*MOVIE RECAP: 8-BIT CHRISTMAS

I’m a sucker for nostalgia-driven movies and TV shows, especially 70s, 80s, and 90s stuff. So this movie is right on my side of the street.  

8-Bit Christmas is based on a book of the same name by Kevin Jakubowski, who also wrote the screenplay. It follows a father, Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), telling his young daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), a story about his obsessive quest to get his hands on a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) during the 1988 Christmas season. 

The story is set around a working-class family in the suburbs of Chicago. Young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) tells his parents that he wants a Nintendo for Christmas. But, unfortunately, his parents feel that video games are bad for kids. As a result, young Jake, along with his group of misfit friends, has to develop a plan to convince his parents to buy him an NES or find a way to get one on his own.

Jake and his group of friends are a hilarious and diverse bunch. Most notably, Jeff, the liar (Max Malas) who makes up wild stories and cannot stop lying about anything and everything. In addition, little Conor Stump (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer, this young actor was remarkable in the HBO limited series The Plot Against America (2020), and he is great here again. 

The egotistical Timmy Keane (Chandler Dean) is hysterical as the richest kid in the neighborhood who owns the only NES in town. Timmy makes all the kids jump through insane hurdles while selecting only a handful of them for the privilege of playing Nintendo with him. Also, the school bully Jagorsk (Cyrus Arnold) is pretty notable.

As the town parents come together to push for the banning of video games in their community, the kids have to pool all of their resources together and figure out creative ways to get a Nintendo console for Christmas. And at the same time, setting themselves free from Timmy Keane’s tyrannical hold on the one and only Nintendo in town. 

The adults hold their own amongst the little scene stealers here. Steve Zahn (John Doyle) delivers a convincing and heartfelt performance. Jake’s mother, Kathy Doyle (June Diane Raphael), is solid, and her comedic timing is excellent. David Cross is brilliant as this shady but lovable dealer of black market goods. 

Yes, the premise is similar to A Christmas Story (1983), and it borrows some elements from other similar holiday movies. However, it still manages to feel fresh and original. All of the nostalgic throwbacks hit on the mark — Like the infamy of the NES Power Glove, the scarcity and popularity of Cabbage Patch dolls, and other 80s pop culture stuff. But, it all comes together nicely.

Personally, I related to this movie in many ways. First, it rang true to me because for a short time, I was the only kid in my neighborhood who owned an NES, and my friends would come over and play with me. But I wasn’t a little prick about it like Timmy Keane was. Second, Nintendo dominated the late 80s and early 90s — Games like Mega-Man, Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda, among many others, were the obsession of kids from my generation as well as mine. So all of that resonated with me.

8-Bit Christmas is a fun and charming holiday movie, one of the best in recent years, and it belongs amongst the classics. It’s a good throwback to the 80s in the spirit of the Goonies and Stranger Things. It hit home for me; it brought back many memories growing up. I will definitely be adding this movie to my favorite holiday movies list.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

8-Bit Christmas (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX

*MOVIE RECAP: DUNE — Part One

Embarrassingly enough, I went into this movie not having read the book. My knowledge of Frank Herbert’s Dune can be best summarized to a simple cliff notes overview of the story. And my other familiarity with the novel is that I used to sell hundreds of copies per year, back when I was a bookseller slash bookstore manager. It was a constant bestseller, so I always kept it in stock.

At the same time, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to this movie. Full disclaimer, a few weeks before the official cast of Dune was announced, I got the chance to meet and exchange words with Timothee Chalamet briefly — Oscar Isaac made the introduction. Yes, THAT Oscar Isaac.

All told, I have been dealing with Mr. Isaac for a while now through my day job. He is a normal and down-to-earth dude — extremely likable and personable. Unlike some of those entitled Hollywood types, acting pretentious and asking to be treated special…ahem, Jeremy Strong…. I had an awkward conversation with Jeremy Strong on the phone once. But that is another story for a different time.

Anyhow, meeting Timothee Chalamet was a pretty awesome experience, and even though it was a brief encounter, it was a pretty memorable encounter; He shook my hand and said, “Hi, it is cool to meet you”….It made my day, week, month, and so on… and I haven’t shut up about it ever since.

So yes, it was my own personal “Hollywood moment.” One of many unique Hollywood moments — meeting celebrities is one of the cool perks of working in New York City.

Ok, about the movie. 

So this movie is officially named DUNE: Part One — because it is based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune novel. And I assume that the next Dune movie will be based on the second half of the book — unless they decide to turn the entire first book into a trilogy, which I doubt.

I read in different pieces that Frank Herbert was heavily influenced by the 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence — which was the basis for the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean……One of my favorite films of all time.

In any case, the story of Dune takes place on a desert planet called Arrakis. The native people of this planet are called the Fremen — The Fremen are nomadic, Arab-looking tribes. They are ruled and oppressed by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) of the House Harkonnen; He is like a feudalistic planetary overlord of sorts.

The other power player here is the House of Atreides; Rule by Duke Leto Atreides (my boy, Oscar Isaac). Duke Leto’s young son Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), heir to House Atreides.

The Emperor and supreme ruler of the known universe assigns Duke Leto to replace House Harkonnen as overlords of Arrakis and all of the “spice” mining operations there. Spice is a precious asset; it is the equivalent to oil in terms of power for fuel — You need this Spice for interstellar travel.

And here is where the fuckery starts…

There is a conspiracy between the Emperor and House Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides from existence. So not long after arriving in Arrakis, there is a surprise attack by the combined forces of the Emperor and House Harkonnen to kill off House Atreides.

Young Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape, and the journey between boy and mother begin.

What pleasantly surprised me the most here was the solid screenwriting — primarily in how the knots and bolts of the story are explained to the audience. Mainly the opening scenes and the introduction of the Houses and the whole space mining concept, plus how the movie’s beginning gave us a quick background to the never-ending conflict between the ruling overlords and the Fremen. All of that was written and directed brilliantly, and it was very engaging.

Not having read the book, I was impressed with this adaptation because they did not try to force-feed the entire first book into one movie. Instead, they opted to split the books into parts and thus remain faithful to the source material. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like it was dumb down for the audience like some other adaptations out there.

Brilliant screenwriting work from Denis Villeneuve and his writing partners, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passenger) and Eric Roth (Munich, The Good Shepherd, Forrest Gump, and The Insider).

Dune, the novel, is a complex and spectacular story that many consider unfilmable. But director Denis Villeneuve has created an exceptional experience here, adding a visual depth and dimension that I’m sure the book does not have — Villeneuve’s filmography is extraordinary with films like Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Arrival (2016), among others. So I’m not surprised by this achievement.

The scope and scale of this movie are epic and breathtaking. The combination of location shooting and special effects is outstanding. Bringing this world to life both digitally and physically is remarkable. The natural environment and the power of the desert felt real, which is something CGI or green screens cannot truly capture.

The atmospheric elements and the middle eastern imagery are well done. There is also a sense of spirituality and mysticism slowly being developed, which I’m sure will be further explored in upcoming films. On top of all that, Hans Zimmer’s score is superb.

The performances are excellent. Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, and David Dastmalchia are all fantastic. There is an air of Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now to Stellan Skarsgard’s character — No CGI, only prosthetics for Skarsgard — pretty cool.

Additionally, Rebecca Ferguson is noteworthy here; Lady Jessica is at the epicenter of the story, and Ferguson conveys such a powerful presence in every scene that she is in.

But objectively, Timothee Chalamet is the heart and soul here; he is perfect for this role. At first, he seems flat, stoic, and almost emotionless. But as the story evolves, you see him maturing and embracing his messianic destiny. There is a sense of vulnerability from Chalamet’s performance that merits praise.

And sure, this is another white savior story; however, it gets a pass from me, mainly because the source material is over 55 years old. My other issue is that they did not make time early enough in the story to explain to the audience about the whole aspect of sword-fighting with shields and how those personal shield devices can protect you. I hope there will be a director’s cut available at some point addressing some of the technology, like the whole thing with the lack of computers and Artificial Intelligence in this world.

Lastly, I find it interesting how they went out of their way to exaggerate Zendaya’s contribution here. The advertising was misleading — she was all over the promotion materials, hyping up her performance. Yet, she was in the movie for roughly 10 minutes, but it is evident that she will play a significant role in the second part.

All in all, Dune: Part One is a major cinematic achievement. Here is an adaptation that Hollywood got right, and I have not been this excited about a sci/fi slash fantasy series since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy back in the early 2000s.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DUNE: Part One (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK

Mob movies will always capture my attention, especially over the top, cartoonish, bumbling New Jersey mafia guys like the characters from The Sopranos. 

Many Saints means Moltisanti in Italian, which pretty much tells you that this movie is really all about Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and indirectly about a young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini).

Nonetheless, we still get to see a younger version of Anthony Soprano growing up in Newark, New Jersey, idolizing his uncle Dickie and becoming a man. As we slowly see young Tony picking up some street smarts — I found similar Michael Corleone overtones here, where both characters don’t want anything to do with their family businesses at first.

The casting is impressive across the board. It was fun recognizing the younger characters, and while some of the actors are obviously doing straight-up impressions, they all did an excellent job.

Vera Farmiga captures Livia Soprano brilliantly. Finally, we get to briefly see some of the early toxic relationship dynamics between Livia and Tony from the first season of the Sopranos. Further exploring the relationship between Livia and Tony in the next movie will be crucial — of course, if there is a sequel to this prequel — there should definitely be another movie.

Corey Stoll is outstanding here — he nails all of the Maneurismns from Junior Soprano. We get to see how petty and insecure Junior can be even as a younger man. And how Junior schemes and manipulates his way into more positions of power.

Ray Liotta delivers a convincing performance playing dual roles as twin brothers “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti. Liotta makes both parts stand out; Hollywood Moltisanti is mean and abusive towards the women in his life. In contrast, twin brother Sally Moltisanti is more philosophical and reflective. Ray Liotta is mobster movie royalty, so having him involved in this movie gives it a sense of gangster movie legitimacy.

The power structure of the DiMeo crime family is not fully explained or broken down like I wanted to, but we still get to see early versions of Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), Pussy Bonpensiero (Samson Moeakiola), and Silvio Dante (John Magaro). The backstory of Silvio’s hair and eventual toupee is hilarious.

I wanted to see more of Tony’s father, Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal); he was relegated to more of a background character here. Hopefully, the next film will feature Johnny Soprano in a more prominent role.

Plus, we have a pre-teen and a teenage version of young Artie Bucco. Also, teenage versions of Carmela Soprano (Lauren Di Mario) and Jackie Aprile (Chase Vacnin), all of these three characters, provide some memorable scenes. The teenage version of Janice Soprano (Alexandra Intrator) stands out as a fascinating character to explore further as the Soprano extended universe moves along in other movies or TV projects.

However, the performance by Alessandro Nivola is exceptional — I think that this is an Academy Award-worthy performance. Dickie Moltisanti was always a present memory throughout the series, and Nivola’s performance cements Dickie’s importance and legacy in the general scope of all things Sopranos.

Dickie is a highly conflicted man, wrestling with inner demons, extremely menacing and out of control, while at the same time trying to do the right thing for the people in his life. Alexandro Nivola brings this character to life beautifully.

The women in Dickie’s life are remarkable; His wife, Joanne Moltisanti (Gabriella Piazza), his mistress, Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi), and even Livia Soprano — all of them assert a particular type of influence on Dickie.

On top of all that, we have a racial component that serves as the backdrop of the whole story. Harold (Leslie Odom Jr) runs numbers, collects money, and works as a street enforcer for Dickie. Through Harold’s eye, we begin to see the cultural and social changes starting to take place in New Jersey and the brewing racial tensions between the established communities living in Newark. Additionally, the 1967 Newark riots are a crucial plotline here, which is a pretty remarkable thing, considering that I cannot recall this historical event ever featured anywhere in cinematic history.

Anyhow, there is plenty of things to dissect here. There is lots of fan service with plenty of references to the TV series sprinkled throughout the movie, so you have to pay close attention — It is a lot more enjoyable if you are familiar with the show.

The voiceover of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) at the start of the movie was cool. I know it is weird because he is dead, but don’t think about it too much or try to make sense of it — let it take you along for the ride. After all, there were many esoteric and supernatural themes throughout the series. So the movie opening this way and being narrated by Christopher throughout parts of the movie is right on brand.

Oh, and there is this brilliant scene of baby Christopher’s reaction to meeting his young uncle Tony for the first time.

Anyway, liking or not liking a movie is a concept pretty hard for me to put together in simple terms of like or dislike. So my measuring stick has always been based on whether a movie or TV series is engaging or not engaging. And whether it is memorable or unmemorable.

The Many Saints of Newark meets all those requirements; it is a fascinating and pretty memorable movie. In essence, it is a fascinating story as it relates to the Sopranos TV series.

So, yes, this Soprano story holds up as a standalone movie. It feels like an origins story; it is a film aimed at fans of the series, as it spends time setting up, putting pieces in place for things to make sense, primarily for fans of the show. It does not taint the legacy of the show, but it actually manages to extend specific themes and storylines from the series

This movie serves as the perfect setup for more Soprano movies and content, especially the impending rise of Tony Soprano within the DiMeo crime family. And the inevitable confrontation between Harold and Tony.

For one, there is tons of space between the end of this movie and the first episode of the Sopranos TV series, which is why David Chase should continue to make more prequels and more Sopranos-driven content.

In any case, I didn’t realize how deep and invested I got into this movie, that when the opening theme song from the series started playing, I was like, fuck, they got me!

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Many Saints of Newark (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (SNYDER CUT)

There is this unique pleasure for movie nerds like myself to watch a director’s cut of a movie — you know, watching a movie as originally intended to be seen.

My measuring stick determining how good a movie or a TV show is — has always been based on how memorable or unmemorable the movie or show ends up being.

Having said that, by my own personal metric, the theatrical cut of Justice League directed by Josh Whedon, or also known as the Whedon cut, was not a memorable movie. It was way over the top, cheesy, and unfocused in terms of storytelling, with plot holes all over the place. Nevertheless, the Whedon cut wasn’t as awful as most fans have expressed; it was actually pretty watchable and, at times, somewhat entertaining, but it was far from what it was expected from this ensemble cast of superheroes. It was very forgettable, to say the least.

I blame the studio for this meh version of the Justice League. First, they jumped the gun and rushed to make their own version of an Avengers type of movie. And, unfortunately, it was way too soon — Because they were still introducing and developing movies featuring the characters that make up the core team of the Justice League members.

Everybody reading this blog probably knows by now that Zack Snyder had to drop out of Justice League in the middle of the shooting of this movie due to a family tragedy. Josh Whedon stepped in, and the rest of the story lives on perpetually in motion picture infamy.

The controversy between the two versions of this movie prompted an online campaign to release the director’s cut, or the Snyder cut as it is now officially known.

There are people out there who are disgusted by the fandom for pushing Warner bros. hard to release the Snyder Cut. Calling these hardcore fans toxic and such. However, I don’t see it this way; Fans should absolutely have a say in how things are being presented and sold to them. We, the fans, spend our money on movies, toys, merchandise, and all kinds of media entertainment products. Mediocrity will not be easily accepted anymore. This is a lesson for movie studios to pay close attention and to learn from all the outrage this Whedon Cut created.

This version is 4 hours long; I watched the whole thing in 2 seatings — and I was very much engaged in it throughout the 4 hours. It is more than a Director’s cut; it is an entirely different movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut. I think this version could’ve worked in theaters as a two-part movie, just like the Avengers two-parts Infinity war and Endgame movies.

Although my comic book knowledge of the DC Extended Universe is far from being encyclopedic, this movie is the best and the closest thing you will ever get to a superhero comic book slash graphic novel on film. Sin City (2005), 300 (2006), and Watchmen (2009) are my favorite graphic novels adapted into films. Coincidentally, Zack Snyder directed both 300 and Watchmen. I have some issues with 300, but for the most part, I thought Watchmen was actually a pretty damn good adaptation (except for changing the ending from the graphic novel).

This Snyder Cut has epic vibes to it — the CGI looks clean and pretty. It is beautifully shot, a gorgeous movie to watch. And, it is darker, grittier than anything Marvel has released. Dark superhero stories are what I like to see.

Here are the main differences from the theatrical version:

Aquaman is way more involved in the story, and his character has Godlike vibes here, similar to the way Thor was presented in the Marvel universe.

The cyborg plotline here is another vast improvement from the Whedon Cut. Unlike the theatrical version, Cyborg here is an integral part of this movie. We got to see how Cyborg is a God amongst men in terms of his powers and how those powers are unique within the modern technological world.

The Flash is more compelling here and funnier. But I still don’t know much about him and his powers. So I’m looking forward to The Flash stand-alone movie.

Superman kicked ass. I loved seeing this version of angry, pissed-off Superman — and the black suit made things even more extraordinary.

Wonder Woman is also better here than in the theatrical cut; she is presented as an old God in terms of her level of strength and power. But there is zero continuity with the events of Wonder Woman 84. I have no clue how they are planning to make WW84 fit into the larger scope of things.

We get a much better version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. This is the version of Batman the fandom wanted to see or close enough to it. The nightmare scene between Batman and the Joker was incredible. — it teased us on what happened with Robin (it seems like Joker killed Robin). This version of Jared Leto’s Joker was impressive.

We finally get to see Darkseid and how powerful, menacing, and evil he really is. The fighting sequence between the old heroes and gods against Darkseid was terrific. Watching Zeus, Artemis, Ares, King Arthur, and even a Green Lantern in battle was fucking awesome.

The whole premise of the Mother Boxes was better presented. There was also more depth to Steppenwolf. Introducing Granny Goodness on film was an outstanding idea. Let’s remember that both Darkseid and Granny Goodness were original Jack Kirby creations.

The Snyder Cut was an excellent movie-watching experience. I was fine the 4 hours; it didn’t feel like it dragged too long. I think the 4 hours were just about right to move the story forward for the sake of storytelling and character development. This type of long format should be the standard from now on — Maybe even breaking them down in parts might be the way to go. It just feels like it is meant to be consumed that way.

Zack Snyder has pulled off something awe-inspiring here. As movie and superhero fans, we are fortunate to have seen a 4 hour never before seen version of all these unique comic book characters. The next online fan campaign should be for Warner to restore the Snyder verse.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA

The basic premise of The Plot Against America is to reimagine what would’ve happened if Charles Lindbergh and not FDR had won the 1940 US presidential election. It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth. The story is told through the eyes of the Levins family; A Jewish working-class family living in 1940s Newark, New Jersey.

The background of the story is that Charles Lindbergh (Ben Cole) is campaigning hard all over the country, where anxious crowds are waiting to hear him speak. Lindbergh flies a plane down to his campaign rally appearances while selling an isolationist agenda to the American public, and he is also opposed to joining the war effort against Nazi Germany; Lindbergh even has a campaign slogan consisting of repeating the same phrase over and over again at every single rally: “The choice is simple. It is not between Charles Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is between Charles Lindbergh and war.”

This show draws you in slowly; it takes the first two episodes to get a tangible sense of the characters and where the story is going. The tension grows in every episode; the plot moves slowly, but it works well. The world these characters inhabit feels authentic. And the clear depiction of this working-class neighborhood made up of mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants in 1940s Newark, New Jersey, was well crafted.

You get to know this Jewish family well; you get a good sense of this family and their suburban life. There are slow warnings of potential danger to their community through news reports on the radio and newsreels. The depiction of the slow and steady rise of fascism and the terror that it causes within the Jewish community is remarkable. All those things are put together brilliantly.

We get a closer look at the story through the eyes of young Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson), as he comes to terms with the reality of things. The audience also begins to come to terms with the high stakes at play alongside young Philip. We have to lean in and pay attention to each scene closely.

It is impossible not to avoid the obvious comparison between this show’s premise and the rise of Donald Trump. The idea that a celebrity with no political experience becomes a politician and turns out to be a populist and a right-wing nut job — appealing mostly to the lowest common denominator of voters is eerily similar — once elected, this right-wing hack turns the whole country into a fascist regime and The United States’ decline is set into motion.

It is chilling to see how Lindbergh uses a populist agenda and turns to members of the Jewish community to do his bidding. We have Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), an influential leader in the Jewish community, who becomes a strong supporter of Lindbergh, normalizing many of Lindbergh’s rhetoric and, in a sense becoming the “token” Jew of the campaign.

I cannot help but see similar and modern parallels within many leaders and influential Hispanic community members who supported and continue to support Trump and his right-wing anti-immigrant agenda.

The performances are excellent. Morgan Spector (Herman Levin) and Zoe Kazan (Bess Levin) are fantastic. Both characters sense the danger of Lindbergh’s rhetoric but cope and approach the imminent threat to their community differently. Winona Ryder (Evelyn Finkel) is outstanding as this naive and over-trusting follower of Rabbi Bengelsdorf. The kid that plays Seldon (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer.

Kudos to David Simon for this remarkable and thought-provoking adaptation. I must confess that I have never seen The Wire; I’ll get around to it eventually. However, I’m a massive fan of The Deuce, which is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the last 20 years. Both of those shows were David Simon creations.

At its core, The Plot Against America is speculative and alternative history. Notwithstanding, it is also a clear warning of a dystopian horror that might await us in the not-so-distant future if we allow populist, isolationists, and xenophobic demagogues to rise into political positions of power.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2020). Streaming now on HBO

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Happy to say, I was surprisingly captivated and highly entertained with this TV Series. The Flight Attendant is based on a 2018 novel of the same name by bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian. This adaptation is a frenetic dark comedy — a murder mystery that pushes the pace from beginning to end.

Our flight attendant slash heroine Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to a dead body and with no memory of what happened the night before. The dead body belongs to Alex (Michiel Huisman), a passenger on Cassie’s Bangkok flight with whom Cassie goes out on a wild night of partying and drinking.

After waking up next to her dead date, Cassie frantically runs out of the hotel to avoid the Thai authorities and rushes to rejoin her flight crew back to New York — Within a few hours of hotel staff discovering Alex’s dead body, the FBI gets involved in this international homicide investigation.

Upon the flight’s arrival in the US, the flight attendant crew is interviewed by FBI agents, at which point Cassie becomes their main suspect.

The frenetic pace of the show picks up immediately after Cassie returns to NYC. She goes on this quest to piece together the mystery surrounding Alex’s murder. She learns about Alex’s shady business dealings and dangerous partners. However, this show’s most notable and unique thing is how Alex keeps showing up in ghost-like visions throughout the plot’s critical moments. He seems to be embedded in Cassie’s conscience, where some of the most engaging and emotional scenes between Cassie and Alex take place.

Cassie is this out of control, functioning alcoholic, but in a fun and entertaining way. Kaley Cuoco is excellent here; Her comedic timing is flawless — her body language, facial gestures, and delivery come naturally. No doubt all those years in hit sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory has paid dividends. Her alcoholism and self-destructive behavior are crucial to the plot, and Cuoco rises to the dramatic occasion. In lesser hands, this character would have been annoying and not as likable.

The entire casting is solid, but the most notable performances come from the three supporting female stars; Cassie’s brutally sarcastic best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), a power attorney representing underworld types. Zosia Mamet is superb here, and her presence on screen is intense. Megan (Rosie Perez) is fantastic as Cassie’s flight crew supervisor. Megan is involved in a sub-plot of international corporate espionage, selling her husband’s company secrets to agents of the North Korean government. Also, the Mysterious femme fatale assassin Miranda (Michelle Gomez) is outstanding.

The plot and dialogue are all well put together, some things feel a bit preposterous, but it ends up working well. All in all, The Flight Attendant is an incredibly charming, fun show to watch. It is high-quality escapism and it is suspenseful enough to keep you invested in every single episode. I am looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Flight Attendant, (2020). Streaming now on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: PERRY MASON (Season 1)

This is not the Perry Mason show most people remember. It is essentially an origins story, where Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is not a 1950s trial lawyer yet; he is a private investigator working for a defense attorney investigating the kidnapping of a baby that went horribly wrong.

Set in 1932 around the great depression era of Los Angeles — beautifully shot in a gritty noir style, with an obvious high level of quality all around the production; the cinematography, the lights, the sets, the costumes — It is all very well put together. There is this intense and dark atmosphere to the show —plus, all the gruesome scenes and all the police corruption of the LAPD are crucial components of the series.

There is this cool Sam Spade vibe to this early version of Perry Mason. Our protagonist is inhabiting a dangerous and sleazy world while remaining morally ambiguous. He wears a fedora, dresses in black, looks rough, gets into brawls. He is down and out, living in what little remains of his family’s old farm. He buys clothing and personal things from the mortuary out of recently deceased bodies. He fights the good fight but rarely wins; in a way, the system always has the last laugh at his expense.

Matthew Rhys delivers a captivating performance. He portrays Perry Mason as this gloomy, haunted, tormented, full of pain, broken down character. Completely opposite of how I remember the Raymond Burr version of Perry Mason.

The casting is terrific. Especially the Paul Drake character who was Mason’s investigator in the original series and books. He was initially envisioned as a white character; however, In HBO’s reboot, Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is an African-American LAPD beat cop with a compelling backstory. Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange) was Mason’s nemesis in the book series and showed up on the TV show a few times. It seems like Holcomb is about to become a more prominent character in the upcoming seasons. Shea Whigham shows up as Pete Strickland, Mason’s detective partner — Whigham was outstanding in Boardwalk Empire, and he is outstanding here as well.

Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) is a charismatic 1930s radio evangelical preacher. There is an air of cultish, Scientology vibe to this character and of her entire congregation. Della Street (Juliet Rylance) is Mason’s legal assistant in the TV show and the book series. She is a highly competitive law clerk but cannot practice independently due to all the gender biases of the 50s. Lupe (Veronica Falcon) steals every scene she is in; her character seemed to be the only one to have a deep connection and understanding of Perry’s trauma and suffering. The performances by the entire all-star ensemble cast is excellent.

The show feels somewhat slow at first and a bit drawn out, but I did not mind it much. Things get going after the first few episodes, and then it gets into a solid rhythm. How the storyline came together at the end was well done; it was refreshing, and it came with some unexpected twists.

It is safe to say that the original Perry Mason show of the 1950s basically established the television courtroom drama. However, HBO’s Perry Mason is not your typical courtroom drama; it is an ambitious reimagining of this iconic TV character. His re-introduction to new audiences is different from anything else currently on TV.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

PERRY MASON (Season 1, 2020). Streaming on HBO

*MOVIE RECAP: MORTAL KOMBAT

It is hard to believe that it has been 28 years since the first time I played Mortal Kombat, the arcade game at an actual Arcade Center — Man, where the hell have the years gone?

I can still clearly remember how my friends and I would religiously meet up after school at my local neighborhood arcade center for a chance to play this groundbreaking video game. The ridiculous violence of the game was incredible; the blood, the gore — the fatalities. There was nothing quite like this game before 1993, and video game-playing kids from my generation were utterly mesmerized, to say the least. I loved playing Mortal kombat at the Arcade, I wasn’t good at it as my friends, but I still loved playing it.

Hollywood has never been good at adapting video games into movies. The first film adaptation of this game, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), was cheesy as fuck and almost unwatchable. The video game adaptation of the other 90s sensational fighting Arcade game, Street Fighter (1994), was also a god-awful mess of a movie. Another clear example was the adaptation of Super Mario Bros (1993). The 90s were pretty rough for video game adaptations.

Notwithstanding, I came to this 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot completely open-minded. Still, my expectations were pretty low. 

Mortal Kombat 2021 is not all bad; many things worked well for me, and a few things did not. The opening scene slash fight sequence between Sub-Zero and Hanzo is terrific. I assume that this movie is supposed to be an origins story based on the original characters from the Arcade game, while at the same time adding new characters to the franchise like Cole Young (Lewis Tan).

The premise is pretty absurd and unclear. The main plotline here is that Earth’s greatest champions made up of mercenaries, martial artists, and super-powered fighters, have to fight Earthrealm’s supernatural enemies from the Outer world realm. The tournament rules are never clear, and the actual tournament never really takes place — the whole thing seems confusing.

There is this mysterious Dragon marking on the bodies of random people who are chosen to represent Earth against the supernatural warriors of the netherworld. If they have this Dragon mark on their body, they have to be recruited and trained to fight for Earth.

And while in their training sessions, these chosen warriors are supposed to unlock their unique superpowers and abilities. This Dragon marking concept is a new thing; this idea did not come from the video game.

The movie is a lot more enjoyable if you are already familiar with the characters. The casting is pretty solid, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Shang Tsung (Chin Han) are all excellent.

All the original characters from the game are back except for Johnny Cage. Spoiler alert! A poster with Johnny Cage’s name shows up at the end of the movie. I assume he will be in the Sequel; if there is a sequel — there should be a sequel.

Sub-zero (Joe Taslim) was fantastic, and so was Hanzo Hasashi/ Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada); their fight scenes are awesome. The video game references like Scorpio’s “Get Over Here” phrase is fan service at its best. It is never really explained why Hanzo choose the new name slash new persona of Scorpio. This should be addressed in the next movie.

Also, the killing of crucial characters was weird and felt somewhat convoluted in terms of those characters possibly returning from the dead in future films. The killing of rogue mercenary Kano was unexpected — He lit up the screen in every scene he was in. And although Kano seemed to be used primarily for comic relief, his character was one of the highlights of this movie.

The same thing goes for the characters of Mileena and Liu Kang, they are fan favorites, and they felt wasted here. There was way too much time spent on the new character Cole Young. He was an uninspiring and underdeveloped character — Cole was by far the most uninteresting character here.

We still don’t know what set of rules we are dealing with, or if there are any, and how those rules can determine the return from the dead of the characters already killed off. Hanzo came back from the dead, so I have to assume other warriors will follow.

This movie packs lots of things and storylines — those things feel forced and awkward at times. This reboot was supposed to be the launching point for a new franchise and series of movies. However, the nostalgic connection to these characters worked best for me; if it weren’t for the fond memories surrounding this game, I probably would not have enjoyed this reboot as much as I did.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Mortal Kombat (2021.

*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

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