Tag Archives: ShouldSee

Beach Rats

[4 stars]

I was a long time getting around to this first film by Eliza Hittman . In fact, I found her second, first: Never Rarely Sometimes Always. But it was the empathy and craft of that story that sent me back to her debut with Beach Rats. I’m late to the game to say she is someone to really watch, but it is still worth saying.

Hittman didn’t give us a likeable hero in her first film. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) is flawed in both endearing and truly ugly ways. But he is also trapped by circumstance and his own struggles. And Dickinson committed to all of that without reservation on screen. So much so that you aren’t sure if the movie is a coming of age story or a tragedy. And, frankly, you still won’t be by the end.

Hittman puts you so deeply into the point of view of Dickinson’s character that you completely inhabit his world. At points you even forget you’re not just watching through hidden cameras at his life. But despite being steeped in a sort of macho hell, Dickinson’s Frankie has two strong female influences in his circles: his mother, played by Kate Hodge and his girlfriend, Madeline Weinstein (Mare of Easttown). Both are quiet but strong influences, though whether they can break through to him is all part of the story.

And the tension of the story is drawn so taut that the ending is almost a release on its own. It’s clear this isn’t going to be a happy tale from the beginning, but it also isn’t without sparks of hope.

For a first film Eliza Hittman packed it with subtlety and power. It has been living on my list since its release in 2017, but I hadn’t had the nerve to spin it up. If you’ve been avoiding either of her films for fear of the subject, well, suck it up and make the time. These aren’t easy characters to love, but they are so very human and real as to encourage our commitment.

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Bosch (series finale)

[4 stars]

There is nothing more wonderful for a show than to go out on a high, and Bosch most definitely did. In many ways, this was their best season yet, though it stood and relied on all the underpinnings of the previous 6.

Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades) embodied Connelly’s detective. He created a tough, thoughtful man, driven by justice more than rules, but very specific about when he’s willing to color outside the lines.

Supported by Jamie Hector as his slightly messed up partner and Amy Aquino (The Lazarus Effect) as his strong but besieged Captain, he’s navigated multiple crimes and corruption, joy and tragedy. Lance Reddick (Sylvie’s Love) as the Chief of Police certainly contributed to both sides of that equation over time. And, as comic relief (often with more than a little edge) Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins as the OG detective partners in the room make the best old married couple on TV.

Madison Lintz grew with the show as Bosch’s daughter. We got to watch her find her feet as an actor and a character. By the end, she has found her footing, with the surprising help of Mimi Rogers, and has blended the best of Bosch and her mother.

There is little doubt where the series had to end, given some of the changes that were made when it was adapted. Both readers and watchers will feel a sense of completion with the arc, regardless of how they came to it. Despite a number of parallel threads running through the season, all are tied up nicely (and one perhaps a bit too conveniently, but was necessary for dramatic effect). And there is still room for it to go forward if they execute on the rumors that are circulating. Suffice to say, if you enjoy police procedural, this is one of the best done in a long time. It is, in some ways, the male counterpart to Prime Suspect, but with a very different perspective and a very different set of flaws.

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Lupin (parts 1 & 2)

[4 stars]

In an entertainment landscape where we’ve been trained to want and expect chases, explosion, and gunfights, it’s so nice to have a high-concept mystery show again that is about tension and cleverness. I know there are others out there, but this feels new and different, even if it’s based on 100 year old books.

I will admit, the main core of the fight that Omar Sy (Inferno) wages against the truly repellant Hervé Pierre got a little tiresome at points during the sequence. But I also admit that by the end of the second part, it all paid-off wonderfully.

Where the first part focuses on the crime and revenge, the second focuses more on the people around Lupin and the bonds that hold them. Getting to see some of the backstory and expansion of characters like Antoine Gouy and Clotilde Hesme (The Returned) was great fun. And the continued development of Soufiane Guerrab’s (Moloch) put-upon detective becomes a wonderful evolution in the tale.

Much like the original books, the story feels very “managed,” for lack of a better word. It is relatively easy to get ahead of it all well before the end. The clues are there in both the script and structure. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Lupin is about the pay-off and the fun; it has both. And a third part on the way that I am hoping will help it break free of the current main story and move on to a new mystery. Honestly, this one has played out and continuing it would devolve into bad telenovella territory, regardless of how interesting the characters are. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered or tried Lupin yet, queue it up.

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Love, Victor (series 2)

[3 stars]

Yes, everyone is still a little too nice and everything is still a little too easy in this series, but I wish there had been a show like this when I was growing up. Because, despite all the young adult, sit-commy tropes, it tackles a wide range of issues head-on that almost no one else has tried. It also manages to finally pull itself free of the confines of the original book to be able to start its own course.

This second season of Victor also broadens its focus. Where the first season was very focused on the stress and fear and wonderfulness of Victor’s struggle to come out, this season tackles the aftermath. And it isn’t all pretty, though it is all well-meaning. And, sure, that’s where things are a bit too easy. But, like the first season, this is a show of hope not trauma. The young LGBTQ+ community needs to know it can go right. And, even when it doesn’t, that there is a community out there for them.

But the show goes beyond that demo to take in growing up as a whole. With several storylines around Victor, as well as some adult struggles, the world expands to something a little more real. I recognize that it’s all manipulative as hell, but it manages to do it in a good and cathartic way that allows you to forgive it.

A renewal still hasn’t been announced, but if they can maintain the quality and trajectory, I’d love to see where they take it next.

Love, Victor Poster

Woman in Motion

[3.5 stars]

Nichelle Nichols. The name alone evokes a smile. She is a force of nature and one of the most relentlessly optimistic and gracious people you’ll ever meet. And yes, I say this with a small amount of direct experience.

Director Todd Thompson had a challenge with this story. Talking just about what Nichols did for NASA would be interesting, but would lack context. Adding the context is so wildly off topic that it could distract from the focus of the story. But he managed to walk the line and bring it all together in a way that was, frankly, unexpected as the wandering narrative unspools. In some ways, and I think purposefully, it mirrors Nichols’ own conversational tone and threading.

Thompson did, however, over-produce the docu a bit. It is a little too gimicky and a little too polished/flashy at times. These aspects did distract from the story itself. I imagine not everyone will find that to be the case.

But the story behind how Nichols changed the face of NASA and, in no small way, the world is worth every minute you spend with it. And if you haven’t already caught Hidden Figures, add that on as required follow-up viewing for an even larger context.

At the end, stick around through the credits for a wonderful final look at a facet of Nichols that just didn’t fit into the rest of the story directly. It was a great note to leave the story on and only increases your respect for this powerhouse of energy and effort.

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3 Seasons, 2 Detectives,1 Arc Each (Balthazar v Professor T.)

[3 stars and 4 stars]

Finding new detective procedurals is a joy. Not too long ago I found two and binged through their seasons: one French and one Flemish. They both feature quirky main leads who untangle the untanglable. Both have rich fantasy lives that inform their path to the truth. And both have histories that affect their overall personality for good and ill, as well as providing an overall arc for their respective series.

However, while each resolves their histories over a three season arc, one series succeeds wildly and the other…not so much. They make for an interesting comparison.

Tomer Sisley as the titular Raphaël Balthazar and Koen De Bouw (Cordon, Salamander) as Jasper Teerlink, aka Professor T., are polar opposites in personality, but equals in intellectual strength. Each sees what no one else does and often finds the information by interacting in their own private fantasy worlds. Balthazar imagines talking to his morgue guests; conversing with them to understand their story. Professor T. uses fantasy to navigate a world too painful for his senses and predilections while his sharp mind recognizes the smallest muscle twitch or misspoken word that reveals the clues.

Both characters find solace in fantasy due to traumas in their past…which keeps them from any real connection in the present. Balthazar, the death of his fiancée, Professor T., the death of his father. Their arcs pave the path to normalcy, or at least the chance at happiness. And through it they interact with a host of great characters. But both shows also took left turns in their 3rd seasons, and this is where their quality and the satisfaction as a viewer diverged for me.

Professor T. is a brilliantly conceived mystery that slowly reveals itself and who’s full explanation is held off till near the last minutes of the series. From the first episode, they knew where they were going and incrementally took us there. Though the third season takes a massive left turn, it is all within the framework and feels possible in that world, if a little unbalancing at first. And the shift was necessary in order to start the final downhill ride to the revelations. But through it all, T remains T. His façade begins to crack, but in the way someone reaching their crisis point might given what he is dealing with. Admittedly, some of the cast changes in the final season were unfortunate, but even that works itself through. You arrive at the end with a true sense of completion and satisfaction. The writers played fair and the story was fulfilled.

Balthazar seemed to have a similar construction, but frankly their third season didn’t just turn left, it went off the rails. Characters began acting wildly differently, and the overall mystery became something so banal and obvious as to be disappointing. And, worse, they had to leave it on a potentially never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger. (Since then a fourth season has been greenlit.) It reminded me of nothing less than the third season of Forever Knight when a German production company came in and destroyed the show because they felt they knew better than the creators and fans as to what it should be. (Suffice to say that show got cancelled at the end of the season, and the production company, in a slap in the face to the fans, went scorched earth on it all.) While Balthazar wasn’t unwatchable in this past season, it felt wrong from beginning to end. It became more violent. More bloody. His behavior more outrageous and more ridiculous. And the writing really slipped. Some of it made sense, but not as a whole and the show lost what made it so interesting and fun: an intelligent and broken rake trying to find solace and redemption through his work and in the world. At the end we’re left hanging and frustrated, and feeling not a little cheated.

I still recommend both series if you haven’t found them yet. They each have their charm and entertainment. Just be aware that Balthazar may not, ultimately, pay off while T. most definitely does. And if you need any more proof of that, Professor T. has been remade in German and in a brand new UK version that has just released, while no one had done so for Balthazar.

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A Sexplanation

[4 stars]

Sex. We all think about it. We all talk about it. Wanting it. Getting it. Having it. But we almost never really talk about “it.” Not about the specifics. And probably not with anyone of importance even if we do, like our partners, let alone ourselves. Why is that? Really… ask yourself when was the last time you talked about sex, I mean really talked about it? How about the last time you talked about it with your parents? Alex Liu dives into the subject of why this subject make us so uncomfortable. And he does it with heart, hilarity, and honesty.

Liu goes for broke in his first full-length piece (sorry, couldn’t resist) and even takes center stage as he explores our attitudes toward sex and how to become less stressed about it all. But he never loses track of the fact that this is a documentary for everyone, not just himself.

The 90 minute piece is wonderfully executed and is full of experts and lay people. And, yes, he talks to his parents in a way he’s never done before. You will come away from the journey asking yourself some of the same questions Liu began with, but equipped, emboldened, and encouraged to consider doing something about it. And, if nothing else, you’ll laugh a lot while you learn about what’s going on in the field. Because it is, above all, a genuine dive into the subject.

Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

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We Are Lady Parts

[4 stars]

Come for the title, stay for the utter hilarity with just enough truth to keep it grounded. In true-to-the-best of Brit humor We Are Lady Parts is part fantastical, part reality, and all heart. And to describe it at all is to blow some of the fun and surprise in this 6-episode first series.

Like other unexpected comedies such as Uncle and Moone Boy, it shouldn’t work, but it really does thanks to the incredible writing and direction of Nida Manzoor’s solid cast of mostly unknowns. Top among them is the band members Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed, Lucie Shorthouse, Faith Omole, and our main narrator Anjana Vasan. A couple of better known faces in peripheral characters help it all along as well, especially Shobu Kapoor and Aiysha Hart (A Discovery of Witches).

Suffice to say it a fun and sympathetic look at a culture that rarely gets that treatment. And a bit of female punk rock to boot. At 22 minutes an episode, it isn’t a huge investment to find out if this is for you or not. I highly recommend giving it a try.

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Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know

[3.5 stars]

Not long ago the first picture, literally a photo, of a black hole was released to the public. It was a major milestone in astrophysics and was the culmination of years of work on the part of 100s of scientists. This documentary, in part, covers that journey and several key moments of its efforts. It is a fascinating look inside big science and what it takes to crack the code of the universe.

While interesting, that thread alone might not support a 90 minute docu aimed at the non-scientist. But director Peter Galison adds a complimentary thread that follows a few scientists who are collaborating to solve a huge challenge posited by Stephen Hawking as related to black holes: the memory paradox. Hawking was even working with the trio of brains on the effort before he died in 2018. The interplay of the two stories is a fascinating layer that helps expose the interplay of disciplines and efforts, some of which may not even know of one another.

It’s amazing that Galison got to be present and involved with these disparate groups and had the access to capture it all, not to mention the foresight to try. And now we get a glimpse of the multi-year process and effort that is involved in this rather intriguing film.

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