Ten Best TV and Movies I’ve Watched Recently
A Band Called Death
The best movie I’ve seen since MC5 * A True Testimonial is A Band Called Death — yes, I said the best, although I realize this outs my partiality to rock docs about bands from Detroit. This story would be extraordinary enough if it only traced the lost history of three black brothers who played punk before there was something called punk, but to watch the two surviving brothers re-form and finally gain the recognition their band deserved is amazing, albeit bittersweet.
I’m not a big fan of the genre, but it seemed like great fun to watch a horror flick on Halloween. Stephen King is a master writer in any genre, and Ramones wrote the title song, so it’s all gravy. I particularly liked Fred Gwynne from “The Munsters,” who plays the salty Maine old timer who befriends the couple relocating from Chicago.
We stumbled across this 2011 indie film and decided to give it a go because it seemed to have the right balance of strangeness and levity. Starring Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary, it skillfully evokes a world of nondenominational fundamentalism on the Texas plains and contrives a sexually repressive practice among married couples to propel a middle-aged woman’s journey into self-discovery. The acting and plot twists are not always convincing, but the movie shows a lot of heart over all.
With a federal shutdown barely cooled and partisan gridlock established as the new normal, surviving a zombie apocalypse doesn’t seem like such an outlandish concept. I like how the show collapses the characters’ racial and class lines of identity as it shows them grappling with survival in a set of conditions in which small group cohesion matters more than big cultural frameworks.
The retirement of “Breaking Bad,” which I understand closed with one of my favorite songs — “Baby Blue” by Badfinger — reignited my interest in the story of Walter White, the high school chemistry teacher whose mid-life crisis (and cancer diagnosis) trips him over to the dark side of meth manufacturing, murder and mayhem. I had to quit watching a year or so ago because the show was so dark, but I dipped back in for an episode or two of Season 3 as Skyler begins her affair with her boss to even the scales as Walt’s involvement in the drug trade becomes apparent.
The Long Goodbye
I’m a big fan of film noir and pretty much everything Robert Altman has directed. Released in 1973, the movie transports private eye Phillip Marlowe from the 1940s into early ’70s LA, a garish setting that suggests a hangover from the recent countercultural freakout. A scene in gangster Marty Augustine’s penthouse showing a twinkling string of lights along a boulevard stretching away from view is particularly stunning, and the gangster’s suggestion that everyone take off their clothes during a showdown is nothing short of bizarre.
It’s hard to top “Mad Men” for contemporary television, but I was always more partial to The Wire. My wife and I watched it for a while, but we weren’t totally committed. I returned recently for the final episodes Season 2, around the time when adman Don Draper goes AWOL in California. The show can’t be beat for its painstaking fidelity to period style.
Our Idiot Brother
We needed to laugh one night, and Our Idiot Brother is really funny. The main character played by Paul Rudd is as clueless as they come in an endearing kind of upstate New York hippie kind of way. I love the part where he hands a uniformed officer a stalk of rhubarb and a bag of weed, and then thinks he’s playing along with a joke about being caught in a sting. Simple, but funny.
“Parks and Recreation”
At the end of a long day and after putting a baby down to sleep, sometimes 30 minutes of light television is as much as we can handle. Who would have thought that local government could be so entertaining? I would, having covered Greensboro and Winston-Salem city governments for a combined nine years. The show has me in stitches almost non-stop, but in the real world I’m pretty sure it would be a major scandal for a parks and recreation department director to use staff time and labor to run for political office.
“Portlandia” mocks the city in Oregon “where young people go to retire,” but I’ve made it my mission to encourage all of its trappings — cycling, locavore eating, crafting, low-fi performance aesthetics and urban beards — in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. I guess the joke’s on me.