How to be Single

After a stressful few weeks, all I wanted to do was to sit back and relax with a mindless romcom. That need was answered with the film How to be Single.  It’s a little different from the average romcom as the main message is more about finding and loving yourself than a mate. The film stars Dakota Johnson as Alice, a new recently single college grad, her party animal friend Robin (Rebel Wilson) and her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) an Ob-Gyn who tries to avoid relationships and having a baby of her own at all costs. Another storyline is that of Lucy (Alison Brie) a hopeless romantic who’s determined to find the perfect man by putting herself through a series of hapless online dates under the watchful eye of super commitment phobe Tom (Anders Helm) the owner of the bar downstairs from Lucy’s apartment.

Alice delves headfirst into NYC single life, however it becomes a lot harder to manage as she sees her ex-boyfriend Josh quickly couple up, while still is trying to find her independence.  In the end Lucy and Meg end up finding love when they least expected it and Tom learns that sometimes it might be good to give love a chance. Alice also realizes that sometimes, being single is not so bad after a series of short dating mishaps. A lot of the dating dos and don’t of 21st century courtships are highlighted and very relatable to the films’ intended young female audience. The characters online dating and technology issues as well as hookup culture is something that nearly every millennial has experienced.

Dakota Johnson plays her part of the straight (wo)man amongst comedic genius Rebel Wilson, whose best moments of witty and slightly shocking one liners seem appropriately improvised. Leslie Mann and Alison Brie also lend excellent support in this mostly female driven comedy. It is nice to see a romantic comedy where the woman doesn’t need the help and support of a man in the end and can find peace and happiness on her own. The storyline of Lucy and Tom however seems pretty disconnected from the rest of the group and isn’t necessary in Alice’s journey. In the end the film serves its purpose. It is funny, relatable, and a good amount of escapism, as everyone finds their happiness or starts to find their way in the end.

How To Be Single is available to stream on HBOGo 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.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I’ve been wanting to check out Me and Earl and the Dying Girl after hearing great festival reviews when it was released early last year. The film focuses on high school senior Greg, who has managed to evade the social hierarchy of high school for the past three years while never really allowing himself to be vulnerable – like never setting foot in the lunch room.

Along with his friend (who he calls his co-worker) Earl, Greg makes pun styled remakes of classic movies to pass the time. Greg believes he can continue to skate by senior year until his mother (played by the always brilliant Connie Britton) forces him to visit Rachel, a family friend who was just diagnosed with leukemia. Greg begrudgingly goes to hang out with Rachel, and soon discovers that he actually likes spending time with her. Soon Greg starts visiting Rachel every day and a friendship develops. Eventually Greg and Earl are commissioned to make a video to raise Rachel’s spirits as she continues to get sicker. In an effort not to make it a cliche get well video, Greg has a writers block. He does this while alienating Earl and many people at school in the process. While I won’t give away Rachel’s fate, she helps Greg to grow up and leave his self-imposed bubble in more ways than one.

The film has a charming “Wes Anderson” like feel to it with the director filming in 2:35 widescreen. The color scheme has a lot of soft pastel colors and light greens throughout the set design. The editing also reflects the theme with steady long shots and weird angles. The setting of Pittsburgh and the houses that were used also captured a perfect snapshot of suburban America and the angst and boredom that is associated with high school.

One of the highlights of the film is the amazing adult supporting cast. Connie Britton and Nick Offerman are excellent as Greg’s quirky but slightly overbearing parents and Molly Shannon is perfect at balancing grief and rage as Rachel’s wine loving mother. The young and relatively unknown teenage cast of Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke), and Earl (R.J Cuyler) also stand on their own and deliver very touching and nuanced performances about growing up and viewing mortality.

The film is a touching, slightly quirky, and very real take on teenage heartbreak and growing up. With a stellar cast and a fresh plot the film will make you laugh, cry, and reminisce about your teenage angst all in one sitting.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is available to stream on HBO Go 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

 

Deadpool

This week, I decided to mix it up from my usual viewing choices and watch a superhero movie. However, Deadpool is not your average superhero movie. From the opening credits to the final after credit sneak peak the tongue in cheek dialogue and R rating level violence makes this film stand alone in a sea of superhero movies that have inundated audiences over the last ten years.

The film acts as Deadpool’s origin story, with Ryan Reynolds playing the titular character Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. The story jumps back and forth in time, going back in time to tell the origin story of Deadpool and his relationship with his love Vanessa to present day dealings with his nemesis Ajax. Throughout the film Reynolds breaks the forth wall to have quips with the viewer and to defy against standard superhero stereotypes. While the film prides itself on its self-awareness it was sometimes too much, as the viewer gets the main idea from the opening sequence.The dialogue varies from downright crude humor to insightful thoughts on sexism in the film industry.

For those who don’t know (spoilers ahead) Wilson is former special forces mercenary who, after falling in love with stripper Vanessa gets diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wilson decides to turn towards a mysterious lab run by mutants like Ajax and Angel Dust who promise to cure his cancer by making him mutant. For his mutant abilities to show Ajax and Angel Dust subject him to inane torture which leaves him permanently disfigured. Eventually Ajax kills him which releases Deadpool’s power of superhuman healing and – the inability to die.

After figuring out his costume and alter ego with the help of his best friend Weasel  (played by the great T.J. Miller) Deadpool goes to exact revenge on Ajax while trying to keep his being alive a secret to Vanessa. Chaos, blood, and action ensues as Deadpool ends up defeating Ajax and Angel Dust, with the help of some other lesser known X-Men.

The film is highlighted with top notch CGI and action scenes that are on par with any of the larger budget action movies. The pacing of the film can be a bit slow at times with the director Tim Miller relying on long drawn out shots, a stark contrast from the rapid fire dialogue. The plot is also open enough where someone who hasn’t has much exposure to the Marvel Universe can understand the world of Wade Wilson and his associated friends and villains.

Deadpool is a rollicking good time (not for the whole family) and a good foray into superhero movies – if you’re not that into superhero movies.

Deadpool is available to stream via HBOgo 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

Fleabag

As the weather has quickly turned from sweltering summer to grey chilly weekends, I’ve returned inside for hibernating mode. This includes, baking, knitwear, and excessive binge watching.  This weekend I discovered the wonderful Amazon Prime show (originally BBC) Fleabag. Dubbed the British answer to Girls Fleabag is a wonderful feminist comedy that highlights the struggles and joys of trying to figure out your 20’s. Similarly to Dunham, Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes, produces, and stars as the main character Fleabag (a childhood nickname).

The Girls characters are known for being narcissistic millennials and Fleabag is no exception. Though her self-awareness separates herself by managing to remain endearingly vulnerable and relatable. Part of Fleabags charm has to do with Waller-Bridges’ wonderful acting and witty dialogue, the other has to do with her breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the viewer . The commentary ranges from her making excellent faces to updating the viewer on the lies she tells others in the show. This makes the viewer connect with Fleabag on another level – as if she’s saying what everyone really thinks.

The joy of Fleabag is that for all of her misgivings everyone else in her life is equally awful, from her uptight sister, absent father, and evil stepmother (played by the always wonderful Olivia Coleman). Rounding out Fleabags family is her best friend Boo, obnoxious brother in law and a parade of men. From her too sweet off and on again boyfriend Harry to various hookups Fleabag manages to expertly show the range of relationships young single millennial women deal. Throughout the season Fleabag uses the men for physical relationships, though often it seems she is getting nothing from them at all. As one scene with Harry she only achieves orgasm on her own, showing that really she’s using these men to hide her loneliness or to show her family she’s successful.

The show has this feminist perspective throughout and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Especially in scenes with Fleabag and her perennially uptight sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and how they deal with the loss of their mother. It expertly captures the nuances of a older/younger sister dynamic while making both characters appear relatable despite their many flaws.

All in all Fleabag is a wonderful, crude, feminist look into the mind of young 20somethings in 2016 and says what most are thinking. Accompanied by a great soundtrack and a well rounded cast Fleabag is your next show to binge watch this weekend.

Fleabag Season 1 (6 episodes) is available to stream on Amazon Prime with subscription