*MOVIE RECAP: THE UNITED STATES VS BILLIE HOLIDAY

At first glance, this movie had the makings of a powerful story — sadly, it did not live up to my expectations. 

The United States vs. Billie Holiday takes its name straight out of the US government’s prosecution case of Billie Holiday, and it is based on the 2012 non-fiction book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Decades have passed since Billie Holiday’s death. Yet, it seems like we still do not have a complete grasp and understanding of how important and influential she was in our culture, not just musically but also on civil rights activism. She died when she was only 44 years old. Suffering indignity after indignity and humiliated by her own government, handcuffed to a hospital bed as she was dying. 

At the center of the story, there is the song Strange Fruit. The song became controversial in the late 30s and 40s for being a protest song to the lynching of Black Americans, and it is considered to be the launching point in the awakening of the civil rights movement. The song drew the attention of the US government, most notably, the attention of a government agent and known racist Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), who was the first US official to declare war on drugs; targeting minorities and artists. Demonizing blacks and Jazz musicians as drug users and bad influences on so-called authentic American culture.

Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and launched what has become known as the original version of the US war on drugs in the early part of the 20th century. One of Anslinger’s initial targets was Billie Holiday. He was obsessed with taking Billie Holiday down, primarily for her activism and defiance — but also as a symbolic gesture to any other potential civil rights activists out there. 

They used every tool at their disposal to destroy her life and career. They tried to censor her in multiple ways, even went as far as to block and deny her a cabaret license, which was crucial for performers; they needed a cabaret permit to perform at live music venues in those days. 

In this movie, we see how Aisnlinger assigns an undercover agent to infiltrate Billie Holiday’s inner circle to report and keep tabs on her. This undercover agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), becomes emotionally and romantically involved with Holiday.

The weird thing is that apart from Johann Hari’s book, there isn’t much verifiable evidence about this love affair between Billie Holiday and Jimmy Fletcher — and there seems to be an evident exaggeration of this story by this movie’s director Lee Daniels.

Andra Day is outstanding here; she Portrays Billie Holiday convincingly. Still, the highlight of this movie for me was the soundtrack along with Andra Day’s performance of Billie Holiday’s music. She actually sings all the songs herself and captures the essence of Billie Holiday’s signature sound.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a movie that comes across as messy, cluttered, and all over the place. There is way too much focus on the romance between Fletcher and Holiday. Their love affair gets in the way of the story a bit. I wanted to see more about Holiday and her band members and the relationship dynamics between them. There was a powerful story here to be told. Unfortunately, this movie missed a huge opportunity to convey the core story of Billie Holiday’s life and struggles. And on top of all that, it also wasted away Andra Day’s top-notch performance.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

It took a while for me to process this film properly, especially amid all the fantastic and well-made socially conscious films that came out between late 2020 and early 2021. Movies like The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the USA vs. Billie Holiday, Nomadland, and Da 5 Bloods — all of those films had a powerful and enduring social message to deliver.

One Night in Miami is based on a 2013 stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay for this film version. Regina King shines as director here, making her directorial debut — And at first glance, I got the sense that this wasn’t her first film as a director — An impressive achievement by Regina King.

The story is set in February of 1964, the same night that Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. Cassius Clay had not yet changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the movie takes place when he was about to join the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X invites Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay to join him in his hotel room to celebrate the victory of the new world champ. It is a fictional account of a one-night gathering of all these 1960’s pop-culture icons.

Throughout the evening, the gathering turns into a discussion of politics, life decisions, identity, and empowerment—their unique role in pop culture and the line between celebrity and social responsibility.

We get to see how all of the things that took place throughout these men’s lives have led them to this particular night. And how their lives changed in the immediate aftermath of this evening together.

The performances are excellent; all of these historical personalities feel human and real. Kinglsey Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Cassius Clay), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke); all provide an equal voice to each character, giving their singular take and perspective on things. All of these performances are intensely captivating.

One of my highlights from this movie was the powerful flashback scene between Jim Brown and Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges). The location is set on Mr. Carlton’s Plantation style house — We get to see Jim Brown visiting his hometown and Mr. Carlton’s home. It seems like both of their families go way back. During their conversion at the front porch, Mr. Carlton tells Jim Brown that he’ll do anything for him except allow him to set foot inside his house because of his race. This scene was taken straight out of Jim Brown’s autobiography.

Another highlight for me was the scene where Malcolm X challenges Sam Cooke for his lack of acknowledgment of social issues in his music. Malcolm brings up Bod Dylan as an example — a white musician making socially conscious music. Malcolm and Cooke have some intense scenes together; however, Sam Cooke’s performance of the song “A Change is Gonna Come” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, as Malcolm X watches him perform the song, was profoundly moving.

I wanted to see more of the relationship between Cassius Clay and Angelo Dundee (Michael Imperioli). I think the film could have benefited from adding more of their relationship dynamic.

One Night In Miami is a fascinating, well-made film. It doesn’t feel confined like most stage adaptations feel like. It is an essential and relevant movie; It deals head-on with issues of racial divisions in the US and how those issues intersect between culture, politics, sports, and entertainment. It is unfortunate how relevant the issues and ideas raised in this film are today.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

One Night in Miami (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: COMING 2 AMERICA

Ok, sad to say this but Coming 2 America sucks ass — It is a terrible sequel, and it failed to live up to the greatness of the original Coming to America movie (1988).

First of all, Coming to America is a classic comedy; if it’s on TV when I’m browsing through channels, I always stop and watch it, regardless of how deep in the story the movie might be on. The original was rated R, and this sequel is PG-13, a major red flag right off the get-go.

Our old friend Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) from the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda is now king, and Lisa (Shari Headley) is the Queen; they have three young daughters. The central plot conflict here is that their marriage has not given them a male heir, which tradition dictates that only a male heir can lay claim to the throne of Zamunda.

Warlord General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) from a neighboring nation wants to marry his son with one of Akeem’s daughters to unite both kingdoms, bring peace, and avoid war. Obviously, King Akeem, Queen Lisa, and their daughters are opposed to this idea.

Akeem discovers that he has a son living in New York from a wild one-night stand during Akeem’s first visit to New York City. So now, presented with this new fact, Akeem decides to return to Queens in search of his long-lost son and convince him to take his rightful place as the future ruler of Zamunda.

Returning to NY, Akeem tracks down his illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and convinces him to move to Zamunda. But first, Lavelle will need to go through a training and learning process before establishing him as the future heir to the throne.

From this point on, whatever little promise this movie initially showed goes completely over a cliff.

Akeem becomes just another character here. The premise of this sequel entirely undoes Akeem’s journey of self-discovery from the original movie. Prince Akeem discovered something about himself through his 1988 journey while living and working in New York City, which he seemed to utterly forget 33 years later. His trip to America was also fun and hilarious, with the whole fish out of water angle. He was so unaware of the real world, hell-bent on finding his future wife in Queens. King Akeem spends almost no time in Queens or in NYC, which contradicts this sequel’s title. Maybe they should’ve just called this movie “Zamunda” or “Coming to Zamunda” instead of Coming 2 America.

I wanted to see a lot more of Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and we don’t really get much of him this time around. Wesley Snipes is hilarious; there is a level of Pageantry to his performance — I can tell he was having a blast with this role. Plus, the chemistry between Murphy and Snipes is excellent, probably my favorite thing from this movie.

Jermaine Fowler needed more time to develop his Lavelle character, similar to how Akeem was developed in the original film. Also, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan are annoying as fuck, especially with what they are given to work within their characters.

This next generation of Zamunda rulers was also poorly developed. And the jokes delivered by the new cast members don’t hit at all and fall flat…. I think I laughed once and chuckled a few times throughout the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the throwbacks to the original film are pretty cool. Watching John Amos, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson return was pure nostalgic awesomeness. I wished Eriq La Salle (Darryl) and Allison Dean (Patrice) had returned in some capacity.

It was great seeing the Barbershop guys back, you know, the old characters played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Although, it is hard to believe that those guys could still look the same as they did in ’88 or even be alive 33 years later. But hey, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and go along for the sake of mindless entertainment.

Now, here is the potentially redeeming storyline if this coming to America franchise continues—so hear me out.

Colin Jost shows up early in this movie, playing Mr. Duke, a direct relative of the Duke Brothers from Eddie Murphy’s first film, Trading Places (1983). The Duke Brothers (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy) had an important cameo in Coming to America, which brilliantly ended up linking the Trading Places slash Coming to America universes together. And, if they continue to build upon this connection, therein lies the makings of a potential reboot of those two movie universes. Get Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eddie Murphy on board, and here we go.

Despite taking 33 years to make this sequel, Coming 2 America is a sequel that we did not really need or wanted but expected to be better. It simply does not have the long-lasting comedic effect that the original 1988 movie had. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a shameless exercise of fan service. Hell, I even welcome those types of movies from time to time. However, this movie just did not quite work for me. It is definitely a more family-friendly movie. But still, it comes off as lazy, unfunny, and not as edgy as the original.

One out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿

Coming 2 America (2020).

*TV SERIES RECAP: RUN

RUN was a guilty pleasure watch. The premise and concept of this limited HBO series are somewhat irresistible to me. We have two former lovers, Billy (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ruby (Merritt Wever). They made a pact to each other during their college years, that if either one of them ever texted the word “RUN” to the other, followed by a return text with the same word—then they will both drop whatever they are doing, and meet at Grand Central Station and be there for each other.

Now in their 30s, Ruby is married with kids. Billy is a successful motivational speaker and author. It seems like they have previously texted RUN to each other throughout the years, but this is the first time that the text was actually returned. The ex-lovers meet up and embark on a cross-country Amtrak train ride.

The whole idea of dropping everything in your life and making a wild run has crossed my mind multiple times, and perhaps this is why this show appealed to me from the get-go.

Episodes for the first season are roughly about a half-hour long with 7 episodes. Pretty easy to power through the whole thing in one sitting. It is a fun show, with lots of tension and slow revelations. Layers and layers of information about the characters are slowly revealed, so you have to be patient to see where the story is actually going. The tension keeps on building up with each episode.

The supporting characters are essentially the main obstacles in this love story. Billy’s assistant Fiona (Archie Panjabi), is stalking and blackmailing Billy — she is holding some dark and compromising secrets regarding Billy.

Ruby’s husband, Laurence (Rich Sommer), seems to be aware that his wife has run off to be with someone and is willing to forgive her if she returns home to her family. All the supporting characters added along the way add a very compelling dynamic that worked well for me. Most notably, the inclusion of the character Laurel (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), A taxidermist, who collects roadkill, and gets involved in the plot.

There is this exciting sub-plot between Laurel and police officer Babe Cloud (Tamara Podemski) that develops midway through the first season,

Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson have solid chemistry together. I was all-in on the idea that these two were once lovers. The sexual tension was believable. Wever’s performance is pretty intense and remarkable. She has this uncanny ability to deliver lines in a very deliberate manner. The character flaws between both characters are worth exploring further…. if there is a second season, which I hope there is.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

RUN (2020). Streaming on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2)

In the final months of a dreadful 2020, I got the chance to finish up the year watching the second season of one of the most enjoyable book adaptations in recent memory.

His Dark Materials is based on a series of books by Phillip Pullman, who also serves as showrunner for the series. Season 1 was mostly based on book 1 of the trilogy, The Golden Compass.

This second season is based on book 2, The Subtle Knife, and season 3 will be based on book 3, The Amber Spyglass.

In season 2, we continue to follow the adventures of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her Daemon Patalaimon (voiced by Kitt Connor) as they explored the alternate world that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened up after killing Roger (Lewin Lloyd) at the end of season 1.

Season 1 was excellent — there was a lot of exposition, lots of world-building, and many moving parts coming at you pretty fast. But it all worked well, and things came together nicely by the end of the season.

We catch up with Will (Amir Wilson), who is also exploring this new alternate world. Will and Lyra’s eventual encounter will put our two heroes on the path to fulfill the Witches Prophecy. They both need to rely each other, as they find themselves on a journey full of obstacles,

The Magisterium senses a dire threat to their control and power and dares to cross into this parallel reality to stop Lord Asriel and Lyra. The idea of witches and non-believers challenging the dogmatic and authoritarian ways of the Magisterium is dangerous for their hold on things and the power of The Authority. Here, at the intersection of politics, philosophy, witches, religion, and multiple worlds is where the series becomes more exciting and compelling.

Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is brilliant yet again — she is pure magic whenever she is onscreen, and she is way more manipulative and deceptive in this second season. Mrs. Coulter is by far one of the most outstanding villains on TV.

In a sense, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) becomes a more sympathetic and less villainous character in this season. The onscreen chemistry between Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter is exceptional.

Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is terrific again. I enjoyed how they have continued to develop this character from the first season. I was glad to see Lee’s Daemon, Hester (voice by Cristela Alonzo), getting a bit more involved in the plot than in the first season.

Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a physicist who studies dark matter, is crucial to the plot. Dr. Malone allows the audience to understand better what dust might be, and we get to go on this journey of discovery along with her.

But the young characters are the heart and soul of the story here. The loss of Roger haunts Lyra, and Will is obsessed with finding his father. The bond between Lyra and Will is a critical factor as both characters move forward.

According to the prophecy, Lyra is supposed to be the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” This is why everybody is supposed to protect Lyra — Will, Lee, and the Witches are supposed to protect Lyra at all costs.

The set up to the eventual war between the multiple worlds is set in motion in this season’s final episode. We see Lord Asriel appealing to the Angels as he tries to raise enough support to wage war against The Authority. The post-credit scene with Roger in this season’s final episode is shocking and sets up season 3.

I really cannot recommend binging this series enough.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 2). Streaming on HBO MAX

*MOVIE RECAP: WONDER WOMAN 84

Wonder Woman 84 (WW84) has an exciting and very engaging start, and then at about the 45-minute mark, it collapses completely.

This sequel is way more cartoonish than the original 2017 movie, which was a fantastic movie, and I felt like it was a bit more grounded in realism than this movie. My only issue with the original film was Diana and Ares’s final battle scene — Everything else about it was terrific.

It has been roughly 60 years since the events of Wonder Woman 1 — we see Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) still heartbroken over the loss of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); she lives a quiet life, maintaining a low profile, she dines alone. She seems envious of the couples she sees dining out. Diana works at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and lives in what appears to be the infamous Watergate building.

There is tons of cheesiness throughout this movie — some work, and some do not. The main villain here is a wishing stone; An ancient mystical stone that grants wishes but takes something away from you in return. An evil god of deception created this wishing stone — You wish for something, and it cost you something.

Diana uses this wishing stone to resurrect her old boyfriend Steve from the dead. However, Steve returns in the body of another person. This was pretty weird and problematic for many reasons, but I felt like they could have easily brought Steve back just as he was without the whole body snatcher thing.

Steve Trevor not being a more significant part of the plot here like he was in the original Wonder Woman was a bummer. Also, the White house fight scene was bizarre and ridiculous. The plot’s globetrotting parts are flimsy, and I was not too fond of all the Middle East scenes.

Nevertheless, there are some cool things I enjoyed. The 1980’s mall scene was fun and cool, although not as cool as the 1980s Stranger Things season 3 mall scenes, but close enough. The feel and vibe of Washington DC in the 1980s were very close to how the city felt and looked in those days. The overabundance and greed of the Reagan 80s were well depicted, but it was missing a bigger 80’s soundtrack to grasp the era better. Steve witnessing what the world has become and all the technological advances are some of the funniest moments in the entire movie.

In any case, apart from the whole resurrection weirdness, there are a bunch of continuity issues connecting this movie with the rest of the DC Extended Universe movies. The events here are not even referenced in any of the other DC Extended Universe movies, nor they seem to impact any of the storylines in Dawn of Justice or Justice League. Those two movies are supposed to be directly connected with Wonder Woman and her storyline.

And, of course, the Linda Carter cameo can not be understated. It was an exceptional moment in this movie.

Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a villain with very little villainy and malice in him — he is driven mainly by greed and desperation. Pascal’s performance is a bit over the top but excellent. I can tell that he was all in to make this character work. Max Lord is a failing businessman slash TV personality with tons of huckster charm. It is implied that he has been searching for the wishing stone for a long time.

Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is another interesting character with a compelling arc. She is a gemologist, newly employed at the Smithsonian. She dreams of being someone else, and then thanks to the wishing stone, she becomes someone else. My main issue with this character is that I felt like we needed more Barbara Minerva and less of Cheetah. Barbara’s transformation into Cheetah should have been hinted at by the end of the movie and then have her return in the next film as the main antagonist.

Anyhow, Kristen Wiig seemed to be having lots of fun playing this Barbara/Cheetah character. The chemistry between Barbara and Max is solid, and the scene where Barbara is jogging and is attacked was very entertaining.

Wonder Woman 84 delivers a message of compassion and empathy, I think. Diana shows us that it takes real strength to love your enemy and that the true meaning of bravery lies in your respect and compassion for life. I liked how the fight sequence between cheetah and wonder woman is primarily a verbal fight scene. Diana feels compassion for Barbara and wants her to come to her senses…. the scene paid off for me.

The same thing for Max — Diana understands Max’s pain; she reasons with him and connects with his humanity. They both share emotionally well-acted scenes, which felt satisfying or even more satisfying than the action scenes.

Wonder Woman 84 is a complicated and bold movie to watch. It brings an unapologetic message of forgiveness, empathy, and kindness to the audience. Still, it doesn’t become preachy in its delivery—it is a superhero movie where both villains get a chance to redeem themselves and just walk away. Multiple viewings are needed to grasp what this movie attempts to execute.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: TOLKIEN

If all you want is just a simple, cliff notes version of Tolkien’s life and a brief understanding of his journey towards writing and developing The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then this movie is your ticket.

Nicholas Hoult plays John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien); Hoult delivers a strong performance here, attempting to capture the early life and formative years of Tolkien. However, this movie falls somewhat flat for me. There was plenty of room to be daring with this biopic, but it felt like lazy storytelling.

Nevertheless, the performances by the entire cast are remarkable. Lilly Collins 8is excellent as Edith Bratt (Tolkien’s wife and muse), Derek Jacobi is a scene-stealer in every scene he is in, which is a good thing; I always enjoy watching him.

The performances by the four friends who together form the brotherhood called T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), which eventually will be called “the fellowship,” are outstanding. There is a pretty remarkable scene when a young Tolkien attends the opera with his future wife Edith to see Wagner’s Ring cycle, “one ring to rule them all.

All of those things were pretty cool, but this type of biopic deserves a more careful and deliberate approach, similar to how National Geographic is doing their “Genius” T.V. series, based on extraordinary figures of history. The first season was focused on Einstein and the second season on Picasso. Those two seasons were excellent, and maybe any future attempts to make another Tolkien biopic should be approached similarly.

Maybe, an eight to ten-episode T.V. series rather than a movie would’ve been more appropriate. I think it is virtually impossible to properly showcase and highlight specific aspects of Tolkien’s life and genius in a 112-minute film.

The whole thing felt like an origin story gone a bit lazy. Still, TOLKIEN is very entertaining and definitely worth watching. The performances end up rescuing this convoluted script.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

TOLKIEN (2019).

*TV SERIES RECAP: HOLLYWOOD

The whole concept of this series is to essentially reimagine and reinvent Post-World War II Hollywood as an alternative history of the golden age of American cinema; Where real-life Hollywood figures are mixed in with a bunch of fictional characters.

At the center of the story, we have a group of aspiring actors, writers, and directors attempting to challenge the bigotry, sexism, and homophobia of the Hollywood studio system. Created by Ryan Murphy, Nip/tuck (2003-2010) Feud (2017), there are 7 episodes, each running roughly about one hour long.

There are many things that work well with this show, and there are a bunch of things that do not work well. To me, the real-life characters were much more complex and a lot more interesting than the fictional characters.

Jim Parsons sheds his Sheldon Cooper persona brilliantly playing real-life Hollywood agent Henry Wilson who was Rock Hudson’s real-life agent. Wilson was a highly controversial figure in Hollywood’s golden age, known for developing a unique and specific “look” from his young male clients. Henry Wilson comes across as this awful person, but he is probably the most compelling character in the whole show. I could not wait to see more of this character. Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) is excellent as a young version of Hudson, who has recently arrived in Hollywood and is signing on with this nasty piece of work, Henry Wilson as his talent agent.

There are plenty of well-written scenes, and the costumes are excellent. The show is beautifully shot, capturing the glitz and glamour of the era. But on top of all that, my other favorite thing from this show was Dylan McDermott (Ernie), based on real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Ernie operates a male gigolo prostitution racket out of a gas station, where rich men and women would pick up young men from the station to have sexual encounters with. It was also well-known that closeted older rich gay men will often use this system to meet young men.

Many legendary and infamous Hollywood real-life stories are depicted throughout the show, like the notorious “Hollywood Orgy” parties organized by George Cukor. The show explores the predatory and abusive level of exploitation of young stars by people in positions of power and influence, which resonates deeply with the current MeToo movement.

And, of all the fictional characters, Mira Sorvino (Jeanne Crandall) has some of the best scenes, mostly relating to the abuse of power and the level of exploitation by powerful men. Her character is super compelling, considering Sorvino went through similar issues with Harvey Weinstein.

Queen Latifah (Hattie McDaniel) is terrific here, completely owning her scenes. Noel Coward (Billy Boyd), making a brief appearance, was a nice addition. Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), Vivien Leigh (Katie McGuinness), Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster): All of them portraying real-life figures are exceptional.

However, to me, the show became less and less interesting as the fantasy and alternate history element took over. Discerning what was real and what was not became murky and confusing at times. I sense that the main point here was to expose the level of prejudice, racism, and sexism that existed in Hollywood in that era — and how complicit Hollywood studios were in elevating certain stereotypes. Still, this show would have been much more effective in delivering their intended message by minimizing this parallel reality within the real-life storylines and remaining a lot closer to the truth. Nevertheless, HOLLYWOOD is a hyper surreal and compelling show to watch.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

HOLLYWOOD (2020). Streaming on Netflix

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE OUTSIDER

The legend of El Cucu finally gets a spot on mainstream TV — Based on a Stephen King novel and adapted for TV by best-selling crime novelist Richard Price — The Outsider is not a straightforward murder mystery like I initially imagined; it is a detective crime drama with a huge supernatural component.

The premise is not as simple as it seems: A kid has been murdered in a small town, and all of the forensic evidence points to the local little league coach Terry (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But coach Terry seems to be well-liked by all the town locals. However, plenty of evidence points to him being miles away from town at a conference when the murder happened.

Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) is a grief-stricken cop who has tragically lost his kid recently. Ralph is hell-bent on solving this crime and is convinced coach Terry is guilty.

The paradox of being in two places at the same time becomes, at first, the main obstacle our protagonist must solve. This is a dark but slow and steady show. It can be a bit frustrating if you are not into slow-moving plots. Nevertheless, there are some solid elements to The Outsider that merits watching it.

There are some weird but pretty cool camera shots and angles. We have different and exciting characters that feel real; they seem like regular people confronted all of a sudden with the supernatural, and we get to see how they attempt to rationalize things that they cannot explain rationally. The entire ensemble cast of supporting characters is excellent.

The character of Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is the best thing about this show; she adds a particular dynamic and energy to the plot. Stephen King fans will immediately recognize this character from the novel Mr. Mercedes (2014). This show introduces her as this quirky, weird private investigator who has this extraordinary ability to see things from a unique perspective.

El Cuco (The Coco) is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, primarily known in Hispanic cultures, but there are versions of this entity in just about every culture worldwide. It is also known as El Cucuy, El Cucui, and Coca. However, the lore of El Cuco was mildly presented and loosely explored in the show. Nonetheless, they explained that this entity feeds on the suffering, grief, and sorrow people feel after a tragedy and how it copies the identity of people it has come into contact with by scratching them.

If there is a second season, I would love to see them tackle more of the folklore of El Cuco and expand on this entity and its connection to similar cases all over the world.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE OUTSIDER (2020). Streaming on HBO

*TV SERIES RECAP: COBRA KAI (Season 3)

First of all, I’m a true O.G. fan of this series — I watched the first season the same week it initially dropped on YouTube Red way back in 2018. I think it took me a couple of nights to watch the whole thing; I would watch it late at night after getting home from work — I pretty much did the same thing when the second season moved over to Netflix.

Needless to say, I binged the fuck out of season 3 the same day it dropped on Netflix. I watched the whole thing in one sitting on New Years Day — it was an excellent way to start 2021.

Season 2 ended with this insanely well-choreographed High School fight scene between the rival Dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai. Which ended on a cliffhanger with Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) going over a stairwell down a few stories and landing on a railing, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma.

Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is on the run from the cops for kicking Miguel over the stairwell and leaving him in a coma. Robby is more of an outsider in this season; He feels betrayed by all the people he once trusted.

Season 3 is darker than the first two seasons, and all of our favorite characters are in a state of disarray, but the rivalry between the two Dojos is the one true constant throughout season 3. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel La Russo (Ralph Macchio) are still beefing with each other just like in the previous two seasons.

Here is where our three main characters and the rest of the Karate Kids find themselves:

DANIEL LA RUSSO:

Daniel is in a tough spot with his car dealership — His top competitor is making deals with Daniel’s Japanese business partner, threatening to shut Daniel off from his Japanese car importer. And in a desperate attempt to save his dealership, Daniel goes back to Japan to try to work things out with his car distributor, Doyona International. While in Japan, Daniel decides to visit Mr. Miyagi’s Tomi village in Okinawa. Tomi village has completely changed to how it looked in Karate Kid II, and now it resembles a typical American town center, full of name-brand American retail shops.

Here Daniel reunites with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). This Karate Kid II reunion perfectly nails the Karate Kid franchise’s essence, and it filled me with warm nostalgia for these characters. Chozen teaching Daniel new techniques and pressure points was one of the highlights of season 3. Chozen should return in season 4; maybe this time around, he can visit Daniel in the States.

JOHNNY LAWRENCE:

Season 2 ended with Jon Kreese (Martin Kove) taking back control over Cobra Kai Dojo, casting out Johnny and leaving him in a bad spot. Also, Johnny received a notification on Facebook that Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) had accepted his friend request….more on her later.

Johnny is still trying hard to make amends with Robby, but Robby wants nothing to do with him. The relationship between Miguel and Johnny continues to be central to developing his character and the overall plotline, especially as Johnny attempts to help Miguel with his recovery— Johnny’s rehab techniques are ridiculous and outlandish. Still, you have to suspend disbelief and go along with it for the sake of the story. There are some bizarre scenes, like when Johnny sets fire to Miguel’s feet to see if he feels anything or when he dangles an old porn magazine from the 80s over Miguel’s head so he can reach out and grab it.

We also get more of Bobby (Ron Thomas) in this season. Bobby’s expanded role in season 3 is great; he provides a bridge to the original Karate Kid film and to Johnny Lawrence.

Johnny’s relationship with Miguel’s mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), continues to grow this season. Carmen begins to sees that Johnny is a good man underneath it all. However, Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) returning to the Valley and to Johnny’s life throws him for a loop. He seems conflicted between Ali and Carmen — I think this whole love interest conflict stuff is critical for the growth and development of the Johnny Lawrence character and his road to redemption.

I’m happy to see Carmen given more screen time this season — I still believe that she might be connected to Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) or Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) from The Karate Kid III movie. She did say that Miguel’s father was “a very bad man.” And those two are both very bad dudes indeed.

JOHN KREESE:

Now back in charge of Cobra Kai Dojo, Kreese reverts to his original philosophies of the Karate Kid Movies with “Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy,”…. and the whole idea of the “Enemy” is out there type of stuff.

However, Kreese gets his moment in the sun here — he gets to be humanized a bit with flashbacks to his younger days. We get to see John Kreese’s origin story and his time in the Vietnam War. We learned that his mother was an alcoholic and committed suicide. We get to see where Kreese got his initial Karate training and philosophies and how those philosophies are rooted in his military experience. We get hints of a young Terry Silver as one of the members of his military team. The whole Vietnam flashback stuff is full of easter eggs and teasers for season 4… I think.

Also, Kreese is planting seeds of deception with Robby, turning him against both Daniel and Johnny. This plot twist is setting us up for something big on season 4.

ALI MILLS:

The return of Ali Mills is beyond crucial here…She brings both Johnny and Daniel together beautifully. She tells them hard truths, like telling them that they are both very much alike and that they have a hard time admitting it. It was pure magic watching Ali return to the Karate Kid extended universe.

MIYAGI-DO VS COBRA KAI:

The power of mentorship continues to be the central theme here. We see how the passing of wisdom and knowledge can have both negative and positive influences on all these young karate pupils’ lives.

Samantha (Mary Mouser) continues to grow and develop as a character. In season 3, she is dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions and personal conflicts. This Samantha character is a compelling one, and I feel like the Miyagi-Do legacy rests on her shoulders.

Eli/Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) has some dark scenes but seems conflicted throughout this whole season. His rivalry with his former best friend Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) is still going strong.

Tory (Peyton List) gets a lot more screen time, and we get a small but better glimpse of her background. I initially thought that she was connected in some way to Terry Silver or maybe even Mike Barnes (the villains from Karate Kid III). We got to hear Tory’s mom speak off-screen, but we never got a chance to actually see her or find out her name. There is a good chance that Tory might be related to Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) from The Next Karate Kid movie or Jessica Kennedy (Robyn Lively) from Karate Kid III. And now that we know a little more about Tory and her home life, I get the sense that she is in some way related to a character from Karate Kid III…. In any case, Tory is slowly becoming the primary and lone villain of the series.

Of course, there are some insane, hard-to-believe things going on in the plot, like the idea that in 2020-2021, we have rival karate Dojos running around fighting each other with no government or authority figures present….it is straight-up escapism at its best.

As I said earlier, Season 3 is a bit darker than the previous seasons. Most of the comedic parts are centered around Miguel’s rehab and Ali’s return.

All the characters continue to be massively compelling and appealing. Especially Johnny’s sentimentality and references to the 80s…. the 80s and 90s are near and dear to my heart, so I can directly relate to Johnny.

Cobra Kai is slowly becoming the Daniel LaRusso slash Johnny Lawrence buddy dramedy show. The chemistry between these two is terrific. I cannot get enough of them every time they share some screen time.

I get the sense that in season 4, they will take this whole concept of mentors and students to a higher level, especially with the potential return of Terry Silver and Mike Barnes.

This entire three seasons of Cobra Kai has provided a brilliant blueprint for how a successful revival of a series or franchise should be put together.

Beyond excited for season 4.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Cobra Kai (Season 3). Streaming on Netflix.