Musical Love · TV and Movies

In The Heights: The Movie

I can barely express how excited I am about this movie! A part of my me thought it would never happen. But the team behind this have clearly created something special. In The Heights was such a huge part of my life when I lived in NYC. This trailer gives me chills. Truly cannot wait for June.

TV and Movies

BoJack Horseman Season 4

Wow. I mean, holy shit. Season 4 hit me like a ton of bricks. BoJack Horseman has always been a smart, dark, creative, funny show to me, but they really hit it out of the park with this season. The first season takes some set up and then gets really wild (Downer Ending ftw). The second season shows more depth with so much creative insanity with all this sadness lingering underneath (the end of Let’s Find Out!). However, season 3 was so effing dark. Honestly, I have a hard time returning to many of those episodes because of how it ended. It was just SO real. And so dark.

But season 4. I started out with the first two episodes and loved the different approach. A whole episode without BoJack, and then an episode introducing a lot of family history. The next day I thought I could dose a few episodes here and there. But then I couldn’t stop. And I knew I’d finish the season in a day and I’d be like…

diane bojack s4

No regrets. But all of the gut punches. And amazing stories. And the guest stars. I mean, seriously, the end credits always blows me away with the celebrity names.

But the meat of the season: The storyline with BoJack’s daughter half-sister and his mother being well into dementia (and those flashbacks, especially in episode 11, WOAH) kept taking turns in ways I did not expect. Mr. Peanut Butter and Todd have the wackier of storylines but still show their character’s depth while introducing new wacky arcs.

Princess Caroline and Diane’s story lines are so nuanced and painful… I can’t wait to see what happens next. The sweet glory of ending the season on a positive note for BoJack was truly necessary. There are so many winning parts of so many episodes I don’t even know how to parse it out. The episode inside BoJack’s head and depression and anxiety (Stupid Piece of Shit) was just… spot on. Princess Caroline’s future story that makes her feel better when she has a bad day… omfg. I’m going to just ramble story points to myself now. Because, and I’m serious, OMFG BoJack Horseman season 4. Way. To. Go.

Bojack PC season 4

I already had a knee-jerk reaction just to restart the season all over again. It’s truly that good.

TV and Movies · Upstate life

Hits and Skype-ing with David Cross

Last Thursday I went to see a one-night only event at the Spectrum theater in Albany. This event was for a showing of Hits, a movie written and directed by David Cross (of Mr. Show and Arrested Development fame). I knew nothing of the original Kickstarter, and I first heard about this movie on my beloved Harmontown podcast. David Cross was a guest and I was so excited about that in its own right to absorb most of the talk about his movie. I’ll admit I remained uninterested outside of laughing the jokes about Hits being the first legit movie released on BitTorrent. I mean, Dan Harmon rapped and David Cross sang along, so I was clearly focused on the important things.

A week later maybe I saw a post from All Over Albany about the movie showing at the Spectrum. I got excited, as I do when awesome things show up in the Capital Region. Once I watched the trailer I knew it was a movie I wanted to see. Next thing I know I see David Cross’s name pop up on my latest Comedy Bang Bang podcast episode (he was working it for this movie, obviously). As I listened to that podcast, I was reminded about the “pay what you want” feature, and got to enjoy Hits stars Matt Walsh and James Adomian yuck it up. Worried tickets would sell out, I grabbed a few the weekend before and made plans to arrive at the theater early enough to get good seats.

Movie events in general have a great energy to them. Last year (I think?) I went to a showing of The Big Lebowski at Proctors where they sold white russians and gave away random movie posters. It had a great community feeling to it. Things were a bit similar at the Spectrum, however with a heavy dose of exceedingly hip looking people in the mix instead of dudes in robes.

Hits itself was a solid movie. I laughed a lot, more than I thought I would, and enjoyed the whole experience. We were treated to a recorded intro from Cross cut together with random bits. The pace really kept things movie and it was SO funny, if a bit awkward and dark. Some especially sharp jabs were targeted to the NYC-savvy. (“We’re a collective out of Williamsburg.” “We’re out of Bushwick.”) I can see how some reviewers felt the package overall didn’t deliver, but knowing David Cross’s stand up a bit and his position on people who are famous for being famous (and his comments on The Simple Life), it all made sense.

I really loved the ending “twist” and absurdity of it all. It ended on a solid note, if a little frustrating. But that’s how the world is in the end, like when I try to explain to people the sharp commentary Anchorman 2 made about CNN and the dumbing down of news in America. But most people are like, ‘meh, not that funny.’ And Hits makes a solid point that people LOVE to bandwagon ideas or people or concepts rather than learn about the actual details of a plan or about who a person is (KONY2012 anyone?).

David Cross Spectrum

Maybe the biggest excitement of all was getting to experience a Skype session with David Cross after the film. I don’t know how to details were worked out, but he agreed to Skype in to chat after the movie and answer questions. One ticket seller told me it was one of a few theaters getting that perk. He answered questions for about 20 minutes, with only one or two painfully awkward moments or technical difficulties. It was such a cool event, and I’m really glad I went.

Ramblings · TV and Movies

Short Term 12

GRACE: He ran away again, and then two days later someone found him dead in the bushes.

NATE: What?

GRACE: That is the real ending to the story.

MASON: I don’t like that part.


Short Term 12 is a great movie, and it does not tread lightly whatsoever on the tough topics. The story is from the viewpoint of Grace, who runs the floor at a group home for troubled teenagers. It’s safe to say I was in tears for at least 70% of the movie. I’d heard about it a while back since John Gallagher Jr. is in it and I’ve followed him via theater stuff for a while. I’d more or less forgotten about it, and I don’t even know if it got released in Albany, but then it popped up on Netflix. It was idly sitting there in my queue when I read this piece about Brie Larson and Shailene Woodley. Granted it’s supposed to be a glowing profile, but I definitely came away from it finding them both a tad insufferable. But every comment still reiterated Brie Larson’s solid acting chops, especially in Short Term 12. I really enjoyed her on Community briefly as Abed’s love interest and now I needed to see if she did disappear into her roles like everyone said.

The quote above comes only 10 minutes into the movie, almost as an afterthought. A postscript to Mason’s long, hilarious story of shitting his pants while following a kid outside the home. It’s clear that there’s only so much these leaders can do to protect and watch the kids. I almost don’t even want to write too much about all of the story lines and thoughts and feelings because they’re still ruminating in my head. It makes sense that we learn Mason and Grace were both damaged foster kids – making them probably the best qualified people to handle and reach those kids. I’ve always been drawn to these kinds of movies, I think because growing up I had the kind of angst that connects with those emotions even if I wasn’t coming from the same kind of situation. I did a huge film analysis including the movie Thirteen (and apparently Larson was up for Evan Rachel Wood’s part) and some other teen angst film in high school.  Those emotions are so real and facing them is how you grow as a person, which I think I had trouble doing = hence the movie watching as a guide. Maybe I just like dark things.

Marcus’s story might be my favorite because the turns keep coming that you don’t necessarily expect. It sounds trite to say the movie subverts expectations, but they handle the balance of telling this story without making any of the kids seem like cliches. Marcus is angry, he’s hot headed, and he’s about to be forced into the real world now that he’s 18. That scene above (see the full gif moment here) is absolutely heartbreaking. It makes the ending drama and sort of in-story epilogue that much more triumphant. Same with Brie Larson’s Grace… as a viewer you basically earn the discovery of what’s going on with her. It’s not obvious, but as time goes on you realize whatever it is is a big big thing. As with a lot of indie films, I feel like sometimes the dialogue is lacking, but at the same time this does a great job at showing versus telling. When the emotion is so charged it’s almost better. Even in my own life I sometimes feel like I overcompensate by being more verbose than taking in a moment or feeling through an emotion. It’s so easy to deflect. Watching movies like this remind me to do that more. To just lay down on the floor and think. Calm down. Figure shit out. Because like always, it’ll start all over again, and you have to be prepared to tackle what life throws at you.


TV and Movies


“Your cartoons are monuments to joylessness, nervously assembled jokes based on nothing from your life, or anyone’s life. You’re furious at me for being creative because you want to be able to create. You have all this rage and shame and loneliness — which I don’t even know how to feel, much less understand — and you decide to put what on paper? A duck.”


Look, we can argue all day long about whether or not Community “really bad” or just different when run by not-Dan-Harmon, but the above to me explains all you need to know. Danny Pudi is an excellent actor how can rise to the level of showing a complex character like Abed react with other people or with places that don’t get what he’s all about. He’s not just a self-aware pop-reference machine. He has to live honestly to himself and, more frequently, he has to face unsavory reactions to that. Especially now that Donald Glover’s Troy is gone. I was floored by this interaction. First the fake praise to the continued punishment and then to the truely punishing yelling. It led to resolution that isn’t perfect but explains human flaws.


Last week’s episode didn’t jump out as OMG the best. Honestly, the set up premise felt weak and silly. But the execution was great. The actors were great. These pairings, the feelings, those attacks, the low points… it’s all real. It’s not a play on character stereotypes or easy laughs.

TV and Movies

Drinking Buddies Makes Me Thirsty


I like Olivia Wilde, especially her presence on Twitter. I love Jake Johnson on the New Girl and in Safety Not Guaranteed. Anna Kendrick is all things adorable and awesome. I’m pretty indifferent on Ron Livingston but 3 out of 4 actors made this movie about relationships and people who work in a brewery seem cool. What I didn’t know until reading some reviews was that the movie was mostly improvised. I know it’s a tactic used a lot in different kinds of films, especially mumblecore, but I’d say it definitely hurt this movie. All of these actors I normally like were pretty uncomfortable, and not in any sort of good way, on screen. Olivia Wilde actually seemed to have the best grasp on it. All the improvised small talk in transition scenes seemed reallyyyy uncomfortable. Is it possible seeming too real is actually really awkward on film?

I know a lot of great movies tell stories where not much happens. I mean, I just watched a movie where a futuristic Robot helps and old man rob people. OK that’s probably a bad example. There was way more relationship development there. I can see how in Drinking Buddies they show a more real, bare bones way relationships and friendship interactions play out. But it wasn’t all that interesting. Truthiness isn’t inherently great unless it provokes something bigger. Like in comedy, where a comic makes a relatively obvious statement but brings it to a context that is hilarious BECAUSE it’s overbearingly honest. Anyway. Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are clearly connected and attracted to each other but for whatever reason are both avoiding that conversation. Oh right, he’s been dating the same girl since she (or they?) were 21. Olivia Wilde is dating boring Ron Livingston until he kisses Anna Kendrick on a hike, where she provokes the moment. Also, Ron has no chemistry with anyone, and the attempts at flirting or whatever where painfully uninspired. Ron breaks up with Olivia but Jake and Anna just keep on keeping on. Jake gets pissed off at Olivia flaunting her single-ness. She manipulates his feelings so they hang out, clearly needing him as a support. When Anna goes away on a college reunion trip, Jake and Olivia get far too close for anyone with a serious significant other. It seems like the movies asks: who is more in the wrong – the one time interaction that brought up feelings and a kiss, or the long time friends clearly too close for comfort but keep the line blurred by not saying anything important.

Here’s what I don’t get. A lot of people crossed lines. They’re all wrong. Anna comes home early to tell Jake about the kiss and he basically forgives her immediately. Cool. I can get that, it was a small thing. He’s the one that showed up with a destroyed hand and busted face after his long weekend of closeness with Olivia and it’s not even questioned. Then we end on Olivia and Jake back at lunch with their usual, albeit recovering friendship. Did anything change? Did it need to? Maybe that extreme closeness where the line got the blurriest had to happen between Olivia and Jake to lead the fight that forced them to redefine their boundaries. The goofball friendship. Anna kissed Ron but felt guilty and told Jake about it, but tried to justify her guilt by pressing the marriage issue that seems to strain a relationship that has little momentum but a lot of comfort. It’s almost like the movie could be a companion to Take This Waltz – it’s easy to get excited about something that seems new or different than what you have, but the reality will leave you in the same place you started. That saying, “wherever you go, there you are.”

Basically, this movie was a slice of life style story where not much happened, and the acting suffered for a lack of structure. It made me think but I was unimpressed, even while chugging some beers during the process.

Ramblings · TV and Movies

The Whole Package

I’m not sure what you were thinking this post will be about based on the title, but it’s not that. I’m a pop culture, news obsessed media person. I can’t help it. I sometimes have to remove myself from Twitter because I can’t stop consuming the news stories and conversations. There are positives to being connected, but constantly consuming someone else’s work instead of making your own is a tricky downhill slide. And I’m definitely guilty. Where is that saying from? I wish I remembered where I read/heard/saw that.

Anyway. Far off in the-actual-point land: I get hooked into TV shows. And books. And people. When I first started watching 30 Rock on Netflix I couldn’t stop, although I was several years late to that party. The next day I went out and bought Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants. I’m not usually like that. I like to think about things for a while or not get all-consumed with every aspect of a new thing. I wish I could say why but I don’t know. I did really enjoy getting into Tina Fey’s head and watching 30 Rock. The way people write, if it’s a way I connect with, immediately makes me feel bonded to them.


OK, so maybe we’re not at actual-point-land yet. (Do you like the change in hyphens? I do.) I got Marc Maron’s book Attempting Normal for Christmas. I had plenty of downtime and sunshine to enjoy while in Southern California, so I got through half the book before flying back to NY. All my flight and layover time meant that I finished the book right before my connection to Albany took off. I only started listening to his WTF podcast late in 2012, when I started commuting to Vermont for my new job. That meant I knew in vague terms a lot about his life but, as I learned through reading, I knew none of the real gritty details. In so many ways I’m absolutely nothing like Marc Maron. Probably most ways. But I get his writing and his brain processes so well.

Despite all that I wasn’t sure if I’d really like his IFC show Maron. I know how acclaimed Louie C. K.’s show is and I’ve still never made it through an episode. I default to happy, silly things these days, unless it’s a deep and thoughtful movie and I’m feeling bummed out. The overwhelming awkward sad-life-truth thing though seems like a TV show I don’t need when I can just live life. Who knows, though, my thoughts could change. Since it hit Netflix, I decided to check out Maron and powered through five episodes. It’s not mind blowing, but I like it. It’s 22 minutes (or whatever), pretty fast paced and while relates to life and darkness, it’s also clever and funny. There can be something very fulfilling about listening to someone else ruminate about the very things you toss around in your head.

TV and Movies

I know you don’t like to hear this, Frank, but I’m not human

I love making lists. I’m a very tactile learner. I have to write things down by hand most of the time to remember them. Of course, this also means I have lists left around my apartment, in old pages of a notepad, as well as post-its that my eyes just glaze over after a while. My point is this: as hard as I try to remember things and be organized, I forget a lot. This leads me to my movie review here of Robot & Frank. It’s been on a list taped to my wall that was transferred from my Albany apartment, along with several other movies I wanted to see. The only other one I’ve seen on the list is Perks of Being a Wallflower. Last weekend I was talking to J about how I spent a night starting three different movies that just couldn’t hook me when I glanced at the list. Lucky for me Robot & Frank is currently streaming on Netflix.

Robot & Frank

This movie is set “somewhere in the near future” and it seems that we come in at a point that could predict life when people my age are now retiring. Technology has advanced to make calls on your TV screen and holographic phones, and there are now robots you can purchase that have personality in a sense but mostly function as an aid. We get the impression that Frank is a simple man, living alone in his house and happy to live his shop-lifting, meandering days just however he wants. His son arrives, as he does every week, with a robot to help Frank keep his home clean and essentially stay sane. We see slips in Frank’s memory but he appears to function as a typical old crank. After arguing about the robot, Frank’s son leaves and they get to talking. Robot never gets a name.

As I was watching this I felt like I keep falling into this pattern of movies about isolated men. Lars and the Real Girl, Her (which I haven’t seen but have already read plenty about), and now this. Frank’s particular problem is that he’s done time for burglary, more than once, and he doesn’t seem to have interest in much else. His trips into town involve burglarizing the same store, even though the clerk is clearly on to him. Frank only starts to bond to Robot because of its lack of morality when it comes to stealing. Frank turns Robot into his partner in crime, despite Robot repeatedly saying, “I’m not human.” The robot has one main directive – to get Frank healthy and in a routine for his memory – and therefore anything else is a just a means to that end. There are some blurry edges here though. He uses emotional manipulation to get Frank to keep him in the beginning, saying he doesn’t want to fail and go back to the factory where his memory would be erased. We’ll see how that sticks with Frank later.

We reach a point when Frank’s hippie, world-saving daughter comes to stay and refuses to let Robot stay on until Frank quiet predictably tells her, “he’s my friend.” It’s true in a sense. There’s a very fine line in their bond that feels real despite the (lack of) reality of the relationship. Frank complies with Robot’s demands to get its help picking locks to steal from the futuristic young entrepreneur destroying the library. Robot does what Frank asks as long as they have a healthy routine.

The reveal at the end [OMG SPOILER] that the nice librarian Frank has a crush on is actually his ex-wife didn’t feel as surprising as it did sad. Obviously Frank never changed from his one main focus: thieving and focusing on himself. So I was pretty confused when it seemed like Frank wanted to run off with Robot instead of erasing his memory to avoid jail time. Only when Robot explains how Frank could start over, beginning the lock pick teaching process over again, that I think Frank realizes how singular his focus had been and that it’s time to let go.

“I knew you had an off switch,” Frank says as the powered down Robot folds into his arms. At the last second Frank realizes just how far gone he really had become. He winds up in a home (Brain Center?), still a little off but coherent enough to leave his son a note for them to find the diamonds hidden under the garden Robot planted. What? Yes, diamonds, from the big heist of the movie, which I can’t say I found all that compelling. It suited the narrative well but it was almost too obvious that some hip douchebag would be turning the library into a digital hang out, acting totes fascinated by Frank as an old who likes real books. Frank then steals that guy’s wife’s jewelry in a big heist with Robot, after they first stole books from the library as the initial training job. The pursuing events with Jeremy Sisto as the fan/shady cop and everything was entertaining but not compelling. A means to end, I guess. Just like Robot & Frank.

TV and Movies

Lars and the real ‘Her’

Lately I’ve been following the buzz about a movie from Spike Jonze called “Her.” It stars Joaquin Phoenix and focuses on his relationship with an operating system named Samantha. Presumably set a bit in the future, this operating system is fully interactive, in that it can carry a conversation with you and sort through your digital life. It even reads through your email to get a sense of what’s going on in your life. In the two trailers that are out now you watch Phoenix’s character Theodore become attached to the system and carry his phone around like his girlfriend, with the camera facing the world. In the most recent trailer, his ex-wife admonishes him, exclaiming that he always wanted the comfort of a relationship without the challenge of actually dealing with someone else in your life. And yet when Samantha asks him what being married is like, you hear Theodore say that there’s something special about sharing your life with someone else. I guess the final question is if you can fully share you life with someone who’s just a voice presence or you need a real flesh and blood person.


My online consumption is heavy on reading discussions, so through many comments on the posts about Her I was reminded of Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling. I remembered that the movie was also based around someone not being able to connect with the world and dealing with those issues by believing his mail-order life-sized doll was a real person. I had a night in trying to fight a cold, I pulled up the movie on Netflix streaming (hooray!) and revisited the story.

Obviously, major wow credit goes to Ryan Gosling’s acting. Immediately we are introduced to the slow pacing of his interactions with people, especially how he chooses his words carefully and willfully ignores comments he doesn’t want to (or can’t) respond to. His brother Gus, who lives in the family house with his pregnant wife while Lars lives in the garage, is played by the actor who is now best known to me as Mark Brandoquitz from Parks & Rec. He does a great job here as someone who had the opposite reaction to their family’s problems (you often see siblings take different routes to deal with the same trauma), and he simultaneously tries to ignore what’s wrong with his brother as well as help him.

One of the big developments in the movie comes when Lars talks with the psychologist “treating” Bianca and he admits that he hates being touched. To him, a touch burns and he can’t stand the hugs from Karen, his brother’s wife. The psychologist tests his limits by touching his arm, which is painful but bearable. When she goes for his neck he freaks out. You see this come up later with the “real human” love interest, when Lars opening shakes her hand and starts to see the potential in connecting with other people.


Another defining moment is the scene where Lars demands his brother tell him how he knew when he was a man. Gus gets flustered, eventually describing several big picture ideas, including doing what’s right for everyone even when it hurts, being good to people around you, and admitting when you’re wrong. He comments, “It sounds like it’s easy and for some reason it’s not.”

I think that’s why these kinds of movies hit such a cord with people and make a strong emotional impact: we all struggle with parts of life that seem like they should be easy. It shouldn’t be so hard to act like an adult, to make friends in your twenties, to figure out what kind of life plan you want, to make the obvious right choice. We all move around, act like idiots, make huge mistakes, feel lonely and act selfishly at times. And we all choose to reach out or engage in the different ways that brings us comfort, while the bigger choices and decisions sit nearby, waiting for us to be ready.

Thinking about the trailer for Her, I can see the similarities to Lars. Or, in a way, it’s a follow up to Lars and the Real Girl. It’s as if Lars grew up, learned to connect with people, only to get crushed when his marriage fell apart and reverted to isolating behavior. Except with Theodore turning to his phone as a point of connection, since it (she?) can actually converse with him, he creates a codependent relationship that will be harder to break. I really can’t wait to see what the movie is all about.

Ramblings · TV and Movies

Frances Ha (Ha ha ha. Awkward laugh.)


I was stoked to finally see that Frances Ha arrived on Netflix. I read about it a bit and listened to the WTF podcast with Noah Baumbach, and it sounded intriguing. Honestly, though, I wasn’t sure if it was a good intriguing or a bad one. I’ve still never seen Girls, and I just generally consume the idea of people annoyed with overdone millennials being too self aware or needy or whatever. But of course, given that I am one, I figured I’d at least relate or see some mirroring. Well. This movie definitely made me cringe a bit, but only in seeing things that are so true to life. We are all awkward at times, but especially so in our twenties. As I’ve hit 27 in the last week, I know that I’m still developing as a person. However I also know that I’m less afraid to do and say weird stuff, even if I’m still painfully aware of what doesn’t land in a group setting. Another strong point (maybe gleaned from the movie) is that even if you know your life isn’t all together, the self awareness doesn’t help you fix it any faster than life is going to let you. Can you tell I’ve been through a lot of these feelings in my life?!

Frances is quirky and cute and whimsical in a lot of ways, and people like her and are kind, but that doesn’t make her invincible or endearing to anyone. She gets lucky and she fails, and you can tell when people are merely tolerating her out of kindness. I mean, I cringed at the whole “tell me the story of us” line to Sophie or her dashing about like a maniac to get cash at dinner, but a lot of it felt true to life without much heavy handedness. If you don’t quite feel like an adult yet you just do shit that feels adult until you reach your limit, like in the opening when she breaks up with her boyfriend by making up excuses why she can’t move in and tries to just walk out. Awkward adult and non adult times. I still feel like I’m in that phase of growing up and learning the kinds of people and behavior you’re willing to tolerate, and how to keep certain friends in your life even as you take on different roles. When things really aren’t working out, Frances just powers through and keeps telling herself that it’ll all work out. That she’ll get what she wants eventually. Or that it’s only a minor interlude that she can’t afford to live in the city or the dance company she works for is letting her go.

The question of “what do you do?” is a great way to get to know someone but also probably not as apt a question these days. You never know if someone is working to pay for their outside activities that fulfill them or are still struggling through years of underemployment or whatever. When I was unemployed and meeting new people I hated that question. It’s easy to spin it and cover for yourself (thus making me cringe at the unnecessary seeming awkwardness of Frances’ responses to many things in the film, but hey they’re trying to send a message) but it can still sting. And I did like how this is presented when the question is brought up:

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” she says.
“Because what you do is complicated?” they ask.
“Because I don’t really do it.”

It can be a hard question to answer, whether you don’t like what you do or you feel like you have to qualify it for whatever reason, or because you do more in your free time that doesn’t make you money but makes you happy. This exchange is right after a particularly messy fight with her former/best friend Sophie as Frances refuses to accept that her friend is growing while she’s stuck in place. And right after this she decides to go to Paris for two days thanks to a free apartment offer. And it sucks. She walks around, calling a friend who doesn’t get her messages until she’s back in NYC, and just mopes about Paris. When I imagine the wonder of hopping a plane to a foreign country for the hell of it, I can honestly see that this is the stark reality of that bold move. You can’t just force whimsy and adventure into your life if you’re not feeling it.

Toward the end of the movie you kind of see Frances evolve in the way she talks to people and addresses the world around her. I think it’s easy to hold on to the quirky and silly ways we talk about things or people to avoid ownership or seriousness. Instead of calling Sophie her twin or some elaborate description, she finally just admits she’s her best friend (and probably realizing they’re very much their own separate identities now).