TV & Streaming

Charm City Kings (review)

Charm City Kings (review)

The documentary 12 O’Clock Boys revolved around dirt bike riders in urban Baltimore and the young boy who aspired to join them. This fictionalized version of that film stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston, who’s simply spectacular as the 14-year-old. As a matter of fact, the entire cast is chocked with real, compelling performances (Teyonah Parris, as his mom, is especially heartbreaking). The Black culture and characters are portrayed with verve and verisimilitude. It’s a hard story with dramatic turns and sometimes contrived situations. Even when it rambles (could use some cutting), the characters keep it interesting and the ultimate outcome (although somewhat expected) is effective. There have been stories about disadvantaged youth coming of age before, but this one has a raw energy and exceptional acting that make it distinctive. NOTE: The credits feature footage of the real riders performing some of their amazing stunts.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

HBO Max link

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Soulmates (review)

Soulmates (review)

The central concept of this 6-part series is that a test has been developed that can find a person soul mate. Each episode approaches this basic conceit in a different direction. Sometimes a person questions their current relationship when their test comes back and other times a twist of fate alters their experience. The cast is comprised of recognizable actors who all do fine. If this series sounds like a new season of Black Mirror, that’s because it was created by William Bridges who wrote 2 of those episodes, along with Brett Goldstein, writer for Stranger Things. As expected, some episodes work better than others. They all start out with promise and some deliver, while others take too long for a disappointing finish. Still, it’s an interesting series.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

AMC link

The Queen’s Gambit (review)

The Queen’s Gambit (review)

Fictional prodigy Beth Harmon learned to play chess at age eight in the orphanage where she was raised. She went on to become a world-renowned master. Anya Taylor-Joy creates a character that exhibits her steely resolve, while exposing some of the issues that are holding her back (Isla Johnston does an equally impressive job as the child). Since there’s plenty of room to breathe in 7 hours, several subplots and supporting characters (all strong) have plenty of time to get fleshed out. This is a big show for Netflix and it shows in the production values: beautiful locations, period accruements and wonderful fashions. Since this movie is about chess, there’s lots of the game, but director Scott Frank staged each major match in a different style to maintain interest.  Although the overall mood is more down than up and some scenes could have been trimmed, it’s still a well-made and compelling production.  BTW, after the whole show, I’m still not sure what the Queen’s Gambit is. (Seven one-hour episodes)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Netflix link

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Holidate (review)

Holidate (review)

Emma Roberts plays a popular new type: a woman who can’t commit.  She meets cute with Luke Bracey and they decide to be each other’s dates for all the upcoming holidays…no strings attached. The inevitable happens, but not before they spend every major celebration trying to dismiss their mutual attraction. This film is so predictable that it needs clever dialogue or entertaining characters to make it rise above. In this case, there’s a TOUCH of both, esp. Kristin Chenoweth in her fun role. The leads are both adequate but never special. Anyone who’s mildly cynical will find the film full of relatively tiresome tropes, but there’s hope for the shamelessly romantic.

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

 

 

Beat (review)

Beat (review)

This starts out as a deliciously decadent visit to Berlin’s music scene, complete with pounding music, flashing lights, easy drugs and bountiful sex. Jannis Niewöhner plays a club promoter who’s enlisted by the European Secret Service to go undercover. This leads to an unscrupulous arms dealer with an even more reprehensible reach. Once the plot kicks in, things get a bit more traditional. There are some violent incidents and twisty plot points, but nothing exciting. I’ve only watched the first 4 episodes and it’s unfolding well-enough, but has lost much of the edge that the club scene might have added. (Seven one-hour episodes dubbed in English)

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

Amazon Prime Video link

Two for young’uns

Two for young’uns

Both of these movies are aimed at a younger audience. One for kids just in time for Halloween and the other for adolescents discovering sex.

 

The Witches

Roald Dahl’s children’s novel has been reworked by whiz-bang effects director Robert Zemeckis. A boy and his Grandma (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno & Octavia Spencer) encounter a glamorous group of women who are also evil witches (headed by Anne Hathaway, relishing the opportunity to go evilly wild). There are some cool efx and an energetic pace to keep things interesting. Despite an undercurrent of malevolence, the overall upbeat veneer and the wholesomely creepy transformations make it a fun, obviously children’s escape. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

HBO Max link

 

Yes, God, Yes

Yet another recent movie set in the relatively innocent 80s. A Catholic teenager (Natalia Dyer) discovers masturbation and sex chats on AOL. This could have led her to a sweetly satirical look at religious sexual strictures and the accompanying hypocracy. It started out that way, but much of the potential to take the comedy to outrageous levels didn’t materialize. The plot got very predictable (and that hunk’s arms were obviously covered in fake hair). While it was sweetish, the writers scaled back the satire and never achieved its comic potential. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Netflix link

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

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