Midge Maisel is back and her career is taking off for real.
At the end of the last season, Midge. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) was asked by singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) to be his opening act on tour through the US and Europe, including the USO. This proves to be a good move for her, as she starts to get exposed to larger venues in Las Vegas and Miami, but takes a massive toll on her personal life and family life. Meanwhile, Susie (Alex Borstein), her manager, is attempting to help her new client, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), with her dream of becoming a legitimate dramatic actress. However, Sophie’s superstar personality makes everything difficult. Abe and Rose Weissman (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle), Midge’s parents, are dealing with losing their apartment and Abe’s career after he quit in protest during the last season. They’re forced to move in with Moishe and Shirley Maisel (Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron), the parents of Midge’s ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen). Joel, meanwhile, is dealing with trying to open a nightclub over a gambling den in Chinatown.
This season is the first time that we really start to get an idea that just getting the break isn’t enough. Midge has clearly gotten her big break with Shy Baldwin, but she now has to deal with all of the work of actually having an audience and a venue and how it impacts her life. She’s chosen her career over her fiancé Benjamin (Zachary Levi) because it makes her happy, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t regret things. She also spends a lot of time questioning her decision because it makes her unable to see her kids. It’s a good demonstration of the cost of success.
We also see Susie dealing with being successful for the first time in her life, managing to beg, borrow, threaten, and lie her client Sophie into a role as a lead on a highly-anticipated Broadway play. It’s made all the more frustrating because Sophie, who usually just plays the same comic character in her act, cannot bring herself to work well with others at first. I have to give credit to Borstein and Lynch, because their interplay is a damned-near-perfect representation of a person trying to direct a big personality who is used to getting their way. Having dealt with those in a number of capacities, watching Susie clearly suppress the reasonable urge to punch someone who is trying to ruin their own life was spot-on.
Most of the other plotlines are pretty entertaining, although none of them are really compelling. Abe Weissman’s character devolves a little as he loses his purpose and struggles to deal with how the “revolution” has changed since his youth. Rose is inspired to be more independent by Midge, but then kind of resents her for it. Joel dates a girl who runs a gambling den. All of them have some laughs, but I just never really cared about them much.
Overall, I’m still enjoying the show, but it maybe needs to figure out what to do with everyone but Midge and Susie.
I got a request to review a Chinese horror movie and it was definitely unique.
SUMMARY (Partially inspired by Romeo and Juliet)
Two Households, both alike in dignity,
In pre-industrial China, where we start the show,
Where Master Tan humiliates Master Lung,
By showing Lung’s wife Chin, Yen-Chu, Lung’s former ho.
Okay, that’s all the poetry, because I’m running out of time.
So, two local rich guys, Kung-Fu Masters Tan (Kuan Tai Chen) and Lung (Tony Liu), have a long-standing rivalry. Lung mocks one of Tan’s lanterns before the upcoming lantern festival, but in return Tan shows Lung’s wife Chin (Ni Tien) a prostitute, Yen-Chu (Linda Chu), with whom Lung had an affair. Yen-Chu is now with Tan. Lung proceeds to insult Tan and decides to show him up by commissioning the most magnificent lantern imaginable for the festival. He goes to the best local lantern maker, Chao Chun-Fang (Lieh Lo), whom Lung had formerly defeated in a battle for the hand of his wife. Despite still hating Lung, Chun-Fang agrees.
Soon, a man in an ape suit and skull begins abducting women related to the two Masters and skinning them to make them into lanterns. Each master believes the other is behind it, leading to growing enmity between the two while the women of the town are at risk.
So, this is an interesting combination of horror and kung-fu (Wuxia) film. The style of the movie is reminiscent of the other martial arts movies of the 1970s (though this was 1982), and the two leads are all veterans of the genre. Tony Liu was in three separate Bruce Lee films, and Lieh Lo was a superstar before Bruce Lee’s star was on the rise. The writer of the film, Kuang Ni, as well as the director, Chung Sun, both did a lot of those movies, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the namesake of the Wu-Tang Clan’s first album. The reason I bring this up is that the horror elements in this movie are significantly smaller than the kung-fu elements, but I imagine that’s because the latter was more solidly in the team’s wheelhouse. That said, while the horror elements are relatively small, they’re horribly graphic and disturbing.
Naturally, since a lot of the movie is done in the Wuxia style, the villain in this movie can’t just be a crazy person who abducts and skins women, though that would be horrifying enough on its own. No, instead the villain is a martial arts master whose physical prowess is on display most of the time that he’s on-screen. It’s not just that he’s clearly extremely dextrous and has the traditional Wuxia ability to jump 30 feet in the air and land on a lily pad, his movements are wild and erratic, reminiscent of capoeira or drunken boxing, which only feeds into the idea that he’s insane. When he’s abducting women, the camera adopts a predatory feel, following him as he stalks his prey, particularly the first abduction. More horrifyingly, he’s not just crazy, he’s loving what he’s doing. When he knocks out a victim at one point, he just keeps flipping her skirt up and down and laughing maniacally, something that is more notable because the other laughter in the film is very formally styled. Seriously, it’s like people loudly reading the word “HA” off of the script.
Unlike most US horror films at the time, most of the victims in this story are not guilty of any particular societal indiscretion (as far as I know of Chinese culture). Yes, one of them is a prostitute, which I suppose merits death in almost all cultures for some reason, but she’s still portrayed as a good person. One of the victims even appears pretty much random and is shown to be a skilled martial artist in her own right. I guess pretty much all the victims are guilty of the crime of being women attached to powerful men, and that’s, again, something that usually can merit death in a film in the 80s in almost any country. However, they aren’t just murdered, they’re fairly graphically sexually humiliated, raped, and then skinned alive. While the blood and gore in the movie truly look fake, we get a look at all of the minute details of the things that the villain is preparing to do and then the actual flaying is shot from a distance, which lets our imagination take over. The effect is disturbing.
The rivalry aspect of the film adds another layer because, even though the villain is the maker of the human lanterns, the two Masters are more focused on each other than the abductor. At one point, the villain literally just capitalizes on an opening because they’re trying to kill each other. Now, the two aren’t unreasonable for believing that the other is behind the abductions, given their mutual hatred, but it really is interesting to see just how much distrust exists between the two. When they do manage to work together, that makes it all the more interesting, because they can’t quite cooperate fully. It’s always a struggle to get past old grudges.
I’d never heard of this film before, so this request was definitely one of the more random ones, but I am glad I saw it. Sure, it has a bunch of stuff in it that was so upsetting I genuinely thought about turning it off, but it also had a lot of things in it that were extremely impressive, particularly the martial arts scenes. Also, it has a fan made of knives, which is one of the first times that it makes sense as a weapon to me. If you’re a fan of horror, particularly visceral horror, and also love martial arts films, this is your Citizen Kane. If you aren’t, then I’d recommend giving it a miss and watching Modern Love. Either way, go on Amazon Prime.
Amazon gives us a series of interesting portraits of love in the modern world.
It’s an anthology, people. I can’t summarize every episode without kind of ruining the surprise. Just know that each of the stories focuses on something about love between people. Mostly romantic, but not always.
Eh, fine, here’s a 1 sentence summary of each episode:
WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN
A woman (Cristin Miloti) has a doorman (Laurentiu Possa) who’s a gatekeeper for more than just her building.
WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST
A woman (Catherine Keener) interviewing a tech billionaire (Dev Patel) about his lost love (Caitlin McGee) reveals her own (Andy Garcia).
TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM
A bipolar (Anne Hathaway) woman tries to have a relationship with a guy (Gary Carr), despite her condition getting in the way.
RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE
A married couple (Tina Fey and John Slattery) start to realize that they might not be meant to last, but don’t want to quit.
AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY
Two people on their second date (Sofia Boutella and John Gallagher, Jr.) get a crash course in each other after an injury derails their evening.
SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?
A young woman (Julia Garner) tries to replace her father with an older co-worker (Shea Wigham), but he misunderstands her attention.
HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE
A couple (Andrew Scott and Brandon Kyle Goodman) tries to adopt a baby from a homeless woman (Olivia Cooke).
THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP
A woman (Jane Alexander) who found a new love (James Saito) late in life takes a run around the rest of the series in his memory.
The upside of the show is that it’s an anthology, so if you don’t like an episode, you can still try the next one and it’ll be different. The downside is that it’s an anthology and if you really like the way an episode is done, the next one is probably going to go a different way. The episodes, though they all focus on love, are varied in style and also in their focal interpretation of love. Since love comes in all different colors, flavors, shapes, sizes, sexes, Tex-Mexes, and Shrekses (guess what I’m drinking? Hint: Whisky), that also means that a creator is pretty much allowed to justify whatever interpretation they want to put into their story. Apparently, each of these stories were taken from a column published in The New York Times every week, but I have to confess that I don’t think I ever read it, even when I read the paper. Not that I don’t enjoy a good love story, I just never did.
The quality of the episodes also varies a lot, although, on balance, I thought the series was pretty good. I do admit the finale montage is weird to me. Since there were only eight episodes, it seems kind of unnecessary to spend a bunch of time recapping the series, particularly since the clips don’t really interact, so they don’t give us a ton more perspective on the characters. They could just as easily have added the post-credits epilogues to the actual episodes and maybe spent ten more minutes on the narrative of the last story.
So, since I don’t want to spoil the show too badly, I’m going to do a 1-2 sentence review of each episode, in ascending order of quality.
8) SO HE LOOKED LIKE A DAD. IT WAS JUST DINNER, RIGHT?
This story is super creepy and includes a girl trying to force herself to sexually fantasize about her fake father figure, which is double creepy. Emmy Rossum directed this, and it’s only a slight step up from Dragonball Evolution.
7) AT THE HOSPITAL, AN INTERLUDE OF CLARITY
Two good actors are absolutely ruined by stilted dialogue and pacing taken from a silent film. The ending feels forced, as do a lot of the moments of supposed clarity.
6) THE RACE GROWS SWEETER NEAR ITS FINAL LAP
The story of finding a second love late in life is adorable, but too much is wasted on the series recap. Still, it was cute.
5) RALLYING TO KEEP THE GAME ALIVE
Tina Fey and John Slattery are great, but honestly it has a melancholy that never feels either closed or cemented as unending to me.
4) WHEN CUPID IS A PRYING JOURNALIST
A cute story, but even with the epilogue, the story just doesn’t feel like it’s that significant.
3) TAKE ME AS I AM, WHOEVER I AM
By far the most artistic episode, the representation of Bipolar may not be accurate, but it does make the condition more relatable. Also, Anne Hathaway’s breakdown is just damned heartbreaking.
2) HERS WAS A WORLD OF ONE
This one is the most complex story in terms of characterization and Andrew Scott’s performance is just damned perfect.
1) WHEN THE DOORMAN IS YOUR MAIN MAN
The person who requested I review this series said that if I don’t end my review of this episode with “I cried like a tiny child,” then I have no soul. Well, I may have no soul, but I definitely cried like a tiny child.
I hope they keep this show going. Even though some of the episodes weren’t great, I think they’ve got a lot of stuff left that they could cover.
Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince, Rosalind Allen of SeaQuest DSV, Seth Green, and Peter Scolari of Bosom Buddies star in a movie about mutant ticks.
It’s California and it’s the 90s and the greatest threat to the world is Marihuana (Spelled that way at one point in the movie, no joke), followed by Steroids, apparently. Drug grower Jarvis Tanner (Clint Howard) is using steroids to grow stronger cannabis, but it turns out that the runoff has made the ticks in the area gigantic and given them a neurotoxin that’s akin to LSD.
In Los Angeles, Tyler Burns (Seth Green), a boy whose father once abandoned him in the woods for two days, is forced by that same father to go on a wilderness retreat in order to cure him of his fear of the woods and being alone… that he got from when his dad got drunk and abandoned, alone, him in the woods. And no, no one ever goes “wait, your dad got drunk and left you in the woods and HE’S telling YOU to just get over it?” Oh, and he drops him off under an overpass in downtown LA. In the early 90s. When violent crime peaked and roughly at the time of the Rodney King riots. I assume that his father wants him to die, is what I’m saying.
The wilderness retreat is run by Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and Charles Danson (Peter Scolari), and includes several fellow campers: “Thug” Darrel “Panic” Lumley (Alfonso Ribeiro), Rich girl Dee Dee Davenport (Ami “my dad was in the Monkees” Dolenz), Dee Dee’s boyfriend her parents hate for being Hispanic Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), mostly mute rape-survivor Kelly Mishimoto (Sina Dayrit), and Charles’ daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keeyne). While stopping on the way into the woods, the group meets local pot growers Redneck Jerry (Barry Lynch) and a British cross between Gary Busey and Gilderoy Lockhart called Sir (Michael Medeiros).
At camp, Tyler discovers a giant tick egg in the cabin and destroys it. Later, in the woods, he finds a giant tick on Melissa’s back and kills it, but when they report it Charles dismisses it as normal. Panic’s dog Brutus is attacked by a tick, leading Panic to quit the retreat and head off into the woods. Tyler and Charles take Brutus to a vet (Judy Jean Berns), where a giant tick pops out of him, killing the dog before the vet kills the tick. Panic gets lost in the woods until he’s attacked by a tick that burrows inside him and makes him hallucinate. He ends up finding Jerry and Sir’s pot farm, leading Sir to shoot him and also accidentally start a forest fire. To survive the shooting, Panic downs a bag of steroids he stole from Rome.
Dee Dee finds Jarvis in the woods, infested with ticks, before he dies. She gets bitten by a tick and is rescued by Rome back to the cabin. Melissa and Kelly go fishing and find that the local Sheriff (Rance Howard) has been killed by Sir and Jerry. Everyone ends up back in the cabin as the fire that Sir started forces the ticks towards them. Charles lets Sir and Jerry in, but Panic arrives and tells them Sir shot him before dying. Sir shoots Charles and forces Jerry to go and get the van so they can escape. A tick kills Jerry and he crashes the van into the cabin. Sir forces everyone to hide by trying to shoot them, before a man-sized Tick bursts out and kills Sir. Tyler manages to fight off the ticks, get to the van, and rescue everyone, before the supertick attacks Rome. Tyler sets it on fire and drives off with everyone. Back in the city, a giant tick egg falls out of the van.
This movie is so very, very bad in all the best ways, bringing it right back to awesome.
First of all, this movie clearly tried to make sure that none of the characters were in the same social group. In the ‘90s everyone was trying to make sure that diversity was in every film and this one goes above and beyond. We have a protagonist group made up of almost every race, class, and background, none of which really has any impact on the movie. We have a kid with trauma who frequently shows no signs of it. A rape victim who stays silent until the movie decides “okay, she can talk now” and then NOTHING IS EVER SAID ABOUT IT AGAIN. Then we have Panic, who is supposedly an inner-city tough guy who still goes on retreats with these yuppies, with no explanation as to how that happened. The fact that he’s played by Alfonso Ribeiro makes it ambiguous as to whether he was actually just a softy, or that Alfonso Ribeiro just isn’t capable of playing a tough guy. Hell, even the villains are a dirty redneck and an English guy who’s obsessed with his appearance, two groups that just don’t seem to mesh without some sort of explanation. This part of the 90s really focused on saying “these people totally hang out, but we don’t want to explain anything about how that happened.” I’m not saying diversity is bad, I would advocate the opposite, but, screenwriters, it’s actually interesting to hear how groups like this come together, or at least see signs of it, rather than just going “we made this character Asian, are you happy now?”
The special effects in this movie are actually not as bad as I would have expected. Sure, none of the ticks look real, but they all look sufficiently gross and alien to get the point across. They also squish in a disgusting way that makes me kind of squeamish. The “fake blood and guts” budget was pretty sizable, is what I mean. The final scene of the tick bursting out of Alfonso Ribeiro looks simultaneously fake and satisfyingly unnerving.
The performances in the film are all cheesy, but they’re above what you’d expect for a low-budget horror movie. Given that Clint and Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s brother and father, respectively, are in the movie, I’m assuming that someone on the film had enough clout to get the other people on the film as a favor. I mean, most of these people peaked in the 80s and 90s, aside from Seth Green, but that means this film happened when they all actually could have gotten other work.
However, the MVP for this film is the person that did the closed captions. This is only half a movie if you have them off. First of all, whoever did it does not know what a car horn is, because whenever one goes off, it’s just called “background noise.” Second, it inconsistently goes between describing sounds and doing onomatopoetic renderings of them. Some of the best ones include “Terk-er-Terk-er-Terk-er,” “Chucka-Chucka-Chucka,” and “simple engine chugging” all for the sound of an engine, “thick liquid splatting” and “ploop” for the sounds of tick eggs falling, and the absolute, uncontested, best sound effect description in the history of cinema:
The weirdest thing about this movie is that it clearly suggests that everything that happens is as a result of steroids and marijuana. The application of steroids to cannabis is what makes the ticks in the first place, then the man-sized tick comes from Panic’s body being filled with steroids. Now, I’m not saying that steroid abuse isn’t bad, but… it’s still freaking ridiculous to make a monster movie with that as the cause. I mean, people on steroids don’t suddenly get 20 times larger and they certainly don’t get more fertile. Pot doesn’t make people aggressive and I don’t believe it has that effect on any animals, either. It’s just such a sign of when this movie was made that those things could be the source of the monster.
Overall, I will say, this is a must-see for fans of bad monster movies. Really, you’ve got to check it out, if only for Alfonso Ribeiro trying to be a thug. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen. And make sure to keep the captions on, because they are just a treat.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall breaking comedy ends after two seasons of hilariously blunt social commentary.
Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a single woman living in London who is fond of drinking, sex, wisecracking her way out of her own misery, and being the subject of ridicule at the hands of others and, more commonly, herself. She runs a café that she opened with her deceased friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), fights with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), deals with the sh*tbag that Claire married, Martin (Brett Gelman), and tries to tolerate the relationship between her widower father (Bill Paterson) and her Godmother (Olivia FREAKING Colman). In the second season, she begins to have a crush on her family’s Catholic priest (Andrew Scott).
I’ve mentioned before that horror and comedy are always related. They’re both our ways of dealing with the absurdity of reality, both are often based on showing us a deviation from expectation, and the primary difference is really whether we’re being cued to respond to the situation with revulsion or relief. This is why a comedy genius like Jordan Peele can be so good at horror or why John Carpenter can make a hilarious action-comedy like Big Trouble in Little China, because the genres are naturally separated only by the relief/revulsion response. This show frequently eschews that distinction and asks that we feel both. We should feel absolutely revolted at some of the things that are said and done to our lead in the show, as well as how often we’ve seen or heard them done to people in real life. The relief comes not just from the quip or hilarious face that Fleabag makes to the audience, assuring us that she’s fine, but also from the fact that someone is actually willing to say some of the stuff that this show is saying. I watched the entirety of this show with a woman and, to quote the Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch (and who did not get to select her pen name), the show is “the brutal comedy of everyday life.” I think that pretty much nails it, but more on that in a second.
While Fleabag’s life and her family and the people she encounters are all absurd, the absurdity is closer to a type of hyperrealism. You know some people who are similar to ALL of the characters, because they’re all “that girl/guy” archetypes. It’s made even more pronounced by the fact that, aside from Claire, Martin, Claire’s extremely creepy stepson Jake (Angus Imrie), and Fleabag’s overly-emotional ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), none of the recurring characters in the series actually has a name. Appropriately, though, those characters are, if anything, even more familiar archetypes than the others: The uptight workaholic/woman who married an a**hole and doesn’t leave him, the a**hole who somehow is still married, the creepy kid, and the guy who thrives on making sure everyone knows that he’s in touch with his emotions. All of these characters are played completely honestly with almost no other defining attributes, but the solid performances and great writing keep them from feeling tired. It helps that they’re only used sparingly (aside from Claire) and that the show is only 12 episodes long.
One of the keys to the show is the device of allowing the main character to directly address the audience through the fourth wall, but I have rarely seen a show play with it so well. It’s particularly interesting to see her fourth wall breaks when she’s dealing with the Priest, because his belief in a comforting higher power (God) gives him an insight into Fleabag’s belief in a comforting lie (the Audience), to a shocking and unnerving degree. Rather than doing the traditional fourth wall breaks, which are derived from Shakespearean soliloquies and thus given time and weight, Fleabag’s fourth-wall breaks are quick and often in the middle of conversations or even sentences, acting as quick punctuations rather than explanations. It gives the show a unique feel and the dialogue a distinct style and pacing.
Another big thing about the show is it is not hopeful nor is it crushing. It doesn’t make the world out to be a darker and more cruel place than it is, but it also doesn’t give us any of the comfort that we typically expect from our media. We’re not told, at any point, that things are going to be okay. We aren’t told that love conquers all. We aren’t told that you’re going to find fairness or happiness. We’re just shown the world of the show that so closely mirrors ours, with all the nerves exposed. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, one of the characters, Samuel Vimes, is described as “two drinks sober,” meaning that he was always so sober that he couldn’t even tell himself the harmless lies that people have developed as part of society in order to sleep at night. That’s what this show is for media: It’s two drinks sober. It’s a hair too real to give us the comfort we expect or the painful distancing we secretly crave. It isn’t the show we want, it’s the show we need.
Overall, I loved this series. I thought it was funny, exciting, and so novel that it deserves an audience. However, I do concede that I might not have gotten out if it the same things that other people might have, particularly The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch. So, in a first for this blog, I asked her to give me her perspective, rather than try to interpret hers through my own lens. She submitted this:
As absurd as the show can get, it’s absurd in a very real, human way and it just doesn’t stray that far from the ordinary kind of ridiculous. It’s not only hilarious but extremely cathartic. When Claire tells Martin to leave her and Martin’s counter-argument includes “I vacuum” and “I made dessert at Easter” and “I pick up my son from bassoon lessons” I actually put my face in my hands and said “Oh my god that is literally men.” It’s just such a perfect sendup of the ways we pat men on the back for doing the bare minimum in domestic life and relationships.
I’d been struggling to describe why this show feels different and refreshing compared to other shows that could also be described as both “brutal” and “funny,” but it’s best encapsulated by a speech in the show itself from a savvy businesswoman Fleabag has a martini with (Kristin Scott Thomas). “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on her own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” The show goes for honesty over melodrama, and there just isn’t the feeling of the writers trying to wring all the emotion out of you like there is in a lot of prestige TV. (Why it takes me forever to watch most of it.) And the comedy doesn’t feel like a bunch of writers in a room thinking about what the most offensive thing to say is. The show puts its trust in the writing and in the hearts and jagged edges of its characters and as a result it doesn’t have to try so fucking hard.