Review by Tatiana Miranda
Highly anticipated by some and dreaded by others is That '90s Show, the reboot of That '70s Show. In an age of show reboots focused on sitcoms from the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, it's hard not to question which shows are wholly original and which ones stemmed from a beloved show of days past.
Shows like Reboot have even poked fun at the trend, commenting on issues that face the creators of rebooted shows, namely the involvement of incarcerated or canceled stars of the original series. This has been especially talked about for That '90s Show, as one of the stars of the original series has several allegations against him. Still, That '90s Show is able to incorporate some of That '70s Show's main cast while also passing the torch to a new group of teens.
Set nearly twenty years after the start of That '70s Show, That '90s Show revolves around the teenage daughter of beloved characters Eric and Donna as she navigates a summer in her parents' hometown. Leia, played by Callie Haverda, is the perfect blend of her parents, both goofy like her dad while also clever like her mom.
While Eric and Donna are minor characters in this series, their combination of personalities found in Leia is seemingly enough to keep fans of the original show happy. She stars alongside a group of equally funny and unique characters as the original series, who make it easy to overlook the fact that beloved characters like Kelso and Jackie only have passing roles in the reboot.
Perhaps the smartest thing for That '90s Show to have done is to restrict the involvement of That '70s Show's main cast. Oftentimes the overinvolvement of key characters disallows the show from being a separate entity from its predecessor. More so than that, it also creates inconsistencies. While That '90s Show still has several inconsistencies (What about Kelso's daughter from the original series?), it makes the most of its character cameos to explain what happened during the time between the original show and its reboot.
Filled with nostalgia for both fans of That '70s Show and '90s culture as a whole, That '90s Show has the same episodic narrative consisting of the gang's various hijinks as the original series. While OG fans might have expected more interactions between beloved characters, That '90s Show is able to stand independently without being limited to being just the concept of a That '70s Show reboot. An ode to classic sitcoms, That '90s Show will likely inspire a new generation to watch its predecessor while also being entertaining for fans of the original series.
That '90s Show begins streaming on Netflix on January 19th. All ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
From the writer of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer is the new COVID-19 slasher film Sick. Sick takes place during April 2020 as lockdowns begin and COVID cases rise. In order to quarantine from being at college, friends Parker and Miri decide to stay at Parker's family lakehouse. Away from the craziness of others possibly carrying COVID, their secluded quarantine seems perfect until they realize that they're not alone. Stalked by a masked killer, Parker and Miri must try to stay safe, and not just from the virus.
Sick opens up as Tyler, a young man who is friends with Parker, is grocery shopping. Masked and six feet away from his fellow shoppers, Tyler begins to receive alarming texts, similar to the calls from Ghostface in the Scream franchise. Via text, he is invited to a party, with the condition that he must be COVID safe. After leaving the store, more era-appropriate references are made, such as him taking his mask off immediately upon leaving the store and wiping down his groceries with Clorox wipes when he gets home. Paranoid about COVID, he misses the killer breaking into his home, and his untimely death sets the mood for the rest of the movie.
While this movie is relatively original regarding its COVID plot points, it is a typical slasher with its jump scares and suspense. More than once, characters are seemingly magically revived, and with the small cast, it comes in handy to keep the killer from killing them off all at once. The intimacy of a small cast makes their close quarters all the more eerie and poignant when a stranger appears among them. The movie also makes it a point to showcase how Miri and Parker view the virus, with Miri being more strict about masks and social distancing than Parker is.
Even though it is one of the few films surrounding COVID-19, Sick is nothing extraordinary in terms of a horror movie, with its typical jump scares and lazy character writing. Unlike classics such as Scream, none of the characters are properly developed, and even the killer's motives feel cheesy and unplanned. Overall, the film feels more like a comedy in how it pokes fun at how people acted during the beginning of the pandemic. Although it is enjoyable in terms of suspense, Sick is one of the more unmemorable horror films from recent years.
Sick is now streaming on Peacock.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Pete Ohs's new indie flick Jethica is what you would expect due to its simplistic storytelling and low budget, but it's also so much more. Co-written by a majority of the cast and shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jethica is reminiscent of a student film. Even with the film's small budget, the cast and crew's clear skills and excitement for what they're creating make Jethica stand out in various ways.
While Jethica's clear budget can sometimes come off as silly or impractical, its clever writing and dryness help match the other-worldliness of the film's setting and characters. Quite literally matching the dryness of the character's dialogue is the setting, which is filled with dusty and almost archaic buildings. In a large expanse of land, the main characters only have an old RV home as their refuge against supernatural beings lying in the desert beyond.
Reflecting on her time in rural New Mexico, the narrator and main character, Elena, begins the film by telling a hookup about the time she killed a guy. While that certainly draws the audience in, it is hardly the most exciting thing about Jethica. As the movie continues via flashback, the audience meets Jessica, an old high school friend of Elena who has just recently left California. Stand-offish and eager to leave the gas station where the two run into each other, it becomes increasingly clear that she's hiding something.
In revealing to Elena that she left California to escape her stalker, Kevin, the film's supposed "villain" is exposed. Buddied up as if no time has passed since high school, the two women realize that Kevin might not have been left in California after all. Filled with plenty of dark humor, it's hard not to simultaneously laugh and still be fearful as Kevin goes off on insane rants, often proclaiming his love for Jessica while also threatening her in the same breath.
Although Jethica's final scenes might come across as silly, they ultimately act as a redemptive arc for both the living and dead as they come to terms with their actions, giving each character a distorted sort of "happy ending." As the credits roll, the audience reflects on the film's themes of friendship, guilt, and the question of what lies after death.
Even though Jethica can feel disjointed at times (likely due to the script being co-written by so many people), it is ultimately a thrilling film with plenty of captivating performances. More than anything, it gives power to small filmmakers and shows that even without a huge crew and budget, you can still create a well-made, gripping film.
Jethica hits theaters January 13 and streams on Fandor beginning February 14.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
At first glance, No Bears appears to be one of the several movies to come out of 2022 that focuses on filmmaking, alongside The Fabelmans and Babylon. But No Bears is unique in many ways, mainly regarding the context surrounding the film's making and location. Part documentary and part fiction, No Bears is centered around an Iranian director, "Jafar Panahi," who is portrayed by the real-life director of the film, Jafar Panahi.
While the film is heavily fictionalized, Panahi's real-world influences are apparent throughout. Having been banned from filmmaking in 2010 by the Iranian government, Panahi applies this struggle to his film as this character attempts to make a movie in Turkey without being able to leave Iran. Filled with slapstick-style scenes of Panahi trying to video-call his assistant in Turkey as his internet connection continues to go in and out, Panahi is able to blend drama and comedy in order to highlight the surrealist nature of the position he is in.
Beyond its humorous moments, No Bears is anxiety-inducing. Panahi's real-life urgency and secretive style of filmmaking are reflected on screen as his character resides near the border of Iran and Turkey, slyly working on his next movie. Through the character's actions, those of the characters within his film, and the real Panahi's experience, the audience watches as each deals with their feelings of being trapped.
Panahi, the character, frequents the border and contemplates fleeing to Turkey. The characters in his film, Bakhtiar and Zara, are shown trying to gain passports in order to leave and go to Europe, a storyline which is also portrayed to be inspired by the actors' experiences. Lastly, Panahi, the director, includes his personal restrictions through simple but poignant directorial decisions.
Even the film's title harps back to the overarching subject of borders and what lies beyond them. In a conversation between Panahi and his landlord Ghanbar, they discuss the town's superstitious beliefs about bears that keep people from crossing the border. In response to Panahi's question about the bears, Ghanbar disproves this idea and says a line encapsulating the film's central thesis: "Our fear empowers others. No Bears!"
Unlike its Western counterparts telling the history and creativity of filmmaking, No Bears tackles the discussion of the limitations many have to deal with when it comes to censorship and authoritarian governments. Even without the context of Panahi's current imprisonment and many run-ins with the law, No Bears is a defiant representation of Panahi's passion for filmmaking and the realities he has dealt with while trying to hone his craft.
No Bears is now playing in theaters.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Most well-known for its controversial sexual content, D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover has received the Netflix treatment; its 1928 private publication has been updated for the 21st century via a feature-length film. Starring Emma Corrin as the titular Lady Chatterley, the film is clearly marketed toward fans of steamy period pieces, most notably Bridgerton. The plot centers around Lady Chatterley's husband's injury from the first World War, which causes his inability to fulfill her sexually. Due to her sexual frustration and his want for an heir, Lady Chatterley begins to have an affair with someone that everyone around her seems to disapprove of — her husband's gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors.
With its plot of secret romance and sexual liberation, Lady Chatterley's Lover appears to be a prime contender for a 21st-century adaption. Still, through a modern lens, the film's key subjects lose the nuance they had over a hundred years ago. Instead, its subtly shot sex scenes appear lackluster in comparison to other sex-positive period pieces being released today. Although Corrin and Jack O'Connell, who portrays Mellors, give it their all in terms of chemistry, the sex scenes end up feeling awkward and unfeeling. Between the lack of communication between Chatterley and Mellors and their hasty sexual encounters, the "love" between them that other characters allude to feels out of place.
Beyond the romantic and sexual nature of the plot of the book, Lawrence also takes note of Mellors and Chatterley's class differences. The film adaptation hints at this, with the occasional commentary on local mining conditions and Mellors's profession. Still, this aspect takes a backseat to the more romantic tone of the source material. There are times when this feels like a solid choice, as the film already surpasses two hours, and other times where it feels that, by losing this commentary, Lady Chatterley's Lover becomes just another sex-filled period piece.
In the end, the sex scenes of Lady Chatterley's Lover outweigh the social commentary, yet they don't feel warranted enough to give the film romantic merit. The film ends up feeling like a jumbled yet aesthetically pleasing mess. The extremely talented cast doesn't help with the confusion, as their captivating character portrayals tend to distract from the disjointed nature of the film's intent. Does Lady Chatterley's Lover want to be a romance movie or erotica? Whichever it is, the film hardly achieves it and instead leaves the audience feeling disappointed in how they spent the last two hours.
Lady Chatterley's Lover premiers in select theaters on November 23 and on Netflix on December 2.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Two years ago, Apple TV+ released their acclaimed documentary on the Beastie Boys, and now the streaming service returns with another stellar music documentary, Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues. This documentary by Sacha Jenkins helps contextualize Armstrong's music and fame, which is especially crucial since very few of the documentary's viewers are unlikely to have lived during his prime. From recorded radio and television interviews, newspaper clippings, and Armstrong's own writings, Jenkins manages to paint a detailed picture of Armstrong with only artifacts since he passed over fifty years ago. Due to Jenkins' creativity in the layout and execution of the documentary, Black & Blues is representative of Louis Armstrong's vibrant personality that casual fans or listeners may not be familiar with.
Through his writing, his literal voice from private recordings and interviews, and his music, Louis Armstrong's personal history of growing up in the early 20th century and the overall racial climate of the time is exhibited in Black & Blues. Growing up poor in New Orleans, he recounts the food his mom made out of scraps and his job selling coal in the red-light district. While some of these tidbits might come across as unnecessary "fun facts" about the famous singer and trumpet player, they help contextualize his music and journey as a musician. As he states in one recording, Armstrong was first introduced to the power of jazz by the musicians playing in cabarets and around the red-light district.
Even as he gained worldwide acclaim, playing sold-out shows and becoming a household name, Armstrong still faced the racial prejudice that was extremely prevalent at the time. One big subject of the documentary is Armstrong's stance on segregation and the civil rights movement. While he might have never outwardly criticized it, his actions, such as requiring usually segregated hotels and other venues to allow him to stay at them if he was to perform, made it known that he did experience prejudice and wasn't going to let it slide. With his fame and influence, he made strides in terms of representation, as he starred in films such as The Glenn Miller Story and Hello, Dolly!
Although Armstrong made a huge impact on both the music industry and African-American history, there are still plenty of criticisms regarding his stance on social justice issues and general happy-go-lucky attitude. Black & Blues doesn't hide these critiques but instead exhibits them and adds background information. For example, as Armstrong's wife states in an interview, one of the main reasons Armstrong never openly discussed the civil rights movement is because he knew that his words had weight but that he was just a musician, and that's what he did best. In an age of "cancel culture" and heavy criticisms of celebrities, Armstrong is a perfect example of a public figure whose stance on issues wasn't necessarily black-or-white but complicated and full of nuance that Jenkins masterfully displays.
An insight into Louis Armstrong's life and musical accomplishments, Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues is a feat in the music documentary genre. With Jenkins' jazz-like documentary format that doesn't stick to one beat, mixing timelines and concepts with one another, this documentary is sure to wow both long-time Armstrong lovers and those just now getting familiar with his work.
Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues is released on October 28 on Apple TV+.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Julia Murat's award-winning film Rule 34 begins with a bang, quite literally. The film derives its name from the online concept that if something exists, there is bound to be a porn version of it. While it's less commentary on the rule itself, the film does play with the duality of situations as they exist in real life and within sexual scenarios. Rule 34, like its namesake, does not hold back in terms of blatant eroticism, opening immediately with shots of cam-girl Simone as she performs for her online audience. It's shocking, and before you know it, it's over, with Simone dressing for her first day of college.
With the shut of her laptop, she announces that now that she is starting college, she is done with pornography, instead choosing to focus on becoming a public defender for domestic abuse cases. Simone's story is told through vignettes as she attends classes and spends time with her peers, including the occasional video chat with her long-term and similarly sexually liberated friend. Slowly though, through her meetings with physical abuse victims and injuries gained from kickboxing, Simone gains a penchant for pain.
In her polyamorous relationship with Coyote and Lucia, she explores this aspect of her sexuality through BDSM and consensual non-consensual scenarios. After a scene between Simone and Lucia reminiscent of the abuse cases Simone is dealing with, she realizes that her fantasies must go beyond her partners to be fulfilled. With a return to her cam-girl ways, Simone goes off the deep end, sharply contrasting her experiences with asphyxiation and sadomasochism with the depictions of domestic abuse that she is meant to condemn.
Rule 34 is straightforward with its depiction of pornography and pain-based sexual fantasies. Nothing about the film comes off as obscene or appealing, even as Simone's entire naked body is displayed and toyed with. Instead, the subject is shown with a sense of anxiety and wary condemnation. It doesn't say that these types of kinks are necessarily bad, but they can lead to unsafe situations without proper communication and boundaries.
Ultimately the film is a clear-cut reflection on modern sexuality and the fine line between sexual liberation and falling into the hands of the patriarchy. Even with its focus on Brazil's domestic abuse issues, as the country has the world's fifth-highest femicide rate, the subject of Rule 34 goes beyond its geographic borders and allows for introspection into the many facets of sexuality, especially regarding the internet.
Rule 34 screened at the 2022 edition of NewFest, which runs October 13-25.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Thirteen years after the release of Henry Selick's last animated film, Coraline, he returns with Wendell & Wild, a colorful and captivating stop-motion animation that reminds us all what we've been missing out on. Eerily reminiscent of his other works, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, Wendell & Wild is still entirely unique in terms of its characters and comedic moments. Both are likely credited to acclaimed horror director Jordan Peele's involvement as co-screenwriter. With Selick's signature aesthetics and Peele's social commentary within the plot, Wendell & Wild is an animated film for kids, adults, and those in between.
The plot of the film centers around 13-year-old Kat, an orphan with a punk rock fashion sense and history in and out of juvie and foster homes. Finally, she ends up at a boarding school in her hometown, where she begins to have visions of the future and run-ins with two demons, Wendell and Wild. Portrayed by the dynamic comedic duo from Key & Peele, these two demons are mischief and mayhem personified. Dragging Kat into their schemes with the promise of her parent's resurrection, it becomes increasingly clear that the titular characters are not the only demons Kat is facing.
Beyond Wendell & Wild's supernatural plotline, the movie also portrays Kat as she attempts to tackle her more nonliteral demons, namely the guilt she feels regarding her parents' death. Closed off and devoid of any friends and family, Kat has no goals until she meets Wendell and Wild, who use her to leave the underworld and their father, Buffalo Belzer. Faced with the possibility of reuniting with her parents and the decaying town she grew up in, Kat sets the movie's main plot into motion. She is joined by a diverse cast of characters, such as her trans classmate Raul, the schoolmaster Father Bests, and Sister Helley, who is a teacher at Kat's school with a few secrets of her own.
While Wendell & Wild is visually overwhelming with Selick's typical intense color scheme and highly stylized character design, it is also overwhelming in terms of its plot and abundance of characters. Although the movie attempts to give equal attention to every concept it wants to tackle, some get hidden in the sea of distinct character introductions and gags between Wendell and Wild. Some of the movie's fast-paced nature could be chalked up to the state of modern animation as it attempts to hold the attention of its target audience. However, it is especially disorienting coming from Selick, who has previously been known for his more straightforward but still incredibly exciting stories.
Although Wendell & Wild has its flaws, it easily knocks other recent animated films out of the park. It also marks the return of Selick, which will hopefully lead to more movies of his and the future, and maybe even a second try at a more cohesive collaboration between him and Peele.
Wendell & Wild screened at the 2022 edition of NewFest, which runs October 13-25.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Based on the book of the same name, The School for Good and Evil is perhaps Netflix's most anticipated YA movie of the year, and for good reason. With the source material's cult-like following similar to that of Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events, an adaption has been a long time coming since film rights were bought in 2013. Now, nine years later, the beloved book series characters finally make their live-action film debut. The film features rising stars Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso as the two leads, with a more established cast including Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Yeoh alongside them.
Like many fantastical young adult stories, friendship is at the heart of The School for Good and Evil. The main characters, Sophie (played by Caruso) and Agatha (played by Wylie), are two best friends who could not be more unalike. Agatha is rumored to be a witch, often taking the sidekick role to Sophie, who longs to leave their hometown of Gavaldon and become a princess. Sophie's wish leads the pair to the School for Good and Evil, a mythical school that prepares heroes and villains for the next generation of fairy tales. Upon their arrival at the school, the two girls are separated and forced to come to terms with their true good and evil natures.
Recent media, such as Disney's Descendants and Mattel's Ever After High, have toyed with the idea of a high school filled with the children of fairy tale characters. While Sophie and Agatha are not descendants of fairy tale characters, most of their classmates are. This is especially true of the main love interest, Tedros, who is the son of King Arthur. Because this means many similarities between all three popular iterations of this concept, The School for Good and Evil is by far the most well-developed of them all.
Best compared to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series, the School for Good and Evil has its own determination of character, with those attending the School for Evil called "Nevers," and their counterparts at the School for Good are called "Evers," in reference to their likely "happily ever after." Even characters such as Sophie and Agatha, who have non-fairy tale parentage, have their unique designation of "Readers," which is held with contempt similar to that of Harry Potter's derogatory "Mudblood."
It's not just the language and worldbuilding that helps The School for Good and Evil stand apart, but also the costumes, creatures, and set design. Distinguishing themselves from one another, the School for Good's candy-colored and ornate detailing is the counter to the School for Evil's dark and nature-based decor. With such a fantastical setting filled with magic and unusual creatures, such as fairies and anthropomorphic wolves, the CGI and costuming help immerse the story and will likely make viewers wish they could attend the school themselves.
Although the film has its fair share of cheesy moments, in particular, Sophie's villainous entry to Billie Eilish's "You Should See Me in a Crown," The School for Good and Evil is a captivating and entertaining watch that is reminiscent of popular YA novel adaptations, and will hopefully, receive the same acclaim and franchise capabilities.
The School for Good and Evil begins streaming on Netflix on October 19th.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Thirty years after the release of the first episode of Barney & Friends comes the two-part documentary I Love You, You Hate Me, which details the rise and fall of the plush purple dinosaur. Originally designed to keep creator Sheryl Leach's young son entertained, Barney's funny voice and saccharine songs quickly became a hit with toddlers everywhere, and the Barney-centered VHS tapes became a PBS show.
As depicted in the documentary, Barney's widespread phenomenon made him a child's favorite friend and an adult's worst nightmare. From modern-day fans of Barney to his past haters, this documentary goes beyond the show's rise to fame. While talking-head-style interviews depict how Barney came to be, the documentary shifts focus to the influence he had on children and adults alike.
How does the embodiment of love and positivity become the source of so much hate and controversy? This question is at the center of I Love You, You Hate Me, even being cleverly depicted in the name, which is a spin on Barney & Friend's classic "I Love You" song. While those who worked on the show talk about it with a sense of fondness, the parents, teens, and young adults that were left out of the show's target demographic reflect on it in contempt.
Psychologists and other childhood icons, including Bill Nye and Steve Burns, the original host of Blue's Clues, try to unravel why Barney faced so much ridicule and hatred. Although the documentary never comes to a concise answer to this question, reasons such as homophobia, nostalgia for more beloved childhood characters, parental jealousy, and culture's dry-cut sense of humor at the time are presented.
No matter the reason, Barney's bullying went beyond the dinosaur himself. Some of the show's original child actors discuss the end of their time on the show and their return to public school, where they were met with name-calling and conspiracy theories. Because of their association with such a hated character, their teenage years were filled with rebellion and bad choices to try to counteract the bullying they received while in school.
Even more so than the stars on the show, Leach's family was negatively impacted by Barney and the public's reaction to his existence. Portrayed as a shocking revelation at the end of the documentary, Leach's son, Patrick, and his actions as an adult come to light. His criminal activity, along with the divorce between his parents, are shown as the consequences of Barney's fame. Whether this is true or not is up for debate since both Patrick and Sheryl don't appear in the documentary.
While I Love You, You Hate Me is not the most cohesive documentary, often jumping from point to point, it gives a comprehensive overview of Barney's creation and the aftereffects. Twelve years after Barney & Friends's demise, this documentary revisits an iconic childhood character and his cultural influence and impact on those associated with the show.
I Love You, You Hate Me is now streaming on Peacock. Both episodes reviewed.