The One on Netflix.

ENTERTAINMENT – “The One”, Another Sci-Fi Series on DNA Matchmaking, Now Streaming on Netflix

An eight-episode series now available on Netflix.

At first glance, the Netflix limited series “The One” seems like a perfect match for a weekend binge-watch. A slick, fast-paced, lurid, sci-fi thriller with a great-looking and talented cast, set in a world where a groundbreaking new DNA test can match you with your perfect partner, aka THE ONE? With murder, corporate intrigue, risky love affairs, double- and triple-crossing also on the menu? An eight-episode series now available on Netflix.

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Indeed, writer-producer Howard Overman’s adaptation of the novel of the same name by John Marrs is a handsomely mounted production filled with bloody cliffhangers and putatively shocking reveals, but with each passing episode we actually become LESS interested in the main characters and the increasingly ludicrous storylines that depend upon a whole bunch of supposedly smart people doing a whole lot of stupid things. Even more frustrating than the underwhelming resolutions to certain storylines are the loose threads left hanging all over the place. Perhaps the intention is to pick up some of those plot points in a Season Two of “The One,” but if and when that happens, count me out. There’s just not enough substance beneath all the style on display here to sustain this season, let alone a second.

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Once you connect with your perfect mate, you’ll know lasting and true love and live happily ever after.

In a premise not dissimilar to “Soulmates” on AMC, “The One” takes place “five minutes in the future,” where scientific advances involving ant pheromones — yes, ant pheromones and just go with it — have led to a breakthrough for a DNA-based dating app that will match you with your one true love, no matter where he or she lives. Once you connect with your perfect mate, you’ll know lasting and true love and live happily ever after. Of course, if you happen to be involved with someone else at the time, it can get complicated, but hey: DNA don’t lie.

Hannah Ware (“Boss”) is a striking presence as Rebecca Webb (as in the world wide web, as in a web of deceit!), the charismatic and globally famous scientist turned CEO and co-founder of MatchDNA, the billion-pound British company that has matched tens of millions with their soulmates. Rebecca herself is the best advertisement for the technology; she concludes every jam-packed auditorium presentation by bringing out HER perfect match: Ethan (Wilf Scolding), who’s endearingly sheepish about the whole thing at first but then wows the audience by engaging in a long and passionate kiss with Rebecca as the crowd goes wild.

 

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Hannah Ware stars in “The One” on Netflix.

But Hannah lives in constant fear Mark will give into the temptation of seeking his one true love…

In rapid fashion, we’re introduced to a number of other key characters as “The One” splits into a number of distinct and eventually overlapping storylines:

  • Behind the scenes, Rebecca has ice water in her veins and won’t hesitate a moment to manipulate events and destroy careers, as Stephen Campbell Moore’s wealthy investor, Damian, schemes to take over the company. “If I feel my investment in this company is under threat, I’ll throw you under a bus!” Damian tells Rebecca, just so we’re clear he’ll, you know, throw her under a bus.
  • In flashback scenes to the not-so-distant past, Rebecca and her best friend and fellow researcher James (Dimitri Leonidas) have reached a breakthrough in the lab with the DNA technology — but they can’t test it out on humans without breaking the law as well as betraying their friendship with Rebecca’s flat mate Ben (Amir El-Masry), who is clearly in love with Rebecca.
  • Eric Kofi-Abrefa’s Mark is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about MatchDNA and is hopelessly in love with his wife Hannah (Lois Chimimba). But Hannah lives in constant fear Mark will give into the temptation of seeking his one true love — so she secretly sends a thread of Mark’s hair to DNAMatch and befriends his match, in the hopes of keeping her away from Mark. Dubious plan, Hannah.
  • Zoe Tapper’s Kate is a no-nonsense police detective investigating the discovery of a body in the Thames — an incident initially classified as a suicide that might actually be … MURDER, and could well involve Rebecca and/or James. Meanwhile, Kate has found her true match in Sophia (Jana Perez), a stunning beauty who lives in Barcelona and is making plans to come to London and start a new life with Kate. Problem is, Sophia’s whose life is extremely complicated. Extremely. Kate might be a great detective when it comes to solving crimes, but she’s utterly clueless in navigating Sophia’s secret world.

Problem is, Sophia’s whose life is extremely complicated.

There’s a lot more going on, involving the British government possibly cracking down on the controversial DNA technology, which would essentially put Rebecca’s company out of business; a charming French surf instructor and his troublesome younger brother; a corrupt cop playing both sides of the fence, and the occasional beating or shooting that takes place as one cover-up leads to another.

“The One” has no shortage of hiss-worthy villains and conflicted anti-heroes trying to do the right thing even as they’re pulled this way and that, but precious little time is spent on what happens to couples after they’ve been matched for life. Do they ever break up, does the passion ever subside, do they remain in a state of movie-like bliss? Instead, the focus is on the convoluted and largely unsatisfying crime mysteries, none of them particularly gripping.

Source: IMDB, Chicago Sun Times

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Soulmates

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shatner in Space

 

 

 

 

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Shatner in Space

ENTERTAINMENT – Have You Watched Captain Kirk, I Mean “Shatner in Space” on Prime?

This documentary is indescribably touching as it captures the Star Trek actor’s rocket voyage. Even if it is a Jeff Bezos ego trip

There are two competing schools of thought when it comes to William Shatner’s space mission. The first is characterized by a kind of awestruck wonder over the beautiful symmetry of it all: Shatner starred in Star Trek, Star Trek inspired a generation of engineers, the engineers built a rocket, the rocket flew Shatner into space. The second tends to think that letting a billionaire indulge an actor by flying him to the brink of the atmosphere in a spaceship shaped like a willy might not be the best use of our resources.

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Shatner in Space is firmly for the first crowd. A 45-minute documentary about his mission, it airs on Amazon Prime. Jeff Bezos owns Amazon Prime. He also owns the rocket that Shatner flew on. Anyone expecting even an iota of criticism would be better off looking elsewhere.

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If you watched the news coverage of William Shatner’s journey into space on Bezos’s Blue Origin spaceship, New Shepard, you’ll have a rough idea of what will happen here. A 90-year-old man, at the invitation of the world’s richest man, travels up to the edge of space and returns transformed. Upon leaving the capsule on its return to Earth, Shatner tries to grasp at the profundity of what he saw up there; wide-eyed and slack-jawed, he struggles to articulate the fragility of life on Earth. Meanwhile, Bezos cuts him off to spray some champagne around like a tinpot go-kart champion.

 

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The champagne moment, unsurprisingly, has been sliced out of Shatner in Space. What’s left walks a fragile line. The show is part monument to Bezos’s ego, because of course it is, but it is also an incredible document of a man at the end of his life witnessing the great beyond. If you can stomach the former, there’s a good chance that the latter will move you to tears.

Shatner in Space: Captain Kirk’s in a willy-shaped spaceship – and it’s poetry in motion

William Shatner inside a Jeff Bezos ego tri… sorry, rocket. Photograph: Amazon

Here, Shatner acts like a man who knows his time is coming. He speaks almost exclusively with a hushed sincerity that is frequently at odds with those around him. In a quiet moment with Bezos, for example, Shatner leans in and asks if he is scared of death. Coming from anyone else, it would be a stone-cold conversation killer. But Shatner’s age, and his yearning to know what’s next, can’t help but draw you in. You are forever on his side.

In the run-up to the launch, Shatner shares an incredible story. When Star Trek was cancelled in the 1960s, his affectations of celebrity cratered around him. His marriage ended. He couldn’t afford a home, so he bought a truck and lived in it. And it’s from the truck that Shatner watched the moon landing. A man who had played an iconic space adventurer, watching mankind’s greatest moment at his lowest ebb. Sure, it’s probably a story he has told countless times before, and over the years it is likely to have been sanded and smoothed for maximum impact, but it lends his space trip a lovely poetry.

When Star Trek was cancelled in the 1960s, his affectations of celebrity cratered around him.

Shatner’s willy-shaped spaceship. Photograph: LM Otero/AP

The voyage itself is equally revelatory. As the rocket reaches its highest point, and everyone is allowed to unclip themselves, most of the passengers start giggling at the sensation of weightlessness. Not Shatner, though. He clings on to the window, staring at the blackness of space, eyes wide with revelation. “That’s it,” he whispers to himself. “I’ve got it.”

William (centre) may finally get to go to space for real (Picture: Moviestore/Shutterstock)

Now, part of me thinks that, if Jeff Bezos got his way, then everything that ever airs on Amazon Prime would be a variation of Shatner in Space. We’d be beaten over the head with long, lush pro-Amazon infomercials that could never really be shown anywhere else because they border so shamelessly on propaganda. But in this instance, I’m inclined to cut it a break. Shatner in Space is a document of what space means to Shatner, and what Shatner means to everyone he has inspired. The sight of him immediately postflight, crying and wrestling with the magnitude of what he has just witnessed, is indescribably touching. What an unexpected treat.

Source: IMDB, The Guardian, Metro

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Departure on Peacock TV.

ENTERTAINMENT – Peacock Plus Approves a Third Season of “Departure” as Christopher Plummer & Archie Panjabi Investigate a Mysterious Aircraft Incident in the Opening Season

Departure marks the final role for Christopher Plummer.

If ever there was a time to watch a show about a plane disappearing with 255 souls on board during a global pandemic that has stopped most air travel, this is it.

New York City. Madelyn Strong (Rebecca Liddiard, Alias Grace), a young doctor, boards Flight 716 to London. She calls her fiancé, London DJ Ali (Shazad Latif, Star Trek: Discovery) and makes small talk with her fellow passengers. In a few hours, she will be floating in the Atlantic Ocean in a half-swamped life raft, the only survivor of Flight 716.

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Archie Panjabi (Kalinda from The Good Wife) is Kendra, a lead transport investigator working under Christopher Plummer. She heads up a team that includes a policeman, an MI5 agent and some technical boffins that don’t seem to leave the office. Her job is to find out where the plane is, if there are survivors, and what happened.

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The Setup

London. Kendra Malley (Archie Panjabi, Run), a legendary aviation investigator, is pulled out of early retirement by her mentor and former boss Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer, Inside Man). Flight 716 is missing. The families of its passengers want answers about the fate of their loved ones. The British firm that built the aircraft wants its clients not to cancel their massive pending orders. The Prime Minister wants things handled. And so Howard turns to Kendra.

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Christopher Plummer in Departure on Peacock.

He’s already assembled a team for her to lead. Former cop Dom (Kris Holden-Ried, The Umbrella Academy), empathetic analyst Levi (Peter Mensah, Spartacus), dive expert Nadia (Tamara Duarte, Wynona Earp), tech whiz Theo (Mark Rendall, The Berenstain Bears) and MI:5 agent Janet (Claire Forlani, The Rock).

Departure’s depiction of what’s being done and how it’s being done is never less than compelling. 

The clock is set. Kendra and her crew need to find Flight 716 before any survivors succumb to hypothermia. When Madelyn is rescued, the stakes change. Kendra and company now need to figure out what happened, why it happened and how it happened before the tabloids sink their grubby claws into the disappearance and whip the world into a frenzy. This would be a mighty challenge even for an investigator of Kendra’s skills under the calmest of circumstances.

Flight 716’s vanishing is far from the calmest of circumstances. Captain Donovan (Allan Hawco, Jack Ryan) was behaving erratically before and during the flight. One of the passengers (Emilio Doorgasingh, Kingdom of Heaven) was a member of the Iranian military traveling under an assumed name. A slimily amiable oligarch (Sasha Roiz, Suits) seems terribly amused by the whole thing. As Kendra and her team investigate Flight 716, the questions become a ever-more-complicated spiral. And the answers grow ever more complicated and ever more alarming.

Obviously, a lot of research was done into how and what is investigated when a plane goes down, when and by whom, and the technical aspects of aeronautical engineering.

Departure, created by Vince Shiao (Aftermath), written by him along with Stephanie Tracey, John Krizanc, Malcolm MacRury and Ellen Vanstone and directed by T.J. Scott (Star Trek: Discovery) is a solid mystery/thriller miniseries with a few significant issues that keep it from greatness. One of the key subplots is wildly out of sync with the rest of the series, and the personal lives of Kendra and her team are awkwardly integrated into the storytelling.

The initial stages of the conspiracy investigation are closer to “shaggy” than “vast,” there’s some seriously questionable design work (a conspiracy website that looks like it was designed by a veteran of pop-punk album artwork and a bizarre fake video game), and at times the writing hews far too close to hoary, fearmongering cliches from mid-2000s thrillers in places. Even when it zags away from them, the result is close enough to leave a sour aftertaste.

With that said, there is ultimately more to praise than there is to criticize. Most of Departure’s key players deliver strong performances, its depiction of the investigative process is consistently interesting, there are a number of quiet moments that play quite well, and the later stages of its conspiracy storyline are tense and exciting.

Departure is strongest when it focuses on process.

Obviously, a lot of research was done into how and what is investigated when a plane goes down, when and by whom, and the technical aspects of aeronautical engineering. Plane buffs will be in heaven, but if you’re not, that’s ok; anything that really matters is red-flagged very clearly. This is handy, as there are many twists and turns and possible reasons why the plane went down posited over the first five episodes.

Don’t be put off by the initial, “It’s terrorism! The pilot’s Irish! There’s Muslims onboard!”, it does get a lot better. (Apart from the son. He’s so bad you wish he had been on the plane.)

Departure is strongest when it focuses on process. Whether that’s Kendra and Dom running down a lead or Ali and Madelyn’s father Derek (Evan Buliung, Copper) trying to figure out how to best do right by her, Departure’s depiction of what’s being done and how it’s being done is never less than compelling.

Source:  IMDB, Stuff, The Spool

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ENTERTAINMENT – “Republic of Doyle,” Modern Day Dramedy of Rockford Files

The show has been sold to over 90 countries, and maintained over a million viewers a week on CBC television in Canada.

Need something fun to watch before bed or something fun to binge this weekend? Republic of Doyle is just what you’re looking for. This show ran from 2010 – 2014 and has six seasons with a total of seventy-eight episodes, so this should keep you busy for awhile.

 

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I am so impressed with Allan Hawco, who stars in Republic of Doyle. He created a very successful enterprise on the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation network) that ran for six seasons. He studied business at Memorial University of Newfoundland but dropped out in favor of the National Theatre School of Canada. Hawco’s first role was in the Shakespeare by the Sea production of Macbeth, which was directed by Aiden Flynn. From there, director Danielle Irvine encouraged the young actor to audition for the National Theatre School where he was one of 13 selected from thousands of applicants that year.

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After graduation from the National Theatre School of Canada in 2000, Hawco worked in many of the major theatres in Canada. In 2005, motivated by the want for greater creative control, he started his own production company the Company Theatre with Philip Riccio. The company’s inaugural production, A Whistle in the Dark, brought Hawco critical acclaim. Their 2009 production of Festen won him three Dora Awards, including Outstanding Production of a Play.

Some of Hawco’s earlier movie roles include Canadian productions such as Making Love in Saint PierreAbove and Beyond, and Love and Savagery, the latest of which won him an ACTRA nomination for Outstanding Male Performance. His career took off with the launch of his own TV series Republic of Doyle, which premiered in 2010. Hawco is co-creator with Perry Chafe and Malcolm MacRury, executive producer, lead actor, head writer as well as the show’s showrunner. The show has been sold to over 90 countries, and maintained over a million viewers a week on CBC television in Canada.

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Hawco literally put his whole family to work on Republic of Doyle. One of his brothers is a composer, and has composed for Republic of Doyle, while his father has also worked on the show and his mother has appeared as a background performer.

This Canadian show takes place in Newfoundland and follows the story of Jake Doyle and his father who work as private investigators. The show is less crime procedural and more of a light-hearted good time. The show isn’t afraid to be a little ridiculous and wears the we-don’t-take-ourselves-seriously attitude very well. We wish there were more shows willing to be less serious.

The characters

The characters on Republic of Doyle are well rounded, and, according to native Newfoundlanders, the characters are accurate portrayals of the local citizens. Meaning they’re full of dry humor, wit, and irreverence.

The main character, Doyle, frequently ends up in difficult situations, which are usually of his own making.

Viewers also praise the relationship between Jake Doyle (Allan Hawco) and his father (Sean McGinley) for being loving, even despite their fights, and enjoyable to watch.

The plot

The plot has just enough mystery to call it one by genre, but that’s as far as it goes. It far prefers its comedy leanings with a touch of drama. Many people liken Republic of Doyle to other older shows such as Starsky and Hutch or Magnum P.I.

Jake Doyle, while dealing with his dad and solving cases, which only sometimes are related to murder, he’s also doing his best to figure out his romantic life – well okay, pretty much all of his personal life.

Reception

Viewers adore this show. It’s hard to find a review which isn’t positively glowing. People who aren’t from Newfoundland adore the sweeping landscapes, and those who are from there appreciate their little hunk of the world being showcased so well.

The humor and silliness keeps people coming back for more, whether it’s first time watchers bingewatching the show like crazy, or longtime fans re-watching. Fans do warn that if you want something serious like CSI or something realistic feeling, then don’t bother to watch the show.

The show is pure fun and meant to be entertaining. It succeeds at being both of these things.

How to watch

Lynda Boyd stars in “Republic of Doyle.”

If this show is sounding like something you want to watch, and really, how could it not? Then you’re in luck because it’s available on pretty much all of the big streaming platforms. You can watch it on Acorn TV through Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu (if premiering on these platforms), and even Apple TV.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a cup of tea, snuggle into a blanket, turn on the show, and prepare to have a lovely evening.

Source: IMDB and Film Daily

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Invasion on Apple TV Plus

ENTERTAINMENT – Here Comes “Invasion” a New Sci-fi Series on Apple TV Plus on October 22, 2021

Apple’s latest sci-fi epic comes from the people behind The Martian and Deadpool

Apple has released the official trailer for its ambitious new sci-fi series, Invasion, starring Jurassic Park‘s Sam Neill. Hold on to your humanity. Invasion launches on October 22, only on Apple TV+. It is an alien invasion through different perspectives around the world.

The series is comprised of a three-episode premiere. Invasion comes from the minds of X-Men and Deadpool producer Simon Kinberg, as well as The Twilight Zone‘s, David Weil. The series follows the events of an alien invasion through the lens of several characters spread across multiple continents.

 

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Apple is doubling down on the whole large-scale science fiction thing. After creating a reasonable amount of buzz around Foundation, the long-awaited Isaac Asimov adaptation in which Lee Pace plays a very tall galactic emperor named Brother Day, the world’s most successful cell phone maker is staying in the sci-fi section. Invasion, the company’s next foray into the worlds beyond cosmos, is bringing alien beings and Spielbergian closeups back home. Set on Earth and across multiple contents, ‌the series follows different perspectives from people around the globe as they deal with a particularly threatening and explosive alien, um, invasion. Make sure to click the link to play the Invasion trailer here in the blogpost.

See Apple TV Plus’ first trailer for sci-fi series Invasion.

Apple TV Plus is slowly racking up a stash of sci-fi TV shows, from Jason Momoa-starring See to Steven Spielberg-produced anthology Amazing Stories. Thus the next Apple TV adventure is Invasion. Joining Neill is an expansive ensemble, including Shamier Anderson (as Goliath, you’ll remember him from Netflix’s Stowaway), Golshifteh Farahani (Gen: Lock), Firas Nassar (Sirens), Shioli Kutsuna (Deadpool 2), and more. Invasion follows a wide variety of people from around the world dealing with an otherworldly presence. The moody drama, as well as the alien mystery, are strong.

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“So in the case of the X-Men movies that I spent a lot of my life working on, the mutants were a metaphor for any persecuted or oppressed people,” Kinberg said. “And in the case of Invasion, it’s really about two things for me, metaphorically. One is the fact that we’re all aliens, that there is a sense of alienation that I think all people carry with them in some form, whether they’re alienated from their families, alienated from their communities, alienated from their jobs, there is a sense of disconnect. And I think I was really trying to find storylines in our show that would explore that feeling of alienation and really sort of explode it under the intensity of the magnifying glass of an actual alien invasion.”

Nevertheless, Neill’s participation is always exciting, especially after all those fantastic Instagram videos where he plays with ducks.

The series comes from David Weil (Hunters) and Simon Kinberg, who most probably know from his run on the X-Men movies, which started pretty good and ended pretty badly. Still, it takes a real mensch to own up to a disaster like Dark Phoenix. After the film’s release, he told KCRW, “It clearly is a movie that didn’t connect with audiences that didn’t see it, it didn’t connect enough with audiences that did see it. So that’s on me.” Nevertheless, he’s got bona fides, including work on the Deadpool movies and 2015’s best comedy The Martian.

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So if doing another Jurassic World means he can continue playing with those little guys, we support the film’s release.

Invasion sees Sam Neill’s return to the world of science fiction action movies ahead of Jurassic World: Dominion, a film much like that third Fantastic Beasts is legally obligated to come out. Nevertheless, Neill’s participation is always exciting, especially after all those fantastic Instagram videos where he plays with ducks. So if doing another Jurassic World means he can continue playing with those little guys, we support the film’s release.

The first of Invasion’s 10 episodes will drop on AppleTV+ on October 22.

Source: IMDB, IGN, AV Club, and CNET

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The Orville on Hulu

ENTERTAINMENT – Season 3 of “The Orville” Returns on Thursday, Mar 10, 2022, Episode 1 “New Horizons!”

Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi comedy series The Orville returned for a charming, but sedate second season premiere that focused more on character moments than interstellar crisis, now we’re waiting on season 3…

Right from the word ‘engage,’ Seth MacFarlane‘s sci-fi comedy The Orville has had more than a few factors working against it. What with its arrival at the same time as the official Star Trek spinoffStar Trek: Discovery, and MacFarlane’s pedigree as the mind behind Family Guy (a show that has long since outstayed its welcome), FOX’s series had an uphill battle to climb in its first season. However, despite itself, persistent viewers found that The Orville refreshingly steered away from the obnoxious cutaway humor MacFarlane is known for and his true mission – to provide a light-hearted, earnest, casual homage to episodic ’90s space opera like Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s basically an excuse for MacFarlane to do TNG cosplay, and given its modestly successful results, it’s hard to begrudge him that wish. With “Ja’loja”, The Orville plays to its strengths with an understated, character-driven second season premiere that functions more like a day-in-the-life starship story than anything involving aliens or galactic peril. The main premise of “Ja’loja” (which MacFarlane himself wrote and directed) admittedly sounds like something from a Family Guy cutaway gag: what if Klingons got pon farr, and instead of having sex every seven years, they had to take an annual leak on their homeworld?

 

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As the episode opens, that time is nigh for straight-faced security officer Bortus (Peter Macon), and so Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) redirects the Orville to Moclus for the highly ritualized ceremony. This offers the crew a bit of downtime to deal with their own personal issues, and that they do – “Ja’loja” is primarily concerned with the dating lives and parenting skills of the Orville‘s occupants, especially as most of them look for dates to Bortus’ Ja’loja ceremony. As such, the episode’s runtime flits lazily between subplots including Ed’s lingering feelings for first officer/ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki) amidst her growing courtship with the ship’s schoolteacher (Chris Johnson); Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) recruiting the android Isaac (Marc Jackson) to help her deal with her increasingly rebellious son Marcus (BJ Tanner); navigator Gordon (Scott Grimes) asking chief engineer (and self-professed “girl guru”) John Lamarr (J Lee) for advice on asking out the ship’s attractive new cartographer (Michaela McManus); and security chief Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) awkwardly trying to date the people-pleasing, poetry-writing Dann (Mike Henry).

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There’s not a lot plot-wise to propel “Ja’loja” forward, which makes it a strange choice for a second season premiere – focusing on reintroducing the ship’s crew and the state of their varying relationships.

The Orville starship.

If the season 2 premiere of The Orville is any indication, the not-quite Star Trek spoof from series creator and star, Seth MacFarlane, has found its footing and maybe its identity in telling smaller, more character-driven stories, that better serve its sometimes confounding mix of sincerity and irreverence. The series may have been a hit with audiences when it aired on FOX last year, but it didn’t strike a similar chord with critics, who took issue with the show’s often awkward balance of broad humor and earnest dramatic storytelling in season 1. Add to that the feeling that The Orville was really just a collection of not-great Stark Trek fan fiction, and you had a series that was destined to irk someone, in some way or another.

The catch was, of course, that The Orville wasn’t meant to be as divisive as it was. Clearly designed to be a crowd-pleaser, the series ultimately fell short in that endeavor. But, after its first season, the show returned with a late-2018 premiere that was boosted by its post-football slot on FOX. Moreover, MacFarlane’s sci-fi series made its surprisingly quiet return with a softer, less ambitious, but more successful character-driven episode that, despite still struggling to balance its tone, feels like a template for a more worthwhile season of television.

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Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) and ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki) in The Orville.

The idea of a frazzled starship captain having to work with his ex-wife feels like a very bro-ey Seth MacFarlane premise, but part of The Orville‘s charm is that it seemed to get over the groan-worthy ‘marriage bad!’ jokes in favor of treating Ed and Kelly as two professionals who were always able to put their appreciation for each other’s talents before any personal resentment.

There’s not a lot plot-wise to propel “Ja’loja” forward, which makes it a strange choice for a second season premiere – focusing on reintroducing the ship’s crew and the state of their varying relationships. Chief among those is the Ed-Kelly dynamic, which has always been The Orville‘s Achilles heel since it dropped the more overtly Family Guy-esque humor in its first few episodes. The idea of a frazzled starship captain having to work with his ex-wife feels like a very bro-ey Seth MacFarlane premise, but part of The Orville‘s charm is that it seemed to get over the groan-worthy ‘marriage bad!’ jokes in favor of treating Ed and Kelly as two professionals who were always able to put their appreciation for each other’s talents before any personal resentment. Not so here; now, Ed’s suddenly hoping that he can work things out with Kelly again, which causes her no small amount of consternation – not just for their problems with timing, but for the inevitable ethical dilemmas that come from sending officers into dangerous situations. Sure, Ed comes to his senses eventually (and even offers some helpful, if sexist, advice for her all-too-accommodating beau: “be a little stupid every day, and really stupid every once in a while”), but let’s hope the will-they-won’t-they Ed/Kelly drama is finally put to bed. They work a lot better as partners, as they already proved to each other multiple times last season.

The rest of the show’s subplots provide comparatively shallow retreads of the same character beats we’ve been hammered with these characters so far. Alara’s awkward and insecure about her fitness for the job, Gordon’s a big awkward doof who learns the wrong lessons from the still-boring Lamarr (his transfer to engineering didn’t give him any more of a personality), and Isaac doesn’t understand human social cues. However, when combined they offer an intriguing case study for MacFarlane’s stated mission for The Orville as a show: to turn Star Trek into a workplace comedy, complete with all the “excessive casualization of space travel” that entails. In a vacuum, there’s little inherently interesting about watching a parent-teacher conference in space, or see Gordon suit up in a leather jacket that’s easily 75% zippers (“You always want one more zipper than you’re comfortable with,” Lamarr tells him) for a holodeck dating simulation. But in concert, “Ja’loja” feels like the kind of day-in-the-life exploration of space travel we didn’t get much in Star Trek outside of “Data’s Day” or “Lower Decks”.

It’s a shame, then, that little of this material really sticks out beyond the casual-Fridays atmosphere of the ship itself, which is already a staple of the show. There’s only so far you can take a ship full of a crew that’s, like, really chill with each other, especially when you don’t throw them into a sci-fi scenario that clashes entertainingly against their laissez-faire attitudes. A hangout episode isn’t a bad idea, but give us more entertaining scenarios to dig into in the future. As Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season looks to borrow a little of The Orville‘s irreverence, the latter show seems prepared to take itself a bit more seriously like the former. It’s a curious tonal recalibration for both shows, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle those changes. It’s tough to predict The Orville‘s intended course from this reserved Season 1 episode, but here’s hoping it puts a button on some of the show’s lingering character beats so its innocuously charming crew can move onto the business of exploring the universe.

Source: Screenrant, IMDB, and The Spool

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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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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).

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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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"Evil" Season 2 on Paramount Plus.

ENTERTAINMENT – “Evil” Season 2 is the Provocative TV Show You May Not Be Watching

Michelle and Robert King’s seductive successor, “The Good Fight“, is a necessary “Evil.”

One of television’s strangest, most beguiling shows returned for a second season on Paramount+, June 2021; it was pushed off of network television and left to languish—or maybe flourish—in the recesses of streaming. “Evil”, from creators Michelle and Robert King, takes the knowing, literate, hyper-contemporary tone of those creators’ “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” and grafts it onto a story about the Catholic church, possession, and the Devil himself. It’s a creepy and bleakly funny series, a lament about our times that would never be so insincere as to suggest the supposed good can win in the fight against the dark.

 

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Dave (Mike Colter) and Kristen (Katja Herbers) star in “Evil” on Paramount Plus.

In the Kings’ nimble hands, all of this demonry becomes a metaphor for the sickness of the American present day…

The first season, which aired on CBS, followed a case-of-the-week structure while also attending to a larger mystery. Forensic psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers) is enlisted by the church to look into matters of demons and other supernatural phenomena, a skeptic Scully to balance the show’s dreamy, furtive, priest-in-training Mulder, Dave (Mike Colter). With an even more skeptical tech guy, Ben (Aasif Mandvi), to aid them, Kristen and Dave investigate lots of eerie occurrences, all while stalked, taunted, and accosted by another psychologist, Leland (Michael Emerson), who is either Satan incarnate or a loyal lieutenant.

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In the Kings’ nimble hands, all of this demonry becomes a metaphor for the sickness of the American present day, particularly the ways in which the internet has smuggled horrible things past lax defenses and into our daily lives. The show’s most alarming suggestion is not that something bad is coming for us, but that we are all already terribly infected with it; there is an arch hopelessness to the series that may sound off-putting in theory, but in practice is oddly soothing, cathartic. It’s fun to wallow around with a show that makes such a gallows humor joke of how well and truly fucked we are.

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Kristen (Katja Herbers) stars in “Evil” on Paramount Plus.

Evil’s nerviest sustained trick in season one is keeping us guessing whether any of the spooky stuff we see—particularly a goat-headed man-beast who appears in dreams, and maybe in waking life—is actually real.

Evil’s nerviest sustained trick in season one is keeping us guessing whether any of the spooky stuff we see—particularly a goat-headed man-beast who appears in dreams, and maybe in waking life—is actually real. Maybe the show is entirely allegory: Leland is a sociopath rather than an emissary of Lucifer, possessions are caused by physiological or environmental factors and not spirits from Hell. That ambiguity lets Evil really toss around its ideas; there is room to debate and theorize without anything smacking up against hard fact.

Ben (Aasif Mandvi) , Kristen (Katja Herbers), and Dave (Mike Colter) star in “Evil” on Paramount Plus.

The show’s relocation to Paramount+ also poses some intriguing possibilities.

What I’ve seen of season two (only a pair of episodes) changes that structure a bit. (Some spoilers to follow.) The first season’s cliffhanger—did Kristen actually kill the serial killer who has been threatening her family?—is answered; so too, sort of, maybe, is the bigger question of the supernatural. The first two episodes dive deep into the core mythology of the series—though there is a standalone case to be considered in the second hour. I’m not sure I love this heavy focus on the show’s internal lore. I prefer the series when it’s using its clever devices to peer outward, examining the varied trends and oddities of our digitized, atomized lives.

Still, I have faith (heh) that the second season will find its best course. Evil season one is too good to be a fluke, the Kings’ minds too sharp and whirring to putter out after just a short run of episodes. The show’s relocation to Paramount+ also poses some intriguing possibilities. It is, so far, a satisfying jolt to hear these characters drop a few cutting curse words, as if they are suddenly unbound—or, perhaps more appropriately, that much more steeped in the profane.

Cheery “Evil” is not. But it remains riveting television, mordant and sinister with a faint sadness hanging around its edges.

The show’s humor is still intact, particularly as evidenced in a nasty bit of physical comedy involving one of Kristen’s daughters. Kristen has begun to worry—just a faint flicker, a gnawing little thing; we in the audience are of course much more concerned—that there is something wrong with the girl, maybe something demonic lying dormant in her since the womb that is just now revealing itself. That’s a familiar, but pleasingly grim, narrative possibility, and a strangely poignant manifestation of the fear that children born into the horror of today are inherently poisoned and doomed.

Cheery “Evil” is not. But it remains riveting television, mordant and sinister with a faint sadness hanging around its edges. Which is what a lot of life in the world can feel like these days, our ironically commented-upon descent into the murk of late-stage everything. It’s nice to have Evil trotting along as a fellow traveler, perhaps even leading the way with a wicked and welcoming smirk.

Where to Watch “Evil”: Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, Paramount Plus,

Source: IMDB, CBS/Paramount+, Variety

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