Review: GLOW – Season 3

I have been a big fan of this show since I started watching it because of its recurring themes of friendship and kindness and season three has delivered on the promise of the first two. I adore GLOW, I think it’s a wonderful series about empowerment and support that covers a wide range of emotions.

This season is all about Vegas, where the GLOW was headed at the end of season two. There are major character developments for just about everyone and some really moving moments. My favourite aspect of the show is how funny it can be while also being heartbreaking and touching. I find myself in tears almost as often as I’m laughing at the things going on.

Season three expands the characters by adding Geena Davis as hotel manager Sandy Devereaux St. Clair and Kevin Cahoon as drag performer Bobby Barnes. There are hair-raising moments and big developments for many of the major characters, especially Bash Howard (Chris Lowell). Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie lead the show with aplomb and Marc Maron is great as always. The great cast of fun and diverse characters is without a doubt the attraction, but the series writing really is its best aspect.

GLOW Season 3 is on Netflix now and I highly recommend it.

Review: Black Mirror – Season 5

I love Black Mirror and have been a fan ever since discovering it around season 3. The show is dark and twisted but also has its lighter moments and the three new episodes that constitute season 5 are exemplary of the show’s varied imagination.

Striking Vipers is a story about two friends (Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who reunite after years apart and bond over a sophisticated VR fighting game which soon becomes a conduit for unrequited feelings the two friends have. I was genuinely surprised by the early twist in the storyline and I really appreciated its maturity and sensitivity in dealing with the subject matter. I also loved the ending.

In Smithereens, Andrew Scott plays a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown who takes hostage an employee of the tech giant behind Persona, a Facebook-like social media platform, demanding to have a phone call with its Zuckerberg-esque creator. I found it struck an astounding balance between tragedy and comedy, making me laugh out loud several times as well as shed a tear at one point.

Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too features Miley Cyrus as a pop sensation whose new AI doll becomes the prized possession of Angourie Rice’s Rachel, but her sister Jack (Madison Davenport) has concerns about its influence. This episode is much more light-hearted in its execution, even if it has some dark material, striking and almost Scooby-Doo vibe at times, but I found it quite fun and well-earned after the seriousness of the previous two episodes. Plus, it gave me a new respect for Miley Cyrus.

Black Mirror is probably my favourite TV show. I love how intelligent and mature it is and how the series is more about quality than quantity, as each season is pretty short. The best thing about the show, in my opinion, is its anthology nature. Every episode is its own self-contained story and you can start anywhere; the quality is such that you will know in one or two episodes if this show is for you or not. Personally, I love it.

Review: Russian Doll

Twisty, funny, very smart and unexpectedly touching

I’m a little late to the party, but I just discovered this miniseries on Netflix and I really loved it. Eight episodes of 24-30 minutes each makes the complex story manageable and I found it very funny, a little on the dark side, with a lot of intelligence and heart. It obviously takes a lot from Groundhog Day but adds a neat twist which gives it an identity of its own. The writing, the acting, the whole production are all excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys weird stories with interesting and unusual characters.

Natasha Lyonne plays Nadia Vulvokov, a name which is so loaded with metaphors I could spend a whole paragraph on it. The show begins with her in the bathroom at a birthday party thrown for her by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) where she is not having a good time. Nadia is a deeply unhappy person prone to self-destructive behaviour and is struck by a car and killed while trying to find her cat in the local neighbourhood, only to find herself back in the bathroom at her birthday party where it all began. She goes on with her evening and the next day but when she dies again and finds herself in the bathroom once more, she realizes she is stuck in some kind of time loop. The twist comes when she then she discovers there is another person trapped in the same loop, Alan (Charlie Barnett). Together, they have to find a way out.

This is some really inventive stuff rom the creative minds of Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland and Natasha Lyonne. I don’t want to give away too much because the real joy in the series is discovery; this is the kind of show that rewards you for paying close attention to every detail. Every episode turns in subtle and different ways that balance both the fantasy aspect of the plot and the deep characterization of the leads. I found it very refreshing in terms of casting and how the characters were written and acted, with tragedy and comedy in equal measure. It’s very impressive, the kind of stuff you don’t see very often.

Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)

I wouldn’t normally think of watching something so apparently aimed at the YA market as this Netflix Original series, except that it is filmed in Vancouver and, as a Production Assistant, it’s possible I might work on it someday, so I might as well be familiar with it. I was quite surprised by how dark and mature it was, given the audience it is aimed at, and I find something delightfully subversive in that.

This is absolutely nothing like the 90s tv show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, despite their common origins in the world of Archie Comics. The whole approach is rather more horror-inflected than its sitcom predecessor, and it is very dark and very gory, yet the show does have its laughs and never feels heavy. There is a lot of Satanism, witchcraft and demonology in the show, far more than I expected, and it is really quite thrilling to see series protagonists casually say things like “Hail, Satan” in a big-budget, mainstream series aimed at a younger audience.

The writing I think is very good, balancing light and dark pretty well, and I think the cast is excellent. Kiernan Shipka is a decent lead as Sabrina Spellman, half-breed daughter of a warlock and a mortal, playing things competently straight while everyone around her is dancing on the edge of camp, at least as far as Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis as her aunts Zelda and Hilda are concerned, to say nothing of Richard Coyle as Father Faustus Blackwood (that name alone is awesome), the leader of the Church of Shadows, to which the Spellman family is intertwined. Michelle Gomez is also mesmerizing as Mary Wardwell (she has the most incredible eyes and cheekbones). The rest of the supporting cast are all quite interesting and I admire the show for its diversity and progressive attitudes.

I’m only halfway through the first series, so I can’t say how it all pans out, but so far I find it immensely entertaining. I think just about everyone on the cast is compelling in one way or another and I am excited by the unapologetic handling of black magic themes and ideas as well as the feminist thrust to the whole show. Most of all, I love watching the actors maintain that tension between serious and silly that the best kind of fantasy thrives on, in my opinion. I really like this show and I would recommend it.

Retro-Review – Leon: The Professional (1994)

I revisited this classic of 90’s action cinema when I found it on Netflix the other night and have to say it was quite enjoyable. I think in many ways it is quite dated, but mostly it has aged well, and the three leads (Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and an 11-year old Natalie Portman in her film debut) are its heart and soul. I still like it about as much as I did when I first saw it, which is to say very much.

Jean Reno plays Leon, a hitman and loner whose next door neighbor is murdered by crooked cops (led by scenery-chewing Gary Oldman as Stansfield) over missing drugs, with only the middle child, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), escaping by the dumb luck of having gone to the corner store when the bad guys came in. She turns to her mysterious neighbour for help and he reluctantly takes her under his wing. Luc Besson’s New York crime fantasy is awfully 90’s sometimes in its fashions and lighting styles, but the director has a flair for slick action set-pieces, even if credibility takes a back seat to some of the set pieces. Best of all, the movie feels very brisk and tight, moving from scene to scene at a nice pace so the movie doesn’t feel like it’s almost two hours long.

The action is very capably handled by Besson, who casts such charismatic actors in the leads that you become emotionally invested even though what’s going on is plainly ridiculous. Jean Reno is great as the understated hitman with a  heart of gold and he has great screen presence. He’s the perfect foil for Natalie Portman’s streetwise moppet, too-cool-for-school yet wide-eyed and curious at the same time. There are weird Lolita-esque undercurrents in their relationship which give the movie an interestingly odd tone quite different from other urban crime action movies, and I know the European cut has at least one scene cut from the US version (the one on Netflix) which treads the line, but it is what makes the movie remarkable among 90’s action films. Gary Oldman rocks in every scene he’s in, giving a great show of contained craziness as a psychopathic crooked narcotics detective. Again, his character is not believable, but the actor is so much fun to watch that I didn’t really care.

The movie is a great example of turning mediocre material into something highly watchable through great casting and clever direction. In other hands, I can easily imagine the movie being a boring, cliché-ridden technical exercise but Luc Besson has a wonderful eye and sense of humour in the way he balances brutal violence with corny sentiment and real tenderness, as well as a few jokes amid the weirder shadings of the Reno/Portman relationship. It’s definitely an exceptional action movie.

I would say Leon: The Professional is worth watching if you haven’t, and worth re-watching if you have. The cliché plot supports a strangely dynamic relationship story and the casting of Reno, Portman and Oldman is superb as they all deliver distinct, magnetic performances. The balance of elements is very capably handled by Luc Besson, a director with great aplomb at turning something stupid into something fun.