We have a buffet of TV offerings this week, including two documentaries (one about the history of marijuana in America and the other on the future of employment in the face of robotics and AI), one amazing concert experience, and one micro-comedy about BDSM and sex-work. Join our round table featuring Jim, A.Ron and Cecily as we discuss!
Jim and A.Ron give some brief thoughts on the brief episodes of Netflix’s new gonzo animated anthology, Love, Death, and Robots, before beginning deliberations on HBO’s new documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed. We’ll be off on vacation all next week! See you when we return!
We’ve seen Chiwetel Ejiofor’s (star of 12 Years a Slave, Doctor Strange) directorial debut on Netflix, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and found it compelling and enlightening. Based on a true story about a Malawian boy who saves his village from famine with his wits, ingenuity, and education, The Boy offers us an inside look at things we can barely begin to relate to; widespread starvation, civil unrest and the breakdown of society. Things that we may have to relate to sooner than we think.
Jim and A.Ron have seen The Umbrella Academy and Lorena, Netflix and Amazon originals respectively. The Umbrella Academy is a smart, fun take on the X-Men universe with some Noah Hawley DNA mixed in. Lorena is a four part documentary examining the 1993 dismembering case of Lorena Bobbitt. While the case is no doubt interesting and probably a big landmark in the struggle for equality of the sexes, we’re not sure this production is doing a great job of raising these issues or presenting the facts in a straightforward way. We’ll be back next week to give The Umbrella Academy and Lorena another whirl!
We took a look at the latest Netflix original, High Flying Bird. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and shot on an iPhone 8, it tells the tale of NBA management squeezing the players for a reduced share of profits during a labor dispute, and one high profile sports agent that is caught in the middle. It works on the level of a heist film; instead of smooth talking con-man Danny Ocean, we have smooth talking agent Ray Burke. Instead of boosting millions off of a ruthless billionaire casino owner, we’re negotiating for millions off ruthless billionaire team owners. But it also works as a commentary on the power dynamics of labor in general, and on a meta level, the film industry itself. It’s a well made, well-acted, gorgeous film, and it’s final act is as thought provoking as it is fun to watch unfold.
Jim and A.Ron take a look at Netflix’s new darkly comedic take on the Groundhog Day concept, Russian Doll. Starring Natasha Lyonne, it offers a funny, inventive, and interesting take on the human condition, what being happy and connectedness means, and what obligations we have to our fellow humans around us. At a binge time of less than 4 hours, we both feel like it’s worth just about everyone’s time to check out. We also circle back around to Black Earth Rising, which is still phenomenally interesting at its core, but can’t decide which of a million sub-plots and character details it wants to focus on and remains a bit of a jumbled mess.
Jim and A.Ron checked out the latest Netflix original film, “Velvet Buzzsaw”. Directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. It functions well enough as a horror story, a farcical look at art criticism, as well as an introspective look at the creative process and the related critical process. We have quibbles here and there, but the film looks great, has some inventive/gruesome deaths, and the main cast has a lot of fun being terrible people.
Jim and A.Ron give their thoughts and opinions on the entire first season of Netflix’s Korean medieval zombie series, Kingdom, as well as the first two episodes of Black Earth Rising. Kingdom is much needed breath of fresh air in the mouldy zombie genre, with lush locations and sets, impressive costuming, excellent plotting and performances, and genuinely creepy and terrifying monsters. The boys both were very into the premise and promise of Black Earth Rising, but are worried two episodes in from the series penchant in getting distracted with Jason Bourne types of intrigue and assassinations as well as the complex and confusing personal lives of the main characters. Whether the excellent performances and important questions the show has to offer can overcome the clunky writing and execution remains to be seen.
Jim and I have seen the new Netflix original movie, “Polar”. Based on a graphic novel of the same name, “Polar” is an ultraviolent revenge flick combining elements from “John Wick”, “Crank”, and “Sin City” with an engaging and energetic performance from Mads Mikkelsen as anaaginh hitman. Unfortunately, it’s also a tonal mess, careening from slap stick humor to gory horror and back again, never sure of when to take itself seriously and commit to a point of view.
Jim and I haven’t finished The Punisher season 2 yet, but we’ve seen enough to tap out. As we discuss in our spoiler filled review, The Punisher has the chief sin of these Marvel/Netflix collaborations; a bloated 13 episode runtime, and adds to it ludicrous character details and plot-points until this grimdark ultra-violent fantasy pushes through the drama boundary and hits unintentional comedy. 8 episodes in, we still don’t know why we should care about Amy, or what makes the Pilgrim tick, or why Frank let Russo off the hook when he should be worm food except, oh right, this is a 13 episode season instead of a more reasonable 8-10 episode season and if things made sense and had dramatic urgency they’d be five hours of content short.