Sunday, February 23, 2014

Amazon's Second Pilot Season: Cops, Oboes, and Jeffrey Tambor

A scene from Bosch, now streaming on Amazon Instant Video

In April 2013, Amazon stepped decidedly into the world of original television programming when it streamed over a dozen pilot episodes for free and asked viewers worldwide to vote on which among them should get picked up. Out of that great experiment in participatory democracy came two new series  the Silicon Valley comedy Betas and Gary Trudeau's political comedy Alpha House  which both premiered in November and were only available online for Amazon Prime subscribers. (Alpha House, starring John Goodman and Clark Johnson, turned into the surprise highlight of this past fall's TV season.) Now, less than a year later, Amazon's "pilot season" returns, stronger and more confident than before. Amazon's second year may offer fewer "prime time" pilots than before (two one-hour dramas, and three half-hour comedies), but the productions are more ambitious, and come with some genuinely high-profile talent both in front of the camera and behind it. We have Chris Carter's apocalyptic thriller The After, the well-crafted crime procedural Bosch (adapted from Michael Connelly's popular series of novels), Transparent with Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor, Mozart in the Jungle set in the cutthroat world of a New York philharmonic orchestra, and The Rebels, a more conventional comedy about a failing professional football franchise. While each of the pilots has something worthwhile, the two real gems are Bosch and Transparent, which are easily among the most polished and self-possessed new shows I've seen in a while.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Freedom, Family, and Basketball: Max Minsky and Me (2007)

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on February 9, 2014. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Emil Reinke and Zoe Moore star in Max Minsky and Me

"You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your place in it."
  attributed to Albert Einstein

In an era when films for and about adolescents have a rough time navigating the divide between Disney animated movies (strong though films like Frozen might be) and apocalyptic and pseudo-gothic fare like The Hunger Games and the Twilight films, it is always a special delight when a movie offers a sincere look into the lives of young adults. Max Minsky and Me (2007, Max Minsky und ich in German) is just such a movie. One of the few feature films of German filmmaker Anna Justice, Max Minsky and Me offers a well-crafted and often delightful story about the frustrations and joys of young adulthood, set in contemporary Berlin. Based on Holly-Jane Rahlens' award-winning novel Prince William, Maximillian Minsky, and Me (set in 1997, published in 2002) and adapted for the screen by the novelist herself, Max Minsky and Me stars Zoe Moore as Nelly Sue Edelmeister, a bookish Jewish girl who is more interested in astronomy than her imminent bat mitzvah, and Emil Reinke as Max, the sullen, slightly older boy that Nelly coerces into coaching her in basketball. The two teens could not be more different  but as the story unfolds, it is clear that they find in one another precisely what they need.