*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).

*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

*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: GODZILLA VS KONG

As much as the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” might be valid for appraising works of literature, it’s downright true with this movie. The movie title says it all; it is all about two giant monsters punching and kicking each other into oblivion.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth and latest installment in the cinematic MonsterVerse series. The first movie in this monster series was Godzilla (2014), which was a pretty good movie directed by the exceptional Gareth Edwards.

The second entry into this shared universe was Kong: Skull Island (2017), a highly entertaining, fun, and at times, pretty compelling movie. I had a good time watching this 2017 version of King Kong.

The third movie was Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). This movie had a lot of stuff to unpack. It wasn’t bad at all; I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The whole concept of the Titans as the original and rightful rulers of the planet was awesome. The plot twist about Monster Zero as an invasive species, an alien creature not meant to be on Earth, was brilliant.

Sadly, Godzilla vs. Kong is not as memorable as the previous three Monsterverse movies. The storyline or plot (if you can call it a plot) centers around Getting Kong to his original homeland, which is supposed to be somewhere deep within the Hollow Earth. We learned that there is supposed to be some type of ancient historic rivalry between Godzilla’s ancestors and Kong’s ancestors.

We have the Apex corporation, a shady biotech company keeping Kong in a containment dome type of structure that resembles Skull Island. This sinister biotech company is using the skeleton remains of Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to engineer a monster of their own to challenge and kill Godzilla.

The human character component is pretty weak here. Despite the impressive casting, the characters are all poorly developed. Except for Jia (Kaylee Hottle), she is the last remaining member of the now-extinct Iwi people from skull island. She is deaf and communicates with Kong through sign language; her relationship with King Kong was the most interesting part of this movie.

The Hollow Earth concept is a fascinating idea. Watching how this myth is given such a prominent role in the storyline was interesting; however, this movie’s overall approach towards the Hollow Earth theory was beyond silly.

The only redemptive feature in this movie was the monster fight scenes; they were my favorite thing from the whole movie. Those scenes alone are worth watching this movie.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the less impressive movie out of all four MonsterVerse films. Nevertheless, this movie is a wild big-screen spectacle. The CGI, Sound effects, and all of the special effects are fantastic; the whole thing is meant to be enjoyed better on the big screen and IMAX. You have to suspend disbelief for however long this movie runs and let it take you along for a ridiculous action-packed ride.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

*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: 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