The Binge (On Hulu)

November 16th, 2020

The Binge takes place in 2032, in a society where Congress has enacted a zero tolerance policy towards all alcohol and recreational drugs, establishing a modern day Prohibition. The only exception to Prohibition is an annual twelve hour period, colloquially known as “The Binge” (a comedic parody of “The Purge”). The film follows a few high schoolers during their first binge (you must eighteen years of age to participate). Unfortunately, I found myself bored and disinterested several times, essentially forcing myself to finish the film. 

Beyond the lack of laughter, I felt the plot was unfocused and there were too many different things going on. The protagonist, Griffin, is on a quest to ask his crush, Lena, to the prom. His best friend, Hags, wants to go down as a legend. The third to their trio, Andrew, is a rather peculiar character but his peculiarity felt way too forced to be of any true interest to the audience. Many of the character interactions felt like they were just a step beneath funny. 

Let us not forget Vince Vaughn’s character, Principle Carlsen, AKA Lena’s dad AKA El Panteur. Who is El Panteur? A Gauntlet Legend from a Binge many years ago. And what is a Gauntlet Legend? Gauntlet refers to competitions held during the Binge of various drinking games (not beer pong or flip cup, but very odd ones that make you wonder how on earth did the writers come up with them); a Gauntlet Legend are winners of Gauntlets. Again, the plot was unpredictable, not in an edge-of-your-seat way but more of a what-is-happening way.  I was saddened when the film left me generally unamused; it was as if the filmmakers forgot to add the funny. I thought the premise of the film had plenty of potential: substance-deprived teenagers having a twelve hour free-for-all, how could hilarity not ensue? I expected at the least cheap one liners and absurd, but funny, situations for the characters to get themselves into; alas, The Binge failed to even meet that expectation. If you are looking for a good laugh, I recommend you keep on looking.

Holidate (On Netflix)

November 9th, 2020

Holidate is one of Netflix’s latest original films, sitting at #7 on Netflix’s “Top Ten in the U.S. Today” category as of today. Though the film begins and ends during the Christmas season, I wouldn’t qualify it as a Christmas movie. The film follows the game of relationship chicken between two singles, Jackson and Sloane, as they act as each other’s “holidates” (a date only for holidays) over the course of a year. 

While I love holiday rom-coms as much as the next person, this one was hard to get interested in. Cheesy lines and clichés are almost a requirement for the genre, yet the main characters of Holidate were just too cliché and bland. It started with a random meeting between Sloane and Jackson in the mall and a flirtatious dislikement for each other. A large chunk of the movie is just them going holiday-to-holiday, with little character or relationship development. Though in a very obvious way, they grow more caring towards one another over time, it feels too forced and predictable. It is revealed that they both have been hurt by love in the past and neither are eager to jump back into relationships, but naturally their non-romantic relationship reopens their eyes to love. 

The supporting characters of the film have potential to pique a deeper interest from the audience; however their plot points remain underdeveloped. Sloane’s older sister, Abby, and her husband, Peter, have marital issues; Abby clearly resents that Peter never accompanies her to holiday parties (instead opts to stay home with their four children) and eventually kisses another man at a Halloween party. Sloane’s younger brother, York, and his fiancée, Liz, seem to know very little about each other or their relationship and Liz consistently ignores her doubts until after the wedding. By the end of the film both of these issues are magically resolved off-screen, thus missing the potential for a strong attachment between the audience and the characters.

The “big conflict” of the film is when Sloane and Jackson get into a fight after they have sex and they both struggle to express their feelings for each other. The conflict, however, lasts about ten minutes, giving little time for the audience to be worried for the fate of their relationship. Sloane is Christmas shopping with Liz, Abby, and a couple of Abby’s children when she and Jackson spot each other in the mall they first met in. Sloane professes her love in front of crowds of mall shoppers and the pair kiss and make-up. I’ll admit the double full-circle aspect, ending the film during Christmas-time and in the mall they met, was rather nice; nevertheless, it could have been much more heartwarming if the audience had been convinced to truly root for the pair.

Phineas & Ferb: Candace Against the Universe ( On Disney+)

November 2nd, 2020

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe is the latest addition to the Phineas and Ferb franchise. For many of us, Phineas and Ferb was a big part of our childhood. The film adds on to the pre-existing plot and characters, developed over four seasons and a TV film. 

Candace Against the Universe follows the gang into space when Candace and Vanessa (Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s daughter) are abducted by an alien spacecraft and Phinease, Ferb, their friends, and Dr. Doofenshmirtz go on a mission to rescue them. Upon arriving at the planet Feebla-Oot, Candace is deemed “The Chosen One” by the planet’s leader, Super Super Big Doctor; when the others make it to the Feebla-Oot, Candace sends them away because she finally feels special after struggling to live in the shadow of her younger brothers. Later on, Candace and the others uncover that Super Super Big Doctor is actually using mind-controlling spores to control the habitants of the planet so that she can be their ruler. 

Adventure ensues as they group tries to defeat Super Super Big Doctor when she goes to Danville to begin a new rulership. Through the use of a free t-shirt cannon and Dr. D’s Chicken-Replace-Inator, Candace defeats the invading aliens. She learns that her obsession with busting her brothers is only a distraction from her distorted view of her self-worth. 

As Phineas and friends are traveling back to Earth as stowaways on Super Super Big Doctor’s spaceship, they travel twice the speed of light and are clearly affected by it. Baljeet states that when traveling at that speed, the nature of your existence is broken down to its primal essence. The filmmakers portray this as removing the color from the frame and the characters are stripped down to mere sketches of themselves. It goes even further to show the storyboard and then the cuts to Dan Povenmire and Jeff Marsh (the creators of Phineas and Ferb) as they pitch the movie and talk right to camera. In addition to carrying on with the creative fourth-wall breaks the show is known for, the film also includes several musical numbers as is done throughout the franchise. However, the songs of the film are a bit of a disappointment given some of the franchise’s bops (such as “Gitchee Gitchee Goo,” “Squirrels in My Pants,” and many more).

Though it’s an animation film intended for kids, its spotlight on Candace results in wonderful character development and a meaningful lesson in one’s worth. Following the defeat of the aliens, Candace has the opportunity to bust her brothers when her mom is driving towards the site of the alien debris. The lesson she learned comes into play and she sends her mom to pick up pizza on the other side of town, demonstrating she has moved on her need to bust Phineas and Ferb. Candace’s decision is a bit predictable given the course of the events but heartwarming nonetheless.

Modern Love Review (On Amazon Prime Video)

October 26th, 2020

Modern Love brings to life unique stories of love, inspired by the personal essays of the New York Times column “Modern Love.” While the portrayal of love stories can often feel cookie-cutter and bland, each of the stories presented in this series can pride themselves on their unpredictability. The show captures the complexity of the human mind and heart. 

One of my favorite episodes is “Hers was a World of One,” the seventh episode of the series. It tells the story of an open adoption between Andy and Tobin, a gay couple, and Karla, a pregnant and voluntarily homeless woman. Tobin’s apprehension of Karla’s free spiritedness and lack of care for societal norms creates some rather comical interactions (i.e. a home-abortion of Tobin’s pomeranian, Kipper, following her impregnation by Karla’s unneutered golden retriever). But the friction between their two personalities is cast aside when Karla is induced by couch-sex with Mick, a friendly vagrant she had passed earlier in the night and invited to the apartment for food. 

The show’s cast is headlined by some beloved actors: Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Anne Hathaway, John Slattery, and more. It feels as though each actress or actor was made for their character. Anne Hathaway’s performance as a bipolar lawyer who goes through life without disclosing her disorder to those around her and thus struggles to truly let anyone in was *chef’s kiss* delicious. 

The formatting of the series can be described as the live-action version of short stories. There is an overarching connection between the stories (love in New York City), but the stylistic choices of each individual episode vary. From the friendship between a single woman and her doorman to a girl with deep daddy issues, each episode brings a new set of characters and a new type of love to be examined.

Watching the characters struggle with the trials and tribulations of love, you can’t help but to long for a happily ever after. Modern Love illustrates that while there are some happy endings in love, often there are just endings. The relationship that could have been never gets its chance, but the world keeps on turning. 

Greyhound Review (On Apple TV+)

October 19th, 2020

Greyhound tells the tale of Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) of the US Navy and his first command during World War II. Based on The Good Shepherd, by C.S. Forester, Greyhound is a fictional story inspired by a non-fictional event, the Battle of the Atlantic. Commander Krause is captaining the USS Keeling (radio call sign Greyhound), one of four ships escorting a thirty-seven ship convoy, which is carrying supplies to the Allied forces in England. 

The film opens with a short exposition, revealing the details of the setting as well as providing a background on Commander Krause. Following the exposition, the story cuts to the convoy as they are three days into the “Black Pit” (the Mid-Atlantic gap where they are out of range from protective air cover). 50 hours away from recommencement of air cover, the first report of a nearby U-boat comes in. From here on, there is little break in action and suspense. 

As the battle goes on, the skepticism of the crew towards their first time commander is almost tangible. Since much of the dialogue is filled with nautical jargon and the crew never voices their doubt (keep in mind the naval hierarchy), the audience must look elsewhere to pick up on the crew’s wariness; it manifests in a variation of meaningful looks to noticeable delay in the following of Commander Krause’s orders. Commander Krause’s characterization comes into light as in response to his crew’s lack of faith, rather than reassert himself as the captain of the convoy, he begins to doubt himself as well. 

With little personal dialogue or interactions, Hanks’ ability to bring his character to life does not fail to impress. Employing methods of unspoken communication, he allows the audience to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of his character. 

While the lack of focus on the stories of the crew themselves could be a turn off for some, I personally found beauty in the simplicity of it. Though it is unlikely that you grow a personal attachment to the characters, it does not stop you from rooting for the convoy’s success against the German U-boats.

Palm Springs Review (On Hulu)

October 12th, 2020

Palm Springs is a perfect film for those of us who feel stuck in a rut, due to the monotony of our lives during the COVID pandemic. With the film’s leads stuck in an infinite time loop, they are quite literally living the same day over and over. 

Taking place at a vanilla wedding in Palm Springs on November 9th, we watch Andy Samberg’s character, Nyles, and Cristin Milioti’s character, Sarah, as they live their lives like there’s no tomorrow (because there isn’t). While it’s unclear exactly how long Nyles had been stuck in the loop by the time Sarah joined his fate, judging by the number of experiences and different November 9’s he’s lived, it can be inferred that it’s been a lot. At first Sarah struggles to swallow her new circumstances, but eventually she accepts it and the pair go on to spend countless loops doing whatever they want. 

And let us not forget about Roy. On one of his earlier loops, Nyles, in a drug-induced haze, led his fellow wedding-attendee to the vortex in the cave that got him stuck in the loop in the first place. Though Roy is introduced as a sadist, hellbent on getting revenge on Nyles, eventually Roy makes his peace, gives up on his revenge, and spends each loop with his family. 

In addition to the tangible chemistry between Sarah and Nyles, the supporting characters of the film, and the side plotlines that come with them, add both substance and hilarity to the film.  

A common flaw in films dealing with time travel, or in this case time loops, is these sci-fi elements can become distracting to the plot. However, in Palm Springs, the facts and details of the time loop are revealed organically as the movie goes on. Palm Springs is a refreshing change of pace to the stereotypical storyline that is usually followed by rom-coms. The ninety-minute Hulu original leaves you wanting more of the wonderfully, imperfect characters you had just gotten to know.

The Social Dilemma Review (On Netflix)

October 5th, 2020

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” The Social Dilemma opens with this Sophocles quote and throughout the film its relevance becomes increasingly clear. The Netflix original film focuses on the effect of social media on society and the moral implications of the technology companies in control. The docu-drama bounces back and forth between testimonies of former employees (generally senior employees such as heads of departments) and a fictional American family that is used to give a practical exhibition of the effects. The issues discussed in the film, regarding social media’s impact, include damage to users’ self-esteem and manipulation of users’ manner of thinking. 

The issue of self-esteem is touched on through the use of statistics that show the rise in teenage depression and suicide, as it correlates to teenagers beginning the use of social media. Within the fictional family, the eleven-year-old daughter struggles with hurtful comments on her posts that cause her to fixate on her appearance. The issue of manipulation of users’ manner of thinking is a larger focus. 

This topic begins with a discussion of how social media and technology companies partake in surveillance capitalism, where users’ behavior is surveilled and then analyzed to determine how to maximize engagement and growth of the platforms (Have you ever had an in-person conversation, with your phone nearby, and then later you’re shown content of things you discussed earlier?) From there, it jumps into the topics of the spread of misinformation and the polarization of the world, going on to explore and explain how these platforms can be used by governments and/or bad actors to manipulate the public’s perception and spread propaganda. 

The Social Dilemma was very well-done and eye-opening to the effect of tech companies’ prominence in today’s society; many of those interviewed share the view that this issue alone could be responsible for the tearing of the fabric of global democracy. The documentary and dramatized elements were seamlessly intertwined, with a clear connection between the topics discussed by the interviewees and the events revolving the fictional family. I, also, could relate to a lot of what was said in regards to the manipulation of users. For example, if I don’t go on Twitter for a few days I’ll get a notification with a tweet recommended for me and I never thought much about it. The film mentioned how this is a tactic used by tech/social media companies to control its users and encourage engagement. 

The film is a strong case for the importance of this issue and its relevance in today’s climate. In addition to the polarization of the nation, it talks of the rise of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s opening a necessary dialogue on the lack of ethics and regulations within the industry.