Recaps/Reviews

drag race

Joey Moser looks at tonight’s premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race, featuring Lady Gaga as a guest judge. Does the Season 9 premiere werk?

Are you ready to gag on some Gaga? Your level of love for Mother Monster might determine how much you enjoy the premiere episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9. Let’s face it. If you are watching this show after this many years, you know the difference between a Jade Jolie and a Roxxxy Andrews, and you’ll be spilling your vodka and cranberry this entire premiere. Gaga is present throughout the entire episode, and it makes you wonder how the show might be presented differently now that it’s off of the scrappy LOGO network.

When RuPaul debuted her latest batch of girls online, she shocked fans by revealing that Drag Race was moving from Mondays (RIP “Mondays are a drag!”) to Fridays and new episodes will be presented on VH1 (Season 9 reruns will be available on sister channel LOGO). Last season, the majority of the episodes aired simultaneously on both channels. The switch allows for one glorious change: to see these bitches in high-definition. I want to see every sequin, every ounce of eye shadow, and every drop of sweat!

(Photo: VH1)
Everyone always lives for the entrances to the Werk Room, so it’s exciting to see these girls come in for the first time. Sasha Velour makes a screamingly bold impression, and drag newbie Valentina is absolutely gorgeous and dramatic. (I already might have a crush on Alexis Michelle, but that’s another story for another time.) This seems to be a strong cast of characters for this year, and the drama is pretty minimal so far (keep one eye open for Trinity Taylor; she seems like she could read you and book a silicone injection appointment at the same time).

To be honest, it might take a few episodes to get the real feel of this season (cue the Madonna track) , because Gaga’s presence is so big. She walks into the Werk Room as if a regular contestant and really flips the girls’ wigs. She’s probably the most involved and knowledgeable guest judge the show has ever had. Gaga is there from beginning to end, and you can legitimately feel the love she has for this community. When she compliments someone on the runway, it comes from a deep respect.

So what if this premiere feels like RuPaul’s Drag Race Presents Lady Gaga Guest Judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race? I could watch Lady Gaga surprise drag queens on a continuous loop until the end of time. Can someone make that a show, please? Does it feel like a prelude or prologue before the competition starts? Kind of. Do I care? No! Drag Race is back!

Final Verdict

It definitely feels like Drag Race is stepping into a whole new realm—does anyone else feel like it’s everywhere? RuPaul rightfully won his Emmy at this year’s Creative Emmy Awards, and with the show coming to VH1, it’s going to reach an entirely new audience. A long overdue nomination for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program is inevitable, am I right? What other show, especially a reality show from a tiny network, can say that it’s gaining momentum after almost a decade? A lot of people say change is is a drag, but I don’t think you’d ever hear RuPaul say it.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 premieres tonight on VH1 at 8pm ET. 

Grace and Frankie Season 3

Grace and Frankie Season 3 continues the senior-centric comedy. The show delivers, but acting giants Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin deserve better material.

As a comedy, Grace and Frankie does not exist for me, and I’m totally fine with that. With as many dry vagina jokes as pounds of wrinkle cream, Grace and Frankie Season 3 continues the prior seasons’ exploration of the senior set plight. Moving on from the gay husband drama, Grace and Frankie strive to make a life of their own. And by “a life of their own” I mean vibrators specifically made for the arthritic hand. Yup, folks. That’s how far we’ve devolved.

The first few episodes of Grace and Frankie Season 3 go down easily enough. Our two leads seek emotional separation from their ex-husbands. In some ways, even the show itself seems to put the men (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) on the back burner. And I’m totally fine with that. Their initial episodes deal with the purchase of house and with strained entanglements with their ex-wifes. And some bizarre subplot with Kenny Loggins that I apparently missed in Season 2. The actors deliver fine performances, but they’re effectively delivering the same notes beat after beat.

Grace And Frankie Season 3
(Photo: Melissa Moseley/Netflix)
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomli elevate the material far higher than it truly deserves. Again, this isn’t a show written for men. Grace and Frankie exists to fill a market that’s consistently underserved like The Golden Girls before it, back in the day. Do I wish the material served Fonda and Tomlin better. Of course I do, but it’s not a bad show by any stretch.

Fonda gives great haughty as bank officers turn her down for loans due to her age. Tomlin’s fear over holding an art show feels real and broadly thematic. There are a few missteps here and there. A trip to a tech incubator looking for funding feels like a third-rate Silicon Valley knock-off – tired cliches and uninspired comedy. Still, through it all, the actresses give great performances. The writing just fails to deliver challenges worthy of their talents. No one else in the cast merits much mention save June Diane Raphael whose dry comedy chops deserve a show all on their own.

Final Verdict

Grace and Frankie Season 3 won’t catapult the comedy into the Comedy Series Emmy race, but Tomlin and Fonda remain confident players. The show delivers on a certain level, and the time goes by quickly enough. Netflix ultimately becomes the ideal platform for such comedy. You can easily binge three or four episodes at your multitasking best. Is that damning Grace and Frankie with faint praise? Perhaps so, but I’m totally fine with that.

Grace and Frankie Season 3 premieres Friday on Netflix.

Divines

Robin Write looks at the César Awards-winning film Divines, directed by Houda Benyamina, about two best friends dabbling in crime in Paris.

Audiences around the world are missing out on non-commercial, non-English language film gems. This is nothing new. It’s been the same for years, decades. The French film Divines is one such motion picture, an experience that made me actually feel something far deeper than surface emotions. Directed by breakthrough Houda Benyamina, winning the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Divines recently hit big at the 42nd César Awards, winning Best Supporting Actress (Déborah Lukumuena), Most Promising Actress (Oulaya Amamra), and Best First Feature Film for Benyamina. Now officially showing on Netflix, you really have no excuse with this one.

Utilizing perfectly a modern take on Antonio Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus (unlike Guy Ritchie could manage with the awful Revolver) for part of its opening sequence, Divines kicks right into gear. First, we see teenager Dounia (Amamra) watching locals praying and drug dealers. Then, we’re treated to phone video footage of her and best friend Maimouna (Lukumuena) goofing around and mimicking the tough street life. But it is tough. They dwell in a run-down housing project on the edge of Paris. The girls shoplift and sell their goods. Dounia has a Robin Hood moment when she brings a neighbor a jar of Nutella. They find the courage to start running errands, drug deals, for local kingpin girl Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda). Their looting scores rendezvous is high above a theater stage where expressive dance practice takes place, a far off world to them as they mock the arts. Until, that is, Djigui (Kévin Mischel), a passionate dancer entices and intrigues Dounia with his energy.

Djigui catches Dounia and Maimouna spitting down on the stage. He climbs up after them, but his stupidity almost causes him to fall. Dounia helps him back up and their moment shared is unexpected and seemingly new to them both. Later she watches him alone, and he knows it this time, undressing. On discovering her money is missing she confronts the dancer, who only sees this as a chance to extend their connection. Her aggression only encourages him.

On the petty crime side of things, Dounia excels, making a handsome chunk of money. She’s asked / trained to get into a rich guy’s apartment to retrieve Rebecca’s hundred thousand euros. Having practiced walking in high heels, Dounia, with Maimouna in tow, is almost unrecognizable all made-up and silky dress-clad but really comes into her own and falls right into the seductress role. We almost see her coming of age before our eyes. But it’s a dangerous occupation. Dounia is doused with gasoline at one point and also takes a vicious beating when she comes across an aggravated buyer.

A dramatic midpoint sequence, accompanied by Mozart, breathtakingly covers a lot of ground. It shows the twosome’s new wealth, Dounia’s growing affection for the dancer, and her church attendance to deal drugs while on her knees praying for forgiveness. It also demonstrates Benyamina’s exceptional eye for music cues and story-telling. Balancing several story strands of varying tones (friendship, crime, romance, ambition) is made to look easy here, a marvelous, if not entirely away from the seedy and morbid, narrative. Another great sequence occurs when the girls imagine making enough money to buy an expensive car. The camera takes them on the journey, as they play-act their super-cool ride.

Final Verdict

The core bond between the girls is rich and dynamic, topped off with kinetic performances from the youngsters. Oulaya Amamra, in particular, is a revelation, chewing scenery without over-acting, devouring Dounia’s transformations with expert passion. The receptionist role-play exercise at school is a brilliant scene as the teacher begins to get frustrated with Dounia’s fooling around. The tensions hit the roof, and the colliding views erupt into a full scale debate on both her potential and the teacher’s achievements. In a way both perspectives need to be screamed loud and heard, and thematically the film goes a hell of a long way to make us see how essential that might be. It’s an important scene in a courageous film that demands to be seen.

Iron Fist

Maybe it’s the great predecessors. Maybe it’s anticipation for The Defenders. Whatever the cause, Netflix’s Iron Fist delivers a flat and drawn-out mess.

Iron Fist is everything I feared Luke Cage would be. Luke Cage took a challenging side character and deepened him in every way. The story grew beyond the title character, encompassing rich supporting characters. It dug into the cultural and economic of Harlem. It also featured great villains in Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard. Given that, Iron Fist needed to not only continue that near-greatness, but it also needed to in some ways expand upon it. Unfortunately, it does neither.

Here’s the story… of a boy named Danny…

For the uninitiated, Iron Fist tells the story of Danny Rand (Game of Thrones‘s Finn Jones), the orphaned son of a billionaire family thought dead in a plane crash. I suppose it’s a small spoiler that Danny Rand is actually who he claims to be. Still, it’s a Marvel property. Of course this is really Danny Rand. He returns to New York possessing extraordinary martial arts skills and a magic Kung Fu grip. The first few episodes deal with his re-entry into society. Former friends Joy (Jessica Stroup) and Ward Meachum (Tom Perlphrey) now control the Rand family corporation. Naturally, they’re threatened by the implications of Danny’s return from death. Their father, Harold (David Wenham) apparently faked his death and lives in a secluded underground where he works out all the time. Danny also meets Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), a martial arts dojo owner intrigued by Danny’s abilities.

There, you’re all caught up on the first three episodes.

Seriously. Many complain that Netflix’s Marvel properties take too long to get going. Those persons need not watch Iron Fist. Episodes proceed with little-to-no dramatic tension. Characters interact without consequence or really anything at stake. Finn Jones gives a gee-whiz, Little Ninja Annie performance that needs the shading of a good villain, but from the episodes I’ve seen, there’s a complete lack of a compelling villain. Luke Cage had a lot going for it, but Mahershala Ali’s fantastic performance made you beg for more episode to episode. Plus, for a property about a martial arts expert, you’d anticipate great fights, but the fight scenes here pale in comparison to Daredevil. There’s literally nothing that even comes close to touching the great hallway and stairwell sequences in both Daredevil seasons.

Final Verdict

Iron Fist is a plodding mess, which is unfortunate given its import to the overall Defenders storyline. It kind of fails on every front, shockingly. Story. Acting. Characters. Theming. Everything just feels so phoned-in and flat. You watch this craving the lush color scheme of Luke Cage, the compelling story behind Daredevil, or the wildfire sarcasm behind Jessica JonesIron Fist offers none of that. I haven’t seen a series bomb this badly since last year’s Vinyl. Most frustratingly, I’ll have to watch the entire series to prepare for The Defenders. Maybe it gets better. Unfortunately, all signs point to “No.”

Burning Sands

Robin Write looks at Netflix’s recent Burning Sands, a film detailing one man’s struggle against the intensifying violence of underground fraternity hazing.

The problem with Burning Sands may actually not lie with the movie itself, but rather the interpretation of these obscene events and the awareness of the historically black college campus culture. The film depicts hazing as pledging all too often in the film with “Lamda Lamda Phi” fraternity chants. You may find you know more about these kind of ruthless rituals in the US than you realize. In perspective of real events (though this is fictional in its outlay), this may sit better with its audience than had it been a stereotypical black brotherhood movie that could join the lists of empowering movies about those misrepresented in Hollywood. But let’s not get carried away. Nor do I fancy tipping over into critical territory that would leave me open to racial allegations, journalistically speaking. This is no Moonlight (though Trevante Rhodes is here). Or Boyz N The Hood for that matter. You could also push ethnic culture aside, and find Burning Sands could well have more in common with the likes of Whiplash or Full Metal Jacket.

Burning Sands
(Photo: Netflix)
The film’s story and emotive-thread is simply. This has complexity pulsing through its veins, a certain nervous tension yo-yos through the narrative, but focuses centrally on the very real American problem of outlandish challenges and structured ordeals that come with the commitment to enduring “hell week” pledge trials. The main character Zurich and his buddies enroll in what can only be described in the movie’s opening scene as football boot camp. There is little sportsmanship here though, as students are tormented to an inch of their tolerance, have their ribs bashed over and over, forced to eat food from a bowl on the floor like dogs. All the while pounding their chests and willing their unimaginable inner strength to keep standing, fighting, to survive. Not a lot else happens, and although not full to the brim with torturous social agenda, the film strolls towards the inevitability of a rather gut-stopping conclusion.

Recently released on the Netflix platform, Burning Sands premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Co-written with Christine Berg, this is the feature debut from Gerard McMurray, who produced Fruitvale Station, a film with similar importance, but one which had far greater urgency and impact than this. It’s not a bad film, and will appeal to many, for sure the direction of the campus scenes, the solidarity, the bonding, have a very true to life feel. And the atmosphere, and why-would-they-do-this mentality, troubles you as a viewer, whether this impact is positive will split opinions.

Some of the negatives may come when you have to question your own level of compelment in comparison to the seemingly idle references to black slavery, or when the endurous events seem bewildering and ridiculous rather than stomach-churning and powerful. There is a genuine tense aura as the film heads to its end, the haunting hum of the music, and the vivid cinematography by Isiah Donté Lee – at times just letting the camera watch. See it with an open mind and an eye for the true dilemma for US students, even if perhaps on this occasion it promises more than it can give. And perhaps allow yourself a double feature with Andrew Neel’s Goat.

This Is Us Season Finale

Jazz Tangcay recaps the This Is Us season finale and gives a sneak peek into the viewing party held by NBC, tissues included.

SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE THIS IS US SEASON FINALE, STOP READING NOW!
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED…

There is a reason This Is Us is a massive hit on NBC. It’s absolutely stellar television, and it’s not on cable or streaming. It’s network TV. The This Is Us season finale episode ended the absolutely incredible debut season answering one question but still leaving another question unanswered. But we’re OK with that.

Titled “Moonshadow,” the episode finally reveals how Jack and Rebecca meet, but it fails to answer how Jack dies. Who thought this week would be that reveal where we find out how Jack meets his death? Last week’s episode had us thinking that maybe Jack was going to die in a car crash after drunk-driving, but that would be too easy. Instead, we’re left wondering for the entire summer, maybe even longer when Season 2 returns.

Flipping between the 70’s and 90’s, we learn that Jack shows up to Rebecca. However, by the time he arrives, he’s drunk and ends up getting into a brawl with Ben, her ex-boyfriend. Rebecca has to drive him home and there is a historic fight between Jack and Rebecca, but we’ll get to that later. Flashback to the 70’s and we see young Jack emerge from under a car, fixing it for his neighbor who wants to set him up with her friend’s granddaughter. The handsome looking Jack with a mustache accepts. IS IT REBECCA?

Meanwhile, 70’s Rebecca is with her girlfriends – one married, the other pregnant – and she appears perfectly happy pursuing her singing career. Later, she receives a rejection letter from Electra records and reluctantly accepts to go on a blind date. Young Jack and his friend Darryl dream of setting up a mechanics shop. They’re the good guys who dream of making it, and Jack wants to go in the opposite direction his father did. He’s a young war veteran who is saving his money so he can move out of his parent’s home and have that perfect life.

Jack and Darryl go off to play poker at a seedy joint, and good-guy Jack wins. As he celebrates his win right outside the bar, he gets beaten up. That’s it, Jack is done being the good guy and decides he’s going to steal the Happy Hour cash from Ray’s bar. He has just the plan.

Are you still following? OK, because here’s what happens next, Rebecca is on this awful date with this suited guy who’s talking mergers and acquisitions, but she’d rather be at an open mic. Halfway through she calls an end to the date and leaves.

At the same time, Darryl and Jack put their plan to rob the cash register at Ray’s into action. It’s all going swimmingly until Jack notices the woman on stage. It’s Rebecca singing “Moonshadow,” and they exchange a smile. SWOOOOOOONNNN!! There we have the night Jack and Rebecca first met.

This Is Us being what it is, we cut back to the 90’s in between the scenes of drunk Jack being driven home by Rebecca in complete silence or being given a bag of peas for his bruised hand where he punched Ben. The emotional intensity is off the scale. Jack has been drinking, and he tells her he has never driven drunk when he’s with the kids.

Rebecca unleashes telling Jack her life has been about being a housewife and she has nothing in her life but their children who are teenagers and have no need for her. She tells Jack that she has a husband who comes home late, talks about his dad, and passes out. “I have no life! I am a ghost!” He yells. Rebecca yells. She asks him what he loves about her right now and then goes to the bed.

The next morning, it’s suggested that Jack should go and stay with Miguel, but just before he leaves he has a confession to make. Jack tells Rebecca all that he loves about her. “I love the mother that you are. I love that you are still the most beautiful woman in any room and that you laugh with your entire face. I love that you dance funny and not sexy, which makes it even sexier. But most of all, I love that you’re still the same woman who all those years ago, ran out on a blind date because she simply had to sing. You’re not just my great love story, Rebecca. You are my big break.” He ends by saying, “And our love story, and, I know it may not feel like it now, but I promise you, it’s just getting started.”

Season 1 ends with Jack walking out of the door and Rebecca holding on to her necklace. That, folks, is how Season one of This is Us wraps.

This is Us is such fine television with a superbly talented cast. Its writing from episode one hooks you each episode. These reasons keep the show at number one on NBC and garner a legion of fans who tune in each week. This week we learned a lot about Jack, but the writers held off on telling us how he died. That still works because, instead, they gave us the beginning. How This Is Us all began. In between, there was a current montage of the kids. Kate has decided she wants to sing. Randall wants to adopt a baby, and Kevin gets a call from Ron Howard.

It was a perfect ending. It might not have garnered any tears, but that’s ok because there were plenty tears shed in previous episodes.

If you haven’t caught This Is Us, spend summer going on an emotional journey and having your feelings manipulated – a good thing because This is Us is great TV.

We can’t wait to find out what happens next. Does Rebecca chase him? Is that the end of Jack and Rebecca? There are many questions that need answering, and to be perfectly honest, I’ll happily wait a few more seasons for them to be answered.

NBC/Universal held a season finale viewing party with cast and showrunners in attendance. Here are some photos from the night:

 

 

Watch the Aftershow exclusive on YouTube

 

 

Trial and Error

John Lithgow makes a highly anticipated return to network comedy in ‘Trial and Error,’ the freshman entry in a proposed mockumentary anthology series.

I laughed at Trial and Error. Actually, I laughed quite a bit when I really shouldn’t have. I love the idea behind it. A comedy anthology series feels so filled with potential that you wonder why someone hadn’t already created one. This show works well as an NBC property because of what came before it. It owes a great deal to the really great Parks and Recreation. Make no mistake, Trial and Error isn’t Parks and Recreation based on the two episodes I’ve seen. That said, Parks and Recreation wasn’t itself out of the gate either.

The series stars Emmy-winner John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) as Larry Henderson, a South Carolina poet accused of murdering his wife. The pilot begins with a replay of Henderson’s 9-1-1 phone call. In it, Henderson describes the murder scene while expressing anguish over missing a call from the cable guy on the other line. Later, he cooks at home – yes, still a murder scene – and comments that everything reminds him of his dead wife. Of course, he says this in front of the window she fell/was pushed through, crime scene tape still in tact. This show won’t work for you if you don’t at least chuckle imagining the scene.

Comic legal eagles

Lithgow gives more of a reserved comic performance here than you’d imagine. He dominated 3rd Rock, but here, he feels less the focus, more a component of the overall ensemble. That choice works wonders given the strength of the overall cast. Is another Emmy nomination in the cards? Hard to say given the first two episodes. As of now, I’d say he’s more of a supporting presence despite being the face of the series. Nick D’Agosto (Masters of Sex) leads as Josh, the “Northeastern” (re: Jewish) attorney hired to defend Henderson. I equate him Parks‘ Leslie Knope: all wide-eyed and can-do interacting with the colorful locals.

Sherri Shephard plays his lead researcher who suffers from a litany of afflictions, the combination of which is used for great comic effect. Facial amnesia. Dyslexia. Some bizarre disorder where she passes out when faced with extreme beauty. It’s so stupid after a while that you just give up and laugh. Steven Boyer provides the slapstick stupid Southerner comic relief, and your appreciation for his performance depends on your patience for such things. I loved it. Every second. I also loved the surprisingly assured performance of Jayma Mays (Glee) as the cocksure prosecutor, as confident in her sexual appeal as she is of Henderson’s guilt.

Final Verdict

Trial and Error works despite the idiocy behind many of the jokes. At least in my view. I do have a soft spot for ensemble comedies, and this one works on that front. Lithgow delivers a fun performance, and there are enough dumb jokes to warrant attention on the overall series. I’m not going to tell you this is the second coming of The Office or, as previously mentioned, Parks and Rec. It is, however, a worthy experiment in developing a comedy anthology series. Maybe this will succeed just enough to warrant a second season, a tighter and more frequently funny comic gem. For now, Trial and Error will do.

American Crime Season 3

Joey Moser looks at American Crime Season 3. The ambitious series’s latest entry deals with the hot topics of undocumented immigrants and sex trafficking.

The cost of the American dream is at the forefront from the very first frame ABC’s American Crime Season 3. The ambitious anthology series returned this week with the hefty topics of sex trafficking, undocumented immigrants, and abuse. For the last two years, creator John Ridley produced sophisticated, well-acted drama, and the season premiere promises to deliver in the same vein. You’ll notice a lot of silence in the season premiere. The camera is already beginning to linger on these familiar faces, and it feels like the stories will begin to slowly unfurl.

Three siblings (Cherry Jones, Dallas Roberts, and Tim DeKay) own and operate a major tomato farm business. It appears that they aren’t above cutting some corners when it comes to hiring workers. They recruit down-on-their-luck young men and women to work in the fields at a “certain price.” In one scene, Crime regular Eddie Cabral tries to get (the should have been nominated) Connor Jessup a job picking tomatoes even though Jessup scoffs at the notion. The field workers’ cruddy living accommodations are revealed when a Mexican worker named Luis (Benito Martinez) crosses the border illegally even though he seems to have ulterior motives for coming to the United States. Felicity Huffman plays DeKay’s wife, a soft-spoken woman trying to help her sister get her life back on track after losing her way to drugs.

American Crime Season 3
(Photo: Nicole Wilder/ABC)

If it weren’t enough for Ridley to explore one set of exploited people, the third season introduces another side. Regina King plays a social worker named Kimara who is trying to have a baby. In one of the episodes’ first long scenes, she tries to help a young man get away from his pimp even though he doesn’t seem to want any help. We are then introduced to Ana Mulvoy-Ten, an underage prostitute who has two very different experiences with two very different men.

Final Verdict

There is a lot to unpack here in terms of plot, but the skill is evident from the first frame. Will these stories connect? Do they have to? I’m sorry, Mr. Ryan Murphy. This is a lot more genuine in terms of human emotion and connection. There is a lot of silence used in this first episode, and the camera is allowed to linger on characters’ faces more than typical drama. Notice how one actor will be the focus while the other remains off-camera. Crime did this before, but something appears bubbling under the surface. Something big feels inevitable, and we have to wait with quiet patience.

Unlike other shows that give too much away or rely on bombast and flash, American Crime wants to delve into deeper territory. The first two seasons surely created conversation and debate, and it appears this third season (especially with Trump in the White House) will do the same. It’s off to a great, subdued start.

Americans

Clarence looks at FX’s critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated drama ‘The Americans’ for the very first time. Is it possible the series could win in 2017?

FX’s critically acclaimed drama The Americans received its first Drama Series Emmy nomination last year. The attention followed years of widespread angst over continued under-appreciation of the series. It didn’t win, of course. Game of Thrones did. However, HBO made a significant decision for the 2017 Emmy cycle: Game of Thrones Season 7 would not premiere within the Emmy eligibility window. For the first time in nearly a decade, we enter Emmy season without a prescribed favorite. Does that put The Americans in a prime spot for a potential Emmy win?

The Experiment

To explore the potential, I finally decided to preview an episode despite not having seen an episode of the series. This scenario feels highly likely as Emmy voters wakened to the series through last year’s nomination. Given it took 4 years to receive that nomination, it’s highly likely that a smaller number of the Television Academy watched the series from scratch. My experiment, as we’ll call it, doesn’t feel that far off the mark.

So, what were my impressions of The Americans Season 5?

First, the buzz is absolutely true – this is a great series. The direction feels cinematic in its attention to detail and character. The writing provides thematic resonance and an eerie sense of melancholy. The performances are across the board great with stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys deserving every ounce of praise they’ve received. That’s the beauty of coming into a show as its earning its Great Show status. The premiere episode of Season 5 simply blew me away.

Admittedly, I’m jumping into The Americans pool at the deep end. I’m not sure I know all the characters yet. I don’t have their history and connections. Still, the episode offered a few entry points. There’s an early great montage about food and agriculture in Russia. Also, the writers dedicate a handful of excellent scenes to Elizabeth (Russell) and Phillip (Rhys) dealing with their daughter Paige’s (Holly Taylor) awareness of their “job.” Finally, the episode ends in a fascinatingly long sequence as a mission eventually goes somewhat wrong.

Final Verdict

The Americans offers a tense, dramatic Season 5 pilot full of resonance beyond its central conceit. To fans of the series, this is nothing new. To new viewers, I’ll tell you that the episode absolutely worked for me. It made me want to go back and start from the beginning – the highest praise given that’s a full four seasons. So, can it win the Emmy next September? Absolutely. It has as much of a shot as The Crown or Stranger Things, two of the hottest new properties gunning for nominations. My advice to the uninitiated – get on board now. I suspect the Television Academy is already doing so as we speak.

The Americans airs Tuesday nights on FX at 10pm ET.

I don't feel at home in this world anymore

Robin Write looks at Netflix’s latest film, the Sundance hit I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. starring Melanie Lynskey.

You might recognize Macon Blair from Gold, Green Room, and as the lead in Blue Ruin. With Netflix’s release, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore., we get to experience (and cherish) him turning an assured hand at writing and directing a feature film. Tipping over the edge of comic, thrilling, good old fashioned drama, Blair’s debut feels refreshingly brilliant throughout its varied shifts in tone and pace. You understand he feels at home behind both the camera and the typewriter. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. additionally provides Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood with roles they should arguably have been offered for the last 15-plus years. Winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie quickly emerged a crowd favorite.

Melanie Lynskey plays Ruth, an ordinary woman with ample amounts of good nature repressed by an America losing its head and heart. Sound familiar? Ruth struggles socially as the people around her ruin plot points of a book, a patient dies on her, people cut in line at the store, let their dogs shit on her lawn. On top of that, she is burgled. Along with anti-depressants and irreplaceable family silverware, Ruth’s laptop is stolen, which propels her into her own form of justice when a device tracker cell phone app proves more useful than the blasé local law enforcement. Elijah Wood plays Tony, the dog owner who previously experienced run-ins with Ruth a la dog poop, who now seems to be the right fit to her mild vigilante side-kick. His martial-arts enthusiasm and rock music love are only part of his appeal. As the pursuit escalates, so do the consequences, running along frenetically to a climax you did not see coming a mile off.

Final Verdict

Blair’s handling of the film’s eclectic style is a majestic feat, and a truly marvelous treat for its audience. To see it is to experience as well as believe it, rather than luring you in with mentions of the karma displayed via a venomous snake, or the literal direction prompt from Ruth’s departed grandmother. That said, never does the movie spiral off into ridicule or fantasy, rather provide hilarious and absurd stepping stones of compelling story-telling and pure cinematic entertainment (a rightfully grand compliment given its Netflix release). There are violent moments scattered, but surprise you, and the casual, black humor has its appropriate place too. Ruth digging into a cereal box for a toy badge to impersonate a cop is both genuinely funny and character-suited. The avoidance of romance yet subtle chemistry between Ruth and Tony makes for an original on-screen partnership that ticks all the right boxes. Wood is terrific as the flamboyant neighbor who just wants to help, but this is Lynskey’s picture. As the socially awkward woman with a heart for what’s right and fire in her belly, this surely must have been written specifically for her.

I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. is on Netflix now, so once you’ve seen it you can add it to your Best Films of 2017 list.

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