Movie Review – Ma

Ma (2019)
Written by Scotty Landes
Directed by Tate Taylor

Blumhouse has created a monopoly on the majority of horror in cinemas these days. Paranormal Activity was the first production that Jason Blum saw as a successful foray into horror films, and he hasn’t stopped since. I haven’t enjoyed any Blumhouse movie I’ve seen, or least I wouldn’t make an effort to rewatch anything that has crossed my screen. The factory model of filmmaking is inevitably going to deliver a majority of mediocre products and maybe once in a while something special. I don’t think Ma is that unique jewel amongst the garbage, but it isn’t awful. The core factor that keeps Ma from being a monotonous mess is Octavia Spencer.

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TV Tryouts – Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol (DC Universe)
Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot”
Written by Glen Winter
Directed by Jeremy Carver

There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.

As much as I love DC Comics, I have had an awful time getting into the rapidly expanding television output from the company. I have tried to sit down and watch Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, but I can’t engage with the writing. It’s all so caught up in how clever it thinks it is, yet wants to be super serious for the fans. This is the equivalent of someone taking the campy Batman show from the 1960s and trying to inject a few serious subplots. You have to be incredibly talented to pull something like that off. When I saw the trailers for DC Universe’s Titans series, I knew immediately it was a hard pass for me. It did the opposite thing and went for a tone so ill-fitting for the Teen Titans. I had comfortably resigned myself to just realizing that none of this was for me, and that’s okay. However, then I started to hear some positive buzz around Doom Patrol, as a show that isn’t your typical DC series. I remained skeptical but was intrigued enough to sit down and watch at least the first episode.

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Movie Review – Brightburn

Brightburn (2019)
Written by Brian & Mark Gunn
Directed by David Yarovesky

The premise “What if Superman was evil?” is nothing new to the world of comic books. Over Superman’s eighty year history we’ve had characters like Bizarro, Ultraman, and Cyborg Superman who explore those darker aspects to a being like Superman. There have been books like Marvelman and Irredeemable that also examine these themes with even more detail. So, for comic nerds like myself, Brightburn isn’t bringing anything new to the table. However, I acknowledge that general audiences haven’t seen anything like this before, and if you are someone tired of the same old superhero origin tropes, this does offer a different take.

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Movie Review – Climax

Climax (2019)
Written & Directed by Gaspar Noe

The bliss of Heaven is matched by the torment of Hell. This is the central theme of Gaspar Noe’s latest film, a psychedelic odyssey into madness, performed by mostly non-acting professional dancers. They have holed up in an abandoned boarding school during a snowstorm where they are celebrating their planned trip to the United States for a competition. The night’s revelry begins with spontaneous dancing and the consumption of some delicious sangria. After everyone has drunk of the celebratory punch, they realize it’s been spiked with LSD, and the nightmare begins. As is Noe’s style, the film is structured in surprising ways with often overly showy cinematography.

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Movie Review – Booksmart

Booksmart (2019)
Written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde

Superbad came out twelve years ago. At the time, I knew this was a high school comedy for a generation younger than myself. With Booksmart we’re presented with a high school comedy about a generation graduating nineteen years after my own, so I have begun to feel the growing chasm in my own experiences and the intended audience of this picture. Booksmart is a movie written with my students of years prior in mind, yet it is inspired by so many films that have come before.

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TV Review – Barry Season 2

Barry Season 2 (HBO)
Written by Alec Berg, Bill Hader, Taofik Kolade, Jason Kim, Duffy Boudreau, Emily Heller, and Liz Sarnoff
Directed by Hiro Murai, Minkie Spiro, Liza Johnson, Bill Hader, and Alec Berg

The tagline for Barry is “a hitman tries to make it as an actor,” a premise which sounds like the worst Hollywood pitch of the post-Goodfellas 1990s. Think about pictures like My Blue Heaven or Analyze This, where mob stereotypes are played for laughs. It’s the theme of Barry that keeps us coming back every week, “Can people who have done bad things still be good people?”. Co-creator and star Bill Hader, known for his comedic chops honed on Saturday Night Live, manages to find the perfect middle ground where he can have moments to play things for laughs but then flip things around in an instant to discover the most heart-rending moments of pathos. Barry is a funny tragedy.

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TV Review – Game of Thrones Season 8

Game of Thrones Season 8 (HBO)
Written by Dave Hill, Bryan Cogman, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter, Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Winter has come, and all the players are aligned for the final battle for Westeros. Daenerys Targaryen has arrived with dragons bringing her armies from the East. An alliance has been formed between the exiled monarch and the people of the North. The Wall has been breached and the Night King marches south to destroy anything in his path. Meanwhile, Queen Cersei Lannister has brokered deals with the Iron Islands and the Golden Company of Essos to serve as her protection against the inevitable battle with Targaryen. Jon Snow learns of his true parentage and how this could affect his relationship with the newly arrived leader. The table is set for a new age to begin in Westeros, but will it be any better than what has come before?

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TV Review – The OA Season 2

The OA Season 2 (Netflix)
Written by Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij, Damien Ober, Nicki Paluga, Dominic Orlando, Henry Bean, and Claire Kiechel
Directed by Zal Batmanglij, Andrew Haigh, and Anna Rose Holmer

Private Karim Washington is visited at his houseboat by a distraught Vietnamese grandmother. She hands him a photo of her granddaughter Michelle and explains that she is missing. Washington begins searching San Francisco and following leads about a mysterious game that teens are playing and which Michelle was involved with. The threads of this investigation lead our detective to Nina Azarova, a wealthy Russian expatriate with ties to a secretive tech developer. Meanwhile, Prarie, the young woman with a fantastic story from season one finds herself transported to this new dimension and placed in the body of Nina, herself having lived out an entirely different set of circumstances. Prairie is immediately confronted with familiar faces who also found their way across the multiverse to this reality. More is revealed about the nature of Prarie’s powers and the structure of these webs of reality leading her towards another brush with death and a whole new world opening up.

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