Quick Reviews of Recent Views (2021-2022)

And Just Like That (2021): HBO Max

This is the much-talked about (and criticized) sequel to SATC; writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and stay-at-home mom Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) are now in their mid-50s. Of course, publicist Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is NOT on the show; many fans objected to how her character was handled. At the start of the show, ALL the pals seem happily married; we see John AKA Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Steve (David Eigenberg), and Harry (Evan Handler). Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) are married, BUT don’t look too happy. As for the teens, they’re annoying AF; Miranda’s 17 y.o. son Brady behaves V disrespectfully; Charlotte’s kids- 14 y.o. Lily and 12 y.o. Rose- are spoiled and uncompromising. Why spend SO much time on kids- it’s supposed to be about adults!? Carrie is one of the regular guests on a podcast hosted by a bisexual/non-binary comedian, Che Diaz (Sarah Ramirez).

I mainly tuned in to see Carrie’s realtor-turned-friend, Seema (Sarita Choudhury) who appears starting in E4; she’s mainly a theater/indie film actor; I saw her at a play reading in NYC in 2008 (and she is gorgeous IRL). Choudhury starred opposite a young Denzel Washington in Mira Nair’s indie/drama/romance Mississippi Masala. Seema’s mom is played by veteran/international actor/chef/author- Madhur Jaffrey. Miranda’s prof, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), and her jazz musician hubby, Andre (LeRoy McClain), are trying to have a baby w/ IVF. Lisa Todd Wexley AKA LTW (Nicole Ari Parker) is the mom of 3 young kids; Charlotte becomes her friend (after they meet while organizing school events). LTW’s hubby Herbert is played by Hamilton actor Chris Jackson; he (sadly) doesn’t have much to do. Where is the fun (I barely cracked a smile; don’t recall LOLs), fashion (Miranda’s wig and outfits don’t suit her at all), and romance!? IF you’re a fan of the original series, I suggest avoiding this one!

Bridgerton (Season 2): Netflix

Everybody (and their mom) has an opinion on the show- LOL! Almost ALL my friends (IRL/online) were talking/messaging/tweeting about it (some more than 2 wks before S2 dropped). Since I’ve gotten a LOT more active on Twitter lately (and have some new connections), I couldn’t avoid the jokes, memes, etc. You have to shut-off your brain to enjoy shows like this (NO offense); it’s been compared to Jane Austen fan fiction and an alternate universe (AU) of Regency era England. MANY women of color (of all ages) esp. liked seeing the Indian (South Asian) representation in the Sharma sisters (played by Brits: statuesque Simone Ashley and petite Charithra Chandran)! I liked the “slow burn” romance (Anthony and Kate), the fam scenes of the Bridgertons (who all have great chemistry together), and (light-hearted/funny) scenes w/ the artist/bohemian bro, Benedict (Luke Thompson). I think the acting is stronger in this season; S1 didn’t impress me that much. There is one V powerful/emotional scene (S2 E3) that is unlike ANY I’ve seen in a period drama!

The Chair (2021): Netflix

This show was tweeted about by MANY women/POC/academics I follow, so I watched it when it came out last Fall. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the new Chair of Humanities at a small/fictional university (Pembroke); she is the 1st woman and person of color (POC) to hold this post. Ji-Yoon is single (by choice) and the adoptive mom to a bright/challenging young daughter, Ju-Hee. The “old guard” at this school are played by veteran actors: Bob Balaban, Holland Taylor, and David Morse. Ji-Yoon’s closest friend/potential love interest, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), lost his wife a few years ago and his 18 y.o. daughter leaves for college in the 1st ep.

This comedy/drama series (6 eps; 30 mins/ea.) was filmed on-location in Pittsburgh and nearby areas. To create Pembroke’s campus, the show used Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University. Annie Wyman (co-creator/co-writer) was actually an academic in an English department; she earned a PhD in English Lit from Harvard). David Duchovny (playing a version of himself) earned a Master’s in English Lit (Yale); he started (but didn’t complete) his PhD. If you (or your fam/pals) have connections to academia, you’ll esp. relate to this show!

The Gilded Age (2022): HBO Max

This is the show for ALL you Downton Abbey fans; it was also created by Julian Fellows, BUT he had several others collaborating w/ him (incl. prof/historian/co-executive producer- Erica Armstrong Dunbar). Another producer (who also directed some eps) is Salli Richardson-Whitfield; most will know her from her acting days. The setting is NYC in the 1880s where “old money” (the Van Rijans/Brooks) and “nouveaux riche” (the Russells) are nabes, BUT def NOT pals! There are MANY theater actresses (over the age of 40) who appear on this show: Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald (who I saw once on Broadway), Celia Keegan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and Donna Murphy. We also see more well-known movie actors (incl. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Nathan Lane) in small (yet pivotal) roles.

In his January 2022 NYT article The Gilded Age’ Finally Arrives on HBO, Dave Itzkoff reported that the long filming hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed actress Denée Benton (who plays Peggy Scott) “to seek refinements of [her role] to better reflect [her] understanding of history. Benton said she urged the creative team to provide more ways to show that there were Black people like her character, Peggy, who lived in their own affluent and educated communities. I didn’t find Louisa Jacobson (who plays Marian Brook; one of Meryl Streep’s daughters) that compelling; MANY viewers agreed w/ me on this point. Peggy is much MORE interesting than Marian. I thought that George Russell (Morgan Spector- husband of actress Rebecca Hall) was better written than his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Coon was written as TOO strident (as some viewers noted online). George’s full beard was quite popular on Twitter- LOL! This is a period/costume drama, BUT it also has some brains (and is somewhat educational also).

Mare of Easttown (2021): HBO Max

If you like domestic drama mixed w/ a cop/mystery show (such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch), then check this out! A detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet in an Emmy-winning role), in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a murder of a teen girl while trying to keep her fam/personal life from falling apart. I thought almost ALL of the actors did a terrific job; they seemed like real/unglamorous/flawed people. There was even a (spot-on) sketch about the show on SNL. Much has been talked about re: the complicated relationship between Mare and her funny/acerbic mom (played by veteran actress Jean Smart); these ladies had great chemistry together! I was also impressed by Evan Peters (who plays the naive/younger cop- Colin Zabel); it’s rare to see a police officer w/ doubt and vulnerability. You can also check him out in S1 of Pose. Guy Pearce (who acted w/ Winslet in HBO’s take on Mildred Pierce in 2011) plays Mare’s love interest; he is a writer-turned-prof who is in town as an adjunct. The creator/writer of this show, Craig Zobel, also wrote the recent movie The Way Back (starring Ben Affleck); it received some critical acclaim also.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Dune” (2021) starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Fergusen, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, & Josh Brolin

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence- a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential- only those who can conquer their fear will survive. -Synopsis from Warner Bros.

Dune (directed by Denis Villeneuve- Canadian of French heritage) is a movie unlike any other I’ve seen in recent years; I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Its 2 hr. 35 min. run time seemed to pass by quickly, as the story (incl. stunning visuals) was V compelling. The music (composed by Hans Zimmer) adds much to the movie; new instruments and a language were invented for the score. The costumes range from practical and lightweight to intricate and decorative. This is part one of the story; it is based on the book by Frank Herbert, one of the iconic writers of sci-fi. Herbert’s work has been compared to Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy; it obviously influenced George Lucas as he created Star Wars. The planet Arakis (also called Dune) is the ONLY place where “spice” (perhaps akin to oil in our world) can be found; many factions want to control this world. The natives of Arakis are the Fremin, a tough/desert people who live in a harsh environment w/ dangerous giant worms (yikes)! The scenes on the ocean world of Caladan were shot in Norway. Much of the desert scenes of Arakis were shot in Jordan and Abu Dhabi.

Paul: [From trailer] Dad, what if I’m not the future of House Atreides?

Duke Leto: A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he is called to it. But if your answer is no, you’d still be the only thing I ever needed you to be: my son.

In a world unlike ours 8,000 yrs. in the future, we meet Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet- doing a fine job), a skinny/bright/teen. He spends his days studying and learning to fight from his older mentor/sword master- Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). One of the early scenes where Paul and Gurney spar is V cool; the choreography (by Roger Yuan) included a type of Filipino martial arts. Another mentor of Paul’s is the warrior, Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa), who brings charm and humor to the story. Much is expected from Paul, as he’s the son/heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac- looking fab w/ gray-streaked hair/full beard). I loved the easy/warm relationship between Chalamet and Isaac. I’m surprised that Chalamet is growing on me; his naturalistic acting style, incl. ability to portray vulnerability easily fit this role. (Though Christian Bale will always be Laurie to me!)

Duncan: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Paul has inherited strong powers from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson- a standout). She is the concubine of Duke Leto and was raised by the Bene Gesserit (a secretive/powerful order made up of all women). Chalamet and Ferguson also have great chemistry. Paul has visions about Arakis w/ an unknown/young woman (Zendaya- who appears in the 3rd act of this story). The Rev. Mother Mohaim (Charlotte Rampling- a veteran British actress) comes to see (and test) Paul on his abilities. House Atreides is given control of the desert planet from the Emperor. A powerful opponent, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard- menacing even inside prosthetics), wants to take control of Arakis. Check out this movie on HBOMax! I didn’t know much re: this story, aside from watching the miniseries (which co-starred a V young James McAvoy) about 20 yrs. ago.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Deep Water” (2022) starring Ben Affleck & Ana de Armas

A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs in order to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers. -Synopsis

Film Twitter ands several YouTuber vloggers are commenting re: this new movie (streaming on Hulu) for the past 2 days. I watched this movie late on FRI; an alternate title could be “Deeply Wasteful.” Earlier in the pandemic, I dove back (pun intended) into the (fading) erotic thriller sub-genre. Veteran British director, Adrian Lyne, is known for his erotic thrillers, having worked on 9 1/2 Weeks (1983), Fatal Attraction (1987)), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Unfaithful (2002), among other films. As you may know, Ben Affleck (now 49 y.o.) and Ana de Armas (a 33 y.o. up-and-comer who previously had a big career in Spain) had a year-long relationship after meeting on this movie.

Vic (Affleck) is a wealthy man who has retired young; he enjoys being an involved dad to his adorable/bright daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins- who does a fine job). Vic’s younger wife, Melinda (de Armas), seems bored w/ their marriage and doesn’t seem to fit comfortably into the role of mom either. Melinda (who is a knockout) enjoys dancing, drinking (sometimes to excess), and flirting w/ other men. At first, it seems like Vic is cool w/ it (and maybe it also turns him on). His close friends (played by Lil Rel Howery, Dash Mihok, and Devyn A. Taylor) are concerned that Vic is being disrespected (and maybe even hurt) by Melinda’s behavior. Vic explains that maybe he doesn’t share their worries. We learn that one of Melinda’s male friends has recently gone missing. An older author in the community, Don (Tracey Letts- a writer himself), is V interested in this incident.

Deep Water is Lyne’s 1st movie in 20 yrs, and it (sadly) shows. There is a lack of character development here; the script is quite weak. I learned that this story was taken from a novel from Patricia Highsmith; she also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley (starring Affleck’s BFF- Matt Damon). Watch that movie instead- you won’t regret it! The camera isn’t doing anything unique either. There isn’t much “erotic” or “thrilling” here- to be blunt! It was shot on location in New Orleans- this was mildly interesting (esp. the outdoors scenes).

Many reviewers commented that (real-life) lovers usually lack chemistry onscreen- quite true here. Affleck looks emotionally detached in MOST of his scenes, though I liked his scenes w/ the daughter. As for de Armas, it’s difficult to empathize w/ her; I couldn’t help but compare her to the (mature/complex) role played by Diane Lane in Unfaithful. The “other men” in Melinda’s life (played by Brendan Miller, Jacob Ellordi, and Finn Wittrock) are indeed (conventionally) handsome, BUT they’re also V boring. Ellordi is an Australian actor who co-stars in HBO’s Euphoria; I haven’t yet seen that show.

“Paterson” (2016) starring Adam Driver & Golshifteh Farahani

Beauty is often found in the smallest details. -A tag line for the movie

This indie film by writer/director Jim Jarmusch shows us a week in the life of a young man, Paterson (Adam Driver), living in Paterson, NJ. He lives a routine life, even waking up at exactly the same time almost every day w/o an alarm. He eats Cheerios for breakfast, walks to work (carrying a lunchbox packed by his gf), has a chat w/ co-worker Donny (Rizwan Manji- an Indian-American character actor), then starts his shift driving the #23 bus. After work, Paterson eats dinner w/ gf Laura (Golshifteh Farahani- an Iranian actress now based in Paris) and listens to the things she has done in her day. He takes Laura’s English bulldog (Marvin) out for a walk to the neighborhood bar; he has one beer and chats w/ the barkeeper, Doc (veteran character actor Barry Shabaka Henley). Two other regulars at the bar are going through a break-up; Marie (Chasten Harmon- in her film debut) says it is over, but her ex-bf Everett (William Jackson Harper from Midsommar) says he wants her back. Laura mentions a dream in which she had twins; Paterson encounters twins throughout his week. Paterson’s keen observances are the basis for the poems he writes (in his secret notebook) whenever he has a spare moment. Something that happens this week has the potential to knock his world into a tailspin.

Laura: Did you ever hear of the old Italian poet called… Petrarch? Is that it?

Paterson: Mmm, Petrarch. He perfected the sonnet.

Laura: I read online that one of his early books of poems was called The Secret Book, just like yours.

Paterson: I didn’t know that! You read that. You just happened upon it online.

Laura: And also that he wrote all his love poems to a beautiful girl called… ta da! Laura!

A woman named Laura was the muse of Petrarch, BUT she wasn’t his wife and they had limited contact, if any at all. The poems here came from Ron Padgett, one of Jarmusch’s favorite contemporary poets, who agreed to write the poems for the film and let Jarmusch use some of his pre-existing work as well. Driver underwent training to get the commercial driver’s license (CDL)! He wanted to be able to be on “auto pilot” while driving the bus; this also meant the film could feature more authentic footage, opening up for a variety of shots. He was taught over a period of 3 mos. on the busy streets of Queens, passing the test a week before filming. On the bed stand, there is a photo of a younger Paterson, during his military service; this is an actual picture of Driver from his time in the Marines. The man working out a rap song in the laundromat is Cliff Smith (AKA Method Man), a member of Wu Tang Clan. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman both made their debuts in the Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012); they’re the college kids on the bus discussing anarchy.

Everett: You love somebody, more than anything in the whole damn world. You… worship her. You don’t wanna be alive without her, and… she says she doesn’t want you. You’re just… dirt.

Doc: Damn brother! You should be an actor.

Everett: [nods] I am… an actor.

[Paterson turns his head away and tries not to laugh.]

Paterson is a character-driven film; the theme (as Jarmusch commented) is the “poetry in everyday life.” The first thing I noticed was the gentle/loving/respectful relationship between Paterson and Laura. We don’t know how long they’ve been together, BUT they’re a warm and compatible couple. There is great chemistry between Driver and Farahani (who has been acting since she was a teen in Iran); you feel like they’re in love! Paterson is a good listener, while Laura is more of a talker. She has many interests: decorating/painting (esp. the black/white aesthetic), playing guitar (so maybe she could be a country singer), and baking cupcakes (to sell at the farmers market). Laura wants Paterson to share his poems w/ the world, BUT he’s hesitant. As Jarmusch noted at Cannes Film Festival, he put aspects of the actors into their characters. Also, he wanted to show that ordinary people (w/ 9-5 jobs) can choose to be creative. I liked the ending scene between Paterson and the visiting Japanese poet. If you need a quiet, low stakes, and unique film to watch- check this out!

Independent cinema is more thoughtful, delicate. While Western blockbusters can have their own kind of delicateness, it’s not delicate enough. You have to be ready to compromise to enter that field. I will do so only if it’s worth it. -Farahani on her preference for indie films

I had to tell people I was not born with a scarf because I came out of Iran. People think you came out of your mother with a scarf; they can’t imagine that the scarf is not stuck to your head. -Farahani on assumptions re: women from Muslim countries

Farahani is the 1st star (after the 1979 Iranian revolution) to act in a major Hollywood production: Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008) w/ Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. After the role of Aisha (a nurse/love interest of DiCaprio’s character), she was banned from leaving Iran in February 2008, on her way to London to make a screen test for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). This was only reported 6 mos later when Farahani could leave the country. She has been based in Paris for many years and speaks fluent English, French, and Farsi. At the Cannes press events, Farahani spoke French when journos weren’t comfortable w/ English. I noticed that several of her films are available on Amazon Prime; I may check out soon.

[1] The movie is just a character study of a gentle and honest man just finding his own path through life, one week at a time. The script and situations also provide an appropriate amount of humor.

[2] The movie is meditative, contemplative, and soothing. An offbeat treat, as per usual, for Jarmusch, and lovers of art, poetry, and low-key expressionism are likely to like this diversion from the cinema of the everyday.

Others, will need patience and acquire an appreciation for the minimal.

[3] Driver was a really good casting choice. …I quite like him as an actor and he has that whole subtlety thing going for him as he really shines when playing rather quiet characters.

[4] Paterson is one of those movies that I think captures something inherently true about the discontentment present in most everyone’s life, whether or not they want to admit it’s there. Routines aren’t necessarily bad, and one can build a quite content and even intermittently happy life out of simple pleasures, but it’s the rare person who doesn’t spend a good portion of his/her life wondering how much happier he/she might have been if she had taken it in a different direction.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

“What If” (2013) starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoey Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, & Rafe Spall

WHAT IF is the story of medical school dropout Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), who’s been repeatedly burned by bad relationships. So, while everyone around him, incl. his best friend Allan (Adam Driver), seems to be finding the perfect partner, Wallace decides to put his love life on hold. It is then that he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator, who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). Wallace and Chantry form an instant connection, striking up a close friendship. Still, there is no denying the chemistry between them, leading the pair to wonder, what if the love of your life is actually your best friend? -Synopsis from CBS Films

In Canada and the UK, this rom com (free on Amazon Prime) was called The F Word (as in “friend”); Hollywood changed it to avoid the R rating (LOL). It is based on the play titled Toothpaste & Cigars by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. Radcliffe (at 25 y.o.) said that this role is the 1st contemporary character he’s ever played: “There was something lovely about just stepping up on set and talking.” The director (Michael Dawse) is Canadian; the screenwriter (Elan Mastai) later went on to work on the hit TV series This is Us (2016). The filmmakers brought the cast back together over 2 weekends to create a new ending, 18 mos. after the original one. Radcliffe was initially hesitant about changing the ending b/c of how much he loved the original (“kind of old-school Hollywood.”) After shooting and watching the screening, he was happy w/ the new ending.

Wallace: In fairy tales, love inspires you to be noble and courageous, but in real life, love is just an all-purpose excuse for selfish behavior. You can lie and cheat and hurt people, and it’s all okay because you’re in love.

I ONLY watched this movie for Driver (just keeping it real); this is his 1st rom com! I found the size difference between Radcliffe (5’5″) and Driver (6’3″) comedic. Their characters also have different personalities; Wallace lives in his head and is more of a thinker, while Allan is extroverted and acts on impulse. Allan and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) have a love (or lust) at 1st sight connection at Allan’s house party. Driver and Davis (who I first noticed on Black Mirror) make a hot couple; both are V tall, lean, w/ frenetic energy. Driver brings humor and does well w/ what was given. The dancing scenes at the wedding are funny.

Allan: I just had s*x and I’m about to eat NACHOS! IT’S THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE!

The relationship which develops between Wallace and Chantry (Allan’s cousin) is slow/complicated. I thought the scene where Wallace and Chantry meet by chance at a screening of The Princess Bride was cute. There was a LOT of banter (perhaps TOO much), esp. between Radcliffe and Kazan (w/ petite build and only 5’4″). Another petite actress (Sarah Gadon) plays a young doc who’s the ex-gf of Wallace; I really liked her performances in Belle and a Canadian TV series- Alias Grace. There are really NOT many stakes in this movie. Wallace is NOT interested in Dalia (Megan Park), the lovelorn/annoying sis of Chantry. Also, Ben (who is a nice guy) is sent off to Dublin for 6 mos. (removing possible tension between him and Wallace). I didn’t see the point of having the animation scenes. There are points where the movie drags. If you’re NOT a fan of the rom com genre, this may tax your patience.

Allan: It’s complicated. All this love shit’s complicated. And that’s good. Because if it’s too simple you’ve got no reason to try, and if you’ve got no reason to try, you don’t.

[1] Have you ever watched a film that was pretty good but easily could have been better? Well, that’s my reaction to What If… It’s a pretty decent little romance, but the film also sure looks like the script could have used a decent editing, as sometimes the dialog is needlessly offensive...

The film is much like the premise behind When Harry Met Sally. In other words, it questions whether a man and woman can be just friends and stay that way.

[2] Poor Daniel Radcliffe, it will be a long time before we think of him as anything else but Harry Potter. But give him credit, he is now establishing himself as a reliable young adult actor. After all he turned 25 in 2014 so these sorts of roles are appropriate for him.

[3] Adam Driver from Girls is a tamer version of Adam Sackler and he works quite well.

[4] …this film isn’t as quirky or as entertaining as it thinks it is…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews