*TV SERIES RECAP: THE KOMINSKY METHOD (Season 3)

After binging the first two seasons during the early days of the pandemic slash lockdown, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how charming and funny this series was. So I was anxiously looking forward to this third and final season.

Sadly, Alan Arkin (Norman) decided to abruptly retire from acting, throwing a major monkey wrench to this series. As a result, Chuck Lorre and his writing team had no choice but to kill off Norman — that was a bummer. The chemistry between Norman and Sandy (Michael Douglas) made things unique and special in the first 2 seasons. 

So at the start of season 3 we find out that Norman is now dead, and the grieving premise from the first 2 seasons is again one of the main themes here. We also find out that Norman left Sandy as the executor of his state, leaving Norman’s daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) and her son Robby (Haley Joel Osment) dependent on Sandy to have access to their inheritance. Plus, Phoebe and her son Robby keep coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes to get their hands on Norman’s money. 

Additionally, Norman left sandy’s daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) a big chunk of cash in his will — but Sandy doesn’t want Mindy’s boyfriend Martin (Paul Reiser) to know about it. Sandy is concerned that Martin will exploit Mindy’s inheritance. At the same time, the age difference between Mindy and Martin becomes a significant component of the plot. Sarah Baker’s performance continues to be a bright spot here. Also, Estelle (Christine Ebersole) Martin’s mom shows up, creating tension in Mindy and Martin’s relationship. Estelle is awful, mean, and nasty — she is a monster. 

Notwithstanding all the grief, loss, and stress surrounding Sandy’s life, he is also undergoing a late-career resurgence and gets the role of a lifetime. On top of all that, his ex-wife Dr. Roz (Kathleen Turner), returns home to be reunited with her daughter Mindy. I really liked how Dr. Roz got a more prominent role in this 3rd season. In addition, I was beyond happy to see how the chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner is still magic. It was like watching a Romancing the Stone (1984) and The Jewel of the Nile (1985) reunion between Douglas and Turner. Another highlight for me was Morgan Freeman hilariously playing himself.                                                                                   

At its core, this season continues to tackle the same themes from the first two seasons. It deals head-on with real human issues like the fragility of aging, mortality, and grief — all of those things come together beautifully along with the comedic premise of the show. 

The first 2 seasons got lots of Emmy nominations, and it received high critical acclaim. But this third season did not receive as much appreciation as the first two. For one, the absence of Alan Arkin made a difference — I missed the back and forth banter between Sandy and Norman; It was a crucial component of the unique “dramedy” basis of the series. However, Chuch Lorre and his writing team did find a way to wrap things up and bring the story to a close.

All in all, season 3 suffers from not having Norman back, but the series, as a whole, is pretty enjoyable and worth binging straight through.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE KOMINSKY METHOD Season 3 (Streaming on Netflix).

*MOVIE RECAP: DON’T LOOK UP

I’m surprised how divided most people are about this movie; some people appreciate the climate change metaphor, and others flat out hate it. The reviews have been all over the place. I sense political sensitivities are driving most of the negative feedback.

Anyhow, the story centers around the discovery of a comet by a tenure university professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a Ph.D. candidate, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). According to their calculations, this comet’s trajectory is in a direct collision course with Earth. And its impact will potentially be more significant than the comet that wiped out the Dinosaurs. As a result, human life on Earth will probably cease to exist — which means they have to urgently bring this information to the US government and the White House.

At the White House, the president of the U.S., Jane Orlean (Meryl Streep), doesn’t really take this information seriously and dismisses it as a political distraction from the upcoming elections. It is important to note that Meryl Streep’s POTUS is a right-wing nationalist modeled after Trump. So these two scientists have no choice but to take this information to the media.

From this point on, it is all-out chaos as our main characters frantically try to convince the world of the severity of this extinction-level event. While the media, the press, and the government don’t seem too concerned about the gravity of the situation. At the same time, most of society seems more interested in the love life of two celebrities. And even Leo’s character falls for celebrity culture and becomes a celebrity scientist, corrupted by fame. 

Eventually, POTUS uses this potential life-ending catastrophe as a political tool to attack the left. She weaponizes the phrase Don’t Look Up as a catchphrase for her right-wing supporters, similar to how Trump weaponized the MAGA phrase. With this performance, Meryl Streep channels most of the current prop of right-wing politicians; her character comes across as somewhat cartoonish, but it rings hilariously and scarily true in many aspects. 

The entire ensemble cast is impressive but somewhat underutilized. Nevertheless, there were some standouts like Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill); this character is pretty notable as the inept son and Chief of Staff to the President — His scenes are hysterical. The Air Force General (Paul Guilfoyle) charging people for free snacks at the White House was genius.

The character of Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) is fascinating as this weird and anti-social tech billionaire. He is a heavy political donor who controls POTUS and sets up the agenda for the White House. This character represents all of the outside corporate interests dictating domestic and foreign policy in the US government. It is beyond obvious that this character is a mashup of a bunch of billionaires like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

However, one of the most complex characters in this movie is Yule (Timothy Chalamet); this character provides the spiritual component needed for the overall viewpoint of this storyline. Yule comes across as the spiritual consciousness of this movie. Also, the ending of the film and the credit scenes were definitely my favorite parts of this movie.

Don’t Look Up is a well-intended sci/fi dramedy— A parable for climate change and the cynical, irresponsible approach by those with the tools and power to bring about change. And by using a planet-killing meteor as a metaphor for climate change, this movie directly critiques modern society, social media culture, bureaucracy, and politics. When considering the current political climate where everything is politicized, Adam McKay is one of the few filmmakers out there bold enough to address essential and profound real-world issues by using farce and satire.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

DON’T LOOK UP, 2021. (Streaming on Netflix)

*TV SERIES RECAP: RATCHED (Season 1)

I genuinely appreciate the type of shows Ryan Murphy puts together. He is at the forefront of a powerful movement happening right now in the creative fields of show business. I see him as a crucial part of this new creative force that seems fully committed to reinventing Hollywood as an industry—and reinventing how entertainment is being produced and presented to the world.

Ratchet is an origin story, told in a Ryan Murphy way, adding a modern sensibility to a period piece, along the same lines as Murphy’s Hollywood Netflix series. It is a highly stylized TV show with extensive uses of colors and fantastic location shots. It is a very visual show, with excellent production quality, set designs, costumes, and cinematography. There are many Hitchcock and David Lynch influences in it — Simply put, it is visually a beautiful show to watch.

The character of Nurse Mildred Ratchet (Sara Paulson) was Introduced to audiences in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. This nurse Ratched character was originally played by Louise Fletcher, a performance for which she won an Academy Award for best actress. Interestingly enough, I heard Louise Fletcher was never approached regarding the revival of her character.

Nurse Ratchet is portrayed as a mysterious and psychologically damaged person trying to save her adopted brother Edmund (Finn Wittrock) from execution after murdering a bunch of priests. She manipulates her way into a mental facility where Edmund is being held to determine his mental capacity. Once inside the hospital, nurse Ratched will devise a plan to free her stepbrother.

The mental facility is run by Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones), an eccentric doctor who believes in unconventional mental rehabilitation methods. For example, he believes lesbianism is a mental disorder and can be cured by extreme methods like putting women in a boiling hot bath, followed by a freezing cold bath. He also puts patients under lobotomy procedures to cure them of whatever he perceives to be mental disorders.

There are many compelling and redeeming qualities to nurse Ratched, more so than in the 1975 film. I started viewing her as this monster in the making, and as I finished binge-watching the show, I unexpectantly began rooting for her. We explore things from her past that allow us to become more empathetic to her. We see how sexual abuse and mental illness can be linked together. The character Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon) comes off as the most believable real-life character here; Gwendolyn allows nurse Ratched to appear a lot more relatable and human.

The supporting cast is incredible. Nurse Bucket (Judy Davis) delivers a magnetic performance. Lenore (Sharon Stone) is great as this bizarre, super-rich diva, hell-bent on revenge on Dr. Hanover. Corey Stoll plays a 1940s Humprey Bogart type of private detective, hired by Lenore to hunt down Dr. Hanover. Amanda Plummer is a scene-stealer as this weird and possibly deranged motel receptionist. Nurse Dolly (Alice Englert) delivers a seductive and captivating performance.

As I finished binge-watching this first 8 episode season, I realized that Paulson is exploring something psychologically profound with this role. It seems to me that she is approaching this character in a unique and sophisticated way.

All in all, Ratchet is an extravagant, outrageous, and at times ridiculously insane show to watch, but it is incredibly entertaining, and I could not get enough of it. I’m looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

RATCHED (2020). Streaming on NETFLIX.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

You don’t have to care, like, or even understand chess to be fascinated by it and to admire those who have mastered it. There are only two chess-related movies that I have thoroughly enjoyed: Pawn Sacrifice (2014) and Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993). They are both based on real-life characters.

There is also an excellent book that I love; The Eight (1988), a beautifully written novel by Katherine Neville, about the quest to track down a chess-set that belonged to King Charlemagne — it remains one of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction.

And it is safe to say that I can now include The Queen’s Gambit as a new personal all-time favorite when it comes to chess-related works of historical fiction.

The Queen’s Gambit is based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name. I have never read any of his books, but I’ve been searching for a mass market paperback copy of The Steps of the Sun by Walter Tevis for a while now. Original editions of Tevis’s books have become very popular and expensive as of late — even used and somewhat worn down paperback copies are selling at higher prices than average. But I’m not complaining; I’m glad they are in high demand — Still, I’m planning to hold off until prices come down a bit.

This Netflix 7 episode series is about a Kentucky orphan on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. We follow Beth (Anya Taylor-joy) from the moment her mother kills herself by driving straight into oncoming traffic with young Beth in the backseat. She is placed in an all-girls 1950s orphanage where the children are given a daily diet of tranquilizers until Beth develops a pill addiction, which she carries into adulthood.

She meets the school janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her chess and becomes an early mentor and father figure. Bill Camp is always great in everything he does, and he is great here also. Beth Eventually gets adopted by a childless couple, and her journey into chess competitions begins soon after.

There is an extremely high level of quality to the production of this show. The set designs, costumes are all well put together. The chess competitions and chess matches are smartly portrayed. The tension is palpable in just about every chess match. The speed-chess scenes were remarkable. There is engaging and precise world-building that will make you want to become part of the world that these characters inhabit. However, this show is much more than only chess competitions and the mental stress of chess. It is about addiction, childhood trauma, feminism, and communism. Plus, it tackles mental health issues and the thin line between genius and madness.

The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother, Alma (Marielle Heller), is crucial to the plot. Alma’s self-discovery journey late in life after her husband leaves her is parallel to Beth’s journey. Marielle Heller is outstanding here playing this functioning alcoholic, coping with 1950s housewife life, while at the same time abusing alcohol and cigarettes.

The casting of all the supporting characters is on point here. The young Russian chess prodigy is a scene-stealer played by Louis George Ashbourne Serkis (Andy Serkis’ son). Young Beth (Isla Johnston) is just about identical to older Beth — easily could be the same person. Jolene (Moses Ingram) is solid as a fellow orphan and Beth’s closest friend. The two chess-head brothers who travel from tournament to tournament are hilarious. Even all of the cold war era Russian chess champions that Beth plays against are well cast.

Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) is praiseworthy as Beth’s first tough tournament competitor and eventual friend/lover. Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is exceptional as this weird and eccentric US chess champion; he competes against Beth and later befriends her. Her platonic relationship with former chess competitor turned photojournalist Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is another critical component of Beth’s personality and psychology. There is plenty of symbolism in the type of relationships she has with all the men in her life.

Anya Taylor-Joy is unbelievably good here, in a captivating and soulful performance. This is a complex character with deep psychological issues. Beth has an amazing mind, but alcohol and pills fuel her strategic vision for chess. Her psychological dependence on pills and alcohol are an intricate part of her process of finding focus and finding clarity when envisioning chess techniques and strategies. But at the same time, they are also threatening to become her undoing. Beth can be sweet, charming, and messed up all at once, and Anya Taylor-Joy captures all the complexities of this character beautifully.

The Queen’s Gambit gets better and better with every single episode. The writing, acting, and directing are brilliantly brought together. I felt like it could have been two episodes longer. Nevertheless, Netflix has once again delivered another excellent limited series.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Queen’s Gambit (2020). Streaming on Netflix.

*MOVIE RECAP: DOLEMITE

This is one of those movies that always seem to end up getting buried in algorithm purgatory. If you missed it when it was initially released, you have to search for it on Netflix’s endless catalog of original content. If it were a non-streaming release, it would probably be in constant rotation on cable TV.

Dolemite was a character created by standup performer Rudy Ray Moore back in the mid-70s. He performed as this Dolemite character during his standup routines, becoming a popular underground comedy act, and he eventually made comedy records as this character. All of those Dolemite LPs became bestselling comedy albums, reaching the bestselling charts.

Dolemite has been cited as a source of influence for many hip-hop artists that came out of the 80’s and 90s rap scene (Snoop Dog has credited Dolemite as his most significant influence).

During the blaxploitation era, Rudy Ray Moore made and acted in a bunch of blaxploitation films. However, his Dolemite character became his most iconic role.

Eddie Murphy is superb here playing Moore. He brilliantly captures the essence of this middle-aged performer who is still figuring things out as an artist and will not stop chasing his dream of being a star at this late stage of his life.

Wesley Snipes is excellent playing D’urville Smith, the director of the first Dolemite movie, who was never really sold on the concept of Dolemite but seized the opportunity of directing this movie as a springboard into other jobs. D’urville Smith was an actor best known for playing Diego, the elevator man on Rosemary’s Baby — I’m glad to see Wesley Snipes back on top form here.

Dolemite was Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), who also directed Murphy and Snipes in the sequel to Coming to America. Seasoned screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this movie; They are a screenwriting team that has made a name for themselves, writing biopics like Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and The People vs. Larry Flint.

Dolemite is My Name is a very inspiring movie; Rudy Ray Moore teaches us that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. You get the sense watching this film that everybody involved in the making of this movie treated this story with much respect, appreciation, and reverence. It should be on everyone’s watchlist.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DOLEMITE (2019). Streaming on Netflix

*MOVIE RECAP: THE LAUNDROMAT

I was excited as hell when I heard the news of a Steven Soderbergh movie for Netflix about the Panama Papers. All told, I’m a big fan of Soderbergh, the filmmaker, not the cultural appropriator Steven Soderberg, owner and marketing face of a Bolivian national spirit brand (Singani 63), but more on this unrelated topic some other time. 

I still think that Soderbergh’s 2008 two-part movie CHE is a masterpiece and, to me, one of the most influential films ever.

The Laundromat sheds light on some of the legal manipulations of the financial system by the super-rich. It has a similar vibe to the 2015 film, The Big Short, but not quite as compelling. 

We have Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), the two real-life men directly involved in the Panama Papers leak. These two dudes own a law firm based out of Panama specializing in creating shell companies for wealthy people who want to protect their money from being taxed. They set up these corporations so the actual people behind the money can easily bypass tax regulations. And within said corporations, they can create shell companies; A company owns a company that owns another company, and so on and on—effectively shielding the initial corporation from anyone finding out who is truly behind ownership. These shell corporations are usually set up in foreign countries like the Cayman Islands, Panama, or the British Virgin Islands, for example.

There was some controversy surrounding The Laundromat due to the lawsuits by Mossack and Fonseca when they unsuccessfully tried to stop the movie from being released. Oldman and Banderas serve as the narrators for most of the movie, continually breaking the fourth wall and explaining how to avoid taxes, hiding money, and how creating shell companies for the super-wealthy works.

Meryl Streep is always excellent, and she is excellent here as well. She plays Ellen Martin, the victim of one of these shell companies. After her husband’s tragic death, she tries to file a claim with her husband’s insurance company and discovers that the insurance company has been sold to another company. Stringing her along and blocking her insurance claim. Therefore, she begins to investigate and discovers a world of shady practices.

Streep’s character was very compelling, and I felt like the movie needed to spend more time with her and her journey.

There are other characters and cameos by well-known actors like Sharon Stone and David Schwimmer. However, their storylines never really get any traction or enough screen time to develop their stories accordingly….. or for us to even care enough for them.

If this movie’s purpose was to illuminate, shed some light, inform and educate about the world of shell companies, then this movie fails to achieve any of that straightforwardly. I felt that it needed to deliver a more meaningful social message. The characters literally look at you while breaking the fourth wall and tell the audience in a sermon-like approach to what exactly needs to be done to fix this legal but broken, immoral, and nefarious financial system. Nevertheless, I did enjoy and recommend this movie. My main issue is that I felt like it needed to be more creative and practical when conveying its urgent message of reforming our financial laws.

In any case, The Laundromat is full of many exciting layers, segments, and sub-plots. It attempts, in the end, to connect all those things with the central plot of this movie. It is definitely worth a watch, but the Big Short somewhat spoiled me when it comes to this type of film.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿 🍿

THE LAUNDROMAT (2019). Streaming on Netflix.

* TV SERIES RECAP: DEAD TO ME (Seasons 1 & 2)

It originally came out in May 2019 on Netflix, but it wasn’t until this past summer of 2020, during the confinement when I finally had the chance to sit down and binge on seasons 1 & 2. The show runs for roughly 30 minutes at 10 episodes per season, making it very easy to binge through the whole thing in a few sittings.

It’s essentially a dark comedy but with a lot more drama than comedy; the humor and comedic moments are hilarious, but when the drama arrives, the show gets dark pretty fast.

We have Jenn (Christina Applegate), a widower searching for her husband’s killer, who was the victim of a hit and run driver. She spends most of her time obsessively looking for speeding cars passing through the scene of her husband’s death, with the hopes of finding a lead to the hit and run driver who killed her husband. She theorizes that perhaps the killer might be living in her neighborhood. Christina Applegate was nominated for an EMMY for this performance, probably her most intense performance ever. She is remarkable here.

While attending a grief support group, Jennifer meets Judy (Linda Cardellini). Judy is an upbeat, positive-minded person but seems to be hiding a secret. Her interest in befriending Jenn is suspicious. Linda Cardellini made this character likable — at first, I was taken aback by her decision to get close to Jenn, but as the show progresses, you cannot help but root for Judy.

On a dual role, playing twin brothers Steve and Ben, James Marsden adds a unique dynamic to the plot. Katey Segal’s addition to the cast was an excellent choice; her character has a manipulative, sinister vibe to it. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in season 3, especially when she gets to interact with Jenn, which will feel like an unofficial Married with Children reunion of sorts.

The acting is what makes this type of material work. The entire ensemble cast is excellent—lots of drama, emotions, and heavy emotional content. The writing feels real and raw. The acting and the writing come together naturally and organically. The dialogue is sharp and witty. Once the two female leads are established as characters, their personality traits remain consistent. The rest of the female characters, like Detective Perez and Jenn’s mother-in-law, are well written — all the supporting characters are compelling and exciting.

There is this unique display of affluential, upper-class living portrayed by the luxury and flawless appearance of the houses inhabited by most of the central characters. They present this illusion of perfection, which is a mirage of the chaos, misery, and overall unhappiness in their personal lives. There is a particular scene when Jenn is crying her eyes out while an immaculate-looking kitchen surrounds her; A perfect example of the facade her character exhibits.

Season 1: It is mostly about Jenn’s grief and her family dynamics.

Season 2: We get to know more about Judy and explore her backstory further. There are many layers to Judy’s backstory, and season 2 gives you a more in-depth look at her life. 

Netflix announced in July 2020 that a 3rd and final season would be coming, but there have been rumors of a possible cancellation, which would be sad and unfortunate. This show deserves to come full circle and bring Judy and Jenn’s story to a conclusion.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Streaming on NETFLIX

*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

*MOVIE RECAP: HILLBILLY ELEGY

I noticed that most people dismissed this movie even before it was released. Most of the negativity surrounding Hillbilly Elegy was due to the political influence of the source material, which was cited as a sort of benchmark in understanding how Trump won the “white working class” vote in 2016.

Based on the controversial bestselling memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance — and adapted for film by Vanessa Taylor, best known for writing Hope Springs and co-writing The Shape of Water with Guillermo Del Toro. The Screenplay manages to remove many layers from the source material memoir to avoid any right-wing propaganda.

The movie is told through J.D. Vance’s eyes, using flashbacks, jumping forward and backward in time. J.D. is from central Ohio but considers himself to be from the Hill Country of Jackson, Kentucky (his family roots are from the Appalachian region). It is important to note that a significant number of people within the Appalachian community did not embrace J.D.’s memoir. Still, many people outside of this community were fascinated by it, primarily by coastal liberal elite types.

Nevertheless, without any of the book’s political stuff, the movie leans heavily on family melodrama. J.D. (Gabriel Basso) is a law student at Yale; he is attempting to navigate through college life away from his middle American upbringing. While at the same time hiding his family background from his college girlfriend Usha (Freida Pinto). Through flashbacks, we get to see young J.D. (Owen Asztalos) and his early family life. His mother, Bev (Amy Adams), is a single mom who works as a nurse but seems to be a chronic drug addict, mentally unbalanced, and violent. Bev’s eventual heroin overdose throws adult J.D.’s plans into disarray.

J.D.’s grandma, “mamaw” Vance (Glenn Close), is the rock of the family and teaches J.D. valuable life lessons. She teaches J.D. responsibility. She provides him with the structure needed for success.

The movie’s main plot point is about J.D. driving back home to Ohio to deal with his Mother’s relapse situation. J.D. has to figure out a place for his Mother to do rehab and then drive overnight to make a 10 am interview for a highly sought-after internship. The scenes between J.D. and his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennet) are very emotional.

There was a good story to be told here, but it wasn’t J.D. Vance’s story; it was his Mother’s and Mamaw’s story. Those two intertwined stories were the two most compelling aspects of this entire movie.

The performances are solid, considering there are many limitations to the development of each character. The actors do very well with what they are given within the script. Gabriel Basso portrays J.D. as awkward, whiny, and at times unlikable. Similar to how the real-life J.D. Vance comes across; He constantly whines about something on social media. Essentially, he is just another right-wing talking head nut job.

I get the sense that J.D. has contempt for his humble background, like he is almost looking down at it. We never get a clear understanding of the real reason why J.D.’s family fell so hard, it feels like that is how things are supposed to be no matter what, and J.D. has to find his way out of that environment at all costs.

Glenn Close ended up getting an Academy Award nomination for her performance here. Some of the best moments of the movie come from this character. Mamaw Vance is this chain-smoking, tough love granny, and Glenn Close is fantastic here. She is the mirror image of the real-life Mamaw Vance.

Amy Adams needed more screen time. I felt like we needed more time to explore her backstory on a deeper level. There was apparent emotional damage done to Bev during her upbringing. The reason for all the fights, the screaming matches, the overdoses, and the constant need to self-sabotage herself was an area that needed to be analyzed further.

My favorite thing from this movie was the cinematography by Maryse Alberti. Phenomenal stuff, as usual from her.

Hillbilly Elegy is a drama that attempts to touch on several themes like never forgetting your roots and where you come from. The inherent nature of poverty, the difficulty of escaping from it, and the importance of your ancestry. However, the story doesn’t really go anywhere within the context of the drama, and it feels rushed and condensed. It simplifies and minimizes essential aspects of the family’s troubled history. This whole story would have been better served as a limited series instead of a movie.

Director Ron Howard’s filmography is full of excellent films, some of which are American cinematic classics. And although this movie may not be one of his best works, it still manages to provide us with plenty of debate. This is precisely what films, or any form of art for that matter, are supposed to stimulate and encourage.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Hillbilly Elegy, (2020). Streaming on Netflix.

*MOVIE RECAP: MANK

There is no measurable way to describe how much impact and influence the 1941 film Citizen Kane had on an entire generation of filmmakers; It continues to be one of the most celebrated films of all time. The myth of Orson Welles and the making of Citizen Kane endures to this day.

MANK is about screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his intense development of Citizen Kane. The authorship of Citizen Kane has been widely disputed — It has been the subject of documentaries and many articles throughout the years.

MANK depicts Herman Mankiewicz as the sole writer of Kane and not Orson Welles. Mank initially agreed not to be credited for writing Citizen Kane. But eventually, he changed his mind and received a writing credit and shared an Academy Award with Welles for Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is structured similarly to Citizen Kane, told in a non-linear manner, mostly through flashbacks, and shot in Black and White, resembling many of Kane’s artistic styles.

We see Mank bedridden, recovering from a car accident while writing and dictating the story that will become the basis for Citizen Kane. We see Orson Welles (Tom Burke) visiting Mank at the hospital and recruiting him for his upcoming project with RKO pictures. Tom Burke is dead-on in his portrayal of a young Orson Welles.

The story flips back and forth in time, with most of the flashbacks set to the backdrop of the great depression, between 1933-1940. We get to see Mank’s political leanings and all the personal and professional struggles Mank experienced during that particular decade. At one point, we see how Mank socialized and mingled with elite Hollywood circles and how those same Hollywood elites turned away from him.

The casting is remarkable. Charles Dance (William Randolph Hearst) commands the screen on every scene. Amanda Seyfried (Marion Davies) captured the essence of a 1930s Hollywood starlet brilliantly. Arliss Howard (Louis B. Mayer) was fantastic; Howard steals every scene he is in. There is a noteworthy hallway sequence where Mayer explains his rules of Hollywood to Mankiewicz….. outstanding scene.

Even Bill Nye, the Science Guy, makes a cool cameo as the author and political activist Upton Sinclair.

Gary Oldman is superb as usual; He is very convincing, pulling off all the drunk scenes. Mank, the real-life person, was also a gambler and an alcoholic, and Oldman embodied this character’s complexities exceptionally.

The relationship between William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Herman Mankiewicz is crucial to understanding how Mank ended up framing Citizen Kane’s story. Hearst was one of the most powerful and influential characters during the first half of the 20th century, comparable to someone like a Rupert Murdoch of our time. You get the sense that writing Citizen Kane was a big Fuck You to Hearst.

It seems like this was a passion project for director David Fincher. On a technical level, this movie is excellent. It takes great skills and ingenuity to make a film like this. The glamour and corruption of the golden era of Hollywood are depicted beautifully. The cigarette burns between reels, the muffled dialogue, the sound, and the vintage vibes make for a stylish-looking film. Interestingly enough, Mank was written by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, over 30 years ago, and I read that David Fincher had been trying to get this movie made since at least 1997.

There are direct parallels between the events of this movie and our current political climate. In the 1930s, Upton Sinclair was running for Governor of California. He was calling for social reforms, and some of the wealthiest California capitalists joined up and mounted a propaganda campaign to discredit Sinclair. William Randolph Hearst, Louis B. Mayer, and other elite members of their inner circle used Hollywood’s power to paint Sinclair as a radical socialist who was going to destroy California. They used movie theaters and the radio as a medium to spread disinformation and propaganda. Similar to how social media is used today to seed mistrust and division.

The real-life Herman Mankiewicz was a highly regarded writer. In fact, he was the first theatre critic for the New Yorker and member of the Algonquin Round Table. His contributions to cinema were significant. However, today his name is not well known outside of film buffs and movie historians. Hopefully, this movie will generate new interest in his work.

Mank is a movie for legit Cinephiles and anyone who enjoys the golden-era of Hollywood. It is the portrait of a complicated artist clashing with the establishment. But above all, Citizen Kane’s profound influence on generations of filmmakers is precisely what makes this movie so compelling. You may need to watch it a few times to grasp the whole thing fully.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

MANK (2020). Streaming on Netflix.

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