The Handmaid's Tale Unknown Caller Review

With pouts flickering behind her self-assured facade, The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Yvonne Strahovski is good at raking pity for an egotistical privileged power-starved Serena Joy. For all her monstrous deeds to her Handmaid June, Serena Joy’s point of sympathy is her maternal love for baby Nichole because it plays to a universal understanding that maternal bonds are sacred and allows her to care for someone outside of her ego.

However, maternal attachment does not exempt Serena Joy from being an architect of the totalitarian Gilead. There are moments the series borders on over-sympathizing with Serena Joy, investing in her emotional turmoil, while not condoning how myopic her maternal reach is. While June (Elisabeth Moss) anticipated that coaxing Serena Joy back into power might help matters, perhaps re-stationing her in rule only made the Wife comfortable once again in Gilead.

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Alternatino Review

You might know Arturo Castro from Broad City and Narcos. Now he’s at the center of his own comedy sketch show on Comedy Central called Alternatino and it has Key & Peele vibes. Interlaced with sketches is a fictionalized Arturo dealing with his unlucky social life and acting career as a Latino man in New York City. The humor does not shy away from the complexities of identity in a shifting society. Its first episode “The Date,” which can be viewed on YouTube, opens with an enlightened boy who schools his heteronormative father on avoiding gender binary talk.

The central arcs of Alternatino peel away the everyday absurdities of how society responds to Latino identity or just how to navigate social life. For example, in episode two, titled “Pivot”, Arturo tries to “pivot” the conversations away from South American culture. He also confronts moral dilemmas like approaching a racist white stage veteran for acting advice, dating a pro-border wall conservative woman who owns Liberal Tears mugs, or playing a superhero woven from offensive Latino stereotypes.

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Funan Review

Cambodia, April 1975. A mother’s world is turned upside-down. One moment, Chou is enjoying a warm family meal in the thriving capital of Phnom Penh. Another moment, plates and dishes are toppled and no family is to be found. The city is emptied, save for soldiers and smoke. We learn that an evacuation has taken place. The citizens walk in line toward the mismanaged labor camps that will overwork and starve them. Soldiers purge Chou’s middle-class family of declared “impurities”—their car, their clothing—chop their hair, and force them to labor in camps that starve and torture them. Complaints, exhaustion, and sorrow, and rage are seen as signs of disposability. Souls around Chou start falling or vanishing.  

Released in Annecy last year to acclaim and awards, director and writer Denis Do forged Funan, his animated feature film debut, from the testimonies of his mother and other survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s regime and its heinous societal experiment to create a classless agrarian society. 

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The Handmaid's Tale God Bless the Child Review

After the triple-episode season premiere, The Handmaid’s Tale is marching forward. While lagging, the seasonal start so far feels fresher than it did with season two now that June is situated in a new insular world of Commander Lawrence’s household while still tangled in the Waterfords’ affairs. Nothing feels too new in “God Bless the Child”, as it seems there to occupy time in Gilead proceedings while inching bitty developments.

Last we left off in the triple-episode season starters, Serena and Fred Waterford have split up, June’s baby Nicole/Holly is now safely in Luke’s arms in Canada, and Emily has contacted her long-lost wife for a reunion.

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The 10 Best Filmed-On-Stage Broadway Musicals

Best Filmed-On-Stage Broadway Musicals

A ticket to a Broadway theatre can drain the wallet. But the 73rd Tony Awards, which aired over the weekend, allowed viewers to experience Broadway musicals from home. For those unable to fly to New York City, let alone can get hands on a Broadway ticket, the Tony Awards offer fleeting glimpses of (usually) currently-running productions.

While they can’t capture live magic, filmed-on-stage productions have an advantage: they have a re-watch button if you can access them on streaming, the DVD, or Blu-ray. Not only that, they tend to be less costly than the average Broadway ticket (even less than a student discounted one, speaking from personal experience). They’re not to be confused with the televised Rent: Live, A Christmas Story Live!, or Peter Pan Live!,where sets are formatted for the television screen. I’m talking about Broadway productions filmed on the theatre stage, with fancy cuts and angles, but still performed on a traditional stage.

Some spellbinding productions, whether they had short or extended longevity on Broadway, are preserved through the filmed-on-stage treatment. Unfortunately, accessibility and availability can vary. Much of what you see on this list has been scattered across various streaming platforms, but with a little bit of effort (and a little bit of luck), you can track them all down.

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The Biggest Little Farm Review

It’s difficult to not begin with a dour note but the global realities stipulate that I must. I type this review as the scary-but-scientific United Nations headlines loom over all of us—biodiversity in crisis—which has fatal implications for animals and the human race. The climate catastrophe headlines are unpleasant but the maximum negative outcome must be expressed, or else we will be more unequipped for later.

A day before the headline foreboding the price of decaying biodiversity, I viewed The Biggest Little Farm, a documentary about the personal journey of John and Molly Chester starting a biodiverse farm. Their local effort won’t fully counterpoint the headlines with global implications, but it shines a light on a local level. The doc opens on a dour climate-catastrophe note as well: distant California wildfires threatening the acres in its later years. While the film alludes to the changing and fickle scope of the globe and ponders its mortality, it refrains from the vocabulary of “climate change” or “climate catastrophe” when said climate-change related factors pop up. But overall, the Chesters’ burgeoning farm experience is a microcosm of what positive collaboration can cultivate.

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I Am Human Review

The brain is an unfathomable organ packed with experience. Neuroscience, science with a focus in the nervous system, is reaching as far as it can to decipher ways to unlock potential–or restore senses–in its neuro-corners. It encompasses tricky studies and comprehending brain waves. Although cutting-edge, neurotechnology is expensive and time-consuming. But it will have a role to play in expanding treatment options for patients as well as the evolution of human abilities.

Directed, produced, and written by Taryn Southern & Elena Gaby, I Am Human (playing the Tribeca Film Festival) ruminates on neurotechnology and follows three patients who pursue neuro-treatments after exhausting all their options. Anne is coping with Parkinson’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that robbed her of her artistic abilities; Bill is a quadriplegic, his four limbs paralyzed; and Stephen is blinded by an undetected degeneration that caused him to see only white, like “blank pages,” as he puts it. Read More »

A Day in the Life of America Review

Actor Jared Leto‘s directorial debut, playing the Tribeca Film Festival, is spun from constructive intentions, but I had a hard time buying into its purported positivity. Leto posited that he hoped this documentary, A Day in the Life of America, would be seen as a time capsule years later. I suspect that decades later–hopefully when the nation is recovering from the long-term damage of the Trump administration–I would still see this film with stirring stories sullied by its overall skewered positivity. Read More »

Making Waves Review

When I was going through film school, I grimaced when I was assigned the audio position. Whether I held the recorder or the boom mic, I remember feeling low. But soon, I learned that gathering sound was integral as I hovered the boom mic to an air vent or the whistling grass. I am proud to call myself “once an Audio Kid.”

If you ever hovered a boom mic before, you’ll know sound–and silence–is crucial to every film. Sound can be as grand as fiery explosions, as casual as footsteps, as minuscule as a puddle splash, or complex like a robot speaking in their own language. Think about the iconic robotic chitter of R2-D2 in Star Wars, the steaming of plane engines in Top Gun, the churning helicopter blades that externalize the madness within Vietnam soldier’s head in Apocalypse Now, and the War-Is-Hell cacophony of gunfire in Saving Private Ryan.  

As a Hollywood sound editor herself, director Midge Costin pieced together an appreciative documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound glancing into the history and the anatomy of film sound. Read More »

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Luce Review

The title character in Luce (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is functional and exceptional on the surface. He’s a star student, a valedictorian high schooler. He is the model of an inspirational American Dream story that many blind optimists love to eat up: a black teen who overcame his trauma as a child soldier in Eritrea and seized and earned every opportunity imaginable. His well-off adoptive Caucasian parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) look proudly upon him. The school is investing its hopes in him.

All except for his teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer). Suspicious of an essay he wrote in the point-of-view of a reactionary, Miss Wilson takes it upon herself to search his locker and reveals a bag of firecrackers in a private conference with his mother. Citing Luce’s traumatic past, the teacher sees it as a red flag that Luce is planning violence. Or do the firecrackers really belong to Luce? Luce claims he shares lockers with his sports team, and few shots indicate he isn’t lying about that fact. Was Luce planning something sinister in the first place?

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