Tag Archives: ShouldSee

Q-Force

[4 stars]

Yes, it’s outrageous. Yes, it’s absurd. Yes, it crosses the borders of cliché and travels well into country that could be taken as insulting. But it is all done as matter-of-fact and with an embracing sense of love. It turns everything up to 11 (or maybe 1100) and lets the freak flags fly. And, to top it off (no pun intended), it develops a solid arc pulling the first series together.

The voice cast lean into every aspect of the story and situations. There are no hesitations or apologies as they solve outrageous, Bond-like crimes and neutralize the bad folks, foreign and domestic. And there is a long list of recognizable names giving those stories life, but you can discover them easily enough. We aren’t talking Oscar level work, just solid delivery and respect for the scripts and story which is where the series thrives.

Because you’ll see, there is a sort of quiet genius to the show. Even with the painful acknowledgment of prejudice that launches the show, it offers up the reverse mirror of what the LGTBQ+ community has to deal with all the time in entertainment: worlds full of non-gay people acting like that’s all there is in the world. It is a reaction and a statement. It’s also hilariously funny at times.

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Come From Away

[4 stars]

Every person has a story, or so the saying goes. And with nearly 7000 in-comers nearly doubling the population of one corner of an island, that’s a lot of potential stories to tell. But I can’t say I rushed to watch this remembrance of 9/11. I mean, a musical with true stories about one of the most shocking days in recent history? I knew it had been lauded, and I’d even seen a number or two performed, but I just couldn’t let go enough to enter that world. I wish I had sooner.

Despite the subject, the show is full of humor and human kindness (all summed up with one, and intentionally, very bad knock-knock joke near the end). The music and stories are wide ranging, with actors playing multiple roles. It touches on the whimsical and the dark, but leaves you with hope and some sense of bittersweet joy. Not because of any one story so much as the overall efforts of the people of Newfoundland during the five days the world came to a halt. The whole thing is delivered as a swift 90 minutes without an intermission and with a solid cast. And the filming and sound are wonderful, keeping the feel of a stage performance but with cinema level visuals and soundtrack.

My suggestion to you, if you’ve avoided the show so far, is to give it 10 minutes. If it hasn’t locked you in by then, you’re not their audience. I found myself totally absorbed despite the stories mostly being obvious and the overall tale part of history. It is cathartic in its way, but neither jingoistic nor apologetic. It is focused on the minutia of the tragedy and the reminder of who people can be. Honestly, it isn’t a bad message for today either, given the strife and division tearing at society as a whole. The fact that it was filmed during one of the first performances after Broadway reopened after the pandemic shutdown only enhances that echo.

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Reservation Dogs

[4 stars]

As a Kiwi, co-creator and writer Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) is both the most unlikely match for this new series about Oklahoma reservation life, and the perfect choice. If you’ve ever seen his first film, Boy, or even his more recent Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you can see how the same experiences and sensibilities inform this new series. (And if you haven’t seen these earlier films, you should.) Along with Sterlin Harjo the two have created a devastatingly funny and honest look at reservation life. That there should be that much commonality across the globe for indigenous populations is a sad matter for a much longer discussion. Though, to be fair, Waititi’s name is how this show probably got done and most of this show is from Harjo’s experience. But Waititi’s influence is hard to miss.

The story of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous peoples is starting to get more screen time in varying forms. Where Rutherford Falls tries to provide a somewhat split view of life both on and off a reservation, Reservation Dogs dives deep on the reservation side. So deep it barely comes up for air. And unlike Mohawk Girls it’s all a bit more serious, though neither show shies away from some of the deeper truths. And Reservation Dogs tackles growing up on the res rather than the result of that as an adult, giving it a very different viewpoint.

At the core of the series is a collection of young actors, all of whom manage to grab you and make you care. Devery Jacobs(Rutherford Falls), D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, and Paulina Alexis are an unlikely group thrown together by circumstance, but devoted to one another until an event starts to fracture their friendship. Entry into their world is difficult to watch at times, but as the series continues it becomes less bleak. And there are plenty of more seasoned faces throughout the series as well helping buoy it along.

Another wonderful aspect of the series is how it incorporates the culture both in storyline and on screen. It isn’t all strictly mundane, but the magical/mythical aspects aren’t seen as anything but part of the world. Part of the series’ real success is how deeply it drops you into this culture and dark realities (and inferred causes). This is a series really worth investing in and it’s already been renewed, so it won’t be a lost investment either.

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Language Lessons

[3.5 stars]

Natalie Morales’ (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) and Mark Duplass’ (The Lazarus Effect) Language Lessons is probably the cleverest pandemic film I’ve seen in the last 18 months… precisely because it isn’t about the pandemic, even though it is obviously constructed as it is because of it. Unlike other completed efforts like Staged, Locked Down, or Songbird, this movie is more timeless. It took its constraints as a way to create something rather than as the reason for the story.

And the story is funny and touching all at once (and not entirely what you think it’s going to be). It manages to make an improbable situation feel completely honest and real. Morales did a great job directing and editing the final piece, and the story and script by Duplass and her is surprisingly compelling. The result is something truly affecting. The film’s already started to gather awards, and I suspect you’ll hear more about it as the season picks up. In a world hemmed in by Zoom calls, this manages to break out of the frame, even while staying within it.

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Cruella

[4 stars]

Oh, what a wonderfully unexpectedly deep and dark confection. And from Disney no less. Who knew they could do psychopaths and still keep it all PG? To be fair, Emma Thompson’s (Last Christmas) Baroness is more a psychopath while Emma Stone’s (Zombieland: Double Tap) Cruella is really a sociopath, but why split dog hairs? Both performances are nearly flawless.

There is something for everyone in this story: mystery, surprises, fashion, music (seriously, a heck of a soundtrack from the 60s-80s), snark, heists, and cuteness (even if mostly CGI’d). However, it is a bit dark for the wee ones, so it is more of a 3 quadrant flick rather than a full family affair.

Part of the real brilliance of this story is that it not only provides a backstory for one of Disney’s more heinous criminals (from the kid’s stories) but it also builds out the origin of the henchmen Jasper and Horace in the guise of Joel Fry (benjamin) and Paul Walter Hauser (Songbird) respectively.

The story also manages to shim up with everything we already knew about 101 Dalmatians in a quite wonderful, if rather forced, way.

If I have any real criticisms on the execution of the story by director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) it was around the critical shift for Stone’s arc. There is a moment (it is obvious), that she is forever forged as the criminal we grew up to fear. But, sadly, it isn’t crisp visually. It’s a story beat but we don’t really see the final transformation. The movie quickly sweeps on and you forgive it, but it’s the one element that I felt he missed amidst the opulent cinematography and framing that carried the swift and biting comedy along. It really is a dark and wonderful surprise of a film.

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Home Before Dark (series 1 & 2)

[3.5 stars]

Though based on a real story, this is the Nancy Drew update that we really needed and deserved, as opposed to the silly supernatural weirdness the CW served up. And Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) is the perfect embodiment of that literary staple. She balances a truly adult drive with the inexperience and naiveté of a young tween who sees the world as the simple place we all wish it were. And through that, and despite her struggles, comes away with a resolve that provides an example for all those around her.

There are some wonderful supporting roles around Prince. And without them, she could not have succeeded, but this is her show through and through, despite the subplots and deep personal tragedies that unfold over the first two seasons.

Among those adding the scaffolding, Michael Greyeyes (Rutherford Falls), Jim Sturgess (Hard Sun), Reed Birney, Abby Miller, Aziza Scott, and particularly her young, fellow detectives Deric McCabe (A Wrinkle in Time) and Jibrail Nantambu stand out over the 20 episodes as her drivers and supporters.

Series creator Dara Resnik never loses sight of the core of what makes this series work: it’s unending optimism in the face of opposition and complacency. Which isn’t to say it’s Pollyannaish, it most certainly is not. Though some of the plot jumps along a bit too easily and quickly, it does so in service to the wide audience it is aimed at and to be able to cover as much ground as possible in each 10 episode series.

The first two seasons are a nicely interlaced diptych. And, at the end of it all, there is an indication of the way forward. I went into this show with a huge dollop of uncertainty, but it won me over almost instantly and carried me with it through to the end of this most recent season. I definitely recommended it for older kids, but there is plenty in there for adults, especially parents, who have many plotlines of their own running in parallel.

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Schmigadoon

[4 stars]

This wonderful anti-musical is a riot of satire and wry humor. The more you know classic musicals the funnier it is, but knowing is not required. Not since Galavant has anyone really tried to tackle this vein of humor and production. And even those who hate musicals have found joy in the show, because it makes fun of the format as much as committing to it fully. And at only 30 minutes each, no episode is too long to support the joke.

It also doesn’t hurt that the cast of this crazy production is a glorious collection of singing powerhouses. Giving any of them away sort of spoils the surprises. But it’s all held together by the love story of Keegan Michael-Key (The Prom) and Cecily Strong (The Female Brain), an unlikely power couple from NYC trying to save their relationship.

Go for the fun and absurdity of it all, but stay for the very real sense of emotion it leaves you with. Barry Sonnenfeld (Nine Lives) gave us six episodes that traverse a landmine of clichés without a single miss-step. Go visit Schmigadoon and embrace its silly wonderfulness and biting wit.

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CODA

[4 stars]

Though I have to admit that it is a little manipulative, from the outset  of CODA you know you’re in for something a bit different. Like Sound of Metal, CODA explores deafness, in this case through the only hearing member of a deaf family. The situations and conversations are both hysterical and touching because  the story isn’t about deafness, it’s about connection and family. Certainly hearing plays into it all, but it is a foil rather than the point.

Emilia Jones (Locke & Key, Utopia) is captivating as the center of this story of transition and growing up; it doesn’t hurt that she also has some reasonable singing chops. And her family unit gives her plenty to work with. Marlee Matlin (The Magicians) and Troy Kotsur as her parents are particularly fun characters, with plenty of real meat to their stories as well. Daniel Durant’s struggle as her older brother will also ring both familiar and frustrating to many people. And then there is the hysterical friend in Amy Forsyth (Beautiful Boy) who gives Jones a confident and external connection from the cocoon of her family.

Eugenio Derbez (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) is one of the odder choices writer and director Sian Heder made. He is a riot and mostly believable. There is a whole life and character that we glimpse of him only through a keyhole. Which is, as it is for all high schooler’s and their teachers, very much Jones’s experience of him. While the performance adds energy and entertainment to the film, it is definitely not quite in sync with it’s surroundings. I’m sure that was on purpose, I just never quite found it wholly credible. And yet, it was necessary.

Similarly, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street) was a a requirement for this kind of tale. But while he hit the emotional and visual marks, his voice wasn’t quite strong enough to make me believe in him the way Derbez did. I suspect he was held back to allow Jones to shine a bit more, but it weakened my belief in the situation overall.

But the combination of heart and humor in this story is a winner. It feels honest, even when it isn’t. It feels familiar, even if the specifics are a bit alien. And Heder’s use of audio is also wonderful; particularly one moment of epiphany and another of unexpected sound. It is a film not to be missed, not because it’s brilliant (though it is certainly very good) but because it is a story of hope and love and possibilities at a time when all of that feels so very far away.

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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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