The Americans

The Americans

The Americans is a dynamite show about a couple of Soviet spies – Elizabeth and Philip, played brilliantly by Keri Russell and Matthew Reese –  who were trained from a very young age to pass as Americans.  When they hit adulthood they are paired up, married off, and settled down in the suburbs of Washington DC with their two children, by all appearances your average family next door. Except, they sometimes slip out at night to carry out nefarious spy tasks – infiltrating, kidnapping, murdering, that kind of thing.

In the collective American imagination, the Reagan era Soviet Union is a drab, cheerless place, where people stand in long, polite lines to purchase loaves of bread, or single rolls of toilet paper.   Imagine taking a couple of young adults who grew up in that environment and plopping them down in an American suburb during the go-go eighties, with VCRs and microwaves and two cars in the driveway.  In spite of their loyalty to the Soviet cause, you might expect them to feel a little conflicted. And that is what makes The Americans an interesting show, far more than the secret spy shenanigans.  Elizabeth and Philip are committed to living the American dream while they covertly work to undermine it; as time goes on their facades start to crack, especially as the couple begins to reckon with the impact their secret life could have on their American children’s futures. (In a nice bit of gender bending, it is Philip who starts questioning first, and Elizabeth who clings with brittle resolve to serving “the greater good.”)

But while this tension is at the heart of the show, the spy stuff is a lot of fun.  Philip and Elizabeth seem to have few limits when it comes to doing their Soviet duty, they’re always donning elaborate disguises (which don’t really disguise them, but you sort of accept that on this show) and pulling stunts like slipping someone a slow acting poison (with an umbrella!) and withholding the antidote until the guy gives up crucial information. They use sex a lot – both of them do – in order to persuade folks to do their bidding; Philip even marries a poor unsuspecting woman (her name is Martha, find her on Twitter at #PoorMartha) in order to keep the intel flowing. Sometimes after a steamy encounter they come home and have sex with each other, because, you know, they’re feeling sentimental.

They also kill people, because this is meant to be a real spy story and not a genial caper; they are ordered to kill or they take the initiative in an effort to protect their cover.  It’s never pretty and it is never shrugged off, these murders impact Elizabeth and Philip and make us wonder if it is possible for them to ever be redeemed after a lifetime of shadowy double living, but we can’t help but pull for them.

The Americans features a great supporting cast, including Alison Wright, who plays Martha, Holly Taylor, Elizabeth and Philip’s teenage daughter Paige, and Noah Emmerich, the lonely FBI agent who just happens to live across the street.  There is also a whole passel of Russian KGB operatives whose paths frequently cross with the others causing all kinds of developments.  The Americans is available for streaming on Amazon and new episodes are on FX.  Definitely worth a watch.

Wait, It’s Guardians After All!

See ya, Transformers

I was worried about the world because it seemed like Transformers was going to win the summer box office derby, but Guardians of the Galaxy came along and stole the crown.  Then the James Gunn directed hit did it one better and climbed to the top of the heap for the whole doggone year.

But that’s old news now.  We have officially entered the Fall movie season, which means that a bunch of Oscar quality films are leaning on the starting gate.  First up we got The Drop, a mob style thriller with James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.  Skeleton Twins, with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader is also up, although in limited release.  THere’s also some sort of gory thriller starring Idris Elba as a really bad guy.  Not sure that one’s going to be worth it, even with Idris.


The End of Summer

It’s August 20 which makes it an excellent time to talk about summer films, because in a few weeks the Telluride Film Festival will open and it’s all fall prestige pics from there. Well, except for the horror stuff in October — there’s a Ouija Board movie, and something called The ABCs of Death.

Here’s what we know: Transformers 4 is the box office winner. This is good news for Michael Bay, who also had a hit with the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   I didn’t see either of these films, because the last time I went to a Transformers movie I left to get some popcorn and when I came back I went into the wrong theater, which was also playing Transformers, and that show had started earlier but it didn’t matter because there wasn’t any story line to follow anyway.

I didn’t see TMNT because I’m too old.

For pure summer movie fun, you can’t beat Guardians of the Galaxy, which is coming in at #4 on the top box office list.  Even if you’re the type that scoffs at summer popcorn flicks, you cant resist this one.  It’s got a great scruffy charm.  Also Bradley Cooper as a cranky raccoon whose best friend is a tree named Groot.  Just go see it.

On the Indy front, the box office champ is Chef, which is a really fun, lighthearted movie about a chef who loses his job and decides to set up a food truck with his young son as his Social Media director. Sweet, and chock full of food porn.  Make sure you have your dinner plans worked out.

We got Sin City coming up this weekend and then we are heading straight into Oscar talk. So the popcorn time is now…and we are all Groot.



Iron Man

I saw Iron Man 3 over the weekend. I like a good superhero movie, especially on the first weekend in May, because it’s close to my birthday and gets me into a frivolous party mood. Good guy battles bad guy, things look bleak and then, kapow! good triumphs and we all go out to dinner.

Used to be, we took the kids along to see Iron Man or Spider Man or X-Men or any of the super powered sequels that followed. This year, though, the young people are old and they blew us off, so we were a bunch of boomers hitting the late matinee; one of our crew had a bad attitude (why do we have to see another crappy blow things up movie?) so we had to promise him cocktails.

But it wasn’t a crappy movie – it was entertaining, well made, downright fun. Robert Downey Jr. inhabits Tony Stark like an alter ego, and in this outing he spends a lot of time outside the suit, which is a plus. The plot is pretty simple – very bad guy terrorist is attacking America with seeming invincibility. Seems he’s figured out how to weaponize human beings by altering their DNA so they can heat up like branding irons. Stark publicly provokes the dude and gives up his home address (Come get me where I live!) although that can’t be much of a secret since Stark’s house teeters over a Malibu hillside and it’s big enough to be seen from space. Never mind, the bad guys arrive with explosives and soon Tony’s on the run and love-of-his-life Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is kidnapped and now he’s really mad. He ends up searching for clues in Tennessee; the Iron Man suit loses its juice during the trip, so he hooks up with a perspicacious kid named Harley (a charming, funny Ty Simpkins) who has a garage full of useful tools and electronic parts. Harley has a wise cracking wit that parries nicely with Starks’ sharp edged charm, and their short partnership is one of the best parts of the film.

But never fear, action fans, the movie wraps up with the usual crescendo of explosions and fight scenes, and the Iron Man suit demonstrating a nifty new ability to fly onto Tony Stark’s body in pieces, turning him into his alter ego in steps. Kind of a fun development when the old boy is in mid battle.

The summer movie slate is full of films like this. Many (most, really) aren’t worth the price of admission, but this Iron Man – definitely worthwhile. Playing everywhere in 3D and 2D and probably IMAX, until Star Trek shows up and takes over screens. B+