only actor in the movie to do her own singing.) The lyrics don’t always work … in fact, they often don’t seem like lyrics at all, just dialogue that rhymes and is sung. Your mileage may vary. #392 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. The obvious companion piece would be The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013). Extremely LOUD spectacle, something like Transformers for grownups. There are some attempts to turn the movie into a philosophical treatise, and the scenes where characters just simply talk are welcomed in part because they are quiet. But the real appeal of Man of Steel comes from the special effects (did I mention how loud the movie is?), which are impressive but which overwhelm the movie. There are some nice “human” moments, and some of the actors do well (Diane Lane is a standout). The movie fiddles a bit with the standard Superman creation story, but not enough to count for someone like me, who is mostly out of that loop. If you are up for a movie with loud destruction and incomprehensible but entertaining action scenes, you’ll like this. If it bothers you that thousands of people die during those action scenes, with almost no attention paid to those deaths, then look elsewhere. 7/10. You could double-bill this with the 1978 Christopher Reeve Superman.

treme, series finale

And so we come to the end of another David Simon series. In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, Simon says “I don't think I have demonstrated that I'm a particularly good fit for television.” He wonders aloud if it’s time to move to another medium. An artist should follow their muse, and anyone who gives us The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, and Treme has accomplished a lot … he’s already left quite a legacy. But it would be nice if there was still a place for someone as talented as David Simon in today’s television. Yet he notes, “what works in terms of maintaining an audience is not stuff I'm particularly interested in doing.”

Treme told the story of a community trying to raise itself back up after a disaster. For the most part, they had to do it on their own; the government, which should have had their back, more often just got in the way. In this, Treme mirrored some of the despair in The Wire. But Treme was always a more hopeful show than The Wire. It was possible, in Treme, for people to make at least marginal progress, and many of the characters were significantly different at the end than they were when the show began, despite the opinion of many that Treme moved too slowly.

The truncated fourth season was a bittersweet gift from HBO. Things were hurried throughout the five episodes. For that reason, Season Four wasn’t quite up to the standard of the earlier seasons. What goes for the season as a whole was especially true for the final episode, which managed to give a feeling of resolution to most of the characters, but did so too quickly. But by now, we’ve come to know the characters so well that we could fill in the blanks, and it was a joy to spend a little more time with them. We got a chance to say our goodbyes. There was too much of Davis for my liking, but most of his scenes also included Janette, and I can never get enough Kim Dickens.

As always, the acting was impeccable: Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, Melissa Leo, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, and Jon Seda deserve to be singled out, and many of them had worked on Simon projects in the past. Some of the newer faces were also worth mentioning. Rob Brown had made a few films, but he was under my radar until Treme, and he played his part as a trumpeter connected to his New Orleans past while stretching out into newer musical forms with great professionalism. Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, whose “acting” career before Treme consisted of playing herself in two Spike Lee documentaries about post-Katrina New Orleans, reinforced what we knew from those earlier films, that she is a natural. Perhaps the best find was violinist Lucia Micarelli, whose part as Annie Tee grew as the series progressed and she demonstrated she had the acting chops to warrant more screen time. Treme featured an enormous roster of musicians playing themselves over the years, and Steve Earle played a character in the first two seasons. But only Micarelli was given the room to stretch out as an actor (Earle was genial playing a version of himself … I liked him here, as I did on The Wire, but he stays within a fairly narrow range). If there is a breakout star from the show, Lucia Micarelli could be that person, just as Annie Tee moved to another level in her music career as the show ended.

The music. You can’t talk about Treme without talking about the music, which was ever-present. Many of the characters were musicians, everyone spent time in clubs listening to music, and as I noted, the show was stuffed full of musicians playing themselves and offering up a song or two. Oddly, considering the importance of music to the show, performances were usually truncated … we’d pick up a band in mid-song, or switch to another scene after the first verse. You could say Treme didn’t do right by the artists and their performances. But Treme was very right indeed in showing how music was a part of the lives of the characters. We might get just a snippet of Dr. John, but we’d also get a bit of backstage jive with the Doctor, and he’d be discussed in other scenes where he wasn’t even there, and everybody knew who he was, and people in the audiences were always joyous, and this was true for every artist who made a cameo appearance. No show I can recall did a better job than Treme at showing the interaction between musicians and their audience, and between the music and the personal lives of those fans.

I already miss the characters from Treme: Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, LaDonna, Janette, Annie Tee, Antoine and Harley and Aunt Mimi. Here is how well Treme worked these characters into our lives: after The Wire, I figured I’d never see Clarke Peters or Wendell Pierce again without thinking of them as Lester Freamon and Bunk Moreland. But now, they are Big Chief and Antoine.

Grade for Season Finale: A-. Grade for Season Four: A-. Grade for Series: A.

(One last note … in the closing credits, they listed some of the New Orleans musicians who have died over the past few years. After that, one line got a screen of its own: “David Mills 1961-2010.” That got me.)

movies, 2012

As is usually the case, I’m at least a year behind on recent movies, so it’s silly to make a Top Ten list for the current year. Therefore, I end up posting a year-before Top Ten list (last year I did 2011 and chose Attack the Block as the best movie of 2011).

One problem with these lists is that I’m at the mercy of MovieLens, which decides which movies are from 2012. Thus, I could be missing something that is listed as coming out in 2011 or 2013 but is actually from 2012. Anyway, here are my Top Ten movies of 2012, in alphabetical order:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Django Unchained
  • The Invisible War
  • Lincoln
  • Searching for Sugar Man
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

(My least-favorite of the 2012 movies I’ve seen: Premium Rush.)

music friday, 1953-2013 edition

I turned 60 this year. To “celebrate” that fact, here is a selection of tunes from those years. The idea is to demonstrate some kind of change, but I’m guessing it’ll just be seven unrelated songs.

  • 1953: The Orioles, “Crying in the Chapel”. This sounds like the beginnings of doo-wop. It was a cover of a country hit from earlier in the year.
  • 1963: The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”. According to Wikipedia, “’Louie Louie’ is the world's most recorded rock song with over 1,600 versions and counting”.
  • 1973: Ann Peebles, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. The greatest female artist on Hi Records (if the label doesn’t ring a bell, think Al Green).
  • 1983: New Order, “Blue Monday”. AllMusic says this is “Still the best-selling 12" single of all time”. My favorite synth band, and the only one of these acts I’ve seen live.
  • 1993: PJ Harvey, “Rid of Me”. I should probably be prevented from ever posting this song again, after I used a bunch of versions to fill an entire Music Friday awhile back, which was met by complete silence. On the other hand, there’s “Matt Darbs”, who wrote in the comments section of this video, “Do you know why this has 2 million views? Because 1 million of them are mine!”
  • 2003: OutKast, “Hey Ya! What does it say about the passage of time that the video drew its inspiration from The Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan in 1964? It has more than 43 million views as of this writing.
  • 2013: Natalie Maines, “Take It on Faith”. From crying in the chapel to taking it on faith, in 60 short years.

the karen sisco award and the mini-series

[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]

Three years ago, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.

When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.

Previous winners were Terriers (2010), Lights Out (2011), and Luck (2012).

If I am going to respect the concept behind the Karen Sisco Award, then I have to face reality and admit that there is no winner in 2013. There were short-lived series, but I didn’t watch them. The closest “Sisco Show” might have been Treme, which is leaving us after a short, five-episode “hurry up and be done” half-season. But Treme got 3 1/2 seasons out of HBO, so it’s hard to say it wasn’t given a chance.

This gives me an opportunity to talk about what I consider the #1 trend in television this year: the mini-series, which begin with the idea of a limited run (5-8 episodes seems the standard). Perhaps it is this willingness to create a mini-series that prevented anything from being this year’s Karen Sisco. Previous award winners ran for a full season before cancellation. But these new shows were finished before they could be cancelled. The irony is, they were so good, in many cases they have been renewed for a second short season.

What were these series?

Top of the Lake marked Jane Campion’s return to television with a six-episode story of a missing 12-year-old girl, filmed in New Zealand. Elisabeth Moss starred, and Holly Hunter had an extended supporting role. Campion’s approach was subtle, and the scenery was beautiful. Sundance Channel picked it up for showing in the U.S. (stretching it to seven episodes, which made for some odd episode endings and beginnings). A-.

Broadchurch was a British series that came to the States via BBC America. It starred David Tennant and Olivia Colman as detectives attempting to solve a murder in a small town. It ran for eight episodes, just enough for us to get to know the people in the town, and thus to experience the impact of the crime along with them. I thought it was one of the top five shows of the year, and apparently others agreed … a second season will be filmed, and Fox is putting together an American remake. A.

The Fall was a BBC police drama about a serial killer, with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in the leads. Once again, the show was at its best in showing the lives of the characters and integrating the locale (in this case, Belfast) into the story. It ran for five episodes (and was renewed for a second season). It showed up in the U.S. on Netflix. A-.

The Returned was a hard-to-describe French series, once again about events in a small town, this time running for eight episodes. The cast was unknown to me, and they were all very good. We got it on Sundance Channel. A second season is planned, which in this case is a mixed blessing, since the end of season one came with no real explanation for what we had seen. A-.

Dancing on the Edge was a BBC drama about a black jazz band in 1930s England. This was a “true” mini-series, with no subsequent seasons planned. It ran five episodes (plus an epilogue) and starred the reliably great Chiwetel Ejiofor. In the U.S. it played on Starz. A-.

Rectify was Sundance Channel’s first original series, running for six episodes, with a second season planned. It was created by Ray McKinnon, better known to most of us as a character actor (the Reverend on Deadwood, among other roles). It was so “slow” it made Rubicon seem action-packed, and was perplexing enough that I never got around to giving it a grade. But it’s definitely unique.

Six series, four A- and one A (and an Incomplete, I guess). All of them the equal of previous winners of the Karen Sisco Award, none of them lasting more than eight episodes. But they weren’t cancelled, they were meant to be short, even though in four cases there will be a Season Two. If any of these shows had been cancelled, or disrespected, they’d be this year’s award winner. But 2013 was a particularly good season for television, including series from other countries being shown here in the States. Which is perhaps the real message: with so many new outlets for series (Sundance and BBC America have been around for a bit, Starz is a recent entrant in the series stew, and Netflix is best-known for its rental service), networks looked to New Zealand and Britain and Northern Ireland and France for worthy programs. It’s not that American TV wasn’t up to the standards of these “foreign” shows … as I said, to my mind only Broadchurch made the Top Five for the year … but all five of the foreign series were very good (and very short).

So, in lieu of a 2013 Karen Sisco Award, I offer a tip of the cap to the mini-series format. It probably goes without saying that shows like this are perfect for the new fad of binge-watching, which is also true for the previous Karen Sisco Award winners.

what i watched last week

The Battle of Chile. Part 1: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie. Part 2: The Coup d’Etat (Patricio Guzmán, 1975-6). I watched the two parts on separate days, although it isn’t clear to me how we are supposed to approach the films. Are they one film, The Battle of Chile, with two parts, or two films on the same subject? (To add to the confusion, a third part came out in 1979, which I haven’t yet seen.) Together, the films are a remarkable document as well as a brilliant example of filmmaking on the run. Guzmán and his team filmed events on the ground as they happened in Chile in 1973. It thus documents the collapse of the Allende government in real time. I noted when discussing Hearts and Minds that its points were not always well-served by the clear propaganda elements in the film, but they were nothing compared to The Battle of Chile, which openly works from a Marxist perspective. The film is edited to make its points … perhaps more importantly, it seems to have been shot with those points in mind. Guzmán knew what he wanted to film, and he managed to be there when things happened. The result is a documentary of great immediacy. And while it is necessarily a low-budget affair, and it was made under the most trying of circumstances, it is at times a work of great elegance. Everything comes together at the end of Part 1, when, during a failed coup attempt, a soldier points his gun at a camera (and, figuratively, at us) and fires. The cameraman, Leonardo Henrichsen, 33, dies from the shots. Part 2 shows the final collapse of the Allende government. Guzmán gets his camera into seemingly every important meeting. We’re there when the socialist workers try to hammer out a plan. We’re there when the left-leaning people on the street express their opinions. We see the middle class talking about their hatred of socialism. We see the public meetings of the government. We see attempted coups, we see the military taking over towns, searching for weapons they never find, at one point dredging up graves, leading one woman to ask what did the soldiers fear, that the dead would throw their bones at them? That they never find weapons is a crucial point, for while the films argues that Allende has popular support (a rally late in the film draws 800,000 people), they are too disorganized to create a coherent plan, and they have no guns to fight off the Army and Navy when it becomes necessary. The film is criminally unknown. 10/10. For a more recent, different, film from Guzmán, check out Nostalgia for the Light.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012). Quentin Tarantino is one of the most reliable filmmakers of all time. You know what you are getting, even though each film stands as its own production. There will be violence, too much for some viewers. There will be profanity, too much for some viewers. There will be incessant pop culture references, too many for some viewers. The dialogue will be so good, you will look forward to long conversations, even though they postpone the action that supposedly gets us into the theater. And, for me, the films will always be good, at the least. I don’t know if we’ve seen Tarantino’s masterpiece yet, but I’ve seen seven of his features, and have yet to give a rating lower than 8/10. Tarantino’s flaws are easy to pick out, because they are often the same as his good points. He is excessive … “too much for some viewers” describes a lot of what happens in his movies. But the excess is essential to his movies, and when he goes overboard, as he often does, it is usually because he is trying for greatness. He has an interesting relationship to the Grade-B genre fare that inspires him. He treats it as valuable, influential culture, the equal of so-called better genres, but what he does with those “lesser” genres is to raise them another notch. That is, his homages to his beloved inspirations tend to be better than the originals. He makes movies that, by their quality, remind us of what is missing from much of the B-movies he draws from. Django has plenty of good acting, the dialogue as always is great (and while Tarantino deserves to be called out in general for his overuse of the n-word, it’s appropriate in the context of this particular movie), and that dialogue helps make the film’s 2 hour and 45 minute running time go by pretty quickly. I wish there had been more for Kerry Washington to do … Tarantino has written some great parts for women in the past, but you won’t find a Jackie Brown or The Bride here. #237 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10. The obvious companion film would be Inglourious Basterds. I don’t know much about the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Corbucci, but the 1968 Django is another obvious choice, if you’re looking for more from that genre. The master of the genre is Sergio Leone, who did The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Finally, if you’re looking for more Jamie Foxx, there’s always Booty Call, which gets the job done in 79 minutes (that is, if you started watching Booty Call and Django at the same time, you would finish Booty Call twice and still have 7 minutes before Django ended).

Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939). This was remade several times, most notably as An Affair to Remember, also directed by McCarey, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The original is the best. The success of the film relies heavily on the star power of Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. Dunne always seems to be working hard, while Boyer coasts on a subtlety that hides deeper feelings. As with An Affair to Remember, the first part of the film is the best, as the two stars meet and fall in love on a cruise. But Love Affair doesn’t fall apart when the ship reaches New York, and it’s all over in less than 90 minutes. 7/10. The obvious thing to see alongside this is the Grant/Kerr movie, or even the 1994 remake, also titled Love Affair, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (which I haven’t seen, so this isn’t really a recommendation). For another pairing of Dunne and McCarey (and Cary Grant), check out The Awful Truth, which is one of the very best screwball comedies. And those looking for more Charles Boyer are directed to The Earrings of Madame de …, which happens to be #14 on my own all-time list.

teevee 2013

Here is my annual television wrap-up. I don’t make a Top Ten list, I just look back and some of the things I wrote since the last time I did one of these (December 18 of last year).

First, for what it’s worth, I’ll note that my choices for the five best shows in 2013 are Justified, 30 Rock, Game of Thrones, Broadchurch, and Treme. There are plenty of honorable mentions, but for now, I’ll just say once again that Tatiana Maslany and Emmy Rossum do amazing jobs on their shows (Orphan Black and Shameless). And I’ll tip my hat to Breaking Bad, by all accounts the best series of its day, but one I have yet to get into. Finally, a shout out to Rectify, which I liked even though I never got around to writing about it.

Downton Abbey: “The show ultimately takes the side of the rich. The heroes aren’t Anna and Bates, they’re Lord Grantham and Lady Mary.”

30 Rock: “30 Rock dares you to keep up with its humor, as if being more obvious would make the show too popular with ‘the masses’.”

Girls: “No one thinks David Simon ‘was’ McNulty, or that David Milch ‘was’ Al Swearengen. But people do assume Hannah is Lena, and since Hannah is extremely self-absorbed and not particularly likable, it appears people who don’t know her think the same about Dunham.”

Game of Thrones: “Game of Thrones addresses power and fantasy, features characters of real depth who can change over time, and includes a large list of actors doing great work. The Walking Dead has zombies.”

Justified: “The message of Justified isn’t that Raylan’s way is right because he’s a lawman. The message is that Raylan is being destroyed from the inside. He no longer believes that his actions are justified. But he can’t escape those actions.”

Shameless: “If I gave a shit about awards, I’d say it was outrageous that [Emmy Rossum] has never won an Emmy for her work (no pun intended).”

Top of the Lake: “While all of this goes on, there are undercurrents about power and gender and violence. Top of the Lake doesn’t rub this in our faces, the way a killer-porn show like Criminal Minds does. It takes its time, it gets its points across, all the while keeping the mysteries intriguing.”

Orphan Black: “Suffice to say that Tatiana Maslany is giving one of the great performances ever on television.”

Mad Men: “It’s a show full of misery, not that that’s a bad thing.”

Orange Is the New Black: “In the beginning of the series, we’re told that people stick to their own, but over the course of the season, we see plenty of examples of people crossing those lines.”

True Blood: “It was same old, same old.”

The Newsroom: “The Newsroom doesn’t make me want to go back and watch old Sports Night episodes … rather, it makes me wonder if I’ve been overrating Sports Night all these years.”

Broadchurch: “Each episode, we know those people a little bit better. Thus, the impact of this horrible event on the town is driven home to the viewer, through the way it impacts the characters.”

The Bridge: “The buddy picture, the procedural, the autistic heroine, the border between Mexico and the USA. None of these were particularly groundbreaking on their own, but the combination was intriguing.”

Longmire: “Take out the occasional use of the word “shit”, and tone down the violence a hair, and Longmire could have aired on broadcast television during just about any era.”

The Fall: “What raises The Fall is the care taken to establish characters, and the manner in which life in Belfast is integrated into the narrative with restraint.”

The Returned: “The Returned is good for the simplest of reasons: the setting is intriguing, the writing and acting are excellent, and the show manages to avoid stagnancy, advancing our understanding of events at just the right speed.”

Almost Human: “Lili Taylor is wasted … it must have taken a lot of work to make Taylor boring.”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “The good will has gradually seeped away.”

Boardwalk Empire: “There are worse things on television than a series that consistently delivers an A-. But if I ever figure out why Boardwalk Empire, for all it does well, somehow ends up just short of the pantheon, I’ll be surprised.”

Treme: “Great ensemble acting, wonderful music, characters you care about, just enough plot to keep things moving, and did I mention the music? All of this will be sorely missed when Treme finally closes shop.”

The Walking Dead: “It seems like a lot is happening, because of all the violence and gore, because important characters are killed, because Rick is always on the edge of change. But by the end, Rick always falls back into the leadership role, other characters fill the void created by others’ deaths, and the violence and gore continue. A lot happens, but nothing happens.”

Sons of Anarchy: “I realized I still looked forward to it, and it still had its powerful moments. And the ability to keep this up for six seasons is something.”

Dancing on the Edge: “Ejiofor makes this very intense; he is the best thing about Dancing on the Edge.”

Homeland: “The touching final moments of the finale, which should have been a powerful culmination of the Carrie-Brody story, merely elicited a ‘thank god it’s over’ from me.”

Masters of Sex: “The presence of Caplan/Johnson gives us a path into the series, and allows Sheen/Masters to be a different kind of anti-hero.”

the returned

I liked this French import quite a lot, and will say a bit more about it in a day or two, but I wanted to post something now, because Sundance Channel is having a marathon tomorrow where they show all eight episodes. Since it’s a good series for binge watching, I’m sending this out to let people know to set their DVRs.

The Returned is very hard to describe, because whatever genre you assign, it is much more than that. Last month, I wrote:

There is a new series out there that is very good, The Returned. I say “new”, but the show is actually a year old, having been produced for French television and now turning up in the States on the Sundance Channel. It is not an easy show to categorize, although I suppose if you looked on Netflix, it would be listed under “horror” or “thriller”. (OK, now I have to look. The movie the series is based on, They Came Back, is listed under these genres: Drama, Foreign, Zombies, Foreign Dramas, France, French Language (they really want you to know it’s French). I’ve listed this because “zombies” doesn’t strike me as a spoiler … The Returned is so unlike The Walking Dead, it’s a ludicrous comparison. And the zombies (or lack of same … it’s not completely clear there are zombies in The Returned, mostly because the show works on a different level from the usual scare-fest) aren’t the selling point, the way they are on Walking Dead. The Returned is a character story about how unexpected events affect the residents of a small town. Its pleasures are subtle, which is not to say boring … all of the episodes we’ve seen so far are very engrossing. There is certainly a place for the hyped-up excitement of a Walking Dead, and I don’t mean to suggest that The Returned is “good” because it seems arty and precious next to more spectacular series in similar genres. No, The Returned is good for the simplest of reasons: the setting is intriguing, the writing and acting are excellent, and the show manages to avoid stagnancy, advancing our understanding of events at just the right speed. So far, I’d give The Returned an A-, which could easily become an “A” by season’s end (there are eight episodes).

I’ve finished all eight episodes now, and I’m going to stick with an A-, mostly because it takes too much advantage of the fact that there will be a Season Two. But everything I said last month holds true. I don’t think I recognized a single actor in the show, and I don’t think there was a bad performance from anyone. Jenna Thiam stands out, but that is partly due to her magnificent hair. Trust me, that is not damning with faint praise. Check it out tomorrow, or when it inevitably ends up on Netflix or wherever.

music top ten of 2013

There’s no point in my creating a top ten list for 2013. I listen to music in what I might call Organized Shuffle … I have lots of playlists with semi-coherent themes, but I listen to them on shuffle play. And I don’t pay attention to what year each track is from. I’d also say I’m getting a bit old to pass myself off as an expert at current pop music, but I’m only 60, which makes me 11 years younger than Bob Christgau, who manages to keep up. So let’s call this a reality check, wherein my pretenses towards the contemporary meet up with the actuality of my listening.

According to, here are the ten artists I have listened to the most over the past 12 months, with the song I played the most by them during that time:

  1. The Beatles, “Get Back
  2. Pink, “Just Give Me a Reason
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny
  4. Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue
  5. Sleater-Kinney, “Youth Decay
  6. Ray Charles, “Hit the Road Jack
  7. Lou Reed, “Waves of Fear
  8. Jefferson Airplane, “Meadowlands
  9. The Who, “The Kids Are Alright
  10. James Brown, “Think

Kind of embarrassing … the only ones who come from anytime after the 60s are Pink and Sleater-Kinney.

Just to cover my ass, here are some 2013 tracks I liked, in no particular order:

Icona Pop, “I Love It”.

M.I.A., “Bring the Noise”.

Sleigh Bells, “Bitter Rivals”.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Despair”.

Katy Perry, “Roar”.

Regina Spektor, “You’ve Got Time”.

Pharrell Williams, “Happy”.