Russian Doll

8 x 26 min.

In the case of some shows you feel bad about not experiencing at the same time others did it. With some, the experience is just enhanced by going “Ooooh sh-!” to someone else.

Russian Doll posterAnd there’s plenty of moments like that in this TV-show about a woman who just keeps dying and doesn’t know why and can’t get out of this Groundhog day-situation. It being a woman played and written by Natasha Lyonne (you might remember her from Orange is the New Black) this groundhog is more like Final Destination when it comes to dying creatively.

With less than thirty minutes of runtime and eight episodes there’s not enough room for this element to get old: there’s just enough glimmers of clues to feel like you’re onto something just a bit before Nadia does.

The one con is that there’s going to be a second season: this could have been resolved, even in a possibly unsatisfying way in the last two episodes – easily. Now there’s the risk of things becoming stale.

Although Nadia’s back-to-life soundtrack might just be good enough to prevent that.

Russian Doll, Netflix 2019

Feel Good

6 x 25

This had me feeling awfully tender; not solely because I recognise everything the main characters experience, but mostly because the camera never turns away. You never get a break from emotions, fights and awkwardness.

Feel Good posterFor a show that’s easy to summarise, it’s not easy to review. I liked it, a lot. The story of a young woman struggling with gender identity and addiction, romance and family and being a comedian in the way that Hannah Gadsby is one – way too honest. Protagonist and creator Mae Martin added (some) biographical elements to the show as well, which might another layer of discomfort.

It’s the lack of heaviness that just makes it all more genuine and heartfelt. No musical clues about how to feel, not a lot of explanatory dialogue, just Mae and her girlfriend stumbling through life while you try to get them into a different direction.

Still, it’s sweet, and funny. There’s not fanfare or shoulder-pats about showing and discussing Big Subjects – they just happen to be the elephants in the room that have to be discussed.

Maybe not for everybody, but definitely for those that are always interested in the human connection.

Feel Good, Netflix 2020

 

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

66 min.

I’m not a fan of comedians and their shows. Usually it’s too long, and there’s too much secondhand embarrassment to balance out the funny parts. I rejected several of the recommended shows on Netflix: some I couldn’t even handle for ten minutes. But I was cleaning up my list, this was the last remaining one – okay, I’ll try it.

Wanda SykesThe last comedian show I watched on Netflix was Hannah Gadsby’s. There’s barely no comparing here, which is good for both parties involved.

Wanda Sykes is about American politics and her personal life as a wife, a mother and a woman going through menopause. It’s stone cold sober with a large amount of questions: not very strange considering the subjects.

My biggest relief was that she doesn’t do the thing most male comedians do: wait for laughter. Sykes doesn’t go out with the aim of Being Hilarious – it’s her story telling and her subjects that make you snort.

And talking about length? I only checked how much time I had left once.

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal, Netflix 2019

Castlevania

22 x 30 min

castlevania posterI know it’s based on a game, but to me it felt – from time to time – like it could have been part of the same world that The Sandman Chronicles play out in. It’s bleak and gruesome but also beautiful in the Gothic way and the story telling comes first through spare, solid story lines that aren’t endlessly muddled with side plots.

Castlevania is about vampires, but not really. Or just kind of. It’s about a sad Dracula, vicious vampire women, monster hunters, magical monks (sort of?) all played out in a greyish and brownish Eastern Europe. Maybe. The castle moves around, after all.

If you want lore, mythology, beautiful animation, snarky yet terrifying vampires and their ilk plus quite a quick fix (those 22 episodes are three seasons), you should try it. If you don’t like gore in any way, and prefer your shows bright and bubbly – better you pass this one.

Castlevania, Netflix 2017

Giri/Haji

8 x 60 min.

So many detectives, so many ways to be disappointed by them because they’re all the same. Moody unlikely hero, bitter and/or cheerful sidekick and a case that Might Be Connected to their past. You know them.

giri hajiWell, everyone is pretty moody in Giri/Haji, that’s something that’s hard to ignore. And except for the lack of che- wait, let me start again.

Giri/Haji is a Japanese/English production which mixes yakuza with London gangs, international police teams, family connections and men unable to share their emotions. Some of them are cops, some of them are criminals. There’s victims of bad personal decisions all across the board.

And all of it just so_damn_cool. Of course, it’s impressive story lines and colourful characters, but just the COOLNESS of it all. No murky colours or badly lit scenes, not the same buildings in London always shown, but above and beyond, gutter and higher.

A show that leaves you behind satisfied, even though you may not agree with the proceedings.

Giri/Haji, Netflix 2019

 

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

10 x 50 min.

Some things you have to give a second chance, I guess. Even a bit of a third. Worse was that I didn’t like how I didn’t straight away love this. Original fantasy! Puppetry! Diverse world-building! Meanwhile I could only notice how the puppets didn’t completely move the way they should, while plot barely seemed to move at all.

dark crystal posterI felt this frustration for 2 – 3 episodes, when episode 4 suddenly clicked (episode 7 is still the best, though). I stopped watching the artistry of it all. Maybe it’s because several plot lines come together, or because you start to catch on to the world these stories move through. The writers hold no punches, making stakes high and losses real and touching. The comedy is cute and cheeky, the terrors legitimately scary.

It’s enthralling and adventurous but I think my biggest argument for watching is how much heart it has.

So yes, it might take some time to adjust to what you’re watching. But try!

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix 2019

The Death of Superman

81 min.

When you realise that you already watched this story, just not animated, five minutes before the end of the film.

the death of supermanI like the animated stuff DC Comics provides. Their style (usually) works, the voice acting works and because I’m not familiar with the majority of the stories, I can’t get frustrated over a film or series “getting it wrong”.

So, yes, this isn’t just a comic but large parts of the plot were used for one of the recent DCEU films as well (Superman? Superman 2?). Yet that one didn’t make enough impact on me to remember the name of, so just stick around for the animation and better dialogue.

I think the thing about DC animation is what gets me is that it reminds me of the excitement you felt as a child: when animation styles were still appealing and the plots exciting. It gives me that Wednesday-afternoon feeling, opposed to the dumbed down stuff that’s around now way too often.

Yes, the comic did it first. But moving pictures and hearing voices add a lot.

Oh, and what it’s about? Superheroes, and villains. Duh.

The Death of Superman, DC 2018

Airplane Mode

95 min.

Heel even in het nieuws omdat meer mensen dan verwacht het keken. Brazilianen – daar komt de film vandaan – begrepen het niet zo, zo goed was het niet. Alsof dat mensen ooit heeft tegengehouden.

airplane mode filmNuffig hoofdpersoon is Ana, influencer en vrouwelijke tiener met een social mediaverslaving. Dingen Gaan Fout waardoor ze moet afkicken bij haar knorrige opa. Daar Leert ze Dingen en komt ze een leuke jongen tegen. Zoals dat gaat.

Voor kleurigheid en flauwigheid is dit heel redelijk weg te kijken, maar het acteerwerk is voor een doelgroep jonger dan mij. De film is voor hen misschien weer iets te lang, en door Portugees als voertaal zal er waarschijnlijk gelezen moeten worden.

De Brazilianen hadden dus gelijk. Het ‘fish out of water’-plot kun je op vele andere plekken in betere versies vinden. De wijze lessen voor onzekere, met het-uiterlijk-geobsedeerde tieners ook.

Airplane Mode, Netflix 2020

Isoken

98 min.

Terwijl westerse filmmaatschappijen romcoms en romantische films maar blijven afschuiven op kleine feestdagen (Moedersdag, Valentijnsdag) met een klein budget en D-niveau acteurs, is er een plek waar de liefhebber van zachte, oppervlakkige, (absurd-)grappige romances nog terecht kan: Nigeria.

Isoken posterWant Isoken en The Wedding Party zijn niet de enige films in dit genre: misschien is het zelfs een subgenre: men moet trouwen maar oh jee [x] gebeurt! [x] kan hier vervangen worden door ruziënde families, bittere exen, rampzalige wedding planners of een combinatie van drie.

In het geval van Isoken is het De Liefde. Moet je gaan voor De Liefde of voor zekerheid? En in hoeverre moet je daarbij ook aan je familie denken (die is zéér belangrijk)?

Of het zelfspot van Nigeriaanse filmmakers is, of dit gewoon Nigeriaanse humor is, weet ik niet, maar al de slapstick-achtige situaties en karikaturale personages zorgen voor een lekker melig zooitje tussen de zoete momenten door.

Dus, kijk niet voor de veertiende keer Love Actually of Bridget Jones’ Diary maar zoek het eens zuidelijker.

Isoken, Tribe85 Productions 2017