Tag Archives: LGBT

Life Like

[3 stars]

I’m recommending this flick based on its potential, not its delivery. Josh Janowicz’s first feature script and film is full of ideas and style choices, but it doesn’t quite work for all its effort.

For example, the choice to have James D’Arcy (Hot Zone) costumed to suggest him being a priest. Or to have Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas) and Drew Van Acker (Pretty Little Liars) speak in a very forced, shall we say robotic way by design (at least I hope it was by design), while Steven Strait (The Expanse) speaks more “humanly.” I get the points, but it’s a lot to sustain for a feature film.

Life Like plays in the same area as Humans, though with its own points and twists on the subject. But the human core of it all is very distanced. The main couple are uber-rich. Timlin’s character acts like the worst kind of white, middle-class, suburban privileged idiot you can imagine. While some of her clunky choices are intended to show the cracks in the relationship, both spouses come off very unsympathetic and unlikeable. That is not the position you want the audience in given the main points the movie intends. And while Strait actually delivers a subtle performance, it also doesn’t quite get you where you need to be with him by the end. However, while the resolution of the story is a bit rushed and forced, it isn’t uninteresting. It is also a little contradictory if you listen to all the sides, which makes you wonder about the world at large that these people live in…and you don’t get that explained.

As a bit of a side bar, the story also feels almost dated, because of  the locations and choices (like not using cell phones, connected devices, or tablets for, well, anything). This too may have been a design choice, but it lands oddly.

So why recommend this at all? Well, as I said, the ideas are there. The acting, within the constraints of the script, has its moments. Janowicz manages to buck general trends when it comes to whose skin he shows the most of. The boundaries of the relationships are nicely fluid, even if not quite as complex as they could have been. In other words, I wasn’t sorry I watched it even if I wish it had done so much more. As a first feature, it isn’t without impact and merit. And, at 90 minutes, it isn’t a huge investment to make if you’re curious on any level. But, in the end, it’s basically, your call whether you want to invest in it.

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The Dig

[3 stars]

There’s a lot going on in this quiet tale about an archeological dig taking place on the cusp of WWII. That aspect is both its charm and challenge. But even though the result is a bit of a muddle narratively, the characters and story of The Dig remain compelling.

Led by Ralph Fiennes (The White Crow) and Carrie Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), we explore passion, marriage, class, education, gender roles, and life achievements. And that’s just those two. Throw in Johnny Flynn (Emma.), Lily James (Yesterday), and Ben Chapman (1917) and you add in gender norms, sexuality, and the value of joy.

Moira Buffini’s (Byzantium) adaption of John Preston’s novel is sprawling in scope. And director Simon Stone took it on without insisting on a tighter focus. The challenge is that the true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation is itself a wonderful tale on its own. Not necessarily an issue, but because that makes the dig both core story and metaphor to everything else going on, it all begins to become very scattered. If the excavation and the politics over it hadn’t been so towering in the tale, it could have become a quiet mirror to the rest of the subplots comfortably. Instead, the various stories fight for focus. In the end, it sort of unravels as a complete movie even while managing to be satisfying for any individual story.

The acting and production are all quite wonderful. From the bloviating to the quiet despair, the cast manages to deliver. While there is a sort of Merchant Ivory sensibility to it all, it maintains a better energy and sense of tension (well, to my mind anyway). The Dig is interesting history, and also a good set of character studies that make it all worth the effort.

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Mid Winter(ish) TV

I’ve not written up some of the new and returning shows over the last few months, so dropping them together in a bunch here. More will be coming in the next few weeks, but this was getting long enough already…

Call Me Kat
This odd offering by Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory) is a unique and not entirely comfortable show. It may eventually find it’s feet, but it’s best to think of it as a sketch show or comedy half-hour rather than a story so far. And the abuse of the great Swoosie Kurtz is near criminal. By way of context, this show is based on the UK’s Miranda, adopting the quasi-stand-up nature of the original but trying to push it more toward ensemble…. BTW, if you haven’t caught Miranda, it’s a fascinating to compare the two and it boasts Tom Ellis (Lucifer) in the wish-he-were-my-boyfriend role.

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Mr. Mayor
If you loved The Office, this is probably a show for you. I didn’t and it isn’t for me. It’s just too broad and full of, well, stupid people who aren’t supposed to be stupid or, worse, couldn’t be that stupid and be where they are in life. Given the talent involved in this show, it’s a real shame.

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Call Your Mother
This is a show on the bubble. Kyra Sedgwick (Ten Days in the Valley) manages to walk the line between very broad humor and honest emotion. Whether the writing can keep up with that challenge and create storylines we care about long term…the jury’s still way out on that one, but I’ll give it some more time.

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B Positive
Oh, god, just no. Awful, unbelievable, absurd, insulting, frustrating, and painful.

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The Expanse (series 5)
Twenty years ago, the end of the first season of Farscape was termed “the multipart cliffhanger from hell” by its creator. And it was…and it took a good part of the next season to resolve and cover what happened. The current season of The Expanse reminds me a lot of that structure. After bringing things to a huge climactic pause at the end of the previous season, the various characters are scattered across the solar system pursuing various storylines that will, by necessity, be intertwined and eventually bring them back together. As the show preps for its final season, this is level-setting and putting all the pieces in place for the final confrontations to come. A good season with revelations and some resolutions, especially for Dominique Tipper’s (Mindgamers) Naomi and Wes Chatham’s (Escape Plan 2) Amos, but mostly it serves as set-up for the end.

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Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (series 2)
After its heart-rending and brilliant opening season, I was worried the magic wouldn’t last. It has. And the show, at least so far, continues to build on its characters and conceit. If you’ve yet to try this one out, you absolutely must…and start at the beginning. Yes, it gets heavy, but it builds to one of the most beautiful finales you’ll ever see. And it never loses its sense of humor or love of its characters.

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It’s a Sin

[4 stars]

Russell T. Davies (Years and Years) is Britain’s Ryan Murphy (The Prom). Though, to be fair, Davies was there first and Murphy is really our answer to him. Both men have embraced their pasts and are willing to discuss life in all its aspects with the world. They both do it with love and wonder, never forgetting the challenges. And they both have wicked senses of humor.

It’s a Sin chronicles the lives of several young people starting in 1981. But while the story can’t avoid having AIDS as part of the story, it tackles t in a different way than most. It remains powerfully honest and empowering and, weirdly, positive despite many of the events. It is about characters embracing who they are and enjoying life and each other. It’s also the first show I can remember to use the original name for AIDS (GRID, for those who forgot BTW).

Primarily the story is through the eyes of Olly Alexander (God Help the Girl) and Lydia West (Dracula). Both have wonderful moments, growth, and, as it turns out, serious chops for singing together. The core ensemble is wonderfully supported by newcomers Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells, both of whom deliver performances far beyond what you’d expect for actors so early in their careers.

In addition to the main cast, there are a slew of guest actors across the five episodes. Perhaps the most fun is Neil Patrick Harris (Beastly), who helps set up a couple of the storylines. However, Keeley Hawes (Summer of Rockets) and Shaun Dooley (Doctor Who) also have some great moments, Hawes in particular.

Peter Hoar directed all five episodes, helping all of the actors navigate complex changes and precarious moments. The final episode especially is a triumph of his efforts. He also managed to put together a brilliant soundtrack, capturing each period beautifully and evocatively. My only gripe is a minor one…I wish the final credits had ended with “La!” to really drive home the sense of family and life. But that’s an exceedingly minor comment.

Why, you might ask, do we need yet another tale of coming out in the 80s? Well, because the challenge of the act is still relevant today and because the horror of the AIDS pandemic has yet to be fully understood by those who weren’t there for it and by those who still wish to deny it or, worse, be glad for it. With the COVID pandemic still in full swing, it’s also probably much more relatable to a greater audience than ever before. Also, sadly, the world is still far too often a hateful place. The reminder that it should be driven more by love isn’t a story that goes out of style or out of date.

But, while all of that is undeniably brought out by the story of these people, that isn’t what this series focuses on. It’s a Sin is ultimately triumphant, ultimately positive, because of the way the survivors respond.

Soulmates

[3 stars]

Soulmates starts with a fabulous premise: what if you could identify your soulmate? How would that affect current couples? How would it change how you date or your expectations. It doesn’t make life as simple as it would seem on the surface.

Unfortunately, after the great premise, and admittedly some interesting situations and events, frankly the show fails to meet expectations. In trying to be the answer to Black Mirror, and to stay in the mainstream, it also avoids all the other lovely complications that, say episode one of Weird City was more than happy to tackle, or even Black Mirror’s Striking Vipers. That said, the main writers/creators William Bridges (Black Mirror: USS Callister) and Roy Kent (Ted Lasso) are both very talented. I just don’t think they had the freedom or, perhaps, the guts to really tackle the possibilities.

Fortunately, the episodes are chock full of talent to carry off the stories they did offer. Some highlights are Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night in Miami), Malin Akerman (Rampage), Sarah Snook (Winchester), Bill Skarsgård (It: Chapter Two),  Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Utopia), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things),  Tom Goodman-Hill (Residue, Humans), and Steven Mackintosh (Rocketman). You may have noticed a number of Europeans in that list… and you’d be right. It is part of the odd feel of the series as they are almost all playing Americans (or North Americans, at any rate).

I’m not saying avoid this series. It’s definitely thought provoking and often clever. It just didn’t quite meet the expectations it set for me given the writers involved and the foundation of the premise. But I’d love to see if they could grow on what they’ve started and really expand their thinking and risks in a second series. And, in the meantime, we get these six stories to whet our appetite.

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The Flight Attendant

[3 stars]

Watching trainwrecks is not something that typically entertains me. Self-destruction is neither funny nor darkly fascinating. So I went into Flight Attendant with a huge deal of caution and concern because Kaley Cuoco’s (Authors Anonymous) flight attendant is the embodiment of self-destruction. So why did I stick with it? Because it’s apparent that there are reasons for her actions (which we slowly get to learn) and because the show sets up a series of nice mysteries and suspense to carry you along. In other words the self-destruction is a symptom of a bigger, human story, not the focus of humor, derision, or weird life lesson in and of itself.

Cuoco is also surrounded by some fabulous talent who keep the series going. Michael Huisman (The Age of Adaline), Zosia Mamet (Girls), Michelle Gomez (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Doctor Who), T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy), Rosie Perez (Birds of Prey), and Merle Dandridge (Greenleaf) are chief among them, though there are many more over the 9 episodes.

This series could have been an episode or two shorter and been the better for it, in my opinion. The ongoing trainwreck of Cuoco’s character gets repetitive and loses sympathy as it continues on past bottom. And, frankly, some of the surprises just… aren’t. But the ride is highly bingeable, and the interactions and humanity of it all are surprising. But you do have to strap yourself in for a crazy ride full of mystery, sex, violence, and a mountain of bad choices. And, ultimately, it’s set up nicely for a new season with entirely different parameters.

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Love Life

[3 stars]

Basically, if you’re an Anna Kendrick fan, this one’s for you. She isn’t the only character in this series, her roomates Zoe Chao (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) and Peter Vack (Mozart in the Jungle) add to the fun, but this is a vehicle that spins around her and her sense of humor. And humor there is.

We follow Kendrick’s search for “the one.” Narrated (yes, yet another show with an unseen narrator) by Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), we get to relive and cringe and wonder at her choices and situations. Think a more focused, less-soapy Sex in the City. But it is entertaining and does build on itself nicely. And to its credit, it doesn’t take the easy or expected (or even feared) paths.

What we’re left with is a fairly honest, if somewhat idealized, look at life and growing up. It isn’t always pretty, but when you keep moving forward, you actually get somewhere you want to be.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

[4 stars]

This intense day-in-the-life story of black performers will leave you breathless. It’s a powerful slow motion car crash of a tale that slowly exhumes the past and pain of its characters. But it is full of defiance and joy as well.

Based on the hit stage play, as part of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle, it has made an uneasy transition to screen. Wilson’s dialogue is fast and dense. On stage that works, on screen it has a tendency to feel a little forced even when expertly delivered and directed. However, the rhythms and music of it all eventually settle in and pay off. You just have to have a little patience. The incomparable George C. Wolfe took the reins of this film to guide it through its paces and he knew how to get it where it needed to be.

But for all the excellent efforts that deserve praise, you see this offering for the performances of Viola Davis (Widows) and the late, great Chadwick Boseman (21 Bridges) who both utterly transform to transport you and shake you till your teeth rattle. They are simply jaw-dropping. The raw passion and life they’ve conjured is the kind of thing you remember for years.

Take Ma Rainey for a ride. It’s a bumpy one, and with a powerful one-two punch, but it isn’t something to be missed.

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Unpregnant

[4 stars]

This one caught me off guard. After Never Rarely Sometimes Always I was expecting another solid, but intense, journey of two young women. Instead, I got a dark comedy with a message and some very grounded, if exaggerated, plotting. So add a bit of Booksmart (but way more palatable) to get the sensibility. And, to director and co-writer Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s (Valley Girl) credit, the script uses everything she throws in there, and not in ways you really expect. Not bad for a Sophomore outing.

But a huge part of the success of this film is down to its intrepid youths. Haley Lu Richardson (Five Feet Apart) and Barbara Ferreira (Euphoria) work beautifully together. And Richardson, in particular, manages to negotiate a challenging subject with a real humanity and sense of reality.

There are some nice cameos in the film to keep it moving along through its somewhat crazy road trip, but why spoil them? Unpregnant is a delightful comedy about a serious subject and a bitch-slap to the conservative bastards that have put women at risk to serve their own ends. And the ending is some of the most honest and tender presentations I may have ever seen. Make time for for Unpregnant. It will both surprise and entertain you.

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Queens of Mystery

[3 stars]

A delightfully wry and witty, semi-cozy mystery with an 80s TV vibe, down to its washed out color pallet. Add in a narrative riff like Pushing Daisies, carried by Juliet Stevenson (Atlantis), and you’re set for an amusing evening with some deadly serious murders.

The series spins around Olivia Vinall (Roadkill) and her three mystery writing aunties. The trio of surrogate moms includes an amusingly and uncharacteristically edgy Julie Graham (Bletchley Circle: San Francisco).

The series creator, Julian Unthank, wrote for several seasons of Doc Martin which should give you some sense of the level of humor. The show is full of silly characters, complex tales, and one over-arching mystery surrounding Vinall’s parents. Frustratingly, that mystery is left very much in its box, though they play around the edges of it the entire series. It’s a short season of three 90 minute stories, but the individual stories are all engaging and I am looking forward to seeing what they’ve got when they return.

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