Monday, October 19, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR: Stretching the Screw

October 19, 2020

American Dani Clayton (Victoria Perdetti) applied a job as an au pair in England and was accepted by employer Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas). She was to take care of his troubled nephew Miles and niece Flora, who had lost their parents Dominic (Matthew Holness) and Charlotte (Alex Essoe) during a trip to India. When she arrived at the stately Bly Manor, she would be oriented by the staff -- the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T'nia Miller), the chef Owen (Rahul Kohli) and the gardener Jessie (Amelia Eve). 

Bly Manor was haunted by the spirits of two previous residents -- the children's former au pair Ms. Rebecca Jessel (Tahira Sharif), a smart ambitious woman who took her own life for unknown reasons; and Henry's former valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a man of dubious character who also disappeared under similarly mysterious circumstances. Aside from them, there was the ghost of a faceless woman with long black hair wearing a white nightgown who rose from the depths of the lake to also walk the halls of Bly Manor.

The poster announced that this series was made by the creator of the critically-acclaimed 2018 series "The Haunting of Hill House." At that time, I had not yet been watching mini-series on Netflix yet, so I only checked out the first episode of Hill after finishing Bly. In the opening credits alone, I already saw that writer-director Mike Flanagan had recast several of the actors from Hill in Bly, like Thomas, Siegel, Perdetti, Jackson-Cohen and Gugino. 

The main story of "Bly Manor" was that of Henry James' 1898 classic novella, "The Turn of the Screw." However, Flanagan added several (required?) modern touches, like the all-inclusive casting of the roles, as well as an LGBT angle. By the 8th episode, we are brought further back in the history of Bly Manor, shifting to black and white to tell the story of the two sisters who once owned the estate -- Viola and Perdita Willoughby (Kate Siegel and Katie Parker). The final episode further added the story what happened to Dani beyond Bly.

The pace of the storytelling was quite slow, especially the first three episodes, and there wasn't much horror scenes as may be expected, which may disappoint many viewers. It was all atmosphere-building and character-building until about Episode 7, when true evil and horror finally came to fore. There were scenes of existential discussions which criss-crossed from past to present for all of the characters, going around in circles with recurring dialogue with added dimensions every time. Well-acted and seamlessly executed as these scenes may be, their point seemed superfluous in the overall flow of the story.

This mini-series was bookended by a prologue and epilogue sequence about a wedding in the present day. The whole story was being narrated by a female guest (Carla Gugino) to the couple and some other people at the party. I felt this was a rather awkward device to introduce and tell this type of story because of the seeming inappropriateness of the occasion. There was an attempt to make a metaphorical connection at the end that may seem clever at first, but for me, this final gimmick felt a tad overreaching. 6/10. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7: Progressive Political Principles

 October 17, 2020

In 1968, there were three groups who gathered in Chicago to demonstrate against the Vietnam War. These were the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) under Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) under Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe) led by David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and the Black Panther Party under their national chairman Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen). 

When bloody riots broke out between the protesters and the Mayor Richard Daley's police force in Chicago's Grant Park during the 35th Democratic National Convention held from August 26-29, 1968, these six leaders were arrested and charged as revolutionaries bent on the destruction of the American government -- the new radical Left. 

On September 26, 1969, the trial was underway to indict them for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite violence. Their defense lawyers were William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman). The federal government was represented by lead prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Attorney General Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie). The presiding judge was Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). 

Aaron Sorkin had been a noted screenwriter since his debut in 1992 with the film "A Few Good Men." He would be credited with writing some of the most compelling biopics like "Moneyball" (2011), "Steve Jobs" (2015), his directorial debut "Molly's Game" (2017) and most notably, "The Social Network" (2010), for which he swept all the major awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. On television, he is most remembered for his work on the long-running political drama "The West Wing" which had won a slew of Emmy Awards from 2000 to 2003. "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is only his second directorial job but he was clearly in his element.

The first two minutes alone were already a concise but effective introduction to all seven of the main defendants. We get to know their personalities quirks and their political philosophies which would all come to play as the trial went on. After the title card, we were introduced to the straight-laced lead prosecutor Schultz who took on the case on the sheer pressure of his superiors. We could see the Judge's questionable character from the get-go. All the actors were very committed to their characters and their ensemble work, most notably Cohen as the witty smart-ass Abbie Hoffman and Langella as the off-kilter Judge Hoffman (not related). 

Sorkin's storytelling style would bring us back and forth in time to tell the story in seamlessly edited scenes from testimonies from witness stand to scenes in Grant Park the year before, with real news footage integrated as well. His visual style was very energetic as fireworks blew up on the streets and in the courtroom. His original screenplay was a complex work of writing that dealt with multiple characters based on real life people with distinctive personalities and political motivations. Issues about freedom of speech and assembly is as relevant today as it was back then.  This is the first serious Oscar contender for Best Picture I can foresee for this coming awards season. 9/10. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Netflix: Review of BLACKPINK: LIGHT UP THE SKY: Popstar Phenomena

 October 16, 2020

The topic of this documentary by director Caroline Suh is South Korean girl group Blackpink. If we are going to base a musical act's popularity on Billboard magazine, Blackpink would be the most popular girlband in the world right now.  Just last month, their single "Ice Cream" (2020) peaked at #13 on the Hot 100, as their latest album (only their first full-length studio album) simply called "The Album" (2020) peaked at #2.

Career-wise, these four girls are definitely on fire, and on the brink of worldwide domination, if they haven't yet. This documentary brings us back to how they became the wildly successful group that they are these days. It is not only for the benefit of their rabid fans, but also for everyone else whose curiosity has been sparked by their catchy pop hit songs. Now that this revelatory film is streaming on Netflix, now everyone can get to know them better.

Blackpink was launched in 2016 with big hit singles like "Boombayah" and "Whistle." However, for me, I only knew Blackpink for their 2018 singles from "Ddu-Du Ddu-Du" and their collaboration with British singer Dua Lipa, "Kiss and Make Up." "Kill This Love" was a major hit for them in 2019. This year, 2020 was a big year for them as they finally broke into the Top 40 of the Hot 100 with three consecutive singles "Sour Candy" with Lady Gaga (#33), "How You Like That" (#33) and their highest peaking hit "Ice Cream" with Selena Gomez (#13).

The first major revelation for me in this film was that out of the four girls, three of them did not grow up in Korea, and that one of them was not even Korean! Jisoo was the only homegrown Korean. Korean by blood, Jennie grew up in New Zealand, while Rose grew up in Australia, hence they both spoke impeccable English. Lisa was the biggest surprise for me because she was actually Thai, born and raised. I confess that I never really knew these girls by name before, but this film made sure won't forget their names after watching.

It was very interesting to see how YG Entertainment conducted worldwide auditions as early as 2010 to look for talented girls to form a new group. This was a real life American Idol situation wherein the top girls were all interned in a talent boarding school where they were trained to perform in varying combinations. There would be regular elimination rounds where under-performing girls were sent home. The final four members were all 18 or younger, so they practically did not have a normal teen life by the time Blackpink was launched in 2016..

I liked the parts when the girls were talking about themselves and their experiences during their audition and training days.Their record producer, Teddy Park, was very well-spoken and it was clear that there was a mutual respect between him and the girls. Seeing the girls backstage before their triumphant US breakthrough live concert performance in Coachella was very gratifying. Overall, the four winsome ladies make their introductory documentary a most entertaining 79-minute ride. 7/10. 

ETC: Review of ENDLESS LOVE: Ardent Amorous Aspirations

 October 15, 2020

ETC launched its first dizi (Turkish telenovela) last month with the rom-com "Everywhere I Go." They are premiering their second offering this month, this time with the romantic drama "Endless Love" (Turkish title "Kara Sevda") which ran for two seasons from 2015 to 2017. This long-running series won as Best Series in the International Emmy Awards (Best Series 2017), as well in various Turkish TV awards, particularly for the performances of its two attractive and charismatic lead actors, Burak Özçivit and Neslihan Atagül. 

One day, pampered rich girl Nihan (Neslihan Atagül) rode a public bus for the first time and encountered difficulty with how to pay the fare. Regular middle-class boy Kemal (Burak Özçivit) helped Nihan out of her awkward situation. From that single chance encounter, these two young people were struck by love at first sight for each other, but still they were yet to be introduced. However, fate had other plans for them.

Kemal saw a poster of an art exhibition with his face featured on the banner. He rushed to the exhibit hall saw his portrait mounted on the wall and noted Nihan's name as the artist. One night, because her arrogant persistent suitor Emir (Kaan Urgancıoğlu) made an ugly scene at her birthday celebration, Nihan left her party to cool off next door at the docks, which by chance was where Kemal was working as a caretaker of boats. 

The setting may be in Turkey, but the running theme in this series is certainly universal -- star-crossed lovers who dared to challenge the wide gap between the rich and poor. Even the character of the main antagonist is very familiar -- a spoiled, unscrupulous and ill-mannered rich brat who was used to getting anything and anyone he wanted. There had been so many Filipino movies and telenovelas which addressed this theme since the beginning of the film industry itself, so getting settled in won't be difficult. 

There were the usual problematic stock supporting characters, like Nihan's imperious mother Vildan (Neşe Baykent) or Kemal's jealous older brother Tarik (Rüzgar Aksoy). But there were also some wild card supporting characters whose contribution to the story had yet to be revealed, like Nihan's twin brother Ozan (Barış Alpaykut) or Kemal's younger sister Zeynap (Hazal Filiz Küçükköse). There was also Kemal's kind senior neighbor Leyla (Zerrin Tekindor) who had a major secret up her sleeve to be revealed in a future episode. 

However, by the third episode, there would be significant events that transpire which would even things up between Kemal and Emir and make their conflict over Nihan a fairer fight. So there will certainly be more than the very basic melodrama formula we watched unfold in the first two episodes. These initial episodes merely established the romantic chemistry between Kemal and Nihan, and set up the dramatic foundation upon which more and more complicating situations will be built in the next coming episodes. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Netflix: Review of I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS: Cryptic yet Compelling Conundrum

 October 13, 2020

This was one of those Netflix films which debuted early last month that did not really attract me to watch because of the depressing title and the unfamiliarity of the lead actors. Furthermore, the running time of a two-hours is intimidating for what seemed to be a very heavy drama. However, when there was rising buzz for potential Oscars in its future, particularly for its adapted screenplay, made me decide to check it out for myself. 

The story centered on a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who wanted to end her six-week relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). However, she still agreed to go with Jake for a long drive out of the city on that cold snowy day to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) in their farmhouse. On the drive going there, they recite morbid poetry to each other. When they reached the farm, Jake brought her to the barn first, and told her about their pig which just died after being infested with maggots. 

In the house, she had awkward conversations with Jake's strange parents, whom we see transition back and forth from normalcy to dementia. On their drive home in a strong blizzard, she and Jake got into even stranger situations as they bought ice cream to eat in the car, turned off the main road to look for a garbage bin, argued about the holiday tune "Baby It's Cold Outside" in a parking lot and went after a janitor working inside Jake's old high school.

From the very start, we know this was not going to be an ordinary movie. You immediately feel that this was going to be a movie with a lot of talking. There would be long conversations within the confines of a car. There would be a long exchange of poetic lines between Jake and her about very depressing topics in the car. At this point, things still made sense and I could still follow all the words they were saying, I thought.

However, the tone of the film changed when she met Jake's parents. The whole episode in the house were a jumbled-up collection of conflicting scenes and conversations despite the fact that these were all happening within the different rooms of the same house, supposedly within the same night. Everything they were talking about was all twisted and disturbing, I frankly could not figure out why these incoherent scenes were edited together this way.

The drive back to the city got more and more bizarre as the scenes and the conversations went along in the car, at the window of the ice cream shop and the high school premises. By then you have already been invested so much in the girl and Jake, but at what was supposed to be the climax, they were replaced by dancers doing interpretative contemporary ballet about them as a couple but this time, with the Janitor as a third party (huh?). 

By the time we reached that awards ceremony at the end, we really do not know what was actually happening anymore. We are left on our own to surmise what all of that meant. Was this whole thing someone's vivid dream, or maybe a someone's dying hallucination?  If you had been patient enough to go through the entire closing credits, there was a scene showing a car buried under a blanket of snow. By then, your brain will piece the whole thing together.

The whole film was one big cryptic puzzle. We never really knew how they met or how their relationship went or ended. We do not even know the girl's name, as we hear her being called Lucy, Louise, Lucia and even Ames. The ending was just as wide open to interpretation as it can be. There is that irresistible compulsion to connect all these disparate parts into your own cohesive whole to make sense of everything you've seen. You may even want to seek out Iain Reid's novel of the same title upon which this screenplay was adapted.

This type of film is definitely not for everyone. But they way the actors were so committed in their portrayals of their weird characters and how writer-director Charlie Kaufman assembled its oddly convoluted parts, this film still had a compelling charm about it. Like the previous films he wrote like "Being John Malkovich" (1999), "Adaptation" (2002) and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2002), Kaufman again presented the viewer with a challenging conundrum to figure out for themselves. 7/10. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

HBO: Review of BEN 10 VERSUS THE UNIVERSE: THE MOVIE: Thorough Throwback

October 10, 2020

The animated TV series "Ben 10" is the longest-running franchise on the Cartoon Network to date. From that classic series (December 2005- April 2008) spun off three succeeding series, "Alien Force" (April 2008- March 2010), "Ultimate Alien" (April 2010- March 2012) and "Omniverse" (August 2012-November 2014) all about Ben as a teenager. From 2016 to the present, there was a reboot series which brought Ben back to being a ten year-old 

The main story of the classic series involved ten-year-old Ben Tennyson discovered a mysterious watch-like device named the Omnitrix when he was on a family road trip with his Grandpa Ben and cousin Gwen. When Ben wore it, he was able to transform himself into 10 different alien beings with all sorts of superpowers which he used to fight alien villains, human criminals and even supernatural beings. 

There had already been four other Ben 10 films before this new one, all made for TV. The first one was "Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix" (2007) which combined the final three episodes of the fourth season of the series to make a full-length film. The second film was "Ben 10: Race Against Time" which was a live action version (2007), starring Graham Phillips as Ben 10. The third film was another live action film "Ben 10: Alien Swarm" (2009) based the "Alien Force" story, starring Ryan Kelley as teenage Ben. The fourth film was "Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens" which was a CG rendition of the original series featuring the original voice cast.

This latest film "Ben 10 vs. the Universe" is based on the 2016 reboot series. Team Tennyson had spotted a meteor about to collide with planet Earth. Ben was able to find a key which could unlock major abilities from his Omnitrix to make him able to fly into outer space to engage the meteor. However things did not go as planned as Ben was drawn into another dimension called the Null Void where Omnitrix creator Azmuth was, while the "meteor" landed on earth to release Vilgax who was on his quest for universal domination. 

The movie was full of appearances of various characters, both human and alien, which would really be a lot of fun for all loyal fans. Aside from Grandpa Max and Gwen, the other human characters include Phil Billings, Max's old friend who was a tech whiz, and Kevin Levin, originally an anti-hero bully who made his own "Anti-trix" who would later learn to team up with Team Tennyson to get closer to Gwen. Most of Ben's alien forms make an appearance, as well as several various aliens he had encountered in previous seasons. 

I was more familiar with look and tenor of the original series of Ben 10, and not familiar anymore with how it was in the 2016 reboot series. That is why I was totally surprised with how juvenile the artwork, how shrill the voice work and how seemingly "dumbed-down" the storytelling was for this new movie compared to the old Ben 10 I knew. Ostensibly, this reboot series was aimed for younger children, and despite the unfavorable reaction from old fans, it was still able to attract the loyalty of a whole new set of kids to make it last five years and merit this full-length film to boot. Colorful, fun and cheery, I am sure these newer kiddie fans would rate it higher than I did. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of HUBIE HALLOWEEN: Sandler's Simpleton Shenanigans

 October 10, 2020

Just a year after he earned unanimous critical acclaim with his against-type performance in the harrowing drama "Uncut Gems" (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2019), Adam Sandler is again back with his usual gang of comic actors in his usual comfort zone genre -- the slapstick comedy. 

Hubie Dubois (Adam Sandler) was a dim-witted middle-aged man who lived with his sweet mother (June Squibb). He was frequently the butt of some cruel jokes and pranks by most of his neighbors, like Mr. Landolfa (Ray Liotta), Mr. and Mrs. Hennessy (Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph) and his co-worker at the deli, Mark Mundi (Karan Brar).  However, his non-confrontational nature made him just take it all in stride. 

His one true love was his high school batch '84 classmate, Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen). She had once married another classmate, now local police officer Sgt. Steve Downey (Kevin James). They had one son Tommy (Noah Scnapp), who is now a freshman in high school and had a crush on a senior Megan (Paris Berelc). After their divorce, she adopted two more daughters Cookie and Danielle (Adam's real-life daughters, Sunny and Sadie Sandler). 

Despite being a major scaredy-cat, Hubie loved Halloween. He proclaimed himself Salem's Halloween monitor and would patrol his neighborhood to ensure that everyone is safe. This year, Hubie was especially wary because of the news of an escaped convicted murderer Richie Hartman (Rob Schneider). There was also a suspicious new neighbor Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi) who might be a werewolf.

This is another one of those Adam Sandler films where he was playing a person demeaned by others because of his looks and odd behavior. However, he invariably had a heart of gold, and would eventually save the day and get the girl at the end. The formula is very familiar but it had worked for Sandler so many times before, since his early "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" days, so he decided to revisit this theme one more time. 

The comedy can feel old and forced in several scenes. Sandler clenched his mouth to make a constipated face and conjured an unnatural vocal inflection which can get annoying.There was a running gag of people hurling various objects at him as he rode along the streets on his bicycle, which got old fast. He also had silly "shock" reactions to the various pranks people bully him with, which felt over-the-top fake. He also had a trusty "Swiss army knife" thermos, which was his equivalent of Batman's utility belt, which was corny. 

For me, the funniest moment was when they revealed who the person behind the velvety voice of radio DJ Aurora was. It was good to see Julie Bowen again, who also played Sandler's love interest (with similar initials VV) in "Happy Gilmore" (1996). The most touching scenes were those mother-and-son scenes between Sandler and 90-year old actress June Squibb, who gamely wore cringy gag t-shirts. For all his foolishness, Sandler also knew how to tug on your heartstrings. 5/10.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Netflix: Review of UPGRADE: Rejuvenating Revenge

October 8, 2020

The self-driving car carrying mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) crashed because of an electronics malfunction. Four men came to the accident scene, but instead of calling for help, their leader Fisk (Benedict Hardie) shot Asha in the chest, killing her instantly. Grey was shot to the back of his neck, but he survived. However, this injury left him to be a quadriplegic. 

Young technological inventor Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) helped Grey overcome his severe physical disability by incorporating a powerful multi-purpose chip called STEM into him. With time, Grey realized that STEM did not only enable him to regain his mobility of his arms and legs, but it even gave him extraordinary abilities he never had before. With his new-found abilities, Grey resolved to avenge the brutal murder of his wife.

At first glance, this would seem to be just another film about a vengeful husband hunting down the killers of his beloved wife. So many films have done this story, from "Death Wish" to "John Wick." However, in this film, the very common premise was made more interesting by the introduction of futuristic AI technology conceived to make the hero more than capable to fight back against the people to did him wrong. 

Originally, Grey had the final say about what he wanted STEM to do. However, as he proceeded with his plan for revenge, major changes needed to be made on STEM's programming to avoid detection. When STEM went rogue, that was when the film became more conceptually interesting because at this point, the AI was released from Gray's mental control. This gave rise to a conflict of man versus machine over the man's body and actions. 

There were some clever ideas to make the villains technologically powerful as well, with shotguns incorporated in their arms or the deadly metallic micro-bugs in their sneeze. However, despite all the high-tech devices, there was an unmistakable B-movie vibe throughout this Blumhouse film, especially with the hammy performances of the largely unknown cast. The ending by writer-director Leigh Whanell was a surprising uplift. 7/10. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Netflix: Review of AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR: Chilling and Cruel

 October 5, 2020

On August 13, 2018, Shanann Watts was dropped off at her home in Frederick, Colorado at around 2 am from the airport by a friend. However, the next morning, she was not answering any of her texts and calls. When her friend went to check up on her, it seemed that Shanann and her two toddler daughters Bella and Ce-Ce had disappeared. Her husband Chris was called to come home from his workplace, and he was shocked by the loss of his family. However, it increasingly seemed that something more sinister had transpired.

This true-crime documentary had been put together by Jenny Popplewell from available footage from home surveillance cameras and police body cameras. Shanann herself was very active on social media and loved to document various moments of her life on video, further providing Popplewell with a trove of intimate family scenes and conversations. Shanann was also the type who would send lengthy text messages in which she frankly expressed her innermost frustrations to Chris as well as to her girlfriend Nickole.

Shanann met and married Chris when she was at her lowest, getting over a divorce and being treated for a difficult disease. We see their blissful wedding video and the happy family videos they led as a couple and as parents, which Shanann shared online. She also shared that she was now pregnant with their third child, whom they hope would be a boy. In the course of their five year-marriage, Shanann was the dominant one, while Chris accepted his submissive role -- an arrangement not entirely alien to other marriages.

However, behind Shanann's ideal media facade, things were not that perfect as can be expected. Shanann did not have a smooth relationship with her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law. She clearly emphasized to her husband that he should defend his family, not his parents. She was also not averse to discussing about her marital sex life with her best friend. The director seemed to be setting up all of these issues to build up to a possible explanation to the final scenario that would ensue.

The heinous crime documented on this film was so difficult to accept because it was true-to-life and we actually get to meet everyone involved. The manner in which the crimes were committed was so heartless, especially since everything about it seemed so uncalled for.  There was an attempt of the perpetrator to create an alternate false situation which made it even more chilling and cruel. The most unlikely suspect can still turn out to be the guilty person. Too bad it was not entirely made clear what the immediate rationale for the crime was, it felt like too great a jump of logic that was not anything more behind it. 6/10.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Netflix: Review of THE BOYS IN THE BAND (2020): Humor, Hedonism and Hostility

 October 1, 2020

In 1969, there was an off-Broadway play by Matt Crowley that was considered a theatrical landmark for being the first to dare tell a frank story about the lives of male homosexuals. After its 1-1/2 year run onstage, the play went on to have a film adaptation in 1970, directed by William Friedkin, who would later be nominated for Best Director Oscars for "The French Connection" (1971) and "The Exorcist" (1973). 

For the play's 50th anniversary in 2018, there was a revival on Broadway directed by Joe Mantello that went on to win the Tony that year for Best Revival of a Play. The cast of this revival production was notable because they were all actors who are openly gay. This year, Ryan Murphy (again!) brings back the director and the actors of this revival to make a new film version of this play to be streamed on Netflix, starting September 30.

Michael (Jim Parsons) was hosting a party that night at his apartment. This was to celebrate the birthday of his friend Harold (Zachary Quinto). The guests included Michael's current partner Donald (Matt Bomer), African-American librarian Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), designer Emory (Robin de Jesus), Math teacher Hank (Tuc Watkins) and his boyfriend Larry (Andrew Rannells). A male escort "Cowboy" (Charlie Carver) was there as Emory's gift to Harold.

However, Michael's old college friend Alan (Brian Hutchinson) suddenly showed up at Michael's apartment unannounced. Married and very conservative, Alan was uncomfortable at the conversations he was hearing at the party. He was particularly averse to Emory's florid effeminate behavior such that he lashed out in a fit of violence. This unfortunate incident led to reopening to old secrets and frustrations among the guests, especially when Michael started a game of making a telephone call to admit feelings of love.

Parsons delivered his lines with the same cadence as his famous Sheldon character, Michael also being pushy and domineering. Quinto's Harold was all cynical, jaded and aloof with age. Bomer's pained face reflected Donald's inner conflicts. Washington's Bernard repressed passion under his mild exterior. de Jesus' Emory was scene-stealing because of his campy, unabashed flamboyance. Rannell's Larry was very flirty in contrast with Watkins' strong and stoic portrayal of Hank (Ranells and Watkins are a couple in real life). Carver was enjoying his dumb himbo Cowboy. Hutchinson's Alan was a big question mark all the way through. 

Having been all part of the Broadway production, the actors obviously had command of their respective characters and easy rapport with each other. This made the ensemble work impressive and fluid in interpreting Matt Crowley's snappy lines. LGBTQ people will probably be able to relate more to the challenges in these characters' lives and relationships, even if this was set pre-AIDS crisis, 50 years ago. 

Since all the scenes were only confined in one setting, the emotional tensions in that apartment do percolate to uncomfortable degrees, even vicious during that toxic phone game. The material may be not be easy to process for those still uninitiated with the libidinous lingo and dramatic dynamics among gay men. 7/10


If you want to watch the original 1970 film: click on this LINK. Both films followed Crowley's script very faithful, and so both were very similar to each other. It was up to the performances of the actors to give their respective characters their distinct individual personalities. The 2020 version depicted the flashbacks as the guys reminisced about their past. We also see what the fellows did after the party broke up with a montage accompanied by a sax solo. 

Netflix: Review of EMILY IN PARIS: Fitting In with the French

 October 1, 2020

By sheer luck, Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) was offered to go to Paris by her Chicago company to work with Savoir, a premiere French marketing firm of luxury brands. Emily accepted the post even if she did not speak any French, nor had any experience in fashion and cosmetics. Upon reaching her office, she immediate met the resistance of her immediate boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) who considered Emily's American style to be mediocre to hers.

Fortunately, Emily had better fortune in the friends she meets outside work. There were Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), the handsome young chef who lived one floor below her flat, and Camille (Camille Razat), the friendly art gallery hostess and champagne heiress. In the park, she met Mindy (Ashley Park), a Chinese nanny and singer who was hiding from her father who wanted her to take over their business in Shanghai. 

In the course of her work at Savoir, Emily would be involved in major business deals with perfume scent designer Antoine Lambert (William Abadie) and French fashion icon Pierre Cadault (Jean-Christophe Bouvet). Emily would also have some romantic dalliances with various French men, like philosophy professor Thomas (Julien Floreancig), champagne tour guide Timothee (Victor Meutelet), and businessman Mathieu (Charles Martins). 

This show had a vibe of "Sex and the City," but transported from New York to Paris. The cutesy ensembles of Emily is reminiscent of those quirky dresses worn by Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the 90s series. Like Carrie, Emily is also surrounded by chic fashion and debonair men, and yes, sexual escapades. The novel element this time is the social media aspect, so we get to see Emily's witty Instagram posts of her Paris experiences, which would lead her to more adventures and sometimes, misadventures.

Lily Collins gave Emily a wide-eyed, easily-relatable fish-out-of-water persona, which we all want to root for.  There was a lot of statements made about the French people -- work and business ethic, their attitudes towards women, their pride for their language, fashion, food and wines. The beautiful settings were colorful cityscapes, trendy cafes, fashion events -- everything we want to see in Paris. There are 10 episodes in this series, but each episode is less than 30 minutes each, which makes for easy popcorn binging for any rom-com fan. 7/10.