Star Trek Discovery

ENTERTAINMENT – “Star Trek Discovery” Beams Into My Path

When it comes to modernizing any piece of IP, making its characters more broadly representative of the world off-screen is an obvious first item on the to-do list, and it’s one Fuller has a history of doing well. Discovery is no exception.

Truth be told, I’m a late comer to the “Star Trek Discovery” franchise. I did watch the initial first season but got lost in the translation before heading into season 2. Boy-oh-boy am I glad, I found this series again. I’m a fan of the Discovery cocreator Bryan Fuller and have followed the project with interest since his involvement was announced. As has been widely documented, Fuller exited the project mid-production of season one, in part to focus on his Starz drama, American Gods, and in part due to conflicts with CBS over budget (which eventually totaled more than $6 million an episode), time frame (the series was originally supposed to launch in February 2017), and whether the series should be an anthology (Fuller was pro, CBS was con). Along with Alex Kurtzman, who also worked on the latest Star Trek film trilogy, Fuller is still billed as creator, and cocredited with the story for the first three episodes, but the writer-producer is no longer involved with Discovery’s day-to-day creative decision-making.

Yet the final product still maintains a distinctly Fullerian bent. There are the macabre episode names, like “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” and imagery, like a Klingon ship covered in sarcophagi. There’s also the pointed diversity, which fits seamlessly into Star Trek’s historic humanism — or rather, interspecies consortium-ism — while still being unprecedented even in this most liberal of properties. Protagonist Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a mutineer turned conscript, is a woman of color, as is her captain at the series’ onset, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). (Some observers grumbled at Discovery killing off Yeoh’s character and replacing her with a white, male captain, though Yeoh’s star power suggests that she was always a temporary presence.) Meanwhile, chief engineer Lieutenant Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and ship doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) are in a committed partnership, an initial piece of background information that becomes the emotional crux of the first season finale as Stamets’s experimental work puts his life in danger. When it comes to modernizing any piece of IP, making its characters more broadly representative of the world off-screen is an obvious first item on the to-do list, and it’s one Fuller has a history of doing well. Discovery is no exception.

 

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But every adventure connects in some way with both the Discovery and Discovery’s overarching goal: defeat the Klingons.

Discovery took three full chapters, the only three provided to critics in advance, to set up its core story. The first two, Battlestar Galactica–style, were almost a self-contained movie, depicting the Klingon confrontation that would result in Michael’s mutiny, full-scale war, and the death of Captain Georgiou. The third established the premise, with Captain Lorca conscripting Michael, now a prisoner, to the crew of the Discovery, a vessel dedicated to developing a means to essentially teleport through space using a so-called “spore drive.” Science!

All that exposition means that Discovery got a full third of the way through its season before it started to explore — and when it did, there wasn’t much time to do it without feeling like a distraction. Self-contained episodes did make an appearance, with the crew spending one particularly fine episode trapped in a time loop and Burnham, Tyler, and First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) splitting off for an old-fashioned “let’s go to a trippy planet and interact with a new species” romp. But every adventure connects in some way with both the Discovery and Discovery’s overarching goal: defeat the Klingons.

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Throughout the season, Martin-Green manifests that guilt in a haunted intensity that hovers over every scene without overwhelming them and gives Michael an internal conflict that transcends a mere repetition of Spock’s Vulcan logic–human emotion divide.

Discovery’s attempt to have it both ways — an epic and an anthology of short stories — also shortchanges the season-long stories as often as the reverse; the most significant Klingon character, an albino zealot named Voq (Javid Iqbal), vanishes abruptly, taking a compellingly ambiguous villain off the board just as his character’s taking shape. A popular fan theory holds that he’s still around in disguise, but that doesn’t make his disappearance any less jarring to the casual viewer.

Nevertheless, Discovery’s issues don’t shortchange what truly matters: the characters. The tie-ins are fairly direct; though Michael is a human, her Vulcan foster father, Sarek (James Frain), is Spock’s biological father, making Discovery’s main character the adoptive sister of one of Star Trek’s most iconic protagonists. We need a crew that can fill the shoes of those that came before them, or at least promise to — the hardest task facing Discovery at its inception, and the one it’s excelled the most at. Michael is a remarkable heroine, carrying with her the almost unimaginable guilt that comes with causing the deaths of her mentor and so many colleagues. Throughout the season, Martin-Green manifests that guilt in a haunted intensity that hovers over every scene without overwhelming them and gives Michael an internal conflict that transcends a mere repetition of Spock’s Vulcan logic–human emotion divide. As a figure from her past intimately familiar with Michael’s mistakes and understandably reluctant to forgive her for them, Saru is a crucial presence; so is her cheerily awkward roommate Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), an initial comic relief who gradually develops into Michael’s sympathetic mentee.

Going into the second half of its season, Discovery has kinks to work out, but it’s laid the all-important groundwork for a rich and tight-knit ensemble. If my ultimate frustration with a season of television was that, between all the swashbuckling and strategizing, I didn’t get to spend enough time watching characters get to the root of their dysfunctions, then that’s less a complaint than a backhanded compliment.

 

Set 10 years before Star Trek: The Original Series, Discovery quickly showed it had a weird, futuristic edge that had been sorely lacking in the cinematic Abrams-verse. And as the writing staff promised to throw out a core Roddenberry Rule (that a protagonist should be overwhelmingly good) in the lead-up to its premiere, the first two episodes 1,000 percent confirmed that First Officer Burnham would be a character capable of error (and a highly interesting person due to that newfound complexity). We sat whiteknuckled through season one’s mid-season finale, endured endless Mirror Universe pondering to reach an equally action-packed and satisfied S1 finale, watched old favorites like Spock show up in the materials for S2, and then enjoyed the ride as all the tie-ins and throwbacks to old Trek slowly fizzled out in favor of new ideas and discoveries within the universe courtesy of the USS Discovery.

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This season was always going to be do or die, literally and figuratively, even before the events of this year sent the world into chaos.

So much has happened in the rebooted Star Trek universe since we left the Discovery crew last April. Section 31 and Strange New Worlds are in preproduction. Earlier this year, Picard did … all that. And over the past few months, Lower Decks has done basically whatever it wanted, in a way that, for better or worse, has injected a breath of fresh, irreverent air into an otherwise brutal time.

But all this while the fate of our flagship nerd gang has weighed on my mind. This season was always going to be do or die, literally and figuratively, even before the events of this year sent the world into chaos. Finally Discovery was actually going where no one has gone before, rather than filling in the gaps of where others have been going for over a half-century. It’s finally able to grow, unfettered by entrenched canon or unnecessary blockbuster aspirations (or unnecessary white guys — did y’all even see one this week?), into a series that will succeed or fail as a Star Trek show on its own merits. And now? In this economy? Not to be dramatic, but the world really needs Star Trek to be great right now.

Because after the dense, chaotic struggles of last season, “The Hope Is You, Part 1” is everything it needed to be.

So at the outset of the premiere, Michael Burnham (“Science Officer, USS Discovery, serial number SC0064-0974SHN”) scans the seemingly barren planet, where she has crash-landed, for signs of life. After a moment, her Daedalus suit’s computer chirps: “Multiple life signs detected.” That scream of relief and triumph that comes out of Sonequa Martin-Green’s mouth here? That’s the only natural way to respond to this episode. Because after the dense, chaotic struggles of last season, “The Hope Is You, Part 1” is everything it needed to be. It’s exciting; it’s beautiful; it’s funny as hell; it made me full-on sob at the end. And I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Isn’t that great? We made it through the wormhole, and there’s life on the other side.

Well, Burnham has, at least. Discovery is TBD. She collides with a ship on her way into 3188, so after getting no response from Discovery and sending the suit back to the 23rd century to set the last signal for Spock, she goes looking for him. The pilot is a very good-looking, very distrustful rogue named Book (short for Cleveland Booker) who is in the middle of transporting some clandestine, extremely valuable stolen cargo and wants absolutely nothing to do with Michael. (I don’t blame him; it is a little like she and her idealism came through the wormhole from the spring of 2019, while Book is everyone living through 2020.) However, he is “space broke,” and her offer of a mint-condition, 930-year-old antique tricorder finally sways him into taking her with him to Requiem, the city where he gets work as a courier, to find a comms array to contact Discovery. En route, he reveals several critical new realities that send Michael reeling:

After the Temporal War, during which the Gorn destroyed a whopping two light-years of subspace, all time-travel technology was expressly banned, so her presence here is already sus. (Don’t worry, only fans of Star Trek: Enterprise will already know anything about this 31st-century conflict.)

Suddenly, Burnham and Book are surrounded by people who want to kill Book but will settle on her, since they need him alive to recover the cargo.

Dilithium is now the most precious commodity in the known universe, thanks to a massive disaster known as the Burn, when the “galaxy took a hard left” and nearly all dilithium suddenly exploded, killing millions on warp-capable ships.

Thanks to the Burn, the Federation is virtually nonexistent now, presumably having disintegrated into protectionism in the face of the ensuing resource crisis, so she needs to conceal her “true believer” status in this unfriendly new world.

Requiem and its mercantile were ripped straight out of the nearest cyberpunk franchise, with a splash of surly Mos Eisley Cantina clientele. Apparently, the Andorians and the Orions have allied now, and they run the joint with a decidedly inconsistent hand, first failing to stop Michael at the doors for not having ID (her merchandise is way too valuable to pass up), then flubbing her arrest when Book betrays her by telling her their vault is the comms array and letting her walk into a stasis beam, freeing him to take the rest of her tech. (Yes, yes, we get it: He’s Lando and Han.) They dose her with some vaporized cross between truth serum and poppers to get her to tell them where her merchandise is, which almost goes well. She probably would have told them anyway, but the next few minutes are way more fun and stress free now that our Vulcan-raised xenoanthropologist is absolutely zooted.

“I’m dying to talk about it because today doesn’t happen to people. Ever,” she gushes to her new best friends, Orion Cop and Andorian Cop. “I might be angry. I mean, I’m supportive. I’m so supportive. I am reflexively supportive. And what is that about? I’m overcompensating!!” Eventually, she leads them to the real culprit, Book, who is already getting his teeth kicked in by the guy he stole his secret cargo from, a literal Middle Earth orc named Cosmo. Suddenly, Burnham and Book are surrounded by people who want to kill Book but will settle on her, since they need him alive to recover the cargo. That “LMAO let’s go, I guess” shrug Burnham gives Book before they wordlessly team up and start shooting their way out together added at least a few days on to my life. It’s the same look on my face every time a new disaster strolls into our already flaming hellscape.

So now we know Book is pretty cool — his people are poachers, and he’s the outcast who wants to use their gifts to rescue endangered creatures rather than sell them.

Somehow amid the cross-fire chaos, Book activates his personal transporter and Burnham steals a bunch of dilithium to get Book to take her with him. Thus begins an incredibly cool sequence during which these glorified mall cops chase our heroes through rapid-fire landscapes across this frankly gorgeous planet. Burnham punches Book several times, which seems more than fair.

Long story short, the escape brings out a new side of Book: He’s actually kind of a softboi. That is, he’s not human; he has some sort of spiritual, empathic connection with living things that helps him, for example, instantly grow plants with healing properties to dress Michael’s gunshot wound. Or encourage the endangered, walrus-size worm he’s rescuing to eat the capitalists who want to sell it as a delicacy, but please do spit out our new friend — she’s cool. “I really, really didn’t know how this day was going to turn out!” Michael sputters after being projectile-vomited back up, covered in what might, unfortunately, be digested Andorian.

So now we know Book is pretty cool — his people are poachers, and he’s the outcast who wants to use their gifts to rescue endangered creatures rather than sell them. And apparently he’s decided Burnham is pretty cool, too, because he finally asks her how far in time she’s traveled, lets her try contacting Discovery using the comms array he’s had in his pocket this whole time, and then, when that fails, takes her to an old Federation relay station couriers now use as a waypoint. Cue the waterworks …

Discovery has even spawned its own spin-off to come, Star Trek Strange New Worlds. Look for an upcoming blogpost on the new series, as well as coverage on S2 of Star Trek Picard!

Here, she meets Aditya Sahil, the Desmond-esque Starfleet liaison who, as we briefly saw in the cold open, has been getting up and going to work for 40 years, all alone, waiting for the day a Federation officer finally showed up. Michael introduces herself — by name, rank, and serial number — and I’ll be damned if I didn’t well up at the look on this dude’s face as he stands up to offer her his assistance. He can’t locate Discovery, but he only has a sensor range of about 30 sectors, because long-range sensors “failed decades ago” — another crushing reminder of all they’ve lost. Worst of all, it’s clear that Discovery is probably not here yet, which means Michael might find them tomorrow — or she might never see them again. This is the new reality she’s going to have to live with: no Federation, no family, and no end in sight.

But, as Sahil puts it, his faith has already been rewarded: “That hope is you, Commander Burnham.” He admits that while his father and grandfather were commissioned Starfleet officers, there was no one to commission him — and thus no one who could raise the Starfleet flag. As I full-on sob over here, Burnham commissions him as her communications chief to continue the search for Discovery, and they raise the flag together. “I don’t know how much of the Federation still exists. I simply do my part to keep it alive,” Sahil says, fully restoring my will to live. “Our numbers are few. Our spirit is undiminished.”

Maybe we’ll get through this nightmare after all.

As we now all patiently wait for a S4, Star Trek as a TV staple looks to be as healthy as it once was when the franchise spent 18 consecutive years on our sets. Discovery has even spawned its own spin-off to come, Star Trek Strange New Worlds. Look for an upcoming blogpost on the new series, as well as coverage on S2 of Star Trek Picard! I’m just thrilled to see so much new and excellent development in the world of Star Trek!

Source:  Arstechnica, The Ringer, Paramount Plus, Vulture, IMDB.

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CODA on Apple Plus.

ENTERTAINMENT – CODA, Double Sundance Film Festival Winner, Premieres on Apple Plus

Sundance winner “CODA” Is a Warm, Hilariously Funny Crowd-Pleaser About Deaf Culture

At first glance, a coming-of-age story about the musical dreams of a Child of Deaf Adults (or a “CODA” on Apple Plus) seems like it might background its disabled characters — much like the film on which it was based, the 2014 French comedy “La Famille Bélier,” which drew criticism for casting hearing actors in key deaf roles. However, writer-director Sian Heder makes vast improvements over the original, thanks in no small part to her deaf collaborators, Alexandria Wailes and Anne Tomasetti, and a deaf supporting cast. While CODA certainly explores deafness and Deaf culture from a hearing point of view — responses from the Deaf community have varied from positive to critical — the film relies neither on pity nor patronizing inspiration-porn for its most moving moments.

 

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As much as the film is about a culture clash along the lines of disability, it’s just as much a story of a fishing family and the hurdles they face as members of Massachusetts’ working class. Each performance breathes life and nuance into what could easily have been a misfire. Instead, the result is tremendously sweet, uproariously funny and one of the best crowd-pleasers this year.

Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant star in “CODA” on Apple Plus.

“CODA” hardly aims to surprise you with its plot, but its unique delights lie in the way it captures its characters.

English actress Emilia Jones plays Ruby Rossi, a hearing girl who’s reserved around her high school classmates, but who sings loudly and signs boisterously around her goofy, easygoing father, Frank (Troy Kostur), and her sarcastic, headstrong brother, Leo (Daniel Durant) on their rickety fishing vessel. She’s just as expressive at home, though a tad less open about her love for music with her overbearing mother Jackiee (Marlee Matlin, the first and thus far only deaf performer to win an Academy Award), who helps with the sales side of the family business, and whose aversion to hearing culture and people stems from insecurities the film goes on to tenderly explore.

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Ruby, in addition to working on the family’s boat, is also their interpreter (and by proxy, their negotiator at the pier), a necessity in a small town that makes little effort to accommodate them. The Rossis have a comfortable working rhythm, though this is slowly thrown off course when Ruby finds herself spread thin between her early-morning trawling and her new passion for the school choir. She’s an exceptional singer — her strict teacher, Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) thinks she has what it takes to audition for Berklee — but her family commitments could very well complicate that journey.

Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin star as mother and daughter in “CODA” on Apple Plus.

The film is keenly aware of the relationship between people and their bodies, and it doesn’t limit this focus to their deafness or hearing.

“CODA” hardly aims to surprise you with its plot — it is, after all, a remake of a fairly bland and straightforward film — but its unique delights lie in the way it captures its characters, both individually and in groups. Ruby, though she has no trouble exchanging barbs and petty insults with Leo, hides beneath layers of baggy clothes and a fringe cut at school. Where the original film treated music solely as a clash with deafness (and in the process, treated its deaf characters as a monolith), CODA frames it more as a clash with Ruby’s responsibilities, and with her desire to stay out of sight, which in turn stems from the nasty words hurled at her family, to which only she is privy.

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Her family members all have varying opinions on her talents too, which are tied intrinsically to their individual lives outside of her. Leo is immediately and unequivocally supportive of her dreams, in part because of his brotherly duty, though he also hopes to prove himself, without her help, to a world that looks down at him. For Leo, Ruby going off to college would be a win-win, even if he hasn’t quite thought things through. The brother role in La Famille Bélier, while the only major part played by a deaf actor, was barely a blip, but CODA allows Daniel Durant plenty of time to simmer as a withheld-but-caring twenty something from the American Northeast, with all the hyper-masculine baggage that entails. His portrayal is always enticing, even when he keeps to himself.

As Jackiee, Marlee Matlin turns in an incredibly fun performance that conceals layers of maternal anxieties. Jackie is upbeat and personable when she signs, but her defensiveness, when dealing with the prospect of Ruby going to college, often comes off as terse. When she finally begins to confront what’s bothering her, this usually takes the form of glances during isolated moments, wherein Matlin allows Jackiee’s smile to drop, and allows her self-doubt to float to the surface, before she covers it up again. Exploring traditional gender roles as they intersect with disability is by no means an explicit focus (see also: Leo’s constant need to prove himself) but a few of Jackiee’s lines hint at her use of dresses and makeup as means to cope, or blend in, with a world in which she doesn’t feel at ease. Ruby, by contrast, carries herself with a certain (tom)boyishness, and though she’s into a boy at school — her duet partner, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) — she bristles against the feminine norms her mother indulges in and nudges her towards. The film is keenly aware of the relationship between people and their bodies, and it doesn’t limit this focus to their deafness or hearing.

Eugenio Derbez and Emilia Jones star in “CODA.”

Why everyone should see ‘CODA’, a heartwarming (and often hilarious) film that marches to its own beat.

They say you’re supposed to deal with the cards dealt to you in life, and find a way to make do with what you have. Few understand that reality more than Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), our heroine in the award-winning (and worthy) new Apple TV Original film.

She gets up at 3 a.m. every morning to help her family run their fish boat, which is the main livelihood for most families in the small town of Gloucester, Masschuesetts. But all the high school senior can think about is singing, something that is becoming more a part of her as she eclipses the teenage wasteland benchmark of 17 years of age. There’s just one problem: Ruby’s family; her mother, father, and brother; are deaf and rely on her to communicate with hearing people in their work. She loves both things dearly but crossroads only allow you to choose one path.

Why everyone should see ‘CODA’, a heartwarming (and often hilarious) film that marches to its own beat. Movies like this don’t come around often. Sian Heder’s film hits differently, marching to its own beat. You shouldn’t overlook this film.

Movies like this don’t come around often.

What I loved about Sian Heder’s film, the title of which stands for Child of Deaf Adults, is that it created magic without much effort or showing off. This one marches to its own beat. The best kind of movies don’t need CGI or visual dazzle to lure you in and put both hands around your heart; it’s all in the writing, acting… the storytelling that connects a stranger in an audience to a story that should affect and hit every soul as hard as a rock.

It’s not just another coming-of-age tale that Hollywood drops into our lap at least once a month; “CODA” is the kind of feel-good movie that earns its grace and warmth by caring about its characters and world just as much as it wishes to be the most popular movie.

According to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, no movie was more golden. Heder’s film was the first film to ever win all four of its biggest awards-including the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize-and it’s no secret why. The acting, story, direction, and timeliness of the plot all mix together so well, a cohesive cinematic force that should be unstoppable this fall/winter awards season. A movie that makes an impact all due to the people involved and the way they decide to tell this heartwarming-yet-true story.

But it’s that focus and care shown to the experience of being deaf and all its limitations by Heder, who also wrote one of the year’s best scripts here, that pushes “CODA” into another area of expertise and intrigue. Her movie has personality and wit, along with the ingenious ability to NOT present the Rossi family as a wholesome, perfect family.

Sian Heder’s film hits differently, marching to its own beat.

The pleasure here lies in the eccentricity yet relatable details one will find in the Rossi household, such as Ruby’s parents, Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur) inability to be quiet about their sex life. One of the best and funniest moments in the movie happens when Frank playfully instructs Ruby’s boyfriend (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) how to properly wear a condom. Or when Ruby has to explain, or translate, to a doctor what exactly is wrong with her mom and dad’s private regions. Where most movies would gloss over or perform something that is uncomfortable, Heder’s film sits down and spends time in that area, garnering laughs and truth.

Because after all, life isn’t exactly comfortable, is it? It’s finding the unexpected in the lack of comfort. That’s what “CODA” does so well, especially during a family dinner where Ruby wants to know why her brother’s Tinder page is better table fodder than her singing. “Tinder is something we can do as a family.” If every parent doesn’t scream out loud laughing, you need more French fries in your life or something.

Instead of running from unconventional methods of telling an end of innocence story that happens to revolve around a deaf family, Heder leans into the idea of actually getting to know the Rossis and not making them mere types. That’s the MAGIC in this movie, which breezes along at just under 110 minutes.

If you don’t know who many of the cast members are, don’t worry. I didn’t either, outside of a couple faces. You can get to know them through their roles here. Along with a beautiful voice and a ferocity that doesn’t force its way into our minds, Jones is a real talent. And she can sing with the best of them too. Matlin evokes grace and blunt mothership with ease as a woman desperately trying to resist change. Durant isn’t just the annoying brother here, which opens the actor up to create not just the older sibling who wants more responsibility, but someone who feels inferior to his sister. That dynamic isn’t wasted here, but filled in with good writing.

You shouldn’t overlook this film.

Kotsur is a revelation, producing emotions and hilarity out of the smallest gestures or reactions. An old lion who is tired of playing the same old fisherman game, he sees Ruby leaving for music in college as an end to his means, even if he knows how much pressure sits on his daughter’s shoulders. It’s a moving piece of work from the veteran actor, one you probably didn’t notice before, but will have a hard time missing in the future.

Eugenio Derbez, the star of a painfully underseen yet very sharp 2017 comedy, “How to be a Latin Lover,” nearly steals the show as Ruby’s compassionate yet strict and outside-the-box-thinking music teacher. Playing the person at the other end of the sword demanding her to follow her dreams because he knows how a singing career can go, Derbez gives the role something extra–but again, without trying too hard to show it.

Instead of the same beats and pitstops, this battle of wills between teacher and student finds its momentum and personality on its own terms instead of cinema’s past filling in the blanks. Heder gives him all the tools to give the kind of performance that reminds moviegoers that the teacher role can hold the most juice in this genre.

It’s a connective film in the best way; a piece of art finding a different route to the heart.

But it’s the script that steals the show here. It’s so natural, honest, and heartwarming all at once. If you know the movies, you know those three things don’t share a bed in most scripts. Heder really knocked this out of the park, taking an unknown-yet highly entertaining and evocative-route to telling Ruby’s story. Without beating us over the head with that same old, thankless message of chasing your dreams, the writer-director makes all those themes fresh and transcendent again.

Change is a part of all our lives, sometimes more so for certain people early on in their lives, ones like Ruby. She loves her family and her voice, but her future can only have one star. A teenager who never got to be a kid herself for long enough, “CODA” reminds her and us that there’s plenty of time and empathy out there.

It’s a connective film in the best way; a piece of art finding a different route to the heart. It’s not what you would expect. It’s dirtier and more real than you will imagine. I can’t wait to watch “CODA” again, but this time with my family. That doesn’t happen often in my line of work, just so you know.

Cheers to Leder’s creation: A truly great movie that everyone should see.

Source: IMDB, Observer, and Apple Plus.

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Lucy Lawless stars in My Life is Murder.

ENTERTAINMENT – Lucy Lawless, “Xena Warrior Princess”, Rings in Order and Charm to My Life is Murder on Prime’s Acorn TV

A genre that seems to transcend all trends in television is the good, old fashioned mystery show. A new series from Australia, My Life Is Murder, has all of those elements — and Lucy Lawless is the show’s star.

My Life is Murder,” season one, launches on Amazon Prime’s Acorn TV, filmed and produced in Australia. Episode one of the season one opening episode successfully exports murder to Melbourne soon to be solved by Lucy Lawless, AKA “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Herself a fan of fan favorite crime drama, Colombo, the series not only brings in credible guest stars but original murder mysteries.

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By season two, it’s clear that Lawless is a woman more baffled by modern life than investigating complex crimes. A former homicide detective turned police consultant Alexa Crowe has relocated from Melbourne to Auckland for the second season of My Life is Murder.

A genre that seems to transcend all trends in television is the good, old fashioned mystery show. A detective pursues a case and confronts the murderer at the end of the episode. The success or failure of a show like that always depends on how well-written the mysteries are, but it also depends on the performances of the show’s stars. A new series from Australia, My Life Is Murder, has all of those elements — and Lucy Lawless is the show’s star.

Lucy Lawless and Ebony Vagulans star in “My Life is Murder,” available through Amazon Prime’s Acorn TV.

The question was: Did she fall or was she pushed?

Season One, Episode One, Opening Shot: A woman is on the phone with a “rent boy”, i.e. a male escort, talking about whether he can do electrical work, while she looks at pictures of his abs online.

The Gist: Why was Alexa Crowe (Lucy Lawless) calling up a rent boy? Well, we go back a few days to find out. Crowe, recently retired as one of the Melbourne PD’s top detectives, gets a visit from her old colleague, DI Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry), with a case that has been stumping his department: A wealthy young woman died after falling from the balcony of an escort’s high-rise apartment. The question was: Did she fall or was she pushed?

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Alexa is reluctant to take the case — she’s busy trying to fix the expensive German bread maker she just bought — but Kieran convinces her by saying she’s the only one who can solve it. He gives her the assistance of his admin, Madison Feliciano (Ebony Vagulans), who seems to be as obsessed with buying a particular hand-held vacuum as Alexa is with getting her bread maker fixed. Alexa is pretty sure the escort did it, but he’s wondering what relationship the young woman had with the guy. Was it more than business, or something else?

Acorn TV.

You don’t see the killer actually commit the murder, like you did on the old Peter Falk series, but you pretty much know who did it within the first few minutes of each episode.

She figures the best way to figure it out is to pay for his “boyfriend experience,” where she gets to know him, and she can gently dig about the relationship he had with the victim. When she gets enough info to nail him with the murder, she confronts him.

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Our Take: There’s nothing about My Life Is Murder that’s going to make you think you’re watching something revolutionary. It’s a traditional case-of-the-week mystery that only reveals details about its main characters when it needs to. We know by the end of the first episode, for instance, that Alexa retired from the police force because her husband, a fellow cop, passed away and she came into some money. By the end of the second, we find out that she worked undercover to bust a drug ring. But that’s about it.

Two things about this series, created by Claire Tonkin (Lawless is also an executive producer), make it a fun watch: 1) A lighthearted tone and performances to match, and 2) the show’s Columbo-esque format. You don’t see the killer actually commit the murder, like you did on the old Peter Falk series, but you pretty much know who did it within the first few minutes of each episode. The fun of the show is watching Alexa, with the help of ever-reluctant Madison, put the pieces together to nail the suspect by the end of the episode.

DI Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry) from season one.

Lawless, who is especially adept at balancing comedy and drama, is a great lead for a show like this, because she can be quippy, and also kick butt when it’s time to confront the murderer.

It’s a classic cat-and-mouse game, and the cast draws you into the mysteries with performances that tell you that they’re in on the fun. Lawless, who is especially adept at balancing comedy and drama, is a great lead for a show like this, because she can be quippy, and also kick butt when it’s time to confront the murderer.

Sex and Skin: Not that kind of show. Every time the “rent boy” tries to do what he’s paid to do, Alexa leaves. She’s not there for any other reason but getting what she needs to pin the murder on him.

Parting Shot: At Alexa’s apartment, Kieran and Madison are over. Kieran complains about Alexa’s expense report, because it includes all the charges for the rent boy. Madison is there using her vacuum. We pan back from Alexa’s window as Kieran tries to help Alexa fix the bread maker.

Enter Martin Henderson from “Virgin River” as Lawless’ brother.

Season two continues with the same tone and flair of the original season, just the shoreline and country have changed.

Sleeper Star: Vagulans makes a good comedic foil for Lawless; it’s funny when Madison blows off Alexa’s calls because she’s too busy watching vacuum videos or running down the battery in her car because she’s using that vacuum.

Most Pilot-y Line: Can’t really think of anything. The writing is that clever.

Season Two, Episode Three: Enter Martin Henderson from “Virgin River” as Lawless’ brother.

My Life Is Murder is a show that’s fun and light entertainment, enhanced by well-written mysteries and performances that don’t take themselves seriously.

DI Harry Henare (Rawiri Jobe) from season one.

Sex and Skin: Not that kind of show… She’s not there for any other reason but getting what she needs to pin the murder on him.

Season two continues with the same tone and flair of the original season, just the shoreline and country have changed. While no particular onscreen explanation is given for the cat-loving (and no mention is made of popular Aussie moggy Captain Thunderbolt’s fate), bread-baking Crowe’s reasoning for crossing the Tasman, when we first encounter her, she has already very much made herself to home here, providing sourdoughs to a local waterfront cafe and her very particular set of skills for local cop Harry Henare (Rawiri Jobe).

The latest case Henare needs help on is the death of businessman Michael Suzmann (Peter Feeney). Four weeks ago, he was shot four times and killed by a woman with a handgun while out on his daily run. Thanks to the help of a 12-year-old witness, police apprehended Tamara Innes (Robyn Malcolm), but something doesn’t feel right about it all to Henare. “There are too many loose ends. As far as we can tell, she’s never fired a gun, let alone owned one.”

The series is available for viewing through Amazon Prime’s Acorn TV.

Source: IMDB, Amazon Prime’s Acorn TV, STUFF, DECIDER

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ENTERTAINMENT – “Clickbait” is a Netflix Limited Series Thriller Full of Deception

It seems Covid-19 may not be the only plague threatening mankind.

Netflix mini-series “Clickbait” is more than it appears to be. What it appears to be is a show with a gimmick. A posting on the internet shows a bloodied man (Adrian Grenier) reluctantly holding up signs. The first says he abuses women. The second says he’s killed a woman. According to the site, when it gets 5 million hits, the man will be executed.

It doesn’t take long, obviously, for the site to get 5 million hits. This could have been the most mini mini-series ever.

Happily it isn’t. Instead it comes at the story of how a seemingly happily married father of two, Nick Brewer, ended up holding those signs from a variety of angles. The most consistent perspectives come from Nick’s hothead sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan), and his wife, Sophie (Betty Gabriel).

“Life Means I Kiss Ass. -Vela Kurv” new calendar released today on Amazon.

The virus is nowhere to be seen in Netflix’s grippingly twisty mystery Clickbait, but it’s the use and abuse of social media that drives its tale of malice, murder and deception.

Betty Gabriel, Camaron Engels,Jaylin Fletcher, and Adrian Grenier star in Clickbait on Netflix.

But the writers also include the eyes of a detective (Phoenix Raei), a reporter (Abraham Lim), Nick’s teen sons and others. And what unfolds — and keeps unfolding until the end — is a tale filled with betrayals, lies, misconceptions, delusions and revenge.

It seems Covid-19 may not be the only plague threatening mankind. The virus is nowhere to be seen in Netflix’s grippingly twisty mystery Clickbait, but it’s the use and abuse of social media that drives its tale of malice, murder and deception.

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Adrian Grenier is “Clickbait” on Netflix.

The journey of one of the central characters, Nick Brewer (Adrian Grenier), mirrors the switchback ride of the narrative as it jumps between viewpoints and keeps throwing a new light on aspects of the story. Nick is a physical therapist at a school athletics department, apparently a popular guy with a perfect wife and two kids. Imagine everybody’s horror when a video of a bloodied, battered Nick appears online, holding up placards saying “I abuse women”, “I killed a woman” and “At five million views I die”. Welcome to snuff-clickbait, and while Nick’s wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel), pugnacious sister Pia (Zoe Kazan) and the cops race desperately to find Nick, seemingly the whole dumb, titillated world keeps clicking on the video, thus bringing Nick’s threatened death hurtling closer.

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Detective (Phoenix Raei) and Nick’s hothead sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan) build the story tension in “Clickbait.”

As the show’s eight episodes unspool, creators Tony Ayres and Christian White probe different aspects of the online world and its real-life repercussions.

So Nick is the victim, but if the placards he’s holding up are true, is he also a villain? When evidence begins to emerge that seemingly-saintly Nick has been conducting a string of affairs with different women via several online dating accounts, all under different names, clouds begin to gather over his head as his reputation is trampled underfoot. When one of the women, Emma Beesly (Jessica Collins), comes forward to talk about her affair with Nick and her love for him, his goose is seemingly cooked.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet. As the show’s eight episodes unspool, creators Tony Ayres and Christian White probe different aspects of the online world and its real-life repercussions. They question the extent to which “real” life is becoming secondary to digitised proxies where it’s impossible to separate the facts from the fakes, a space where an idyllic wifi love affair trumps a physical relationship. Social networks seem to be teeming with antisocial individuals, and the obsessive pull of smartphones and tablets is niftily illustrated by the way screen images are interpolated into the live drama, slipped in at various angles so they become integral to the action.

Nick’s son Ethan (Camaron Engels) is almost permanently engaged in online messaging with a character known only as AL_2005, whether he’s on the sofa, on the bus or at school, and panic begins to mount when he finally decides to confront the person behind the online handle. Events take a tragic turn with the story of Simon Burton (Daniel Henshall), whose sister Sarah is driven to suicide after being “catfished” online. Simon (who’s employed, ironically, as an online content moderator) sets out to avenge her, with tragic consequences.

Obviously “Clickbait” has things to say about internet technology, misinformation and the alarming, potentially dangerous speed of modern media.

Nick’s son Ethan (Camaron Engels) is almost permanently engaged in online messaging on “Clickbait.”

The writers deliver some powerful jabs at the media too, who camp outside Nick’s home desperate to wheedle out something salacious for further vicarious consumption, online or off. An especially egregious case is Ben Park (Abraham Lin), a morality-free media shark who sees burglary and emotional manipulation as perfectly respectable, indeed crucial, tools of his trade. Mind you, his cynical editor is no better.

To say more would be to say too much, but the way Ayres and White handle their final-reel reveal is a masterclass in advanced whodunnitry. They even helpfully lob in a subsidiary could-be villain as a decoy. We are left to ponder whether Clickbait is itself clickbait.

This is a show absolutely made for bingeing.

Nick’s wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel) and Nick Brewer (Adrian Grenier) are the central characters in Netflix’s “Clickbait.”

Obviously “Clickbait” has things to say about internet technology, misinformation and the alarming, potentially dangerous speed of modern media. But mostly it’s just an elaborate whodunit, complete with wrong turns, false fall guys and subtle insinuations. This is a show absolutely made for bingeing.

In the end “Clickbait” is about alienation and loneliness in a tech-mad world. It holds together as myriad characters come and go thanks to strong turns by Kazan as a sister driven to find out the truth about her brother, and Gabriel, as a wife who finds her reality in tatters. They are the anchors who keep this dervish series grounded. “Clickbait” is clickbait indeed.

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A Curvy Chick Production for Riley Rose superhero Vela Kurv books and graphic novels.