And we’re back! After a somewhat draining fall semester, our month-long winter break allowed me to catch up on shows from the newest streaming services, the latest films hitting the big screen and the newest DVD releases from Redbox. So, strap in readers and grab a snack because it’s going to be a long ride!
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 3
Another person back from a long break is Midge Maise, who is on the road in the latest season of this Amazon Prime original show. After some hits and misses in her life and stand-up career, Midge has found success as superstar Shy Baldwin’s opening act on the road. Midge and Susie are living the high-life, but it’s not without a few bumps in the road. Both women struggle to find a balance between two things. For Midge, she must find a way to continue her way to the top of the comedy ladder, but also co-parent with her ex, Joel (Michael Zegen), and help her parents respect her life choices. Susie must balance her two clients: Midge and her diva comedienne Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). As always, “Mrs. Maisel” serves up a bright and genuinely funny show, but this season hits a few snags. The show works when it is focused on its center, Midge, and keeps other character’s storylines to a minimum. It slows down or becomes boring when it pretends to be an ensemble show. While it’s great to see that Joel is moving on from Midge, scenes or episodes focus solely on him lack the sparkle of the rest of the show, and the same goes to Midge’s mother and father. We do need updates on these characters, and we should explore them outside of their connection with Midge, but the creators need to remember who the show is all about.
“Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings”
Netflix has seemed to become the new hotspot for cheesy dramas that seemed to be reserved for cable channels like “Lifetime” and “Hallmark.” “Heartstrings” proves that statement correct. This eight-episode anthology series is based upon the music of country legend Dolly Parton. To be honest, this show was very taxing on me. The majority of the episodes were incredibly dull and just kept dragging on for me. It felt like a job just to watch this show. I did find that the bright spots of the series happened towards the end of the season. But, if you do crave some made-for-TV dramas, spend your time watching “These Old Bones,” “Down From Dover,” “J.J. Sneed,” “Sugar Hill” and “Jolene.”
Is there much more I can say about this iconic piece of American television? Thanks to Disney+, I now have access to all of my childhood shows, and it has been so good for my soul to rewatch them, “Hannah Montana” being one of them. This rewatch confirmed to me that “Hannah” was just as good as I remember and that they truly do not make ‘em like they used to!
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” Season One
Okay, yes, this title is a mouthful, but once you get past it, you’ll find a real gem. “HSMTMTS” follows students at the real East High, where the Disney Channel movie, “High School Musical” was filmed. The new drama teacher takes it upon herself to make the fall musical “High School Musical” and, as is the case with any high school production, drama ensues. Filmed as a mockumentary, “HSMTMTS” is one of the best modern teen shows I have seen! Looking outside the typical drama/mystery, Disney has created a smart, funny show and has a talented, young cast to boot. Joshua Bassett shines as Ricky and is on track to be the internet’s new boyfriend. Olivia Rodrigo is the show’s leading lady, Nini, and falls naturally into her role on screen. Notable supporting actors are Sofia Wylie, Frankie Rodriguez and Julia Lester, who provide some of the best dancing and comedic performances. “HSMTMTS” is the perfect watch for “High School Musical” purists, newcomers to the Disney classic and teen-centered show lovers.
“The Mandalorian” Season One
Keeping with the Disney+ theme, “The Mandalorian,” a “Star Wars” television series, is another original on this newest streaming platform. Set in the time between “The Last Jedi” and “The Force Awakens,” “The Mandalorian” follows the mysterious Mandalorian bounty hunter and his journeys across the galaxy in a space Western style of storytelling. This show has been the talk of the internet thanks to “The Child,” dubbed “Baby Yoda” by the internet, and is definitely one of the best parts of the show, but “The Mandalorian” has a lot more to offer. The episodic format fits the story perfectly, the writing is stellar and each character is compelling and three-dimensional. My only problem is that the early episodes are a bit slow, but the show definitely picks up after episode three. “The Mandalorian” is a strong entry into the world of “Star Wars” and is a must-see if you have Disney+!
The “Frozen” crew also made a comeback this holiday season, and you can bet I was one of the first ones sliding into the seats at the theater! Picking up shortly after the events of “Frozen,” the sequel follows the crew into discovering some of the secrets of Arendelle. Like most sequels, “Frozen” had a lot to live up to when creating a second story and unfortunately, they fall short of what the original began. The sequel takes a more mature turn than the original with plotlines that deal with growing up and loss. Not to stay that these themes are not important or should not be featured in a family film; they just aren’t themes that you expect Elsa, Anna and friends would explore. The music, Frozen’s biggest pull, also was somewhat lackluster. Except for Elsa’s solo numbers, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself,” the rest of the music, while good, is somewhat forgettable. Overall, “Frozen II” is a solid film, but considering its status as a sequel, it does not live up to or even serves as a solid continuation to a magical story.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut was one of 2019’s most talked-about films, so naturally, I had to see what everyone was talking about. “Booksmart” follows best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Denver), two high school seniors that have spent their teen years doing all that they can so they could be the top students and be accepted into the best colleges. But, on the last day of school, they find out that all the slackers, burn-outs and queen bees were accepted and attending the same prestigious schools. Realizing what they missed out on, Molly and Amy decide to pack all the parties and high school shenanigans into one night. “Booksmart” is essentially a stoner comedy, but with female leads, something that is usually not my cup of tea. I have to admit that’s probably why I didn’t think this film was as great as everyone else said. What I loved was the fabulous leading ladies, Feldstein and Denver. Both have had minor roles in other films or have done sitcoms, but both prove their potential in “Booksmart.” Denver’s shy, laidback Amy shows emotional depth and range, while Feldstein’s Molly’s erratic, controlling behavior makes for great comedy. I could also relate to the plot and the characters which I loved. Proving that the movie is a realistic teen comedy, rather than something Hollywood has dreamed up. “Booksmart” is not within my typical genre of film, but it does possess some strong points that make it a funny, relatable, and enjoyable movie.
“Blinded By The Light”
Speaking of relatable plots, “Blinded By The Light” speaks to my 1980s loving old soul. Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, the story is about Javed Khan, a teen of Pakistani immigrants living in small-town England. Javed is bored with his small-town life and frustrated with the expectations his father has placed on him. He feels like no one understands him or his life until he takes a listen to The Boss. Thanks to Bruce Springsteen, Javed gains the confidence to become who he wants to be, but with the confidence comes trouble within his family. As someone who feels like many of the musical artists of today are overrated and find that the musical legends speak to them, “Blinded By The Light” really captured what it feels like to find “your” artist, the one musical genius who awakens your soul and really feel something. The movie can be treated as a celebration of music rather than one specific artist and is paired with a strong, compelling coming of age story.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
My hands tremble as I write this because I know I am headed into some dangerous territory with this review. “The Rise of Skywalker” is the final film in the Skywalker Saga of the “Star Wars” franchise. Catch all that? As always, “Star Wars” fans are picky about their favorite sci-fi franchise and are very vocal about it. While many fans have said that they think this installment is the worst the franchise has to offer (Have we forgotten about “Phantom Menace?”), I actually quite enjoyed it. Sure, some of the plot lines were sloppy, and some characters’ story arcs were given unlikely endings, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I’d like to remind my fellow “Star Wars” fans that sometimes our dreams and expectations for stories and characters are not met, and that’s okay! But, don’t let the artistic differences between fans and screenwriters get in the way of what is a decent ending to a nine-episode storyline.
Speaking of “Star Wars” fans, do y’all remember when you trolled and hated on Rian Johnson for his poor screenwriting for “The Last Jedi?” Yeah, well now he’s nominated for an Oscar for this film! After a wealthy crime novelist dies mysteriously, a renowned detective is sent to solve the case and interview his eccentric family. “Knives Out” is a fresh take on the mystery who-dunnit, but also honors the creators of the genre. Johnson writes a somewhat simple plot but has added plenty of details and twists that make the film unique and audience members guessing who the perpetrator is right up until the end. While it features an all-star cast, newcomer Ana de Armas’ nurse carries the film, providing the right amount of heart and comedy. Chris Evans also manages the same effect but also takes on a role that is a drastic change from his days as Captain America. “Knives Out” is a movie that has stayed pretty much under the radar of mainstream media. But, it is one of 2019’s best films and is deserving of a watch from any film lover.
“Little Women” (2019)
Let me start this review with this statement: I AM TRASH FOR LITTLE WOMEN! There’s something about this classic American novel that has captured my heart despite countless movie and television adaptations, and Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s masterpiece is no different. Unlike its predecessors, the 2019 adaptation tells the story of the March sisters in a non-linear format that serves the story well. Saoirse Ronan’s Jo is tomboyish, stubborn and independent as in all adaptations, but Ronan manages to provide a sense of vulnerability and heart that other actresses have lacked. Florence Pugh, the Hollywood newcomer that everyone is talking about, adds more depth to the usual two-dimensional Amy. Pugh’s Amy is more than just a pretty, young socialite looking for a rich husband, but a woman who strives to be the best in the field of art. Pugh’s performance is one of the reasons that makes this adaptation more compelling than others. Still, Gerwig’s direction and screenplay allow for the topic of society’s view of women to be explored in a way that other adaptations and movies have failed to do.
“Hustlers” is another female-driven film that had everyone talking, and I don’t really know why. Based on a real-life story, Constance Wu stars as Destiny, a young woman trying to make a living in New York City as a stripper. She struggles to learn the ropes until Ramona, played by Jennifer Lopez, enters and teaches her everything she knows. The women’s success is halted with the 2008 financial crisis and soon have to take desperate measures to become even more successful than they were before. Okay, I have to admit. The cast is stellar and is one thing I really liked about the movie. Wu and Lopez meshed well with Lilli Reinhart and Keke Palmer, and each woman pulled their weight. Calling out Lopez, a bit, I don’t see where this performance was considered Oscar-worthy, especially stacked up against some other of 2019’s performances. I think what makes this Lopez performance great is the fact that she is outside her typical rom-com performances. Don’t get me wrong! I loved J-Lo in this role and her rom-coms. I just don’t think this was the performance of the year. I also really enjoyed the direction from director Lorene Scafaria, who finds a great way to empower these women in what some would consider a demeaning job. While I liked a lot about the film, I overall walked away from it with a ‘meh’ vibe for it. It wasn’t awful, but also not one of the best things I have ever seen.
“Downton Abbey” The Movie
And last, but certainly not least, everyone’s favorite boujee British family, the Crawleys, hit the big screen this past year. Four years after its conclusion on our small screens, “Downton Abbey” picks up shortly after where the series left off. Here, the Crawleys must prepare for the arrival of the royal family, and it wouldn’t be “Downton Abbey” without a little bit of drama involved. In all honesty, this movie adaptation plays out as one long episode of “Downton Abbey,” which isn’t bad because it is what the show does best! The movie does not do much to add or even conclude some of the storylines that the show left behind, but it is a nice story for all us “Downton” fans to enjoy.