DVD Review: The Interrupters

Brendan here. The Interrupters is the latest documentary from Steve James, director of 1994’s Hoop Dreams – the first documentary I remember having an emotional impact on me. The Interrupters is similarly affecting. The film follows CeaseFire Chicago, a group of social workers, activists, and educators fighting against the tide of gang violence in Chicago.

As shown in The Interrupters, CeaseFire Chicago has been effective in reducing gun violence. One of the interactions in the film which demonstrates this features “Flamo” – an angry young man who is ready to retaliate against those who wronged him, but who is persuaded by CeaseFire worker Kobe Williams to take a step back and think of the impact his actions would have on his family. The resolution of his story is a welcome reprieve from the bleakness of the overall film and of the lives documented therein.

Another noteworthy voice in the film is that of Spencer Leak, a funeral director who once drove for Martin Luther King Jr., who says regarding the election of President Obama: “I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime. But while I’m seeing the president on television and the images of him leading the free world, I’m still burying black kids. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Interrupters is a film that deserves attention, and its absence in the Oscar nominations is a shame.

You can watch clips from the film at PBS.

Buy DVD @ Amazon

Friday Night Lights Series Finale Tonight!

The finale episode of Friday Night Lights will air tonight on NBC at 8:00 p.m. EST. I haven’t been this sad to see a series end since My So-Called Life. The end of this critically acclaimed, extraordinary drama (which I’ve been raving about here for four years & included on my Best of the Decade list) will leave me with no favorite shows on television now.

“Devil Knows You’re Dead” by Delta Spirit will be featured in tonight’s episode and you can download a free, legal mp3 of the song via Delta Spirit’s site.

Watch FNL Episodes Online @ NBC
Buy FNL DVDs @ Amazon

Friday Night Lights: Season 5 Premiere Tonight!

The new season of Friday Night Lights will air tonight on NBC at 8pm EST! I’ve raved about the show here every year since its first season (click on the link for more info about the show), and it was my #3 show of the last decade.

I must admit I lost some of my enthusiasm last season due to the absence of many of the original characters, but Coach Taylor and his wife continued to be the heart of the show. Friday Night Lights is still the best drama on television and I’m excited for its return.

Sadly, NBC has said this will be the show’s final season. If you appreciate brilliant writing, acting, and direction, you should watch it.

Buy FNL DVDs @ Amazon

DVD: Lark Rise To Candleford

Lark Rise To Candleford is my new favorite television series. I’ve so far watched three of the British drama’s four seasons and I grow to love the show more with each episode. Very much like Cranford in its period setting and genteel mood, Lark Rise To Candleford is based on Flora Thompson’s autobiographical novels. Set in the English countryside in the nineteenth century, the series focuses on the inhabitants of a small hamlet called Lark Rise and its neighboring market town Candleford.

The series is narrated by and initially follows young Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan) from her family’s humble home in Lark Rise to live and work with her cousin Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha of Absolutely Fabulous) in bustling Candleford’s post office. Yet the strength of the series lies in the depths and humors of its many other characters.

Candleford buzzes around independent and meddling Postmistress Dorcas, hilariously devout Postman Thomas Brown (Mark Heap, whose performance is reminiscent of Father Ted‘s Dougal) and the snooty spinster seamstress Pratt sisters (Matilda Ziegler and Victoria Hamilton), while in nearby Lark Rise we find drunken curmudgeon Twister (Karl Johnson) and his beloved wife Queenie (Linda Bassett), amiable, oft pregnant and always debt-ridden Caroline Arless (The Vicar of Dibley‘s Dawn French) and Laura’s hardworking and big-hearted parents, proud mason Robert (Downtown Abbey‘s Brendan Coyle) and longsuffering Emma (Cranford‘s Claudie Blakley). Each season brings a new character or two into town to shake things up, but it’s the residents of Lark Rise and Candleford that pull you in.

The beautiful setting, artful direction, warmhearted writing and brilliant acting of Lark Rise To Candleford make me miss that idyllic fictional world and its lovable inhabitants so much when I finish an episode that I can’t wait to return.

BUY DVDs @ AMAZON

TV: 2011 TV Shows

I didn’t watch much television in 2010 and gave up on many of the new shows I started watching last autumn. My current viewing roster is below…

Harry’s Law – airs on NBC at 10:00 p.m. EST on Monday nights.

I really didn’t expect this show to be as good as it is, but never underestimated the awesomeness of Kathy Bates. This is a somewhat formulaic David E. Kelly legal dramedy, very much like The Practice when James Spader and William Shatner first joined. Kathy Bates stars as an ex-patent lawyer who opens a small criminal defense firm in a former “fine shoes” store. The quirky shoe store part of this setup is a little too David E. Kelly for me, and I find his standard skinny dumb blonde assistant character especially grating this time around. But it is refreshing to once again have a legal drama on tv that is interesting without being disturbing. And Bates is both formidable and hilarious as the lovable curmudgeon Harry. I can only hope Kelly doesn’t ruin this one by making his actors sing as he did with Ally McBeal, Boston Public and The Practice, all of which I loved at the beginning but couldn’t bear to watch by the end.

You can watch all the episodes at NBC’s site.

No Ordinary Family – airs on ABC at 8:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday nights.

I already posted about this superhero family/action drama after it first debuted last October (note: I gave up on Outsourced because it became the painful stereotype its critics accused it of). Created, written and produced by Greg Berlanti of Everwood, this family-friendly show stars The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis and Angel‘s Julie Benz as the parents of a family endowed with unusual abilities after a plane crash in the Amazon. The drama initially centered on the emotional struggles the characters experienced as they adjusted to their new powers, but this year the show has shifted focus on the superhero storylines replete with supervillians. Oh and you could make a pretty good drinking game out of geeky scientist Katie’s stereotypical comic book and sci fi references.

You can watch all the episodes at ABC’s site.

Off The Map – airs on ABC at 10:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday nights.

There were only two reasons I even gave this show, which is by the creators Grey’s Anatomy, a chance: Caroline Dhavernas and Zach Gilford. If those names aren’t familiar to you, Caroline Dhavernas was the star of the delightful but sadly short-lived Wonderfalls and Zach Gilford played Matt Sorenson on Friday Night Lights. In Off The Map, the two star as young doctors who travel to an obscure South American village to work in a “doctors without borders” style clinic. The presence of such a talented cast (which also includes Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer) and beautiful Hawaiian filming locations (last seen on Lost) have so far kept this medical dramedy from falling into Grey’s mediocrity. Sure, there are moments of melodrama and sappiness. But they are anchored by the gorgeous scenery, solid acting performances and the tumultuous situations such an exotic locale produces.

You can watch all the episodes at ABC’s site.

Perfect Couples – airs on NBC at 8:30 p.m. EST on Thursday nights.

Though I enjoyed the pilot, I really didn’t expect to keep watching this one. But it gets funnier every week. Perfect Couples is a half-hour sitcom about three couples: one couple is blatantly messed up and fights all the time, one couple is repressedly messed up and act like relationship gurus (they’d be really annoying if they weren’t so hilarious), and the other couple is relatively normal but still messed up. If the writing, direction or acting were off even just a little, this would be a disaster. But so far it’s all very well done and sometimes seems more like an indie film about a comically dysfunctional group of friends rather than a network television sitcom.

You can watch all the episodes at NBC’s site.

In other news, I actually like the new season of American Idol. I didn’t even watch the show last year, but I couldn’t resist Steven Tyler. I like the more positive vibe of the show and the new panel of judges. Tyler is especially entertaining since he has the quirky craziness and enthusiasm of Paula Abdul, but a more credible music background. I do wish they’d stop with the sob stories and bad singers – I usually tape the show to fast-forward through all of that. But they seem to be including more good singers this year to make up for it.

I’m also still watching old favorites Big Bang Theory, The Office, 30Rock and Modern Family. The perennially cheesy One Tree Hill has been surprisingly enjoyable this year despite the absence of the villianous Dan. I still love my geekout Jeopardy watching. And though I normally loathe reality series, ABC’s hidden camera show What Would You Do? is addictive.

Oh and I absolutely adored Downton Abbey, a BBC mini-series that recently aired on PBS. I eagerly await the second season, which is currently in production.