VEEP, Season 2 – Finale

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I finished watching season 2 of VEEP, starring Julia Louis Dreyfes as a frantic Vice President. Created by Armando Iannucci of In the Thick of It fame, this season’s fast-paced wit and craziness equaled season 1. Gary Cole appeared regularly as an officious data-addict, who vexes Selina, the VEEP and her staff. Occasionally, Selina’s ex-husband was on hand to unnerve the staff as they’d like to see this unpredictable schemer as little as possible.

While I enjoyed this season, VEEP isn’t the same caliber as In the Thick of It. The dialogue is great, but they don’t have the creative swearing that you’d find in the British show. Round and round, the characters scheme, mainly to advance their careers rather than to attain any goal for public good. That’s not the problem. I’m not sure what’s missing, but my best guess is that there’s not enough story. None of the people rise or fall. Also, I don’t think Iannucci offers an original critique of American politics the way he does for the UK. That’s essential for satire. He lampoons politicians, but the episodes don’t say anything crucial about politics.

Nonetheless, Julia Louis-Dreyfess is my choice for Best Actress in a Comedy for the 2013 Emmys. For 2014, I hope the show has more meat for her entire cast.

798 Art Space

When I was in Beijing, I went to the 798 Art Space. I’d been there a few years ago and this time it seemed more commercialized. While there were cafes and shops before there seem to be more or else there just seemed to be fewer galleries open. Some galleries have started to charge and although they just asked for 10 rmb, that adds up and in a country with so many fantastic museums that are free paying made no sense.

I was pleased that I figured out how to get out to 798 on public transportation. You can just take the subway to Dongzhimen and then a bus out to 798. Beijing cabbies overcharge tourists relentlessly.

In a Better World

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The Danish film In a Better World caught me by surprise. Compelling and intense, it weaves together the stories of Anton, a doctor who works for an NGO like Doctors without Borders in Africa and his family in Denmark and Christian, a boy who moves to Denmark after his mother dies. Anton’s son Elias is a victim of bullying until Christian defends him. The two boys become friends, but Elias is troubled by Christian’s violent streak. Christian believes might makes right and takes pleasure in revenge and plotting. He doesn’t know when to stop or that the unexpected can make a plot go awry in terrible ways.

Anton lives part of the year in Denmark, where he tries to reconcile with his wife Marianne, and part of the year in war-torn Africa where women are sliced open by a Chieftain called Big Man. Anton is a highly ethical man who tries to live non-violently and to teach his son the same.

Lonely and fascinated by Christian, Elias is too weak to refuse and stop his friend from his escalating violence. The film depicts the consequences of missing fathers.

 

I liked the film’s tone and the opportunity to travel to two new settings, Africa and Denmark. Roger Ebert criticized the film for cutting between the two cultures of Africa and Denmark, however, as someone who splits her time between cultures I found no problem with that choice.

The Way Way Back

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Starring Liam James as Duncan, a gawky, alienated teenager who might as well have been kidnapped by his mother’s new boyfriend, endures a summer amongst the shallow and immature of all ages. The title comes from Duncan’s seat in the boyfriend’s old station wagon, the way way back. This also represents his place in this group, that might become a family – way, way on the margins.

With Steve Carell as Trent, the jerky boyfriend,  Toni Collette as Pam the doormat girlfriend/mother, The Way Way Back shows a society where most adults are clueless, self-absorbed, lost drinkers.  The film adroitly mixes comedy and pathos. The strength of the film is the banter of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a nearby water park and Betty, (Alison Janney) the loud, drinking neighbor who has no qualms about inviting herself to any party and who has no idea how or why to keep a secret. Both Rockwell and Janney are terrific and get all the best lines. Owen’s cursed with Peter Pan syndrome avoidance, but blessed with a sense of decency and an ability to notice Duncan’s needs and reach out to Duncan, whose been forced to spend a summer with Trent who tells Duncan that on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 3.

The scenes at Trent’s summer house are painful. Trent’s a jerk, Duncan’s mother contents herself with her low status in the circle of friends and Trent’s daughter is a beautiful, unhappy teenage queen bee. No wonder Duncan escapes to the rundown water park, where real fun and ironically a bit of wisdom can be found.

I enjoyed the film as much as the summer house cliques made me want to cringe. Though it’s sent in our era, I kept thinking, this would be better set in the ’70s or ’80s as it could have a better sound track. Also, the characters seem like they belong in the pre-smart phone days. Some plot lines didn’t make sense because problems would have been solved by calling someone. Also, I never bought that all these characters would stay at their summer homes all summer long. Pam is a caterer. While she could take off as long as she wanted, wouldn’t she get calls for fall parties? I know she was supposed to be a doormat, but even doormat’s have experiences and responsibilities worth including.

Trent and the other men’s jobs aren’t specified. In my experience the men come up to the summer homes on the weekends or for one full week. Here they seem to be there all summer long.

I wish Pam’s character was more fleshed out. It was also very weird how she would be attracted to a father who was so obviously indifferent to his daughter. They rarely spoke to each other and a perceptive woman would notice that and care. Yet Pam doesn’t.

Auntie Mame

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On my flight home I got to see the delightful Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell. How did I escape this film? Well, I was born too late, that’s one reason.

The story revolves around free spirt Mame, who becomes the guardian of her nephew Patrick, who’s orphaned. She’s a smart, unconventional, vivacious woman who lives life to the fullest. When she enrolls Patrick in a school with clothing optional, the bank trustee ships him off to boarding school.

Too bad. While she’s unorthodox, she does love Patrick and there was never any signs that he’d become a danger to himself or society. He would have wound up much less of a stick in the mud if he stayed with her. Yet their relationship continues and they remain connected as Mame travels the world, marries and is soon widowed.

The film is smart, funny and entertaining. Few comedies, if any, nowadays strike the notes Auntie Mame does. It’s a real treasure.

John McWhorter on Txting

O mores, o tempora?

Not quite. In this fascinating Ted Talk linguist McWhorter asserts that texting isn’t really writing as we know it. He goes on to assure us this is not the death knell of writing.

I’m relieved.