There are a lot of similarities between The Force Awakens, the long-awaited reboot of the Star Wars movie franchise from 2015, and the new film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth and final installment in the relic-chasing adventures of the titular archaeologist played by Harrison Ford. Ford himself would seem the most obvious common denominator between the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, as the actor starred in both, but even more important connective tissue is something much less tangible: nostalgia. Director J.J. Abrams made every effort to make The Force Awakens not just a sequel to the previous six Star Wars films, but an homage to the universe that George Lucas had created, infusing the style and spirit of Lucas’ films into The Force Awakens, so much so that it feels like a shot-for-shot remake of the 1977 original, Star Wars: A New Hope. In honoring Star Wars: A New Hope with The Force Awakens, Abrams was able to salute not only the original film, but Lucas’s vision as well.
New movies haven’t been interesting to me in the past few months, so I’ve been focused on the small screen, doing some catching up on old shows, enjoying new episodes of favorites and discovering new series.
Here’s my rundown of what I’ve been watching the last couple months, with some thoughts to hopefully aid you in deciding whether you want to seek it out yourself or not. Yes, there is just too much TV, so I’m here to help—at least a little.
Ted Lasso (AppleTV+) in its 3rd and final season
If you think it’s crazy that the creators of Apple TV’s flagship and multiple-Emmy-winning hit show are ending the most popular and beloved series after just three short seasons and 34 episodes (and even crazier that Apple let them do it), maybe you won’t once you see the first few episodes of this, its third and final season. We’re almost to the end and most of the episodes have been disappointingly scattered, unfocused and, most surprisingly, joyless. The brilliance and freshness of the first season is long gone, as the show now feels tired, unable to break new ground, relying solely on the charm of the characters – and the actors who play them – who, despite their individual brilliance, simply can’t bring enough life to the uninspired script. I’m seriously hoping the final two episodes can find a way to bring things together and end the show on a high note, but it will be a tall mountain to climb to end the show anywhere close to the way it started. By far the biggest disappointment of the season so far.
I covered (virtually) the 2023 Sundance Film Festival for AwardsWatch.com.
Even though I only officially reviewed three films, I saw a total of nineteen in seven days.
Here’s a brief wrap-up, sorted in order of my preference:
Directed by Nida Manzoor
Starring Ritu Arya and Priya Kansara
Hands-down the most colorful and energetic film of the festival, Polite Society is an off-the-wall, hugely entertaining film that is what you get when you mix Booksmart, Bend It Like Beckham and any Quentin Tarantino movie with Crazy Rich Asians and Get Out. It is a wicked, broad comedy, a martial arts movie, a fantasy and a teen buddy movie all rolled into one and it is so much fun. Ritu Arya plays a Pakistani-British teen who dreams of being a stuntwoman and becomes so desperate to stop the arranged marriage of her sister that she enlists the help of her friends to pull off a wedding sabotage worthy of Danny Ocean. But it’s not the plot that makes Polite Society the experience that it is (especially when it gets way too silly at the end), it’s the style, as director Nida Manzoor imbues every second of this film with infectious charm. You literally won’t stop smiling from start to finish.
Will be released April 28 in theaters
This new era of prestige television that we are lucky enough to enjoy has seen the balance of power shift from the networks to streaming services, as the most awarded, critically acclaimed, and popular shows are now found on any of the multitudes of streaming platforms, each one with their own slate of lauded original programming. Every major streamer has joined the party, even Roku hitting the critical jackpot with their highly-praised original film, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which premiered in November. It seems as if the only major streaming service that hasn’t jumped on the prestige TV bandwagon is Peacock, seemingly happy to bask in its vast catalog of popular shows from NBC’s archives, in addition to churning out under-the-radar original programming marked by reality series, competition shows, and formulaic sitcoms.
1. Women Talking
2. The Banshees of Inisherin
3. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
4. All Quiet on the Western Front
6. Everything Everywhere All At Once
7. She Said
8. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
9. Thirteen Lives
1. Barry S3 (HBO)
2. After Life S3 (Netflix)
3. Better Call Saul S6 (AMC)
4. Bad Sisters S1 (AppleTV+)
5. Ozark S4 (Netflix)
6. Severance S1 (AppleTV+)
7. Hacks S2 (HBO MAX)
8. Pam & Tommy (FX/Hulu)
9. What We Do In The Shadows S4 (FX/Hulu)
10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S4 (Prime Video)
11. Euphoria S2 (HBO)
12. The Bear S1 (Hulu)
13. The Boys S3 (Prime Video)
14. Our Flag Means Death S1 (HBO MAX)
15. Heartstopper S1 (Netflix)
16. Andor S1 (Disney+)
17. The White Lotus S2 (HBO)
18. The Dropout (Hulu)
19. Dark Winds S1 (AMC)
20. The Handmaid’s Tale S5 (Hulu)
Kenneth Branagh may be getting all the credit for reviving the murder mystery genre with his remakes of Agatha Christie classics, but it’s writer/director Rian Johnson who deserves many more kudos for finding a way to not only respect the genre, but reinvent it, first with Knives Out and now, with his even more enjoyable follow-up, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The only mystery now is how he will keep making these movies better each time.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, finds our hero from the original Knives Out movie, famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc, played with devilish charm by Daniel Craig, on his latest case, another featuring a gaggle of annoying rich people, all with a legitimate motive to murder the victim, eccentric billionaire Miles Bron, played by Edward Norton. Blanc finds himself invited to Bron’s exclusive island retreat, where Bron is throwing an elaborate murder mystery party for his small circle of close friends. What better way to make the party more fun than to invite the world’s greatest detective, who is assigned to figure out which of Miles’ friends follows through with killing him. It gets a little more complicated even than it sounds, but the joy in Johnson’s thoroughly engaging script is it’s easy to follow, even with all the many layers.
On paper, Empire of Light looks perfect. It’s written and directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, whose last film, 1917, was a masterpiece. Mendes brings a mind-boggling production team with him, including Oscar winners Roger Deakins (cinematography), Lee Smith (editing), Alexandra Byrne (costumes), and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (original score) and it stars Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Not only is the team astounding, but the film is an homage to the beauty of cinema and is set in a seaside English town in the early ‘80s, which both hold potential for tonal and atmospheric bliss.
Unfortunately, the sum is far less than each of its parts, and never manages to come together as a whole experience worthwhile of all the talent associated with it.
Colman plays Hilary, the middle-aged assistant manager of an aging movie theater on the English coast. Hilary leads a relatively boring and lonely life, but when a new employee, Stephen, played by Michael Ward, arrives at the theater, he opens Hilary up to a whole new world. Stephen is young and black, and shares with Hilary both the good (music) and the bad (racism) elements that shape his life and outlook on the world. Hilary and Stephen forge a friendship that turns romantic, but Stephen soon learns that Hilary is carrying much more baggage than he can handle, and the journey of their relationship becomes fraught with societal and psychological obstacles.
The first sign that the Weird Al Yankovic bio-pic was going to be unusual was when it was announced that Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, was cast in the starring role of the titular song spoofer who found fame in the ‘80s with parodies of top pop songs. Radcliffe, who has gone to great lengths to distance himself artistically from his star-making turn as the world’s most beloved child wizard, has marked his career with a string of offbeat, indie films since the last Harry Potter film, but none quite as offbeat as Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Radcliffe’s casting as one of the most unusual, unique and offbeat entertainers of the late twentieth century set Twitter ablaze back when it was announced, most people agreeing that there was no way the stiff Radcliffe had either the acting chops nor the comedic skills to pull it off. And yet, here we are, and whaddya know…Radcliffe is not only great as Weird Al, but his casting looks to have been just the first brilliant decision made by director Eric Appel, who also produced and co-wrote Weird, along with Al Yankovic himself.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is as gloriously silly as Yankovic himself, who plays a small role as, aptly enough, a buttoned-up music exec. The screenplay is inventive and fresh, spoofing the bio-pic genre, taking a page from Weird Al himself, in ways that are not only clever and unpredictable, but side-splittingly hilarious and, yes, really really weird.