Crashing

I discovered the genius of Phoebe Waller-Bridge when I first started watching Fleabag. Crashing is another one of her shows now streaming on Netflix. It focuses on a group of late twenty somethings a la Friends living together in a converted old hospital. Flighty and reckless LuLu (Waller-Bridge) has landed on the door of her childhood best friend and aspiring chef Anthony (Damien Molony) who is living in the hospital with his uptight fiancee Kate (Louise Ford). Their flatmates include an intense french painter named Melody, womanizer named Sam, and shy guy Fred.  While the first season is quite short with only six thirty minute episodes, its characters are fully fledged where each individual is humanized enough for the viewer to relate.

The crux of the storyline revolves around Lulu, Anthony, and Kate. While the other characters have their own storylines with Sam grappling with his father’s death and Fred is starting a new relationship while grappling with his feelings for Sam.  Lulu and Anthony try to defy their very obvious feelings from each other while Kate in an effort to stem her jealously, hires Lulu on as a receptionist at her office, where Lulu becomes admired by all due to her fun personality – the antithesis of Kate (who can’t even fart in front of Anthony.)

Crashing’s humor relishes in the uncomfortable and somewhat painful moments of human interactions and emotions.  Waller-Bridge and Ford standout in their push and pull relationship of opposites . While both are trying to change to become more like the other. Though in the end they both realize that they can’t change who they are no matter how much they want to.  They both are play the insecurities of their characters in a subtle and nuanced way that really makes the viewer emphasize with both sides.

Like Fleabag, it also relays the message that it’s ok to not have your life figured out yet in your twenties. As constant changes, setbacks, and sometimes even growth are inevitable. Crashing is a fun quick watch and good for a laugh with an occasional awkward grimace.

Crashing is available to stream on Netflix with subscription. 

iZombie

This past week I’ve discovered the dangerous advantages to downloading Netflix shows for offline viewing on your phone.  With this in mind I’ve managed to watch the first season of iZombie in a week.  iZombie is a current CW show with its first two seasons on Netflix. The show is written and produced by Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars fame. The show has a similar plot with a quirky female protagonist solving crimes by day and dealing with her complicated love life at night. However, Liv Moore (Rose McIver) is not your average protagonist – she’s a zombie.

Workaholic medical resident, Liv decides to take a break one night and ends up at a boat party where a tainted batch of the drug Utopium ends up making people turned into Zombies. Liv is scratched by drug dealer Blaine and ends up infected with the zombie virus and a craving for brains. She manages to find her brains through her new job as the assistant medical examiner Liv tells her secret to her boss Ravi. On top of all the transitions Liv realizes that she gets visions and character traits of whomever she last ate. These visions come in handy as she teams up with detective Clive Babineaux to help solve crimes after eating the murder victims brains’ to trigger visions.

While Liv helps to solve these crimes each week she deals with her ex-fiance Major, and best friend Peyton, who don’t know about her zombie lifestyle but have noticed a strong change in her demeanor. Each episode focuses on a different murder while the other major emotional storylines around Liv are intertwined. Like Veronica Mars, the show has a film noir aspect, which is reflected in the styling of the show and general tone. The setting of Seattle is wonderfully incorporated and a refreshing change of scenery for a procedural which are mostly based in New York or California.

The stories don’t have a ton of emotional depth but the characters are somewhat relatable (other than the whole zombie part..) and the plots never seem tired or recycled. It’s a great procedural that is able to combine dark murder and lighthearted romantic comedy moments, often in the same scene. If you’re interested in a slightly brainless (pun intended) but quirky and cheesy crime procedural check out iZombie next time you’re perusing through Netflix.

iZombie Seasons 1-2 are available to stream on Netflix with subscription

 

Gilmore girls: A Year in the Life

This year, I had one big reason to be thankful- the return of Gilmore Girls. After many teasers and marketing ploys by Netflix the much anticipated Gilmore girls: A Year in the Life premiered on Netflix this Friday. I decided to bravely not venture from my couch and binge watch all of the four (ninety minute) episodes which start off ten years after the ending of the original TV show.

The episodes are cut up to highlight the four seasons. Winter begins with picking up where all of the characters left off. Rory is a writer going back and forth between London, NYC and Stars Hollow. She’s still trying to figure out her life and career. Lorelai and Luke are still together and managing their respective businesses. A lot of the series, especially for Emily Gilmore is focused on the main characters dealing with the death of Richard (Edward Herrmann). The main characters deal with their grief in many different ways, though Emily takes it the hardest trying. Lorelai is dealing with the loss of Suki at the Inn and restlessness on what to do with the rest of her life. Throughout the four episodes many of the original Stars Hallow characters make an appearance from Kirk, to Taylor, and even the troubadour . All of Rory’s boyfriends of past and present show up, especially Logan who Rory is still continuing a secret relationship with.

Every episode was written and directed by original show-runner and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her partner Daniel Palladino. The pair left the show in the last few seasons so it’s nice to see that the writing and dialogue reflects that of the beginning of the show. The ninety minute episodes allow for a more cinematic feel to the storyline. Which is also seen in the cinematography. The swooping arial shots and dreamlike sequences are able to highlight the story on a much larger scale than in its original format. While the dialogue remains the regular repartee the major plot points are very loosely filled out and a bit frustrating. This made the episodes feel very long (especially when watching them in succession) and they could have been cut down to hour long episodes. The end encapsulates this frustration where the viewer is left with more questions than answers.

The season is a nice return to Stars Hallow and all of its inhabitants. Though it could have been a bit shorter and the plots left much to be desired, in many ways it feels like returning to visit an old friend.

Gilmore girls: A Year in the Life is available to stream on Netflix with subscription

The Crown

The Crown is Netflix’s newest original series and its most expensive production to date. The series starts at the very beginning of Elizabeth II’s reign from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947 and continues throughout the 1950’s. The series delves into hot political scandals of the day from the former King Edward and his wife trying to make their way back into the London social circles t0 Princess Margarets relationship with a commoner.

The main relationships at the center of the season are between Claire Foy  and Matt Smith as Elizabeth and Prince Philip. A large part of the season revolves around Prince Philip grappling with being second in command to his wife in all matters. Matt Smith evolves well as the slightly restless and naive Philip to loving husband and confidante who is willing to play second place to the queen. Claire Foy achieves a touchingly subtle performance as Elizabeth, while holding her own against established actors like Jared Harris and John Lithgow. Some of the most moving scenes involve Princess Elizabeths relationship with her father King George as he helps to prepare her to take on the hard tasks as regent.  Jared Harris shines as King George, who in the last years of his life struggles with lung cancer and balancing political alliances with Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). Regardless of the petty fights and hierarchal trials, I developed a slight lack of empathy towards the cast of characters. As it is always quite apparent that they are living a life quite privileged from that of most, as seen in the episode “The Great Smog”. Churchill’s secretary Venetia Scott acts as a stand-in for the struggling public when she finally gains his attention and compassion after the smog affects his relationship with her.

The plot is quite slow which helps to highlight the extraordinary production value as well as the top quality acting. The production value extends to the great directing and cinematography that underscores the postwar mood. This involves capturing the old establishment that Elizabeth and others are trying to breakup for more progressive change. The show grasps onto some historical events and timelines making it a treat for history nerds and anglophiles alike.

The Crowns’ first season shows that Netflix has been able to expertly evolve in the production of their original shows. While the Crown rivals the production value of other historically based originals like Marco Polo it does not feel as weighed down by their factors, relying on the subtle acting of its leads and light dialogue. It will be interesting to see if it can continue to evolve with season two as history unfolds.

The Crown  is available to stream on Netflix with subscription.

13th

A few weeks before the election, race relations, police brutality, and mass incarceration are on the forefront of many voters minds. Fittingly, Netflix just released the stirring documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay which delves into the issues through historical background and extensive expert interviews.

13th decides to tackle issues so huge that it somewhat struggles with what it wants the main focus of the film to be. The title and core thesis reflects a very important and often overlooked clause in the 13th amendment, the abolishment of slavery except as punishment for a crime. This loophole, as the film reflects has allowed for hundreds of years of legal slavery in the form of mass incarceration of mainly african-american men. DuVernay, deftly establishes the long history of systemic racism in law and politics that has led to the highest incarceration rates in the world. She uses numerous interviews with incarceration activists, historians, and other notables including, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Michelle Alexander to discuss the history. Alexander, is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, whose thesis that the US prison system is the modern equivalent of slavery is at the core of the film.

The film amazingly clocks in under two hours while managing to highlight the past 200 years of racism, laws, and rhetoric that has led up to the incarceration rates of 2016 and the current political climate. It even takes time to focus on the racist and inflammatory rhetoric both of the current political candidates have said over the past twenty five years. The pacing never feels too rushed and DuVernay tries to eliminate any major bias by incorporating a few apposing viewpoints and some whose minds have changed as policies have evolved.

Most interesting is hearing the ALEC spokesman try and defend the years of racist policies they’ve been able to push into law. DuVernay doesn’t try to make the film about contrasting views, her argument is clear enough just by laying out the history and increase in the prison system over the last twenty years. While highlighting the specific lawmakers, like Clinton and Bush whose policies nearly doubled the prison population.

The film ends with a slight examination into how new technology has brought national attention to police brutality. Now, with the help of filming devices more non people of color are witnessing and becoming aware of the thoroughly embedded societal inequality, which will hopefully inspire positive change in the coming years. The film ends while intercutting montages of Trump rallies with those of anti-segregationists in the 1960’s. Showing that in many ways, we still have far to go.

13th is available to stream on Netflix with subscription

 

Amanda Knox

The name Amanda Knox is synonymous throughout the world with murder. In 2007 Knox, a twenty year old American studying abroad in Italy was thrust onto the national spotlight after being arrested for the brutal murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. Nine years later, Netflix has released a riveting and highly stylized documentary on the murder, arrests, and trials of Knox, her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and the convicted killer Rudy Guede.

The films starts by evaluating Knox’s character with personal interviews, showing her as somewhat naive and excited to go abroad. Also interviewed are, Sollecito, Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and Nick Pisa, the DailyMail journalist whose yellow journalism helped to bring the international spotlight on Knox. With the inclusion of Pisa the filmmakers try to raise the question, was Knox’s trial by media or evidence?

The film delves into the media circus surrounding the murder and trial as well as the character accusations against Knox whose “quirky” personality are quickly be manipulated by the media and prosecution into something more sinister. The film’s story is a bit scattered sometimes jumping between interviews, stylized reenactments and archival footage as if the filmmakers struggled with what elements to highlight. The core of the film is the exclusive access and interviews with Knox who is presented in a raw unbiased factor, leaving the viewer to be the ultimate judge of her guilt.

The other interviewees also become quickly characterized, Sollectio – the quiet romantic, Pisa – the ruthless journalist, and Mignini – the morally righteous (and heavily religious) prosecutor. The focus on Mignini’s religiousness is interesting as it contrasts against the heavy use of science and logic involved in law trials. Even with Knox’s and Sollectio’s convictions overturned Mignini believes that they will have to answer to the higher power as “god will judge them” for their actions.

Some of the subtle highlights of the film include the pulsating soundtrack and beautiful arial shots of the Italian countryside and Perugia. Which juxtaposed against the grainy  police footage of the murder scene made the crime even more horrific in appearance and action.

The film ends with Knox and Sollectio being exonerated by the highest court in Italy. Guede – who was convicted of murder in 2007 – remains an afterthought in the whole media circus while Knox’s party believe he was the sole killer. While, innocent in the eyes of the law, it is Knox, and to some extent Sollectio, who will never be able to escape the judgement of the the public and media. Overall, the film gives an detailed and high access look into one of the most covered trials of the 2000’s and shows that sometimes the evidence is not as important as a juicy story.

Amanda Knox is available to stream on Netflix with a subscription

The Big Short

Like most millennials,  I usually experience slight heart palpitations when words like “sub-prime mortgage” and “credit rating” are used. The Big Short takes these work and explains the concepts we hear everyday and how they helped to contribute to the housing collapse and recession in 2008. You might think, oh, is this an educational documentary? Nope. The Big Short is adapted from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name and includes an all star cast of Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling. Who explain how the financial crisis went down and play the people who knew it was going to happen.

The film focuses on a select group of hedge fund managers and bankers whose main goal is to bet against the system. Before 2008, the housing market was seen as infallible, however Michael Burry, (played by Christian Bale) sees that the once impenetrable housing loans are now being handed out to anyone regardless of credit.  This created “sub-prime mortgage’s where the homeowner could not pay the bank back which in turn had the bank lending out money that wasn’t being repaid – resulting in massive foreclosures.

The film starts in the early 2000’s when the economy is booming and leads up to the months after the collapse giving a well rounded timeframe to crisis and shows how unaware the general public was of the whole issue. It also highlights the excellent acting by the main cast and supporting characters, especially Carrell, who over the course of the film transforms from greedy and crude to defeated knowing that the rich bankers who started the collapse would not get penalized and it would hurt the middle class the most. The A-list talent and snappy dialogue help to hide the generally lackluster visual aesthetic and cinematography.

Throughout the film director Adam McKay explains the crisis and other complicated financial terms by breaking the fourth wall and having celebrities like Selena Gomez explain them to the viewer. This tongue and check method captures the viewers attention while trying to actually help the viewer understand the concepts instead confusing words by boring old men.

The Big Short is fun, a little flashy, and in the end is a sobering view on how the housing crisis was created and encouraged by greed and disregard on wall street and beyond.

The Big Short is available to stream on Netflix