Saturday, January 23, 2021

Trailer Roundup: Possessions, Axios, Mighty Express, They Ready, Space Sweepers, Nadiya Bakes, The Luminaries, Sky Rojo, Invincible

January 28

 


A young French woman living in Israel is accused of the murder of her husband on the day of their wedding. As the bride struggles to prove her innocence, mysterious happenings surround her. Is she guilty or could she be the victim? Possessions streaming January 28 on HBO Max.
 

January 31

 


News that matters. No matter what. Axios returns Sunday, January 31 at 6PM on HBO Max.
 

February 2

 


Season 2 is here! Catch a ride with the Mighty Express — a team of trains and their kid friends who overcome trouble on the tracks with quick thinking and teamwork! Season 2 of Mighty Express is available on Netflix February 2.
 

Tiffany Haddish introduces six of her favorite comedians to Netflix members around the world. The second season of the Emmy-nominated stand-up comedy series, They Ready, premieres on February 2, only on Netflix.
 

February 5

 


It's a Big Universe, Full of Valuable Trash! These Misfits Just Might Save The World! Get on board with the Space Sweepers, February 5, Only on Netflix.
 

February 12

 


Delightful cakes and heavenly breads pop from the oven as Nadiya Hussain returns to baking, her happy place, and spotlights creative kindred spirits.
 

February 14

 


Murder. Mystics. Destiny. Will their journeys be a matter of fortune or fate? The Luminaries premieres this Valentine’s Day on #STARZ.
 

March 19

 


Staying alive for five more minutes. That is the plan. From the creators of Money Heist, Sky Rojo is coming March 19.
 

March 26

 


INVINCIBLE is an Amazon Original series based on the groundbreaking comic book from Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead. The story revolves around 17-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who’s just like every other guy his age — except his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). In this extended first clip, Mark chats with his father about his developing powers. Coming only to Prime Video on March 26.
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Trailer Roundup: Selena+Chef, Snowpiercer, Earwig and the Witch, Firefly Lane, Bliss, Red Dot, Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar, Judas and the Black Messiah, I Care a Lot, Beartown

January 19

 


From 1959 to 1963, a mysterious attacker terrorized Perth, Australia, committing random and extraordinarily violent crimes. Determined to find the culprit, the Perth police arrested two different suspects. And in a climate of fear, both men were convicted. But the violence didn’t stop. Even when the actual killer was caught and confessed to all the crimes, the first two men remain behind bars. It will be many years until real justice is served for the victims and the innocent. Premieres January 19th.
 

January 21

 


Selena Gomez continues her cooking adventures with a new roster of all-star chefs that help her whip up delicious dishes at home. Like in its first season, each chef will highlight a different charity in their episode. The new chefs included in season two are: Aarti Sequeira, Curtis Stone, Evan Funke, Graham Elliot, JJ Johnson, Jordan Andino, José Andrés, Kelis Rogers, Marcela Valladolid and Marcus Samuelsson.
 

January 22

 


Bad Behavior. Great Publicists. Ever wonder what the real story is behind those celebrity gossip columns? Flack has all the dirt. Four quick-witted and relentless flackers led by Robyn, played by Academy Award Winner Anna Paquin, are tasked to make the best of their celebrity client’s terrible decisions. But does their ability to clean up their client’s lives translate to their own? Find out January 22 on Amazon Prime Video.
 

January 25

 


Mr. Wilford returns to Snowpiercer and brings chaos and corruption to the freedom just won. Sean Bean joins Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs in the #1 New Cable Drama. Snowpiercer Season 2, premiering January 25, 2021 on TNT.
 

January 27

 


Totally broke and banned from every dungeon in New York City, best friends Tiff and Pete work to rebuild their reputations in the BDSM community.
 

January 29

 


A youth football program and its selfless coaches defy the odds stacked against them in the heart of inner-city East NY, Brooklyn proving that with hard work and hope, anything is possible. Watch We Are: The Brooklyn Saints, January 29, 2021, only on Netflix.
 

January 30

 


OWN's hit reality series LOVE & MARRIAGE: HUNTSVILLE returns with new episodes starting Saturday, January 30 at 9/8c. The series follows three power couples and longtime friends in Huntsville, Alabama as they balance real-life challenges in marriage, friendship and business.
 

February 3

 


Enter a world of magic and music with Earwig and the Witch, the newest movie from Studio Ghibli. #EarwigMovie is in theaters February 3 and streaming on HBO Max February 5.
 

Tully and Kate meet as young girls on Firefly Lane and become inseparable best friends through 30 years of ups and downs. Starring Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke and based on the bestselling novel by Kristin Hannah, Firefly Lane premieres February 3 on Netflix.
 

February 4

 


Esme and Roy are best friends—and the best monstersitters in Monsterdale! The award-winning preschool show is back, taking viewers on even more relatable monster adventures packed with playful learning, humor, heart, and musical, monster-y fun. Using mindfulness and the power of play, Esme and Roy work together to help little monsters overcome big challenges. Get ready—it’s officially playtime!
 

February 5

 


An unfulfilled man (Owen Wilson) and a mysterious woman (Salma Hayek) believe they are living in a simulated reality, but when their newfound ‘Bliss’ world begins to bleed into the ‘ugly’ world they must decide what’s real and where they truly belong.
 

February 6

 


DEVIL MAY CARE premieres on February 6 at midnight ET/PT on SYFY as part of its growing late-night adult animation block TZGZ. A millennial named Beans (Asif Ali) finds himself in Hell with NO idea why. While meeting with the Devil (Alan Tudyk) upon his arrival, they quickly figure out that Beans’ job from his earthly days translate perfectly into the Hell-esphere. Just like that, Beans becomes the Devil’s newest Social Media Manager, since online buzz is exactly what Hell’s been missing. The two form the most unlikely friendship, and together, while juggling Devil’s staff and family, they will surely get Hell trending!
 

February 9

 


This season the wives' sisterhood is tested like never before as they adjust to the pandemic while balancing life's ups and downs, unresolved relationships and the fight against social injustices. VH1's Basketball Wives set to take over Tuesday nights with season premiere on Tuesday, February 9th at 8PM ET/PT.
 

February 11

 


When a red laser dot appears in Nadja and David's tent, the once romantic trip now becomes a fight for their lives. During this sadistic hunt, the couple’s past comes back to haunt them.
 

February 12

 


Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar follows Wiig and Mumolo as lifelong best friends, who embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time ever to vacation to Florida. Cue the laughter, tears… and an evil villain who plots to kill everyone in town. Premieres everywhere you rent movies on February 12!
 

Inspired by true events, Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of the betrayal of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther Party. Coming to theaters and streaming exclusively on HBO Max February 12.
 

As Lara Jean Covey prepares for the end of high school and the start of adulthood, a pair of life-changing trips lead her to reimagine what life with her family, friends, and Peter will look like after graduation. Watch To All The Boys: Always and Forever, only on Netflix.
 

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things tells the story of quick-witted teen Mark, contentedly living the same day in an endless loop whose world is turned upside-down when he meets mysterious Margaret also stuck in the time loop. Mark and Margaret form a magnetic partnership, setting out to find all the tiny things that make that one day perfect. What follows is a love story with a fantastical twist, as the two struggle to figure out how – and whether – to escape their never-ending day.
 

February 15

 


The Crew stars Kevin James as the crew chief for a NASCAR team. When the owner steps down and passes the team off to his daughter, James has to protect himself and his crew from her attempts to modernize the team. Watch The Crew only on Netflix, February 15.
 

February 16

 


Get a first look at the couples from Season 3 of Temptation Island. Temptation Island returns February 16 on USA Network.
 

February 19

 


Witness the tail of an unexpected hero. Watch Disney’s Flora And Ulysses, streaming February 19, only on #DisneyPlus.
 

A crooked legal guardian who drains the savings of her elderly wards meets her match when a woman she tries to swindle turns out to be more than she first appears. Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, and Chris Messina. I Care a Lot on Netflix.
 

Landing on the moon didn’t end the space race. It raised the stakes. Catch up on Season 1 now before the premiere on February 19.
 

February 22

 


The @HBONordic original series Beartown, based on the best-selling novel, is streaming on @HBOMax February 22.
 

February 23

 


This documentary feature tells the story of iconic footballer Pelé, his quest for perfection and the mythical status he attained. The story looks back at the extraordinary 12-year period in which Pelé, the only man to win three World Cup titles, went from superstar in 1958 to saviour in 1970; a radical yet turbulent era in Brazil’s history. As well as unprecedented interview access to Pelé, the film includes astounding archive footage and interviews with legendary former team-mates including Zagallo, Jairzinho and Rivellino. PELÉ is produced by Pitch Productions, directed by Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn and executive produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald.
 

February 26

 


Her voice would not be silenced. Experience Andra Day as Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, directed by Lee Daniels. Premieres February 26, only on Hulu.
 

February 28

 


The extended 10th season of six new episodes premieres Sunday, February 28 at 9:00/8:00c.
 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Trailer Roundup: Locked Down, Hello Ninja, Blown Away, The Sister, Losing Alice, Penguin Bloom, Finding 'Ohana, Malcolm & Marie, Men in Kilts, Superman & Lois, Coming 2 America, Solar Opposites

January 13

 


The boys are back and...better than ever? Watch James Lafferty and Stephen Colletti in Everyone Is Doing Great on January 13, only on Hulu.
 

January 14

 


Watch the official trailer for Search Party Season 4, premiering on HBO Max on January 14, 2021. In the new season, Dory (Alia Shawkat) is held prisoner by her psychotic stalker Chip (Cole Escola), who is determined to make Dory believe that they are best friends. Meanwhile, Portia (Meredith Hagner) is starring in a film about the trial, although not as herself; Elliott (John Early) has switched party lines to become a far-right conservative talk show host; and Drew (John Reynolds) is trying to escape his dark past by working as a costumed cast member in a theme park. As the friends begin to connect the dots that Dory might not be touring Europe as her faked social media posts suggest, they must decide whether or not to put their traumatic pasts behind them and once again become a search party – but this time, for Dory.
 

BET+ true crime hit series American Gangster: Trap Queens returns for its second season on Thursday, January 14. Narrated by female hip hop icon Kimberly Jones a.k.a. Lil' Kim, season two presents new and fascinating true stories of fierce and savvy women who hustled hard and solidified their place in the game, however illicit their means may have been.
 

Just as they decide to separate, Linda (Anne Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) find life has other plans when they are stuck at home in a mandatory lockdown. Co-habitation is proving to be a challenge, but fueled by poetry and copious amounts of wine, it will bring them closer together in the most surprising way.
 

The Event, a four-episode culinary series premiering January 14 on HBO Max, takes viewers into the kitchen of Wolfgang Puck’s elite catering company as his team tackles some of the industry’s biggest, most exclusive events.
 

January 19

 


Wesley and Georgie are on a mission to save Pretzel from the Golden Leaf Pagoda. Get on your ninja feet and get ready for an all new season of Hello Ninja! Season 4 of Hello Ninja is available on Netflix January 19.
 

January 22

 


The hot shop is open! A new batch of glass-blowing artists from around the world battle the heat, the clock and each other in 10 dynamic challenges.
 

How far would you go to keep a secret? Stream all episodes of The Sister January 22.
 

An intimate and powerful exploration of what it means to be and be seen, the film chronicles Derek DelGaudio's attempt to answer one deceptively simple question, "Who am I?" Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself premieres Friday, January 22, only on Hulu.
 

Not all fantasies are fiction. Watch the internationally acclaimed series Losing Alice, exclusively on Apple TV+ January 22.
 

January 27

 


Based on the incredible true story, Penguin Bloom follows Sam Bloom (Academy Award® nominated Naomi Watts), a young mother whose world is turned upside down after a near-fatal accident leaves her unable to walk. As she learns to adapt to her new life, she finds hope in an unlikely hero, a small bird named Penguin. On Netflix January 27, 2021.
 

January 29

 


A summer in rural O‘ahu takes an exciting turn for two Brooklyn-raised siblings when a journal pointing to long-lost treasure sets them on an epic adventure with new friends, and leads them to reconnect with their Hawaiian heritage. Home Is Where ‘Ohana Is. Watch FINDING ‘OHANA, on Netflix January 29.
 

February 5

 


When filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), return home from a movie premiere and await his film’s critical response, the evening takes a turn as revelations about their relationship surface, testing the couple’s love.
 

February 6

 


Whitney Houston & Bobbi Kristina: Didn't We Almost Have It All a new Lifetime Two-Hour Documentary premieres Saturday, February 6 at 8/7c on Lifetime.
 

February 12

 


The Midnight Society returns with a new set of storytellers, and a terrifying new tale about a cursed seaside town that's being haunted by a mysterious figure named the Shadowman. Are You Afraid of the Dark? Curse of the Shadows premieres Friday, February 12th at 8/7c on Nickelodeon!
 

February 14

 


Get ready for the greatest road trip ever attempted without pants. Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham premieres this Valentine’s Day on STARZ.
 

February 23

 


Superman & Lois premieres Tuesday, February 23. Stream next day free only on The CW!
 

March 5

 


Set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, newly-crowned King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his trusted confidante Semmi(Arsenio Hall) embark on an all-new hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York – where it all began. Available March 5th on Prime Video.
 

March 26

 


It's time to leave this s---hole planet, so long Earth suckers!. A new season of Solar Opposites lands on March 26th, only on Hulu.
 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Movie Review: Sound of Metal

© Amazon Studios
 

'Sound of Metal' tries to find meaning after all sound is lost
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Shaheem Sanchez, Chelsea Lee, Jeremy Stone, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Darius Marder
Rating: ★★★

Anytime something is portrayed that is a loss of the norm, it can be tricky to handle. In the deaf community, there is a very common specific perspective that hearing loss is not disability, but simply a different way to experience life. This is the sort of thing that seems like it would be heartening to those in the community, especially those born with hearing loss. But it can be harder, sometimes impossibly so, for those outside it to see it as anything but a disaster.

Sound of Metal comes from director Darius Marder who co-wrote it with Abraham Marder in his first narrative feature film. The movie stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone, a drummer in a small band with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) -- short for Louise, naturally. At the start of the movie, we see Ruben as a talented performer, drumming with great power in rooms filled with noise of all sorts -- his drums, his girlfriend’s hard core metal singing, and the roaring of the crowds in small clubs and venues.

Exactly why it happens is unclear and not entirely important, but Ruben notices a sudden, terrifying loss of hearing one day. At first he tries to power through it, but as things get worse and all he can hear are lost buzzes and little murmurs. A doctor tells him that he needs to focus on keeping the tiny hearing he has left, but this is not something Ruben can handle -- his dream of musical success is his only real driver.

But eventually he can’t hear well enough to manage a show, and he finally brings himself to tell Lou the truth. So they find a program out in the country, an isolated community that helps those with hearing loss. The head of the program, a friendly, calming sort named Joe (Paul Raci) offers a potential free ride since he’s in need, but Ruben only needs to leave his phone behind.

It’s an interesting part of the story, as Lou heads off to continue her own musical dream while Ruben must adjust and learn to accept his new life. Ruben is resistant for a while, having an idea of getting an expensive procedure (entirely elective and not entirely reliable) to get some hearing back. So at first it’s simply about lasting long enough to get to maybe having the money for his surgery.

We see a fascinating, very well done set of scenes showing Ruben learning sign language and acclimating to his new world. He even manages to teach and interact with a class of deaf kids in a charming scene. But there is a troublesome history that Ruben still struggles with, and there remains an ongoing conflict between the acceptance of a new life and the great risks for the potential of a life reduced.

Riz Ahmed gives a truly great performance here, going from highs to lows, emotional calm and happiness with others to epic loss and sporadic fury. The filmmakers have done a lot of research into this community, working with primarily hearing impaired actors (or in the case of Paul Raci, the son of deaf parents).

It isn’t a silent movie, although at parts the sounds of what Ruben can hear feel realistic and help immerse the audience in the same place of loss Ruben has found. It’s an interesting movie, one of those that tells an arc that isn’t necessarily complete but has a wistful, promising feeling to it. It’s not about the tragedy, it’s about the survival, and it handles that with grace and respect.


Movie Review: Uncle Frank

 

© Amazon Studios

'Uncle Frank' hits bittersweet notes in a time gone by that feels closer than it should
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Lois Smith
Director: Alan Ball
Rating: ★★

There’s nothing wrong with “writing what you know” -- it tends to make things more honest and sincere after all. There’s also nothing wrong with writing about something that’s clearly referencing yourself, although it’s something that can tip into self-indulgence if you’re not careful. The good thing about the approach is that you potentially give me a bit of an insight into the artist or a world you may know little about. But it can also feel like more of the same.

Uncle Frank comes from writer/director and Oscar winner Alan Ball in his first film since 2007’s Towelhead. The movie stars Paul Bettany as the titular character of Uncle Frank Bledsoe, but at first the movie isn’t clearly about him. At a family gathering in the early 70s, young Beth (Sophia Lillis, who played the young Amy Adams in Sharp Objects) feels out of place with her rough and tumble, borderline crude Southern family.

Although her grandmother (a barely used Margo Martindale) is gruff, she’s loving, and her parents (Steve Zahn and Judy Greer) don’t really understand her. Worst of all is the patriarch of the family (Stephen Root, delving into some real vitriol here) who acts calm but is on a hair-trigger fury. But there is one family member that Beth really likes, her Uncle Frank, a professor from all the way in New York City.

The two bond and Uncle Frank offers to help her out if she ever moves out to where he lives. A bit of a time jump later, and we meet up with them again, including Frank (who is very much in the closet) showing off an obviously fake girlfriend to Beth and her parents. Now, I say obvious because the movie makes it obvious to the audience, even if it’s not obvious to the characters. It’s one of the odd writing choices, flattening things out and resorting to clichés and misunderstandings.

When news comes of the grandfather’s passing, Frank offers to drive Beth back to their home town of Creekville. But things are complicated by the presence of Frank’s secret boyfriend from Saudi Arabia Walid “Wally “ Nadeem (Peter Macdissi). Their journey back is mostly uneventful, as it begins to set up Frank’s tragic backstory, while also trying to maintain some sort of romantic arc with Wally.

Not as well served is niece Beth, who tends to have only little bits of commentary, and overall the movie lacks a balance about these characters. We do have moments of difficulty, sadness, and catharsis as to be expected in such a movie, but the characters have a flatness to them that the actors seem to be struggling to get past. It’s a lot of great acting here, but the writing doesn’t serve their capability.

Stephen Root really gets to dip into a more hateful character, and all of the character actors like Judy Greer and Margo Martindale are as good as they always are -- if underutilized. The movie has a few too many flashbacks, or perhaps they are mostly not artfully done, because they feel more like “we needed to set up this backstory” than really rounding out the character of Frank in a more deep way.

I did like the ultimate way it went, even if much of it felt a bit pat and easy as a conclusion -- a bit too easy on those that had wronged Frank and not necessarily realistic for the era (pre-Reagan after all). But there are a lot of good parts to the rapport between Frank and Wally, or Frank and Beth, when we get them -- so there are a lot things to like here too.


Movie Review: Call Me Brother

© Leomark Studios
 

‘Call Me Brother’ is trying to be shocking and off putting and boy does it pull that off
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Andrew Dismukes, Christina Parrish
Director: David Howe
Rating: ★


There is something you see sometimes in indie movies, the idea of violating some taboo. Some films do this about violence or social morays or sex, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on the screen. Something though that isn’t so common (or at least it didn’t use to be) was portraying incest on screen -- although Game of Thrones has had a big dent on that with both a brother/sister and an aunt/nephew relationship explicitly shown. And those had a lot of defenders.

Call Me Brother comes from director David Howe and is written by Christina Parrish, who also stars in the movie as Lisa (or “Sister”). The movie tells a relatively straightforward story: Lisa and her brother Tony (Andrew Dismukes) were very close as kids, the only positive connection they had in a house with parents that seemed to only yell at each other. After they divorced, the mom got Lisa and the dad Frank (Asaf Ronen) got Tony.

But around ten years later, the mom drops off Lisa at her ex-husband’s house to take a weekend vacation, and it’s the first time either of the two siblings have seen each other in years. Now they are both teenagers, and their father Frank has remarried to a very nice lady named Doris (Danu Uribe). Frank has an odd way of dealing with his kids, insisting that they call him Tony instead of Dad, and frankly and delightedly talking about his sexual relationship with Doris. So it’s an odd environment.

The movie shows that there’s an immediate closeness and connection between the two siblings, but it begins to move into a far more problematic and incestuous direction, as the two seem to realize they are attracted to each other. In a way, this is a sort of entertaining thing to watch, with well written awkwardness and very good acting from the two leads (both are in their 20s but believably play teenagers).

The parts that work less well are the cast of teenage characters that Tony and Lisa keep hanging out with, who feel less realized and more like tissue-thin caricatures that seem mainly to create awkward situations so that Tony and Lisa can leave them together. There’s a sort of charm to the awkward comedy, but that’s the sort of thing that doesn’t work for everyone.

The pushing of social boundaries with the essential normalization of incest as a reasonable alternative of two people without much love in their lives connecting with each other instead of others is an odd choice, ultimately. I don’t know that Christina Parrish actually believes that it’s a reasonable alternative, but there are some other odd choices in the movie, like several odd upskirt and overly sexualized directorial choices in shooting the two leads.

It serves perhaps to make the audience even more uncomfortable, as these two are playing teenagers, even if the actors are well above high school age. I can’t really recommend this movie, despite many of the qualities being effective -- the writing other than the random strange teenagers is pretty good, and you get a good sense of the family members through the writing and acting. But after that final scene finished, I felt like it was a movie that didn’t know whether it was being brave or foolish. I can’t imagine watching it again, but I feel like there’s real potential of these two leads in something again -- maybe something that isn’t so weird.


Friday, January 1, 2021

Now Streaming: Saved By the Bell

© Peacock

The new ‘Saved by the Bell’ show has no right being this good
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Mario Lopez, John Michael Higgins, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, Mitchell Hoog, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Josie Totah, Haskiri Velazquez

Any kid or teenager who watched TV in the 90s almost certainly watched Saved by the Bell, which aired early in the 90s but was rerun forever. I watched many episodes and again and again when they were re-aired -- it was definitely an influential sort of thing, despite its obvious ridiculousness and stupidity. As kids, we didn’t quite pick up on all of the sociopathic aspects of the characters, but now that we’re all adults, you get multiple “rewatch” podcasts that delve deep into the craziness and even a well known series on YouTube called “Zach Morris is Trash” which itemized all of the lead Zach Morris’ terrible deeds.

The writer of that show ended up as a staff writer on the new Saved by the Bell, which certainly should be telling you something. The reboot/remake/etc/sequel is run by Tracey Wigfield, a talented and experienced comedy writer, who also ran my beloved, short run show Great News. The new show has a lot of that madcap energy, but it fits well with the silliness inherent in a Saved by the Bell world.

© Peacock

The show immediately starts off with a wink and a nod, as we hear the voice of Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Zach as he explains he conned his way to becoming governor to get out of paying parking tickets. All normal for the character, but the show also shows an image from his show Franklin & Bash to explain that he was also a lawyer -- that’s the sort of super insider nerdy reference I love. But Zach is an incompetent governor, essentially accidentally cutting billions from public education and shutting down multiple high schools in mostly at risk areas.

So there’s immediately some social commentary, but it’s couched in jokes -- soon we hear the big conceit of the show. Due to Zach’s (he only shows up again a few times) incompetence, he decides to get all the displaced high schoolers to go to his alma mater Bayside High. We see that the high school seems much the same, with Zach and Kelly’s son Mac Morris (Mitchel Hogg) a super privileged, arrogant but pretty charismatic blonde kid.

Mac’s friends are Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli), the son of Jessie Spano from the old show (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, who is a recurring character in the season) and Lexi (Josie Totah), a transgender fashionista with her own reality show. Jamie is a sweet doofus, a football player who cares more about “how you play the game” than winning, and Lexi is a sabre-mouthed presence that mirrors Mac’s privilege, arrogance, and charisma. These actors are all great in these roles, starting as fairly simplistically written characterizations and becoming full fledged characters with arcs and interesting character turns.

© Peacock

But then we get the new kids, Daisy Jiménez (Haskiri Velazquez), Aisha Garcia (Alycia Pascual-Peña), and Devante Young (Dexter Darden), all with their own tales and backstories. Daisy is a super smart, hyper ambitious girl who wants to move up in the world, and she’s close friends with Aisha, who’s more of a sports gal -- neither really knows Devante, who is immediately pegged in a problematic way to be a potential new football player.

But Devante really is interested in singing and performing, and the show gives us episodes with both “issues” (like Devante being racially profiled) and “fun” (like trying out for a new ridiculous musical).

It turns out that Daisy is the true protagonist of the show, as in the first episode she gives us the classic “time out” that Zach Morris did all the time back in the original show. As such, she’s the center of nearly all of the episode, but the actress Haskiri Velazquez (who is essentially a newcomer) has both a great sense of comic timing and the dramatic range to pull off some of her more complicated storylines. It was probably difficult to find such a great lead, but she is really a great find.

Of course, the rest of the cast is really great too, including the always great John Michael Higgins as the new principal Ronald Toddman (who the show retcons into being friends with Zach in a hilarious joke later on), who is both hapless but also legitimately caring about the kids. No offense to old Belding, who was borderline criminally negligent, but Toddman gives some pretty great advice here.

© Peacock
 

Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Mario Lopez both reprise their old characters too, with Jessie as a successful author who’s become the school guidance counselor to be near her son, and Slater being kind of a loser -- a friendless high school coach with a team that never does well until Aisha joins. There are some pretty fun storylines with the two of them, and since they work at the school, they’re part of the recurring cast, unlike Mark-Paul and Tiffani Thiessen, who mainly drop in at key dramatic moments.

There’s even a few old school cameos, like Ed Alonzo as the magician Max, Patrick Thomas O'Brien as Mr. Dewey, and even Lark Voorhies as Lisa in one sharp, amusing little scene. Screech is mentioned, along with his robot Kevin (which he built and had artificial intelligence of course), but Dustin Diamond is never seen -- the reasons are disputed and I don’t need to get into them.

The show is a tight ten episodes, consistently amusing and often laugh out loud funny, with an actual story arc that has relevant points to modern social issues without being annoying about it. It’s far sharper and more self-aware than you’d think, but the writers are clearly aware of both the original show, the relevant memes, and the many problems with it. You get the obvious references and jokes, but quite a few that I didn’t expect at all.

And it ends on a dark, highly shocking joke that was pretty audacious. It’s a talented cast and a well-written, fun show -- if you’ve seen the original show, loved or hated or loved to hate it, the new Saved by the Bell is a must watch.


Tehran S01E06: The Engineer

© Apple TV+
 

'Tehran' sets up further complications in ‘The Engineer’ as the endgame approaches
by Jeremy Fogelman

The latest episode of Tehran is called ‘The Engineer’, and seems mainly to be about setting up more problems as we approach the end of the season. As Tamar continues to pursue her new leads, we get scenes back in the Israeli war room of attempted infiltration that all go wrong. So options are more limited for them and Tamar’s dangerous plan seems to be their only option.

Tamar initially still has Milad on the hook, in a way that’s hard to tell how she really feels -- she clearly puts her mission first, but how much is also her own feelings? Milad offers to bring aboard Parham, a prominent engineer from the power plant, who has a sort of breezy personality while still making references to wanting changes for his children. But although Milad seems convinced, it’s a huge risk for Parham and his family.

We finally get a resolution for suspicious Karim, who has seen through Tamar’s tricks and confronts her in a surprise visit. Although Tamar is quickly able to defend herself and retrieve her newly acquired gun, her intentions to de-escalate are ignored as one of the local assets, an intimidating huge guy, simply shoots Karim in the head.

We actually do hear Tamar frustratedly complain back to her superiors, in a way that feels rational -- especially as we see after how betrayed Milad has become, barely responding and now potentially a risk. Milad is a believer in reform for his country, but does that also mean he’ll betray that country for a foreign enemy? We don’t know for sure, but that’s a good tension to set up for the final episodes.

When Parham shows up and refuses to take part in the mission, Tamar manipulates him immediately with blackmail to force him to comply -- this is the sort of thing that’s tricky. Getting someone on your side with trust like Milad is one thing, but now Parham has a reason to want Tamar to fail. It’s another good wrinkle, because we can see many potential ways that Tamar’s mission can fail.

On the other side, Faraz (now no longer technically on the team) still manages to sneak around and try to work towards both finding Tamar and saving his wife. Naturally he manages the same trick, which feels almost like the Israelis should’ve anticipated such a maneuver. We’ve seen only a bit with Tamar’s father over the course of the show, but Faraz is able to threaten Arezoo into tricking the old man into traveling to Turkey.

It’s juxtaposed with Tamar listening to a message from her father and leaving a message for him, right before he finds himself at a hotel room in Turkey. But Faraz is clever enough to mollify him with a Hebrew greeting, leaving things in a fluxed state -- is his move simply to get his wife back, get Tamar out, both, or more?

At this point it’s both sides doing unethical practices for their countries, with a lot of personal investment -- it’s the sort of thing that makes the spy games interesting, instead of rote and clichéd. Although Tamar is ostensibly our protagonist, the show does have her betray someone who has real feelings for her -- it makes it especially intriguing as there are only two episodes left in the season.

Overall, it’s another pretty engaging episode, in a show that’s been pretty good so far with the back and forth spy stuff. Considering how tricky and convoluted that sort of storyline can be, Tehran manages it pretty well. 

Movie Review: Last Call

© Alamo Drafthouse

'Last Call' utilizes a gimmick to ramp of the tension of a moment serious in time
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth
Director: Gavin Michael Booth
Rating: ★★

Gimmicks in movies are usually a mixed bag -- especially that old standard the “one take” film. Recent movies Birdman and 1917 simulate a one take, although neither are completely one take, but have somewhat similar ideas about it -- get you into the world in a particularly immersive way, that flows without obvious edits. Another gimmick related is the “real time” movie, like the underrated Locke or out of control Crank. In such cases there’s usually a virtual or literal ticking clock, because why else bother with real time?

Last Call comes from director/co-writer Gavin Michael Booth in a movie that only has two other actors we see on screen. Both are shown at the same time, starting from the same point in time, and we stick with both until the end of the movie. One is Beth (Sarah Booth, the director’s wife) who is working a late night at a sort of adult classes building as a custodian, while she worriedly waits for a call from or about her son, who was already supposed to be home. She has no cell phone, for the reason that there is no movie otherwise.

She picks up the phone at one point reached by Scott (Daved Wilkins, the co-writer so it’s all really in the family) -- but we already know more than she does. Scott is drinking heavily at the start of the movie, and then proceeds to attempt to call a few people that do not answer on his rotary phone (again, it’s here for the conceit of the movie not for any logical reason) before attempting a call to what we now know is the wrong number.

Immediately we understand he was calling a suicide hotline, but at first Beth simply is confused about the person calling for help, and chats a bit innocuously with him. But after she realizes the truth, Beth is desperate to keep Scott talking and alive, while also trying to find out where he lives so she can call the police. Beth is not a trained person when it comes to this sort of thing, even if she has empathy and refuses to stop trying.

But because of that, her attempts aren’t always so helpful, and Scott seems to be going down a dark path. The movie ramps up in tension as it goes, at times halting momentum a bit when Scott disappears off screen for one reason or another -- since it’s a rotary phone he can do that, while Beth must always stay on the landline of the office.

Although Sarah Book and Daved Wilkins both do excellent work acting here, making it easy to root for and empathize with her, the writing is a bit simplistic and clichéd, sounding often like the average version of such a story.

The gimmick of the movie, the split screen, is a bit of a mixed bag -- although it keeps us connected to the people, it can be a bit disorienting. Sometimes you don’t know who to focus attention on when they’re talking -- the one talking or the one listening? Since they’re both actively acting, I ended up often flitting my eyes back and forth, which isn’t the best way to watch people on the screen.

The idea here, someone accidentally trying to save a life, is something I feel like I haven’t seen much before so it’s a good one. I think that underlying the gimmick is an interesting perspective, even if the screenplay is a bit rushed and under-served. What works best is the acting moments between them and in Beth’s moments of desperation.

But the gimmick makes it one of those “idea movies”, meaning I’m not sure how accessible it’d be anyway, even with the underlying troubling subject matter. How many people want to watch movies about suicide anyway? In the world of such concepts, Last Call isn’t bad, but it probably should have rethought its gimmicky approach.