Sunday, July 24, 2016

BoJack Horseman Season 3 Review (No Spoilers)

I adore BoJack Horseman and Season 3 is fantastic.  It is one of my favorite TV shows right now.  It has fantastic, multi-dimensional characters and balances dark, dramatic storylines with quirky and hilarious jokes.

Season 3 at its core continues to explore happiness, how fleeting it is for the characters, and how they keep going through the same cycle over and over again, while also being extremely funny at the same time to balance out the darker moments.

My personal favorites of the season were: "Fish Out of Water" and "Brrap Brrap Pew Pew."  "Fish Out of Water" is an absolute delight and reminds us the power of cartoons as a storytelling device because I can't imagine live-action being able to tell a similar story in the same way.  "Fish Out of Water" is a very non-traditional BoJack episode in terms of storytelling and I applaud the show for branching out.  I hope they do another episode like this next season.  "Brrap Brrap Pew Pew" is fantastic due to its audacity.  Without revealing any spoilers, I've never seen any TV show actually *go there* though the topic does get discussed.  "Brrap Brrap Pew Pew" is bold and features one of the most hilarious, darkly humorous songs I've heard in a long time.  Honestly, though you really can't go wrong with any of the episodes this season.  All of them are great, and there were no fillers or weak episodes.

Season 3 starts just where Season 2 ended.  BoJack (Will Arnett) is on the Oscar campaign trail, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) is running her agency, Diane (Alison Brie) is working on her marriage to Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F Tompkins) and trying to find meaning in her work as a social media coordinator, and Todd (Aaron Paul) and Mr. Peanutbutter have ongoing shenanigans as usual.

I like how this season had even more of a focus on the past for all of the characters.  I especially like the glimpses we get of BoJack/Princess Carolyn's past relationship.  They decide to firmly break up early on in Season 1 but we never really get to see what their relationship had been like.

There's a lot of feminist themes this season as well, especially an episode that actually GOES there.  I also appreciate that there are so many great female characters in this show and all of them are well defined three-dimensional characters.  This season, we have past characters who pop up like BoJack's TV daughter Sara Lynn (Kristen Schaal) and popstar Sextina Aquafina (Aisha Tyler).  We also get new characters like star publicist Ana Spanikopita (Angela Bassett) and playwright Jill Pill (Mara Wilson).  I was also tremendously excited that the two main female characters, Diane and Princess Carolyn, spend more time together this season as Diane takes a job at Princess Carolyn's new agency.  It seemed strange before that these two main characters do not really get to interact, though they both play such pivotal roles in the show.

There is less BoJack/Diane hanging out this season, the two of them have one of my favorite relationships on the show since they really get each other, but it's been great to see the show dig into BoJack and Princess Carolyn's relationship and BoJack and his past Horsin' Around cast.

BoJack Horseman is really a magical show, and I can't wait to see the next season, especially excited that they've already been renewed for another year!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Revenant

The Revenant 

     The Revenant is definitely not a movie for everyone.  It is brutal, harsh, and breath-takingly beautiful all at the same time.  The Revenant is about Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper who has to make his way back to camp after he is attacked by a grizzly bear and left behind to die by his fellow trappers: the villainous John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and young Bridger (Will Poulter).

     At its heart, The Revenant is very much a Western, and a very meditative one at that.  The Revenant does not gloss over how wild life is in the frontier- the large expansive distances that people have to travel and the solitude (sometimes loneliness of it all).  What makes The Revenant so hard to watch at times is how you see and experience almost everything that Glass experiences on his journey.    

     My favorite part about The Revenant are the visuals and the cinematography.  There are so many images of the haunting barren landscapes as Glass makes his way back to the fort.  One of my favorite images is when we see Glass walking through a clear snowy wasteland but we are so far away that we can't tell whether he is walking towards us or away from us.  The battle scenes are also such a treat- the scenes are so kinetic and alive- we really get brought into the moment of the battle, experiencing the chaos along with the characters and I can't recall a battle scene quite like this in recent memory.

     I am surprised by how much better this movie holds up the second day as I think about it some more.  Coming straight out of the movie, I was frustrated with the pacing and in my notes, had things written down like "troublesome pacing" and "wow, Leo really wants his Oscar."  But thinking back on the movie, I find myself liking the movie more, the whole experience of it, even the slower parts.  I am also amazed by how Hardy disappears, as he always does into his roles- Fitzgerald is no exception.

     If you want a non-traditional Western to watch or something intense and visually stunning, The Revenant is for you.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Short Term 12

Short Term 12

     Short Term 12 has been on my to-watch list for so long and and I am so glad I finally watched it today.  It is such a tremendous movie with memorable characters, fantastic writing and acting.  It genuinely broke my heart several times.  At the end of the movie, I wasn't ready to let go of these characters at all and would have gladly watched hours more of the kids and employees at the half-way home.
     Short Term 12 centers around Grace (Brie Larson), a supervisor at the half-way home, who has a chaotic week at work while her personal life falls apart.  Along with Grace at the half-way home, there is Grace's boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr), and the new hire Nate (Rami Malek).  The kids include quiet musician Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who is aging out of the home, and sarcastic newcomer Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever).
      What really struck me about the movie and what truly made the stories so sad is the pain that all of these kids had endured and how it continued to affect all of them, even though for many of them, the source of the pain was long gone.  There's Marcus, who is still haunted by his mother and expresses his pain through self-penned rap songs.  Grace is still haunted by her childhood too and she channels her energy through helping the kids at the home, finding a special connection to Jayden.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Master of None

Master of None
5/5 Stars

Master of None is Aziz Ansari's new Netflix show and it is fantastic.  It is funny, smart, and really relatable to people in their late 20s and 30s.  Ansari plays Dev, a late 20s something actor.  The show features loosely connected stories that Dev and his friends who include: sensible Denise (Lena Waithe), quirky Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Brian (Kelvin Yu), fellow actor, Ravi (Ravi Patel), and Rachel (Noel Wells).  Master of None reminds me a lot of Louie in terms of storytelling style, though in terms of tone, it is far more optimistic and vivacious, as would be expected from Ansari.  The show is also a really fun and easy watch- I found myself watching seven episodes in one fell swoop and the episodes feel short in a very good way.  I can't wait to watch the next season or see Ansari's next project.

One of my favorites parts of the show is how conscious it is about race and gender and also what it means to be an advocate.  One of the stand-outs is the second episode in which Dev and Brian who are first-generation Americans decide to learn more about their parents, who are immigrants.

Growing up, when my mom watched movies and TV shows with me, she was always excited whenever she saw someone who looked Asian in a show and for the longest time I never quite understood her excitement until recently.  As a first-generation Asian American who watches a lot of American entertainment, I haven't really seen too many shows or movies that talk about the Asian-American experience.  I did not realize how great it is to see some semblance of your story or experience told until watching the episode.  For example, Brian's dad, Peter, texts very formally and communicates with Brian by sending him Economist articles.

One key difference between Master of None and something like Fresh Off the Boat is that Master of None is willing to go there.  While it's fantastic to see an Asian family on TV, I was disappointed that for the most part, Fresh Off the Boat felt very sanitized.  There's another fantastic Master of None episode, "Indians on TV," in which Dev and Ravi are both being considered for a role in a sitcom and only one of them can be cast because including more than one "Asian" character on the show would automatically make the show just for Asians.

Master of None also deals with gender issues and advocacy.  There is an episode later in the season, Ladies and Gentleman, that honestly deals with how men and women experience the world differently.

Master of None features a slew of really interesting minor characters as well.  One of my favorites is Colin Salmon, playing a very dramatic, Shakespearean actor version of himself.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Marvel's Daredevil Review

     When I first heard that Netflix was doing a Daredevil series, I wasn't terribly excited.  The original Daredevil movie (2003) was not only terrible but it has the unique distinction of being an extremely memorable bad movie.  Some of the distinct details of how bad it was include:
-A villain named Bullseye played by Collin Farrell who literally has a target drilled into his head
-When Matt Murdock/the Daredevil and his love interest, Elektra meet up, they solidify their budding romance by showing off their fighting skills on a playground
-Because the noises of the city are too much for him, Matt literally sleeps in a coffin filled with water.
See- lots of ridiculous details that are all surprisingly very memorable.

     I am pleased to say that Netflix/Marvel's Daredevil is a lot better than the movie.  The series is really solid entertainment.  In terms of tone and feel, it reminds me a lot of Batman Begins and is definitely very heavily influenced by the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy.  Daredevil also has a fantastic theme song that I just want to keep replaying.

     Daredevil tells the origin stories of how Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer with heightened senses, who fights injustice in New York's Hell's Kitchen.  By day, he and his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) have their own start-up law firm, Nelson and Murdock.  By night, Matt is a vigilante who takes the law directly into his own hands, who is sometimes aided by nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).   Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is their secretary who investigates a mystery that has been haunting her.  She later loops in Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), Hell's Kitchen's world-weary investigative reporter.

    Daredevil relies on many tried and true tropes and character archetypes.  While it does not really do anything revolutionary with the plot or the characters, it executes what it has well and that's always pleasant to watch.  Matt/Daredevil, like Batman, has his one rule- he will not kill anyone directly and struggles with the morality of what he does as a vigilante, especially since he is Catholic.  Ben Urich is the Jim Gordon of this universe- he's seen a lot of ugly things happen and is worn down by the world he lives in but he will continue to fight to find the truth.  The heroes in the series are fantastic.  They feel three-dimensional and really drive the series forward.  The Daredevil, who has a disguised speaking voice from Matt's, also provides yet another example of how heroes can disguise their voices and still sound menacing without grunting into incoherence.

     On the other side of the fence are Hell's Kitchen's villains.  Vincent D'Onofrio gets top billing among the antagonists as the mysterious Fisk.  Fisk is highly reminiscent of Bane- both are not only physically intimidating men but also highly intelligent.  D'Onofrio plays Fisk too big and I really wish he'd gone with a smaller, more subtle performance.  Fisk has a halting manner of speaking like he has trouble pushing out his words and that becomes more distracting the more Fisk speaks.  Most of the villains are flat characters who feel like flimsy cut-outs.  The only two exceptions are Wesley (Toby Moore), Fisk's loyal right hand man, and Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), an elderly heroine manufacturer who has her own army of blind drug runners.

     Episodes shift between the character-driven ones and the action-focused ones.  The action-focused episodes almost remind me of Justice League and Batman cartoons with elaborately choreographed fight scenes.  With the TV-MA rating, the fight scenes do get brutal and very violent.  Daredevil has a good grasp on the small/character driven events.  I would really like to see it address the world of Hell's Kitchen more.  One thing that I really enjoyed about the series is how actions do have consequences in this universe.

     The first moment I knew I wanted to invest time watching this series was actually a small one in the second episode.  The second episode is now famous for the fantastic tracking-shot hallway fight scene.  In the second episode, there is also this small scene in which Foggy and Karen go out for drinks because Karen does not want to go home yet.  Karen, seeing all the seemingly seedy people in the bar feels uncomfortable but Foggy goes around and tells her about each of them including how they've been helping one scary looking guy get his kid into daycare.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Imitation Game (2014) Movie Review

The Imitation Game

Biopics are a tricky business.  In the cynical 2010s, sweeping biopics about historical figures just don't really cut it anymore.  There have to be complications and something different than just a series of events in the storytelling.  Recently, Lincoln (2012) did it fantastically by focusing deeply on a narrow time frame- what was going on in Congress and within Lincoln's inner circle during the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery.

The Imitation Game uses a similar technique by having flashbacks focus on Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) during his arguable peak when he and a team of academics worked on cracking the Nazi Germany ENIGMA codes at Bletchley Park.  As a framing device, the film also follows Turing in the present day when he is jailed for having relations with another man.  The movie is really at its best when it focuses on the past.  I wish the writers had spent as much time developing the bleak, present day when Turing is broken down by society's treatment of homosexuals because that is also a really critical to piece to Turing's tragic legacy.    

The Imitation Game is a fine, solid, serviceable movie but could have been a much better film if it hadn't tried to thickly force the main themes.  One of the main themes is that even though Turing can't seem to understand other people, that is also what makes him so unique and singularly able to break the code.  There are lots of ways the movie conveys this main theme naturally through the plot, but it also, ungracefully, has characters verbally state the theme.

Despite that though, there's a lot that I like about the Imitation Game.  It does a fantastic job explaining how the Bletchley Park team of mathematicians and linguists broke ENIGMA.  I am sure we got a vastly simplified explanation of how the machine that Turing's team built, but I appreciated how the writers were able to describe how the Turing machine (precursor to modern computing) worked for a general audience.

The performances are fantastic, especially Cumberbatch as Turing and Alex Lawther as young Turing.  Both do a really wonderful job of showing what it is like being unable to belong and not understanding people well enough to understand why they don't.

I was also really pleasantly surprised by the prominence of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the female mathematician on Turing's team.  While Turing is unable to connect with his teammates, since Clarke is a woman, she is not even allowed to work with the team in the same room.  Turing has to sneak Clarke's work to her room during odd hours of the night.  I love that Clarke clearly has her own agenda and is never relegated to being defined by her relationship to Turing as female characters unfortunately often are in movies.  Clarke and Turing's friendship is one of my favorite parts of the whole movie, especially because both of them want different things from what society expects of them.  

One really fantastic scene that has stuck with me was how when Clarke meets the rest of the team, she is pleasant and the team immediately likes her.  Turing, confused, wants to know how Clarke gets them to like her so easily.  In reply, Clarke states, "Unlike you, I don't have the luxury of being difficult."  Especially in light of all these studies showing how women do face biases in the workplace, I wish more movies and TV shows told these stories about women not just in period pieces but in modern day pieces.  I do find it strange how some of the best fictional portrayals of women fighting social limitations all take place in period pieces (such as the always fantastic Mad Men).

Overall, The Imitation Game is a decent film.  The story telling could be a little less heavy handed but its fantastic performances, explanation of modern computing, and unexpected feminist leanings definitely make it worth watching.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Movie Review: Perfume- The Story of a Murderer (2006)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is one of those rare movie trailers that really stood out because of  how visually striking it was.  I'd meant to see it but never really had a chance to until I saw it recently on Netflix.

Perfume is definitely not for everyone.  It is about Jean-Baptise Grenouille (Ben Whishaw, Q from Skyfall), a strange man who has an incredible sense of smell.  Over time, he becomes obsessed with preserving smell using whatever means possible.  Many parts of the story really make me pause to recommend it to others, especially the fate of all the beautiful women Jean-Baptise terrorizes in his insatiable desire to capture scent.

In many ways, the movie reminds me of a dark fairy tale- the original Grimm's fairy tales in which truly macabre, gruesome things happen beside the fantastical.  There really are not too many fantasy movies and one thing I really enjoyed about the movie is how confident it was visually.  It shows us what Jean-Baptise smells through its beautiful visual scenery and really immerses us in a different world.  In particular, I loved seeing the flower harvests in perfume-town Gasse.

The movie fluctuates in tone between the serious and lighter areas.  It really works best when it does not take itself too seriously and plays up the dark fairy tale aspect, which it does well when Jean-Baptise first learns the perfume trade from a highly entertaining, struggling perfumist, Baldini (Dustin Hoffman).  The always wonderful Alan Rickman also makes a memorable appearance as Richis, father to Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a girl who becomes Jean-Baptise's object of obsession.
I really wish the women in this movie were given more to do than be victims of Jean-Baptise.  Laura is really the only female character in the movie and she really does not have much to do except look lovely and suffer in silence between two unappealing choices.