TV Review: Maniac (2018- )

Original Run: September 21st, 2018 – current
Created by: Patrick Somerville
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Patrick Somerville, various
Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen
Music by: Dan Romer
Cast: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, Julia Garner, Hank Azaria, Selenis Leyva

Parliament of Owls, Rubicon TV, Anonymous Content, Paramount Television, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 26-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I had no idea what this show was and I hadn’t heard anything about it before it dropped. That being said, I was glad that I went into this blindly. All I knew is that it was sci-fi, had Emma Stone, Jonah Hill and was directed by a guy who did True Detective, a show I still haven’t seen but have heard nothing but great things about.

Also, this is a miniseries. So I’m not sure if it’s a one-off or if it will return for new seasons with a whole new cast similar to Fukunaga’s True Detective or a lot of other recent television shows on various premium and cable networks.

The story is hard to summarize but in a nutshell this is about two people who undergo some controversial and dangerous drug trial. The pills and the almost otherworldly tech sends them into a strong dream state where they play out the lives of other people. The first story seems grounded in reality, even if it’s a bit nuts, and then each tale gets more and more fantastical. Ultimately, it all serves to help cure them of their personal and emotional demons. The two main characters, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, develop a strong connection as they become directly involved in each other’s road to emotional recovery.

The show started out really strong, it lost me a bit going into the second half but then it recovered nicely in the last two episodes where everything came together in a great way.

This was a really cool experiment and this was exceptionally well crafted but I don’t know if it’s something I would want to revisit in a second season. I guess that depends on the cast and what the premise would be.

I loved the hybrid of retro and futuristic styles. In a lot of ways, this resembles an ’80s cinematic representation of the future.

I guess the high point for me was Sally Field. I liked seeing her play two very contrasting roles and she nailed both exceptionally well but at the same time, it’s Sally f’n Field.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other recent Netflix shows: Black MirrorAltered Carbon and The OA.

TV Review: Orange Is the New Black (2013- )

Release Date: July 11th, 2013 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Orange Is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
Music by: Regina Spektor (theme), Scott Doherty, Brandon Jay, Gwendolyn Sanford
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Selenis Leyva, Adrienne C. Moore, Dascha Polanco, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Samira Wiley, Jackie Cruz, Lea DeLaria, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jessica Pimentel, Mary Steenburgen, Ruby Rose

Lionsgate Television, Tilted Productions, Netflix, 65 Episodes (so far), 51-92 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I finally got around to watching Orange Is the New Black. I’m really glad that I did. I am on a mission to watch all the Netflix shows, in order to rank them for a future countdown post and finally I got to this one, which just may be the cream of the crop.

I had heard nothing but good things about this show and had planned on watching it for a while. Time passed, I was busy and all of a sudden, the second season was out and I hadn’t yet watched the first.

This show is pretty remarkable. The plots aren’t overly complex but they are well thought out and pretty layered, which is probably due to what I hear is great source material, which was the memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. I’m not sure how closely the show follows the biographical account but the characters and plots feel incredibly real. Which is a testament to the creators, producers, directors, writers and most importantly, the actors.

In fact, the acting is stellar. Taylor Schilling (who plays the lead character, Piper) is really good and I can’t say anything bad about her work here but she is often times overshadowed by the brilliance of those around her. Kate Mulgrew, who was amazing as the lead on Star Trek: Voyager, is even more amazing on this show. Uzo Aduba, who plays Crazy Eyes, may be one of the best actresses I have ever seen and that is something I don’t just throw around. Laura Prepon, who starred on That ’70s Show, is a welcome addition to the cast and gives her best performance to date. Other spectacular presences on this show are Natasha Lyonne, Jason Biggs, Taryn Manning, Lea DeLaria, Laverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, Samira Wiley and Vicky Jeudy. Yael Stone is also fantastic and incredibly adorable as Lorna. Then there is Michael Healy, who brings a great dynamic to the show, as he goes from a caring sort of father figure to a complete tyrannical douchebag.

There are few, if any shows, as well acted as Orange Is the New Black. In fact, the only thing right now that comes to mind is Netflix’s other big hit House of Cards and AMC’s Mad Men.

Now I don’t know if this is a show that can sustain beyond a few seasons but while the ride is good, I will certainly stay on. I know that a third season is coming and I can imagine that several people on this show are now getting good work elsewhere. It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts and if they can get the cast to stick around, assuming this stays a hit and goes on well into the future. Then again, prison is a revolving door of characters, so why should this show be any different.

And to make a point, I have often times heard this described as the female Oz. While both shows take place in a prison, this is no lady Oz. It is a great balance of comedy, drama and just life. It brings a charm to the table that the extremely hard-edged Oz didn’t have with its brutal and gritty ambiance. I would also go on to say that Orange Is the New Black is the superior show out of the two.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: WeedsOz… simply because of similar themes but there is real contrast in the tones of these two shows.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Martin Starr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Connelly, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.” – Aunt May

For lack of a better word, Spider-Man: Homecoming was amazing.

While it isn’t a perfect film, it is the best that any of the Avengers related properties have produced in awhile, minus the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Finally, we get a Spider-Man that looks and feels the appropriate age. Tom Holland was magnificent and a perfect choice to play Peter Parker and thus, Spider-Man. Tom Holland brought something special to the role and he was the first actor to truly feel like the Spider-Man of the comic books.

Bringing Spider-Man into the bigger universe that has already been established by Marvel was long overdue and thankfully, the famous webslinger fits right in. The chemistry between the young Holland and veteran Robert Downey Jr. was uncanny. I hope we get to see them come together more often in the future, even if Downey Jr. feels like his time as Iron Man is winding down. Ultimately, even if Avengers: Infinity War fails to deliver like its two predecessors, at least these guys will make it fun. Assuming they aren’t an afterthought with all the heroes that are getting squeezed into that picture.

Michael Keaton stole the picture, though. He played the villainous Vulture but only went by his real name: Adrian Toomes. It was cool seeing him play the bad guy and it was a stark contrast to him being the hero in the Tim Burton Batman films from 1989 and 1992. He was chilling and bad ass and was the best on-screen villain for Spidey since Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin back in 2002. Keaton may have surpassed Dafoe overall but Dafoe was just pure intensity and a maniac, which worked really well for his character, fifteen years ago.

We also get other appearances by other Marvel characters. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, in his first appearance since the solo Iron Man films. Gwyneth Paltrow also makes an appearance as Pepper Potts. We even see Chris Evans in some really funny cameos as Captain America.

The film also gives a few small roles to some of my favorite people from television. Silicon ValleyParty Down and Freaks & Geeks‘ Martin Starr plays a teacher. Other teachers are played by Kenneth Choi from Last Man On Earth, Selenis Leyva from Orange Is The New Black and Hannibal Buress.

The plot of the film benefits from not being an origin story. Spider-Man already exists with his powers and how he got them is just casually mentioned and then the movie moves on. Everyone already knows the story, just like any future Batman films don’t need to show Bruce’s parents being murdered.

The movie is about Peter Parker becoming a hero. Not just a masked vigilante but truly learning and understanding what it takes to be a real Avenger. There is friction and tough love from his mentor Tony Stark and for good reason. This picture is really Spider-Man’s training wheels. It is his first big test to see if he has what it takes to stand alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and the others.

Everyone in the film did well with their roles. The story was entertaining and there was a good balance between action and the coming of age drama that fans can expect from a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t get bogged down in the romance side of things and Parker isn’t chasing either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane in this version.

There is a good twist in regards to his romantic relationship in the film but that relationship is just used to add a bit more weight to the bigger story and the emotional and heroic development of our beloved main character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may fall a bit short for some when compared to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but I think it stands above them. It is more genuine and closer to the roots of the comic series, especially the old school stories. Plus, seeing him enter into a larger universe opens a lot of doors for what’s next for the spectacular wall crawler.

Also, comic book fans will probably be happy to see cameos from villains the Shocker, Scorpion and the antihero Prowler.