Layer Cake, A Serious Man, & Chernobyl

*From now on I will be grading using a letter grade system. The grading system will range from an A to F. This should be easier to understand and give me less room to overrate. I apologize for switching suddenly but I have come to the conclusion it will be easier to use.*

Layer Cake – Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake seems at first like something you have watched before. A crime movie about someone who has set up a successful front, and who swears he can get out. He is soon pull back in, and the world begins to unravel. It is complicated, and at times too much so for its own good. It can become tricky to follow, and I had to make sure to follow each point. Certain pieces get lost in the fray, and  I think making the movie 15 minutes longer to explain things would have helped.

However, the movie’s emphasis on a tight structure and a chiseled atmosphere serve it well in the end. The movie never loses its steam and finds ways to surprise and excite. The ending is also brilliant. In the layer cake of crime films, this one is a winner.  A-

A Serious Man – The Coen Brothers deliver some of their best heartbreak and irreverence with A Serious Man. Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a terrific performance as Larry Gopnik, a man struggling to figure out why everything around is going terribly. It also asks fascinating questions about religion and death, paralleling the book of Job all the while. This film has certain oddities as does all of the Coen Brother’s work. There are scenes that almost wash over you but are hard to justify in the overall context of the movie. It also ends in a slightly wistful and interpretative area. A Serious Man is far from perfect, but finds areas of brilliance throughout the movie. B+

I recently finished watching the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and it is one of the most necessary pieces of art to come out this year. Some of its historical fictionalizing is tough to square, but it is brilliant and compelling throughout. The culture of the Soviet Union and the pride of their country also come through, making for a fascinating piece of work. If you have HBO, please go and watch Chernobyl.
A

 

The Clippers Season is Over & The Twilight Zone

After all is said and done, the Clippers 2018-2019 season is over. The defending-champion Warriors finished off the Clippers in 6 games. My beloved Clippers played admirably, winning two games in Oracle Arena and fighting for every point. However, the Warriors proved to be simply too much.

I have watched plenty of Clippers teams, but this team is easily one of my favorites. They fought and clawed. They did not have a superstar, but they did not need one. They played hard and they played for each other. It is hard to remember the last time any NBA team played with such camaraderie and heart. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harris, and so many others gave it their all for each other. It was exciting to see, and even if we get a star in the offseason, this team made me incredibly proud. It is rare you seem a team with this much heart and character working together. So often we see the stars, the egos, and the fights. To watch a team work together was great, and being a lifelong fan only made it more exciting to watch. I cannot wait to see what this team will do next year.

Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.

I have begun watching the original Twilight Zone series. It stands the test of time, each episode being fascinating, thrilling, and thought-provoking in different ways. What happens when we get trapped in our own Nostalgia? What do we owe to each other and to ourselves? Each episode is so inventive and exciting, it still manages to excite and thrill. It still manages to make me wonder.

The above quote is from the brilliant episode “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”. It brilliantly and creepily brings together themes of nostalgia, success, and failure. While I will not spoil anything, it deals with something incredibly familiar. What happens when we are no longer the person we were? When we are not as good as we once were? Do we trap ourselves in the past or try to move onto the present? Even if you are afraid of this show being “too old”, you should watch it anyways. Every episode is breathtaking and will leave you thinking after the credits roll.

Michigan Review Article & Russian Doll

She started out jovially, joking about how she gets recognized in the strangest places. She then delved into a more serious discussion of contemporary geopolitics as well as the importance of diplomacy. “Diplomacy is one of our arms for negotiation.”

This is from my latest article with the Michigan Review. I covered a talk from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in which she joked and warned of threats to democracy. It was a fascinating discussion, and one I encourage you to read about.

Russian Doll – I am bad about watching shows, but I was simply too intrigued to avoid watching Netflix’s latest series, Russian Doll. It is absolutely tremendous, a groundhog day scenario imbued with pain and satire. The story consistently finds ways to surprise and enlighten while staying true to its comedic routes. Natasha Lyonne is great as Nadia, and her initial discoveries and plot points are fascinating and hysterical.

However, the series really becomes special when Alan played by Charlie Barnett is discovered to be going through something similar, which causes the show to go on many fascinating twists and turns. Their dynamic is terrific, where their pain and denial stem from different things and are expressed in different ways, but are ultimately one in the same. It is a brilliant show and at just eight 20 minute episodes, it takes almost no time. 9.3/10 

Apollo 11 & Daredevil Season 3 Review

Apollo 11 – This documentary does a great job of paying attention to detail. Each moment of the moon landing is painstakingly realized, from time to sound and communication. What is slightly off-putting is that this films opts for no “talking heads” and operates completely within the context of the events themselves. The goal is to create a “you are there” sensation, which at times adds to the film but also takes away from it. If you already know plenty about the mission than I suspect you probably prefer it this way, but for those who have little background in science and were not alive for the moon landing are left slightly confused. I love documentaries, and what makes them great are often the interesting subjects who help put things into context. I would have loved to hear historians discussing the implications of this event, or scientists describing exactly how the ship works. Instead I am left with plenty of interesting and cool footage, but no message from the directors. That is disappointing, especially considering how much terrific footage there is in this film. 7/10

This season was easily the best of Daredevil’s run, with smartly paced storytelling finally catching up to the already brilliant action scenes. For the first time in the show’s run, every episode felt purposeful, every move felt necessary, and nothing felt like filler. This makes it that much more disappointing that Netflix cancelled the show, as there was so much more left to offer.

Regardless, I think it is more important to look at the product of the third season as a whole before getting sad about the show’s cancellation. The newcomers in particular were great, as they added many new dimensions to the show. Jay Ali as Special Agent Ray Nadeem stands out in particular. His struggle and ultimate send-off are all incredibly powerful to watch. Overall I would give it a 8.5/10, a must watch for any Marvel fan.

BoJack Horseman Season 5 Review

BoJack Horseman ended season 4 with a commitment to being a changed man. BoJack Horseman has always been a show of twists and turns, and it never quite lets anyone off the hook. However, it finally began to seem like there might be some moments of redemption. However, just because BoJack is the hero of our story, does not mean he gets to be let off easy. If I were to boil down the lesson of this season it is that while we can make a commitment to becoming better and dealing with those around us in better and healthier ways, we have to hold ourselves accountable. Nobody else will do it for us.

This season wallows in sadness but is in many ways more subdued than years past. It does not focus so much on the glitz and glam but has stories that really try to see the characters take the next step. Princess Carolyn struggling with adoption, Dianne and Mr. Peanutbutter moving on, and BoJack dealing with the loss of his Mom and coming to terms with all of the things he has done. It once again defies convention and category, making Drama and Comedy work in ways that few shows can pull off.

My highlight of the season was the episode “Free Churro,” which constituted of BoJack giving his eulogy for his Mom. Painfully honest “Free Churro” is the best episode this series has seen since Season 3.  BoJack realizing how much of his relationship between himself and his mother has now gone to waste has some absolutely gut-punching lines that I will not spoil. Please, if you watch one episode of this show, watch “Free Churro”.

To me, BoJack Horseman is always in the 9-plus category because of its ability to stir emotions. However, my one complaint is that I felt this muted deconstruction was a very small step back from the highs of the last two seasons. Regardless, this show continues to be phenomenal. Watch it as soon as you can.

9/10

BoJack Horseman is Back

After having watched two episodes of Season 5 I am pleased to confirm that BoJack Horseman is back with all of its punches. In the second episode “The Dog Days are Over,” Diane comes to terms with her divorce and reconciles with her feelings toward Mr. PeanutButter.

BoJack Horseman has always been a tear-jerker, but it is not just in sadness that this show finds its brilliance, but it is in the way it articulates feelings and actions. Diane here is dealing with pain, still having feelings for her husband and not entirely sure how to go about fixing her sorrows. So she decides to go to Vietnam to try to get away and “reconnect with her roots”. However, the episode quickly unfolds into something darker, as you begin to realize that she is denying something caused her to take a spontaneous trip out of the country. The reveal is tremendous, and the way her pain and reasoning is articulated is beautifully done.

Sometimes, we do things to distract ourselves from the pain we feel, and we find ways to justify it. For Diane, “reconnecting to her roots,” really has to do with her struggling to cope with jealousy and heartbreak. How can we be honest with ourselves to how we are feeling while also attempting to solve the problem? It is so hard to do this properly and so often I act as Diane would and just try to do something else to avoid the problem entirely.

This episode, combining beautiful narrative structure along with heartbreaking truths showcase what BoJack Horseman does best. This show has continued to wow me, and while I hope to have a review of the full season later on, I highly recommend everyone give it a chance in the meantime.