TV Review:  Stranger Things (2022)


TitleStranger Things
Release Dates: 2022
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 9
Summary/Review:

The supernatural/horror/thriller/drama Stranger Things returns after a three-year (pandemic-delayed) gap with new adventures for a growing team of residents of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.  After diminishing returns in seasons 2 and 3, season 4 feels like a return to form that comes close to greatness of the debut season.  With a large cast of characters, the season is longer in both the number of episodes and the length of individual episodes to tell all their stories, so it can feel sprawling and uneven at times, but I personally feel the more the merrier.

The show reflects a bigger budget and more ambitious scope than previous series lending it a more cinematic feel. It also has more intense gore and horror elements than previous seasons. New cast member Joseph Quinn stars as the season’s breakout character Eddie Munson, leader of the Hellfire Club at Hawkins High School where the nerdy outsiders bond over Dungeons and Dragons’ campaigns.  Sadie Sink returns for her third season as Max Mayfield getting a chance to really develop her character and show off her acting chops.

My review continues below with spoilers, so beware!

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Movie Reviews: The Sea Beast (2022)


Title: The Sea Beast
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Director: Chris Williams
Production Company: Netflix Animation
Summary/Review:

“But you can be a hero and still be wrong.”

In a world where the oceans are filled with giant sea monsters, the heroes of the age are The Hunters.  Salty crews of sailors on ships like The Inevitable under Captain James Crow (Jared Harris) and his adopted son Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) hunt down and kill sea monsters for rewards from the King and Queen of Three Bridges.  An orphan Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) stow away on The Inevitable and soon ends up separated from the ship with Jacob.  They soon discover that the stories they’ve been told about the sea beasts may not be true and that there is alternative to endless war.

For a visually-compelling animated feature it’s disappointing that this movie’s primary viewing platform is Netflix, because I think it deserves the big screen experience.  Nevertheless, I think it’s an enjoyable family film with good voice work and great feel for seafaring adventure in the Age of Sail.  It touches upon a lot of topics such as political corruption, generational trauma, and reconciliation but in a way that is not too heavy-handed for younger viewers.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)


Title: The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Director: Mike Rianda
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Sony Pictures Animation | Lord Miller Productions | One Cool Films
Summary/Review:

Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a misfit kid who finds her passion in filmmaking and is excited to begin attending film school in California.  She’s often in conflict with her overprotective father Rick (Danny McBride) who doesn’t understand her artistic and technological interests.  In order to promote family bonding, Rick decides to take the whole family – including mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and dinosaur obsessed little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) – on a cross-country drive to college.  While they’re en route, the Apple/Facebook-style company PAL introduces robot assistants who immediately rebel against humanity.  Only the Mitchell’s avoid capture and it’s up to them to fight the robot menace and come together as a family.

Overall, this movie feels very familiar (it’s the same basic plot of Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg-Nick Frost’s Cornetto trilogy) and has a lot of gags similar to other recent animated family adventures.  The Mitchells have a funny car and a funny dog.  And there’s deadpan dialogue like the PAL tech CEO saying ““It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.”  Despite the lack of originality the movie is very sweet and has some good, funny bits.  The animation is fluid and for added effects, other types of animation are overlaid on the computer animation.  Extra points for LGBTQ+ representation in the movie’s protagonist by having Katie be gay without that being a controversy in her family or playing into a romantic storyline. This is a good, fun movie suitable for the whole family.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)


Title: The Forty-Year-Old Version
Release Date: October 9, 2020
Director: Radha Blank
Production Company: New Slate Ventures | Hillman Grad Productions | Endeavor Content
Summary/Review:

Radha (Rahda Blank) is a playwright nearing her 40th birthday who is dealing with the lack of success after winning a “30 Under 30” award early in her career and has taken to teaching at high school.  Her agent and childhood friend Archie (Peter Kim) helps her get producer J. Whitman (Reed Birney) to support her play about a Black couple dealing with gentrification in Harlem, but insists that she emphasize what Radha calls “poverty porn” and add a white character.  Radha feels her vision for the play escaping her and decides to make her voice heard by recording hip hop tracks with the laconic D (Oswin Benjamin) who runs a studio out of his Brooklyn apartment. Radha and D also form a romantic relationship, which is all fair since men who write/direct/star in their own films have a tradition of giving themselves younger love interests.

The Forty-Year-Old Version is very funny and also cringe-inducing with its characters following their worst instincts.  Radha Blank does a great job playing a character that can be very unsympathetic but still very likable.  I also like Radha’s chemistry with Archie and believe that they could’ve been friends with childhood.  The movie reminds me a bit of Frances Ha, as they both black & white movies in New York about artists having to deal with failed expectations of greatness and having to adapt to growing older.  But this is a funny and unique movie and I recommend checking it out.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (2021)


Title: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
Release Date: April 7, 2021
Creator : Colin Barnicle and Nick Barnicle
Director: Colin Barnicle
Episodes: 4
Production Company: TriBeCa Productions
Summary/Review:

I generally avoid True Crime media, but I am borderline obsessed with the theft of 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  I’ve read a book about it and listened to a podcast, and now I’ve watched this 4-part Netflix documentary. The documentary does a good job of reiterating the main points of what is known about the crime.  It’s good get the visuals to go with the story, such as diagrams of the museum that show where the thieves operated. And then there’s a mix of archival news footage with present-day interviews with many key figures, from museum guards to the museums director.

While being a very entertaining documentary it’s also highly sensationalist (which naturally adds to the entertainment value).  There’s a lot of building up of potential suspects before revealing that they couldn’t possibly have commited the crime.  The same footage is played over and over again, most hilariously a “dramatic reenactment” of a couple of high school students walking piggy back down Palace Road before the crime. The creators of the film are happy to rely on the false Hollywood image of Boston as a mobster-infested playground of vice. A lot of people commenting on the documentary are loving the Boston accents and characters which really don’t exist in present day Boston. In short, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but take it with a grain of salt.

My main takeaway from this series is that it is been way too long since I’ve been inside the glorious interiors of the Gardner Museum.  I will prioritize visiting there post-pandemic.  The series also gave us this tweet, which is a work of art of its own:

 

Holiday Movie Marathon: A Very Murray Christmas


Title: A Very Murray Christmas
Release Date: December 4, 2015
Director: Sofia Coppola
Production Company: American Zoetrope
Summary/Review:

How time flies! I thought to myself that I should finally watch that highly-regarded Bill Murray special on Netflix that came out, was it last year? No, it was five years ago. Five Christmases based and I neglected to watch this hour-long special. Was it worth the wait? Maybe not, but it is mildly entertaining.

The premise is that Bill Murray (playing himself, or at least the version of himself he plays all the time) is hosting a celebrity-studded live Christmas special in New York. But a blizzard means no one else can participate in the show and Murray is distraught. After wrangling Chris Rock into an awkward duet of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the power goes out and the show is canceled. Murray makes his way to the lounge where he basically starts a karaoke party with the other guests and staff stranded there (played by a bevy of celebrities including David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, and the band Phoenix). Finally Murray passes out drunk and dreams of an elaborate stage show with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney as guests.

I went into this thinking it was a parody of corny old Christmas variety specials and about a third of the way realized that it’s a homage to corny old Christmas variety specials. Really, it’s almost entirely musical performances tied together by a meager storyline. Murray is surprisingly a great vocalist in his own right and sings well with all his guest talent. The humor of the show is light and really the only time I bust a gut was when George Clooney popped out from behind a tree to sing the chorus of “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”

Is it an all-time Christmas classic? Maybe not, but it was worth finally getting around to watching to get myself into the holiday spirit this year.


Rating:

Movie Reviews: Enola Holmes (2020)


Title: Enola Holmes
Release Date: September 23, 2020
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Production Company: Legendary Pictures | PCMA Productions
Summary/Review:

The latest addition to Holmesiana is this movie about Sherlock Holmes’ (Henry Cavill) much younger sister and their mysterious mother (Helena Bonham Carter) who goes missing. It is adapted from the novel The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer. Millie Bobbie Brown stars as Enola Holmes bringing the perfect balance of intelligence and with the naivete and vulnerability of youth. Brown frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the camera directly and also improvised a lot of dialogue, both very risky techniques, but they pay off perfectly in this film. The plot deviates considerably from Springer’s novel although it may incorporate plot details from later books in the series that I haven’t read yet. One main criticism of the film is that it goes on a bit long with several seemingly extraneous scenes after the natural denouement. But overall it’s a fun and clever film that can be enjoyed by the whole family.


Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2020)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2020
Season: 6b
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

BoJack Horseman reaches it’s series finale in a melancholy place.  This is on brand for BoJack Horseman, but it could’ve gone to a much darker place.  After all, BoJack could have killed himself and we came close to seeing that story.  A happy ending would’ve felt artificial, so the middle ground between the extremes that is depicted here is the right decision.

In the first half of season 6, BoJack went to rehab and begins to show steady progress.  In the second half opener, BoJack has settled in to teaching acting at Wesleyan University and is actually doing a good job of it.  But as much as we are pulling for BoJack, he has done some horrible things in his life that he has yet to grapple with.  In fact, his friends spend an episode making a list of the bad things he’s done on a white board.  His culpability in the death of Sarah Lynn ultimately comes out in public and leads him to rock bottom.

The penultimate episode “The View From Halfway Down” is the season’s experimental episode in the form of a near-death experiment where BoJack attends a dinner party with several characters who have already died including his mother, Sarah Lynn, and Herb Kazzaz.  It serves as both a reckoning for BoJack and a culmination of everything that has come before in the the tv series.

BoJack survives, of course, and the final episode ties off some loose ends.  BoJack’s story is clearly not over and he will likely face ups and downs in his future.  But BoJack Horseman, the series, is over because there are no longer any reason for the five main characters to be together.  Each of BoJack’s friends from the past six seasons have moved on, and more or less, are in a better place.  Mr. Peanutbutter continues to have tv success and seems to have overcome some of the neediness that has lead him to serial matrimony.  Todd has created a childcare center and moved into a house of his own with Maude.  Princess Carolyn’s hard work has paid off with success in career and life.  And Diane, while still struggling with depression, becomes a successful young adult book author and finds happiness with Guy.

The payoff of this series rewards having watched all six series and growing to care for the characters.  And now it would seem worthwhile to go back and rewatch the whole thing to catch the throughlines that brought us to this finale, as well as all the background gags.

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Movie Review: See You Yesterday (2019)


Title: See You Yesterday
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Director: Stefon Bristol
Production Company: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Summary/Review:

C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) are a pair of nerdy teens who develop a device that allows them to jump into wormholes and travel back in time.  Their rather modest goal is to win a prize at a citywide science competition but when the device actually works it opens new possibilities and deadly consequences. The movie draws on classic time travel movies like Back to the Future which it acknowledges with a cameo by Michael J. Fox as C.J. and Sebastian’s teacher (and in a double reference, he’s first seen reading the time travel novel Kindred).

The movie also draws influence from producer Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, as well as current events. C.J. lives in an African-American and Afro-Caribbean neighborhood at a time of heightened tension following a police shooting of a community member. The tension is exemplified in a scene where C.J. and her brother Calvin (Brian “Stro” Bradley) can’t even have an argument on a sidewalk without drawing harassment from the police. Another police shooting is a key event as C.J. and Sebastian use their time travel technology to attempt to prevent the killing but each time they go back they inadvertently change events leading to someone else dying.

This is a movie that deserves a happy ending.  Instead we get an ambiguous ending as we see C.J. returning the past once again and running as the screen goes black.  Perhaps her running represents the endless cycle of death she cannot break, perhaps this time she is planning to sacrifice herself to save the lives of others.  Marty McFly was able to change events in the past to save the live of Doc Brown and inadvertently make his family happier and more prosperous.  But there are no happy endings in Black and brown communities where children continue to be shot dead by the police with no consequences.

The movie is very short, which is a strength in tight plotting and scripting, although I felt a longing for more. Sometimes the messaging has an after school special feel to it.  But the acting by Duncan-Smith, Crichlow, and Bradley is strong, and I hope to see more from them in the future.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2019)


Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 6a
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

BoJack Horseman returns for its final season, this time a split season of 16 episodes.  The first 8 episodes are up on Netflix NOW! with the rest due in January.  Unlike Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt which did a split final season that made me almost glad to see the series go, BoJack Horseman continues to be some of the most clever and thoughtful television I’ve ever seen.

BoJack continues to reside at an expensive rehab facility, generally progressing well, but anxious about returning to the outside world where he may fall into his old habits.  Mr. Peanutbutter, who inadvertently proposed to Pickles when he was supposed to tell her that he was cheating on her with Diane, finally comes clean. To restore his public persona, Princess Caroline creates a “Sad Dog” meme that makes Mr. Peanutbutter the face of clinical depression (even though he is not actually depressed).  Diane, meanwhile, moves to Chicago where she settles in with a new partner, and attempts to right a book of essays, but suffers severe writer’s block and depression. Princess Caroline struggles with balancing work with raising her prickly baby.  And Todd eventually falls into a job to which he seems a natural, as a nanny for Princess Caroline’s baby.

Some highlights of the season include an episode where guests at a surprise party attempt to hide while Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles argue.  It’s a silly sitcom staple but it’s done so well over the course of an entire episode.   We also unexpectedly get some of Todd’s backstory when his stepfather arrives.  Then there’s the great moment when Mr. Peanutbutter finally gets his crossover episode with BoJack.

The season is moving toward something that if not a happy ending, then at least something more positive for our characters than we’ve seen before.  Then the devastating last episode hits. Brilliantly, none of the five main characters appear, but the episode is entirely carried by ancillary characters introduced over the years in overlapping stories.  They begin to uncover some of BoJack’s darkest moments we’ve seen over the course of  6 seasons that may completely unravel the unsteady progress he’s made.

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