Review by Tatiana Miranda
Many YA romance fans might already be familiar with the source of Netflix's latest rom-com, Love at First Sight. Based on the book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, the film version sports a stacked cast including Ben Hardy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jameela Jamil, Sally Phillips, and Rob Delaney. Netflix previously adapted another one of Smith's books, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, which is another rom-com full of stars such as Jordan Fisher and Ayo Edebiri. Similarly to Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, Love at First Sight falls flat even considering the talent involved.
Love at First Sight centers around Hadley Sullivan, a disorganized girl living in New York who just narrowly misses her flight to London. While waiting for the next flight, she meets Oliver, who seems to be the complete opposite of her. Oliver is a British math student at Yale who refuses to leave things to chance, and is also heading to London. The two instantly connect as Hadley laments about her father's wedding that she is heading to. When they lose each other after the flight, it's up to chance to reconnect them.
There are elements about the film that work, or at least have the potential to do so. Namely is the plot, which features a chance encounter at an airport, which turns to romance as they spend the flight together. Similarly to the book, this section of the story is rushed through, and the only glimpse the audience gets into their connection is through cheesy one-liners. Yet, for two people who seemingly have trouble letting themselves fall in love, their relationship quickly turns from friendly to flirtatious via these cliché interactions. While both Richardson and Hardy portray their respective characters well, there is a disconnect when it comes to chemistry between the two.
Still, there are a few things that feel unique and well-developed throughout the 90-minute runtime. Although the movie is primarily focused on Hadley, Oliver is easily the more interesting character as he interacts with his family and parents' relationship. His storyline even features a Shakespeare-influenced memorial full of costumes and performances, which is one of the film's highlights. In comparison, Hadley is a more standard child of divorce with a strained relationship with her dad, which doesn't quite get the screen time it deserves.
One of the film's downfalls is that it tends to tell rather than show the character's emotions or how their perceptions of love affect their interactions. While most modern rom-coms don't pride themselves on their depth, this one attempts to give its characters more of a background that reflects their quirks. Unfortunately, it comes across as half-thought-out due to the inconsistency of their characteristics. Although Love at First Sight stays true to its source material, it is ultimately a run-of-the-mill YA rom-com to add to Netflix's library.
Love at First Sight premieres on Netflix on September 15.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Even with the widespread popularity of Neutral Milk Hotel's album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, most don't know about the band's relationship to other 90s indie bands, The Olivia Tremor Control and The Apples in Stereo. All three are connected through their music collective and label known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company. In the documentary The Elephant 6 Recording Co., the origins of the collective and its bands are brought to light for members and fans alike to reminisce on the DIY nature of the label.
Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo, Bill Doss and Will Hart of The Olivia Tremor Control, and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel all met in high school in Ruston, Louisiana. Each formed their own band but collaborated routinely in terms of instruments and production. Over time, this collaboration became known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which was spearheaded by the original four friends. Eventually, Elephant 6 moved from Ruston to Denver, Colorado and Athens, Georgia, where other artists like Elf Power and of Montreal joined the collective.
More than its members, Elephant 6 represented a creative, psychedelic, do-it-yourself approach to music that differed from the Seattle grunge scene and the other genres of the period. The collective gained inspiration from 1960s psychedelic pop artists such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Zombies. They inspired the Elephant 6 in more ways than just the genre but also through production. Robert Schneider, in particular, used the four-track to record songs from The Apples in Stereo. As he says in the documentary, "My ear needed to hear something on the quality of 1966, 1967. And nothing more slick than that."
Besides Bill Doss, who passed in 2012, and Jeff Mangum, most of the original members of the Elephant 6 are interviewed in The Elephant 6 Recording Co. These interviews are paired with archival performance footage as the documentary recounts the bands involved with the collective and the motives behind their collaboration and creative process. With the music industry's competitive nature, the Elephant 6 stands up to say that it can be more than that.
While the documentary isn't very linear and tends to shy away from certain topics, such as Jeff Mangum's rise to fame and lack of involvement with the doc, it showcases the magic of the collective in its prime. Although The Elephant 6 Recording Co. might not be the best music documentary of all time, it is perfect for aspiring musicians or Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor, and Apples in Stereo fans who want to know more about the creation of their favorite bands.
The Elephant 6 Recording Co. releases in select theaters on August 25.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
During the rise of musical artists such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, San Francisco became a hub of experimentation in all forms. From music to drugs to sexuality, San Francisco in the '60s and '70s defined the hippie movement and a new wave of creative freedom. Compared to its Southern California counterpart, music in San Francisco was often genre-bending and accompanied by drug-induced performances. In MGM+'s San Francisco Sounds: A Place In Time, directors Alison Ellwood and Anoosh Tertzakian go beyond the height of this musical movement, instead chronicling the beginnings and endings of pivotal musicians in the scene.
The two-part docuseries opens as the San Francisco scene starts to develop with strangers connecting via rehearsal spaces and later forming revolutionary bands. Bands such as Sly and the Family Stone, Steve Miller Band, and Big Brother and the Holding Company got their start at local venues like Bill Graham's Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom. At the end of part one of the series, we see these musicians reach new levels of fame at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967.
Part two of San Francisco Sounds begins with hoards of young adults and teenagers flocking to San Francisco to join the hippie, free love movement. As the docuseries points out, the "Summer of Love," in some ways, killed the progress of San Francisco artists as crime spiked and drug use became more prominent.
Mirroring the acclaimed performances at the Monterey festival is the 1969 Altamont Free Concert's outbreak of violence that signaled the decline of San Francisco's musical community. The infamous Altamont festival was then followed by Janis Joplin's untimely death a year later and Jefferson Airplane and Sly and the Family Stone's breakups.
While the docuseries features voiceovers from band members such as Steve Miller, Mickey Hart, and Jack Casady, they are only shown in archival footage from some fifty years ago. Meanwhile, non-musicians and authorities from the scene are seen reminiscing on the rise and fall of San Francisco's creative height. Radio DJ Dusty Street, former San Francisco Mime Troupe actor Peter Coyote, retired Rolling Stone journalist Ben Fong-Torres, and poster artist Victor Moscoso lend their perspectives on the musical and artistic developments in San Francisco in the '60s and '70s.
San Francisco Sounds features plenty of previously unseen footage and exclusive interviews with band members recounting pivotal moments of their careers. One of the docuseries' best features is the choice to go beyond just one band or the widely known "Summer of Love." Instead, the series captures the beginnings and endings of the creative movement in the Bay Area and the interlocking musical community that defined the movement.
While many documentaries have tried to capture the entirety of San Francisco music in the '60s and '70s, none have done so as decisively as San Francisco Sounds: A Place in Time.
San Francisco Sounds: A Place in Time releases on August 20 and 27. Both episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
If there's one thing that Netflix knows how to do right, it's how to make a good true crime drama. From Mindhunters to Inventing Anna, the streaming service has found its niche in fictionalized accounts of true crime events. Netflix's latest true crime series is Painkiller, a limited series based on Barry Meier's 2003 book of the same name. The series follows the beginnings of the opioid crisis — more specifically, the involvement of Purdue Pharma's OxyContin. This may sound familiar, as this story was also the premise of Hulu's 2021 series Dopesick.
Director Peter Berg, who also directed Friday Night Lights, attempts to separate Painkillers from Hulu's predecessor, but it still falls in line with other homogeneous shows and documentaries that have come out of the abundance of streaming platforms lately. Notable examples include Hulu's Candy and Max's Love & Death, Peacock's A Friend of the Family and Netflix's Abducted in Plain Sight, and most recently, Hulu's Pam & Tommy and Netflix's Pamela, A Love Story. While some of these can be synergistic, as one medium might be a documentary and another might be a semi-fictionalized recreation, Dopesick and Painkiller have a fair amount of similarities that make it difficult not to compare the two.
Still, though, Painkiller takes a captivating approach in telling the story of OxyContin's creation and effects. The show has a semi-linear approach, following U.S. attorney investigator Edie's account of her introduction to OxyContin and her work in trying to take down Purdue Pharma. Through Edie's lens, we see the greed and ignorance that led to the creation and distribution of OxyContin. Matthew Broderick portrays an exceptionally unlikable Richard Sackler, who inherits Purdue Pharma and attempts to live up to the legacy of his uncle, Arthur Sackler.
Beyond the Sackler family's avarice, Painkiller also highlights the involvement of pharmaceutical representatives in spreading the use of this drug. In the path of a product pipeline, the series trails Richard Sackler's invention as Purdue Pharma sales reps get it into the hands of patients. Through the fictionalized story of Glen Kryger, an auto mechanic who is prescribed OxyContin after a workplace injury, we see how easily one can get addicted to the drug and begin to abuse it.
One of Painkiller's greatest strengths is how it doesn't singularly focus on Richard Sackler or Edie and John Brownlee as they sue Perdue Pharma. Instead, it encompasses the variety of subgroups that were affected by the creation of OxyContin. With this, though, the ending of the series does come across as messy as it attempts to tie up loose ends for the main characters while still ending on a poignant note. Nonetheless, Painkiller treats the subject with respect while also prioritizing entertainment, which is not always an easy thing to achieve.
Painkiller begins streaming on Netflix on August 10. All six episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Good Omens follows angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley as they deal with humans and supernatural beings in modern-day London. Season 1 of the comedy series, which premiered in 2019, followed the plot of its source material, as Aziraphale and Crowley worked together to stop armageddon. In season 2, co-author of the book and co-showrunner Neil Gaiman takes inspiration from unwritten storylines he and the late Terry Pratchett had previously come up with.
Along with the primary plot of the season are a handful of "minisodes" intertwined with the main episodes. These vignettes give a glimpse into Aziraphale and Crowley's past together, including depictions of historical moments such as WWII and biblical references such as the story of Job. While season 1 of Good Omens had similar storylines that featured the backstory of Aziraphale and Crowley's relationship, the minisodes in season 2 feel a bit overpowering as they take up a good chunk of the episode's runtime and distract from the main plot at hand.
Even after the finale of season 1 left room for a continuation of Good Omens, season 2 doesn't seem to know where it wants the storyline to go next. The first episode opens with archangel Gabriel arriving at Aziraphale's bookshop with no knowledge of who he is or why he is there. Over the following episodes, Aziraphale and Crowley must keep Gabriel hidden from Heaven and Hell as they try to discover what happened to him.
This storyline remains on the back burner for most of the season, though, and only begins to answer the mystery in episode 5. Meanwhile, other storylines — such as a romance between two local shopkeepers — are more prominent and act as a driving force for a lot of Aziraphale and Crowley's actions. Compared to the romance subplots in season 1, this storyline comes across as distracting and unnecessary.
Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of season 2 is the misutilization of Aziraphale and Crowley's contrasting motives and their growth as characters. While the two aren't necessarily good or evil, a lot of season 1 dealt with the two working to further the agenda of either Heaven or Hell. Since they are now deemed traitors, both Aziraphale and Crowley are working based on their own motives, rather than what their higher-ups tell them to do. Although this has always been the case, as Aziraphale and Crowley regularly go against orders, their new position as outcasts would have made for some interesting character development, especially as they go against Heaven and Hell in their attempt to protect Gabriel.
Overall, season 2 of Good Omens is a disappointing addition to an entertaining and well-loved show. Even with some humorous moments here and there, the disjointed nature of the plot and lack of interesting character development makes it an underwhelming season.
Season 2 of Good Omens releases on Prime Video on July 28. Five out of six episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
In David Zaslav's attempt to rebrand Max, the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max, many original shows from the streaming service met their untimely demise. From the teen drama Generation to the sci-fi dark comedy Made for Love, around 85 titles have been pulled from Max and, in many cases, lost forever due to streaming rights. Jake Johnson and Ophelia Lovibond's feminist comedy series Minx was one of the shows canceled by Max after its first season. The news came midway through production for the second season, and, luckily for the cast and crew, Starz picked up both seasons 1 and 2, both of which will begin streaming on June 21.
Minx tells the fictitious story of the first erotic magazine for women. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, the show centers around Ophelia Lovibond's character, Joyce Prigger, who longs to run a feminist magazine, and Jake Johnson as Doug Renetti, a low-rent porn publisher. Together they create Minx, a cross between Joyce's feminist writings and Doug's porn magazine background.
Along with Joyce and Doug is a diverse cast of characters that help bring the magazine to life. From Joyce's older sister Shelly to the publication's resident photographer Richie, each character has their own story of sexual liberation. Compared to season 1, season 2 focuses more on its characters rather than the magazine at hand, which is both a welcome surprise and a detriment to the original storyline.
Season 2 of Minx takes about halfway into the season to properly get into. Whereas season 1 focused on the magazine's beginnings, season 2 jumps straight into the height of its popularity. This change allows most of the focus to fall on the characters rather than the evolution of the magazine. Yet, it only partially shifts its focus from Doug and Joyce to the much more interesting background characters such as Shelly and Richie.
While Joyce and Doug initiate most of the conflict in the series regarding the magazine, including a Succession-style grasp for power toward the latter half of the season, the more intriguing character studies and social commentaries stem from the show's secondary characters. Shelly is dealing with the reality of her attraction to fellow Minx employee Bambi. Meanwhile, Richie longs for bigger and better things in terms of creative freedom, which tends to clash with the vision of the magazine's new backer.
The conversation of sexuality and underrepresented voices is at the forefront this season as the magazine's audience spreads beyond just heterosexual women. It's an intriguing discussion, yet its surface is barely scratched. Even during pivotal scenes, such as a police raid in a male-only bathhouse, the display of society's perception of homosexuality doesn't really affect Shelly and Richie long term.
Although season 2 of Minx ends on a high, with one of the best episodes of the series being the season 2 finale, it is still a lackluster addition to an otherwise unique series. With so much at stake for the show after its resurrection, the future of Minx looks less bright following such a disjointed season.
Season 2 of Minx premiers on Starz on June 21. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Wes Anderson's Asteroid City is one of the most anticipated films of this summer. The successor to his divisive film The French Dispatch, Anderson returns with a movie that is even more star-studded and surreal than the last, almost as a rebuttal to his critics.
Starring Wes Anderson staples like Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Edward Norton, Asteroid City also features Scarlett Johansson, Maya Hawke, and Tom Hanks. Alongside Anderson's usual crew, newcomers like Hanks and Hawke fit perfectly into this film's fantastical world.
Meanwhile, characters like Johansson's and Steve Carell's seem a bit out of place. This is likely due to just how many well-known actors and actresses there are in this film, that even more major roles feel underdeveloped. With so many recognizable faces, some characters feel more like cameos rather than developed parts of the story.
While deliberate colorways and stylized aesthetics have become a staple for his films, Asteroid City takes it one step further, with a majority of the scenes color graded to emphasize how otherwordly the story is. Without knowing the context of the plot, this intense colorway might come across as ridiculous and unneeded, but it plays a crucial part in separating storylines.
Similar to the different filters in Greta Gerwig's Little Women that specified different timelines, Asteroid City's filters help clue the audience in on which storyline the movie is focusing on. While some of Anderson's other films, like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch, tell a story within a story, neither quite compare to how elaborate Asteroid City's storylines are.
The film opens in black-and-white as a television program begins, detailing the history of a play and its cast. Then the movie jumps into the play itself, which is not portrayed as a play, but rather plays out like a regular Wes Anderson movie, full of intense colors and aesthetics.
The play takes up a bulk of the film's runtime, but the film still makes time to jump between stories. Within the play is a story about grief and questioning the unknown as characters reside in Asteroid City, which is known for a meteorite that made impact some hundred years ago. Fantastical and dreamlike, Anderson makes use of this storyline's background as a play to feature the impossible.
On the other hand, the documentary detailing the history of the play recounts the untimely demise of the play's writer and the process of performing a show that no longer has the creator to come to with questions about characters. Jason Schwartzman's actor character is especially compelling as he keeps questioning why his character does certain things.
Asteroid City is perhaps the most philosophical of all of Wes Anderson's films, as it routinely begs the question, "What does it all mean?" both literally and in the creative sense. For critics of Anderson's style and recent filmography, Asteroid City feels like a defense for why he does what he does.
Although neither Anderson nor his characters seem to come to a definitive answer to the film's central question, Asteroid City is the most personal of his films as he speculates on his own creative process.
Asteroid City is now playing in theaters.
[NewFest Pride 2023] ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE -- An Adaptation That Lacks the Depth of the Original Novel
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Eleven years after the release of the critically-acclaimed YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes the film adaption of the same name. Directed by Aitch Alberto, Aristotle and Dante is a story about two Mexican-American teenagers growing up in Texas during the 1980s. Closed-off Aristotle "Ari" Mendoza meets the outlandish Dante Quintana in the summer of 1987. They quickly become close friends as Dante tries to pull Ari out of his comfort zone and get him to open up about his past and hopes for the future. Then, unexpectantly, Dante has to leave at the end of the summer for his dad's job in Chicago.
Over the school year, the boys try to keep in touch, but as the boys turn sixteen, they start to grow and learn more about themselves and their sexuality. Dante, who was already very lively and cultured due to his English professor father, comes to terms with his sexuality faster than Ari, but that doesn't mean it was easy for him. Ari, on the other hand, comes from a family that doesn't tend to talk about their emotions. Their response to Ari's brother's time in prison showcases this the most.
Ari, who is jokingly referred to as "more Mexican" than Dante, is plagued with the concept of machismo, which prevents him from being honest about his emotions toward Dante. Dante's and Ari's variation in their cultural identities is one of the most unique things about the novel, as it is not just a queer story but a story about the effects of cultural perceptions of the queer community. The author of the novel, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, makes it a point to critique the way most Mexicans perceive the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, this theme is put on the back burner for the film, and it only plays a role in driving the relationship between Ari and Dante instead of defining them as individuals.
Whereas the book was an intellectual look at young love as a taboo in an underrepresented community, the film comes across as a cheesy love story. The movie works so hard to push the characters together that it doesn't allow them to properly develop on their own. By turning the film into more of a romance, it lessens the fact that it is ultimately a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy as he faces his own internal bias and comes to terms with who he is.
There are some standout moments, such as Dante's introduction to Ari's parents, but ultimately the movie is full of unmemorable scenes and awkward bits of dialogue. Even the film's captivating aesthetics and cinematography can't make up for what is an underwhelming adaption of a beloved book about the complexities of growing up queer.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe screened at the 2023 edition of NewFest Pride, which runs June 1-5.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Season 3 of Netflix's I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson is full of the series's usual unhinged skits and surprising guest appearances. Some of this season's guest stars include Jason Schwartzman, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Beck Bennett, Patti Harrison, and up-and-comer Ayo Edebiri.
Jason Schwartzman's skit particularly stands out as he is one of the few guest stars without a comedy-centric background. Still, his skit from episode 5 is incredibly entertaining, although it feels like he is just a prop to contrast Tim Robinson's wildly outlandish character. In fact, several of the show's guest stars don't seem to be properly utilized — as is the case with Ayo Edebiri's role as a game show host in episode 2.
I Think You Should Leave has garnered many fans, and a variety of skits have evolved into online memes, but with the third season, one can't help but notice that Robinson has a hard time straying away from his usual character in these skits. He often ends up playing some kind of eccentric guy that sets the skit's humor into motion. And don't get me wrong, he excels at this. The show's absurdist humor is perfect for the Gen Z audience it has accumulated. But after three seasons of the same kind of skits, where Robinson either freaks out in public or acts weird at a party, it starts to feel repetitive and loses its unique style.
Some stand-out skits of Season 3 include one where Robinson gets booted off a The Bachelorette-style show due to his obsession with the pool zipline and another where he goes on a first date with a bad haircut. Another great one is when Robinson attempts to start a pay-it-forward chain so that he can get a large meal paid off. The thing that helps these skits succeed is that they feel a bit more topical than some of the other skits. With the dating show skit, it plays with the recent obsession with shows like The Bachelorette and Love Island.
Meanwhile, some of his other skits that fall flat, such as one that features a game show robot costume with technical issues, only find their humor in how bizarre the scenario is. This season also has issues with variety in terms of setting. Two of the skits showcase a game show gone wrong, several involve weird actions at office parties, and another two skits deal with Robinson recounting a bad date he had.
Many of the skits are unmemorable, and the guest performances are not as entertaining as in past seasons. Overall, Season 3 of I Think You Should Leave has some highlights, yet it is not a fantastic addition to this sketch comedy show.
Season 3 of I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson premiers on Netflix on May 30th. All six episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
Anna Cathcart first made her appearance as Kitty Covey, the protagonist’s younger, scheming sister, in the 2018 Netflix original To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which is inspired by Jenny Han’s YA novel of the same name. Since then, Jenny Han's work has inspired two more To All the Boys movies and the Amazon Prime Video series The Summer I Turned Pretty. Now she returns with XO, Kitty, a spin-off of To All the Boys that focuses on Kitty as she attends a prestigious boarding school in Korea. While To All the Boys is more of a rom-com and The Summer I Turned Pretty is more teen drama and romance, XO, Kitty takes inspiration from its setting and watches more like a stereotypical K-drama, complete with shocking plot twists and all.
Kitty, now seventeen and entering her junior year of high school, decides to attend KISS, a boarding school located in Seoul that her mom attended in the 90's. KISS also just so happens to be where Kitty’s long-term, long-distance boyfriend Dae goes to school. In an attempt to learn more about her late mother and surprise her boyfriend, Kitty arrives in Korea unaware of all the drama yet to unfold.
Much like her younger self in To All the Boys, Kitty sees herself as a matchmaker, yet she has problems figuring out her own love life. Her romance with Dae began in To All the Boys: Always and Forever, when her family took a trip to Korea to reconnect with their culture. In XO, Kitty, she plans to see him for the first time since then, now that they have been dating for about four years. When trying to surprise him of her arrival at KISS, she is caught off-guard by a dramatic change in their relationship brought on by classmate and principal’s daughter, Yuri.
While some of the tropes may feel similar to To All the Boys and The Summer I Turned Pretty, such as fake relationships and love triangles, XO, Kitty is wholly different in terms of its tone. Although some of the drama revolves around Kitty’s love life, the majority of it centers around Kitty’s discovery of her mom’s experiences at KISS. From secret romances to teenage pregnancies, XO, Kitty feels more like a K-drama than your average Netflix teen series.
XO, Kitty’s K-drama inspiration and representation of Korean culture is well-done, especially considering the recent critiques of Jenny Han’s tendency to give her characters predominantly non-Asian love interests. Past the overabundance of petty teenage drama, XO, Kitty is a unique look at the experiences of a half-White Asian-American as she tries to learn more about her deceased mother and her culture. It is also a subtle critique on how many non-Western cultures perceive the LGBT community, especially how it is treated generationally in Korea.
XO, Kitty is by no means a perfect series, as it seems to overdo it with the dramatic elements, often giving viewers whiplash as multiple relationships move from enemies to crushes then back to enemies again. Still, its characters are intensely likable and the series is full of equally comedic and heartwarming moments. With the final episode’s cliffhanger, one can hope that Netflix will renew the series for a second season.
XO, Kitty releases on Netflix on May 18. All ten episodes reviewed.