TV & Streaming

The Public (review)

The Public (review)

This film didn’t play many cities but has turned up on Peacock. Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and stars as a librarian who’s faced with the daily influx of homeless in the facility. When it gets particularly cold, a group of them decides to stay, which creates the crux of the conflict. Estevez has enlisted a strong cast (including Alex Baldwin, Jeffrey Wright and Christian Slater) and kept the events interesting. The issues behind the marginalized  get their full expression and there are a few personal interactions to add some depth. It’s never gripping, sometimes unrealistic and occasionally frustrating (that reporter played by Gabrielle Union is one example), but the film ranks a bit above political discourse.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

On various streaming services including Netflix, Amazon and YouTube

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Borat Subsequent Movie Film (review)

Borat Subsequent Movie Film (review)

Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious Kazakh TV host made his first visit to the US 14 years ago. This sequel brings him back with his daughter for more satirical wackiness, which sometimes involves him assuming even more absurd disguises. This outing tries to be as outrageous or shocking as the original and even though it sometime succeeds, it’s seldom as funny. Also, many of the scenarios are so obviously staged that the deadpan reactions of his victims lose their astonishment. The attempts at family warmth just aren’t necessary. I don’t know if we’re more jaded now or if the impact is less effective, but even without as many laffs, there’s still plenty of offensive and extreme fun to be had.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

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Rebecca (review)

Rebecca (review)

Lily James plays a relatively naïve woman working in Monte Carlo, when she’s swept away by a dashing English aristocrat (Armie Hammer). They end up married and moving back to his enormous estate. Meanwhile, the memory of his first wife pervades the property and haunts his memory, which isn’t helped by the sinister housekeeper (Kristin Scott Thomas in the movie’s most juicy role). First off, the scenery and rich locations are beautifully showcased (only 2 rooms were sets). Secondly, the other performances are adequate, while never especially compelling. Finally, the story’s twists are the most interesting part of the film. I’ve never seen the Hitchcock original, so no comparisons, but l’d imagine this version is certainly more romantic and lush than suspenseful. Still entertaining.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Netflix link

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (review)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (review)

When Aaron Sorkin writes and directs a film, you can expect snappy dialogue and compelling drama. That’s the case (pun intended) with this examination of the notorious trial of the men who led the protests against the Vietnam War that turned violent at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As the title suggests, this is set primarily during the months-long trial with numerous flashbacks to explain the actions discussed. However, this is never a boring courtroom drama. Scenes are short and concise, advancing the story with skill. The performances are top notch with Frank Langella’s judge proving especially despicable. The outrage and conspiracy continually builds throughout the movie to a gripping final few scenes. Ultimately, 50 years later this story resonates with today’s political strife.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Movieland link

Netflix link

My Octopus Teacher  (review)

My Octopus Teacher  (review)

Craig Foster had been a nature documentarian for years when he discovered this life-changing creature in a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa. The things he learns about this octopus (apparently, he never gave her a name) are truly amazing. Watching her go from shy and cautious to actually affectionate is only one of the incredible experiences that they share. Foster narrates the story, off and on camera, and the cinematography is truly gorgeous. We’ve all seen nature docs before, but the “deep dive” into the details of this octopus and the personal connection Foster makes with her give this film an extra level of wonder.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Netflix link

The Murders at White House Farm  (review)

The Murders at White House Farm  (review)

In 1985, a woman, her parents and her twin sons were found dead in an English farm house (This is based on a true story). The initial conclusion was murder/suicide with the daughter at fault. Thanks to an intrepid cop, the case became more complicated and determining the real killer takes up this series. It’s largely a procedural…right down to the final court case…but it’s also a solemn yet absorbing drama. The show’s strength comes from watching the case slowly unfold and the effects it has on the remaining family. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but its solid direction, effective performances and interesting story make for an absorbing experience. (Six 1-hour episodes)

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

HBO Max link

Two more from Blumhouse (reviews)

Two more from Blumhouse (reviews)

Earlier this week I reviewed the first 2 suspense films that Blumhouse has produced for Amazon (click here to read them). Here’s my take on the second set (one more pair coming soon).

 

 

Nocturne

Twin sisters are accomplished pianists who attend the same performing arts high school. Sibling rivalry turns dark when one of them discovers a mysterious book that changes their lives. This isn’t really a horror film, but a slowly-paced drama with an evil yellow light that causes occasional trauma. This type of haunting specter has been done before and with much more suspense. This version has virtually nothing to recommend it.  1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

 

 

Evil Eye

The most interesting thing about this film is that it straddles 2 generations of Indian culture. The daughter is living in Seattle, while her mother in Delhi continually worries her about finding a husband. When the perfect mate appears, mom starts to believe that he’s related to her unhappy past. Much of this film is comprised of calls between the 2 woman, which gets tiresome and provides no suspense. When something starts to develop, it’s an hour into the film and the tiny climax is certainly not worth the time spent to get there. 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

The 40-Year-Old Version (review)

The 40-Year-Old Version (review)

Radha Blank wrote, directed and stars. She plays a New York playwright who had a promising career in her 20s. As she nears 40, her career is in crisis. She’s struggling with the producers of her new play who are gentrifying the production, while considering a new direction as a rapper. Blank has talent: She’s sometimes funny and somewhat charismatic. Her film has some enjoyable moments, but her plot too often selects the predictable options. This is truly a Blank-focused project, so if you find her personality appealing, her story will prove interesting. Otherwise, it’s a specialty product that’s mildly entertaining.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Movieland link

Netflix link

Opening Night (review)

Opening Night (review)

Topher Grace heads this delightful ensemble as a Stage Manger for a Broadway show that’s opening. His continuously flappable charm helps him deal with all manner of mishaps and an assortment of quirky characters. Standouts are Taye Diggs going very gay, Rob Riggle as the over-the-top boss and Anne Heche as a washed-up diva. JC Chasez, formerly of NSYNC, plays an arrogant send-up of himself. There are also a few fun musical numbers featuring one-hit wonders. Anyone familiar with backstage at a play will find many things wrong with the details, but just ignore that and enjoy the cavalcade of crazy people and genuinely funny interactions.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

Welcome to Blumhouse (reviews)

Welcome to Blumhouse (reviews)

Jason Blumhouse is primarily known for producing an impressive string of low-budget, but successful horror and sci-fi films. This marks his first two of four thrillers for Amazon.

 

The Lie

Joey King plays the petulant teen daughter to Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard. When she confesses to killing her best friend, her parents dive deeper and deeper in deceptions to cover it up. Writer/director Veena Sud’s script has sufficient developments to keep it interesting and the direction, while often compelling, never builds sufficient tension. Strong actors like Enos and Sarsgaard make the conflicts more compelling, even though the daughter’s character is continually frustrating and unsympathetic. The twists are usually a surprise and that’s what keeps the characters and the viewer on their toes.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

 

Black Box

Mamoudou Athie plays a dad whose wife died in an accident that also caused his amnesia. He meets a doctor (Phylicia Raashad) who conducts an experimental procedure to help him recover his memory and relationship to his daughter (Manda Christine). The pace moves slowly for the longest time, but eventually becomes a bit involving when the twists develop. Athie is intense throughout, Raashad is often flat, but it’s’ Christine’s plucky portrayal that’s the film’s most compelling performance. There’s never much tension, but the story eventually creates some interesting developments.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

Two new Netflix’s comedies

Two new Netflix’s comedies

Even though I’m not the primary audience for these 2 comedies, here’s my take.

 

Sneakerheads

The title refers to the people who collect valuable sneakers. This show’s quartet is formed when a quietly-married father (Allen Maldonado) runs into an old friend (Andrew Bachelor, doing a watered-down Chris Tucker). They get involved in several shoe schemes that continually backfire, each one upping the stakes. The other 2 members are a woman with inside info and a clueless guy who’s just starting the game. The episodes clip along with saucy banter, a few star cameos and a zippy pace. However, what starts out fun soon turns into more predictable interplays that lose some of the initial fun punch. (Six 30-minute episodes) 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

 

Emily in Paris

This is the latest from Darren Star (best known for Sex in the City). It stars Lily Collins as a wide-eyed social media expert who’s transferred to Paris. Her adjustments to a hostile, haughty work environment and lack of speaking French are ameliorated by a chummy new friend and several handsome men. It’s got a sparkling retro rom-com feel with regular montages of Parisian sites and Collins’ sweetly charming, continually-effervescent attitude. The supporting cast also boasts an assortment of entertaining types. Since it’s France, everyone’s outfits are fabulous. There’s no question that this is a signature Star project, which means it’s a lite confection with a winning cast and enjoyable situations. (Ten 30-minute episodes) 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

Two sci-fi series from Amazon

Two sci-fi series from Amazon

Utopia

This conspiracy theory series revolves around an elusive comic book, which is full of clues about a diabolical scheme. As is typical for this genre, a ragtag group of comic nerds sets out to solve the mysteries and save the world. Star turns from John Cusak as the innovative leader of a drug conglomerate and Rainn Wilson as a frustrated scientist who may have the clue to the puzzle. The first 2 episodes are chocked with quickly-dispatched killings and one nasty torture sequence. After that, it’s more about the intrigue and interactions between the various personalities. While the plot offers expected twists, the pacing is solid and there are enough surprises to keep the puzzle interesting. (The final episode left it obviously open for another season.) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Amazon Prime Video link

 

The Boys (Season 2)

The first season set up the league of chemically-created superheroes, supported by the marketing power of a large conglomerate. Some of the good guys aren’t very good, which added some depth. And what evil empire would be complete without yet another ragtag gang out to expose its secrets? Season 2 focuses even more on this group, while expanding the personal interactions between the “supes.” There are occasional cool effects, but the conspiracy theory drags down the action with too much talk and frankly, I didn’t care much about the people. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Amazon Prime Video link

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