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Embarrassing Bodies (2008)
Providing Help and Hope to those Who Need It
Although I can hardly bear to watch some of the surgeries, I think Embarassing Bodies is by far the best medical show on TV, providing help and hope to a wide variety of people who haven't found it elsewhere.
Patients fall largely into two categories. The first are those whose general practitioners have not yet referred them to the right specialists (or, sometimes, to any). Since insurance isn't usually a barrier in the U.K., I chalk that up to the inevitable range of competencies of doctors.
The larger group are people who have been too embarrassed to seek help, until they can no longer tolerate their situation. We do see efforts to help folks with rotted teeth, bad odors, fungus-ridden feet, or odd scars, but a lot of episodes deal with the "private" parts. And no wonder the patients haven't sought treatment, since so many of us, both here in the U.S. and those in Britain, were trained to be embarrassed and ashamed to talk or even think about breasts, genitals, and the rear end -- anything remotely sexual or excretory.
The three "host" doctors occasionally treat cases or offer advice, but more often refer patients to specialists. Surgeries, when needed, are shown in full gory detail. The doctors also travel the nation, using wild visual aids to educate people - especially teens and 20-somethings - about counterproductive habits from binge drinking to tanning to unprotected sex. In my mind, they do a tremendous service, and televising helps get the word out.
Some of the conditions treated are life-threatening, but many are not: giant facial scars, massive rolls of flesh on persons who have lost 150 pounds (11 stone) or more, odors, and yes, the grossly asymmetrical labia. But all these folks are suffering, from the one whose boobs are sagging to the man missing half a face. They're suffering emotionally or mentally, if not physically. And surely by now we can strive for parity between mental health and physical health.
To each one, their sense of self is bothered, in a way that I imagine is not qualitatively different from the dysphoria felt by transsexuals. And similarly, all these folks deserve our sympathy and our help, and Drs. Dawn, Christian, and Pixie should be damned proud to be part of it.
The show is very, very gory. It's also very educational, especially to those of us raised like mushrooms and kept in the dark. And it's fascinating. Well done!
Realistic, Gripping Modern Horror Story
I didn't expect much from this movie, but I was satisfyingly surprised. Not "pleasantly" surprised, of course, it's a horror story. The plot is straightforward: Leah takes employment as a webcam girl, teasing and stripping for online viewers. The world is full of nuts, and some of them are technologically savvy. One finds Leah. It's downhill from there.
The strength of this film comes from a great script, powerful acting, and engaging directorial choices. The result is an ever-increasing feeling of foreboding that stays 100 percent real-world believable, never flying off into the absurdity of Friday the 13th part 92. Initially, the use of two parallel viewpoints was mildly annoying, but as the situation quickly clarified, this approach created a fascinating insight into the characters and added to the overall sense of worry.
I loathe rap. And yet, as much as I hate to admit it, in this film the soundtrack added an appropriate sleaziness to the ambiance.
It's hard to believe the two leads have such limited resumes. A film like this could never win an Oscar, but the acting was as good as it gets: actress Jennifer Mae leaves each of Leah's fans no doubt that he's her favorite, even as we share her fear about the well-being of her lover. And Kristian Hanson's portrayal of Hal is truly disturbing; only politicians rival this character's ability to rationalize lunacy. In a webcam film, with stage names like Jennifer Mae and Victoria Fox, I expected the actresses came from porn, but no. ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") And while their relationship and the webcam productions are shown in credibly adult ways, there's nothing even vaguely porn-like about this mainstream movie. It's not "provocative", just strong enough that you forget it's fiction.
If you're tired of slasher films and silly spoofs, take a bite of this reality.
On Order and Away (2018)
An Incoherent Collection of Vignettes
A group of odd characters work and sometimes live at an English pub. The characters are introduced in the first episode, and try to come together in the last. In between, there are four separate story lines with only two or three characters appearing in each. This approach doesn't allow for synergy, and we're left not knowing a great deal about them. And given how over-the-top and off-putting many of them are, not caring much either.
I just started Whites (UK, 2010), which has a similar setting, and there's no comparison: it's orders of magnitude better than On Order and Away. I'm not anxiously awaiting a second season.
Fun, Light-hearted, Good Kids' Film
Zits is not a bad film. If graded on a curve, just for younger kids, it might warrant 7 stars out of 10 instead of 5.
A group of 13-year-old Americans raise money to pay for their music teacher's eye operation by selling fake military plans to the Soviets. The hijinks that ensue, as both governments try to find out who the spy is, are not horribly unbelievable. The weakest point is the idea that anyone would pay for plans that kids draw up from plastic models. Their parents are mostly high muckety-mucks in various military and civilian government jobs, but the obvious, more realistic approach to obtaining secret information would have required a level of criminality that would have significantly changed the tone of the film. So Zits is not bad for what it is.
The young actors, ranging in age from 10 to 15, do a very credible job. And one can only wish that all kids were as nice as the characters they play. The turmoil of puberty is portrayed with gentility, not Hallmark-squeaky-clean, but unlikely to offend most viewers.
Zits was fun to watch. It's the film equivalent of an easy read, but even adults can enjoy it.
Quality Story and Acting Marred by Editing and Soundtrack
Watching Rivals, I found myself alternating between moments of intense desire to see what happens next, on the one hand, and a mix of boredom and annoyance on the other.
Widowed mother Christine (Joan Hackett) is providing inconsistent discipline to her 10-year-old prodigy son Jamie (14 y.o. Scott Jacoby), who resents her dating anyone. Jamie's attachment to his mother may be partly sexual, or he may just be spoiled, not wanting anyone to have what he can't have, as shown when he drives a wedge between his baby-sitter and her boyfriend. When Christine remarries, to the much more happy-go-lucky (and annoying) Peter (Robert Klein), Jamie slowly succumbs to psychopathy, and events go poorly for everyone.
The story line is very believable, other than portraying prodigal mental ability as linked with precocious sexual interest and development (this may just reflect the state of 1970s science). Hackett and Klein provide their usual top professional performances. And young Scott Jacoby does a terrific job playing a much younger boy, even when he acts out as more childish to manipulate the adults. Some viewers may complain about the make-out scene between Mary and 10-year-old character Jamie, although the actual content is relatively mild (limited contact, primarily implied or simulated) and the actor (Jacoby) is actually 14. Jeanne Tanzy Williams comes across very credibly as Mary, a teen girl facing the always difficult sexual quandary of When Will I, and With Whom.
Another director might have made an almost-great film out of this. Unfortunately, periods of not much happening, intended to show relationships having time to grow, last way too long and don't provide side benefits such as character development. Even more annoying were several frantic video montages that were too disjointed to convey plot points coherently and too rapid to place in context. And the soundtrack, as many reviewers have noted, was bizarre, ranging from saccharine to pseudo-funkadelic; it rarely adds and often detracts from the experience. Still, the acting and story line make this film worth watching once.
It Was a Dark and Stinky Orifice
This movie will gross out some viewers, but others, including Troma survivors, will shrug and ask what's the big deal. Yes, it includes scenes of anal-oral interaction; yes, it includes a fair amount of well-simulated feces. And yet what discomfited me the most was when the main characters acted out in public as horribly obnoxious jerks, so my perspective may be atypical.
A clinical description: Adah and Aaron are a woman and a man who find their romantic prospects circumscribed by herpes. They find solace in each other's rear ends, and in inhalants. The infection and the drug use escalate, culminating in physical changes that are bizarre and humorously symbolic.
So it's a comic-horror-fantasy-gross out story. Does the director intend this as a satire/lament/celebration of the ongoing mainstreaming of heterosexual anal intercourse? Or as a serious warning of the dangers of drugs couched in raunchy hyperbole? Or, given that Adah, her brother Adam, and their parents are played by real world sister, brother, and parents, maybe it's just a group of slightly weird people, very comfortable with one another, playing together to stay together? I don't know.
Whatever it's meant to be, it's entertaining. It's funny once in a while, gross much of the time, and usually well-acted. Better special effects at the end would have helped, but I'm amazed that any funding was found for this, so kudos to the Brown family. Hmm... maybe this film was borne from word association!
O gios tis Sofías (2017)
Sometimes a child's gotta do what a child's gotta do.
Son of Sofia will trigger painful nightmares in all of us who suffered from an abusive or violent father.
In Russia, Mischa's father has died, so he must travel to Greece to live with his mother Sofia, who hasn't told him she remarried to a much older and oppressively controlling, old fashioned man, Mr. Nikos. Ten-year-old Mischa responds badly to the situation, but I can't blame him for that.
All of the characters are acted in a manner so low key that they become very realistic. Thanasis Papageorgiou's portrayal of Mr. Nikos is superb. He's always domineering but rarely yells, limiting actual violence to one scene of relatively mild corporal punishment. But danger is always imminent, threatened by the coercive grasp of his hand behind the boy's neck or around his arm. Mercifully, the director spares us a more explicit reality. Sofia and Mischa mostly keep their mouths shut, just trying to survive, and yet her fear and his rage are palpable.
I wager it would not actually have killed the director to give us five more minutes for closure at the end of the movie. But it's still a fine film. If it won't disturb you too greatly, it's worth seeing.
Como la espuma (2017)
It's All About Relationships
Like most movies centered on orgies, Foam Party is about relationships. With so many main characters, it does well to concentrate on three or four pairs of people, with others, less fully fleshed out, linking events or providing breaks from the main plots. As the movie begins, we learn that various characters have been dumped, are unsatisfied, or are questioning their orientation. There's a virgin, one person is uncomfortable with explicit language, another is seeking revenge, and so on. Providing contrast, background characters seem to be having a fine old time with no holds barred.
Some especially diverse scenes of gay male sex, although not exposing private parts other than butts, will make some of us uncomfortable. But that was adequately acknowledged within the film, by the widely ranging degrees of comfort of the folks at the party, gay or straight, male or female. Finding one's own comfort zone while expanding horizons is a large part of what this movie is about. People looking for nudity won't find much here, but there is a smorgasbord of simulated sex.
Although the acting is fine and the characters are believable, Foam Party tries to do too much too fast. The characters faced problems or doubts too substantial to be resolved so quickly, over the course of a party lasting only one day. It's mostly a happy movie. Call it a middle of the road medley of romance stories, neither horrible nor great.
Tiempos Felices (2014)
Light and Heavy, Mixed Well
It took several minutes after this movie had ended to realize that my Hollywood-and-Britain-conditioned reaction to it was wrong. This is a pretty darn good film.
A man who really doesn't know what he wants, but thinks he wants out of a relationship with a clingy woman, hires a mysterious firm to do it for him, because he's too weak-willed or too nice to just come out and do it. The breakup firm works strangely, and you suspect it's a scam, but by the end of the movie you realize they were playing a long game - though not necessarily the game you expect.
Happy Times is a bit wacky, a mix of light comedy and serious drama with intrigue mixed in. In the end, it works well. The acting and the technical elements are fine. And in a sneakily grown-up way, this movie reminds us that infatuation is not love, that love is not trivial, and that marriage is not to be entered into lightly. While many movies mix fun with a message - the raunchy sex comedy Dirty Grandpa being perhaps an extreme example - Happy Times does it better than most. I quickly came to care about both lead characters, and was kept wondering right up to the end what the mystery firm's real goal was.
It's worth watching.
Glazed, with Sprinkles
To portray a 40-year-old woman desperate to regain her childhood fame, there are several possible paths forward. One extreme would be totally realistic, and therefore dark, depressing, possibly ending in suicide. Samantha! takes the opposite extreme, and stays so light-hearted that, unfortunately, it becomes silly, over the top, and strains belief. It's juvenile. So of course I enjoyed it: it's like a doughnut, sweet and satisfying in its way, but lacking substance.
All of the cast can act, and well, and most of Samantha!'s humor comes from how the characters are portrayed rather than the lines they speak. But the characterizations are inconsistent; blame the writers, not the cast. The show is non-provocative: the few serious issues are dealt with lightly or even comically, and there's only a smattering of vulgarity throughout the entire season. That Netflix self-rates this as TV-MA in the U.S. or 12 in Norway boggles the mind. There's little in this show that would disturb a 13-year-old here or a 9-year-old Scandinavian.
Everyone needs a doughnut now and then, but if Samantha! had been even slightly more realistic, it would have been more enjoyable. I'm not clamoring for a second season.
La tutora (2016)
A Primal Scream
Homophobia, mental illness, sexual precociousness, vigilantism, child sex abuse, betrayal, paranormal phenomena, and revenge: all of this swirls together in Ivan Noel's philosophical horror film The Tutor. The end result, disturbing to most of us on multiple levels, is both highly entertaining and thought-provoking.
Mona is hired, she thinks, to educate Angel and Ema, 11-year-old orphaned brother and sister who, she soon discovers, live well beyond "free range." Whether some events are real or paranormal or hallucinatory is unclear at times. And that, it turns out, is as intended. What is actually going on is indicated by several hints quite early, but, as sometimes happens, the most definitive clue was too subtly presented (for me) and I only learned about it in the "Making Of" special feature on the Alive DVD. But in the end, it all makes sense.
How intense is this film? After watching it, and especially the ending, I was glad to have the "Making Of" available, to remind myself that the actors are not the characters. Running with that idea also allows me to tell myself that rather than a proffered path forward, The Tutor instead represents Ivan Noel's primal scream of pain, dedicated to all victims of moral extremism.
Where "extremism" begins is a debate that will long endure. Meanwhile, here is an interesting movie, well worth watching.
Sweet Girls (2015)
They are sweet... in their own way.
So what, if the plot of Sweet Girls arises from a flawed premise, is carried out by characters whose moral compasses are spinning wildly, and becomes slightly unbelievable? It's still incredibly entertaining! It's funny in some spots, poignant in others, very well acted, and you keep watching because you care what happens next.
Teens Marie and Elodie conclude that the economic dead end facing people their age - and particularly the lack of affordable housing -- is the fault of the older generation, and decide to get rid of the retired pensioners in their apartment block. Not just one or two, either.
Sweet Girls stands out by providing a look into the lives of two incredibly different groups living side-by-side with almost no interaction. Many of the elderly are alone, either abandoned or having outlived their friends, and live quiet lives in solitude remembering the past, while the teens party hard with people they don't really know. But these girls try to do something about the present. A report card would say they show tremendous initiative and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The resolution of the story isn't terribly complex, but we do see some character growth without falling into the cloying sweetness of a Hallmark moment.
A coming of age tale runs in parallel with the caper, but it's well integrated and unobtrusive. Some may say that the director "doesn't know what he wants the movie to be." I disagree: the love story adds welcome depth and humanity to the lead characters. On a side note, there is one interesting directoral flourish: the parents and siblings of Marie and Elodie are visible, and they speak their lines... but we never see their faces.
Sweet Girls isn't really a comedy, but it's fun to watch. 7 stars out of 10.
More than Meets the Eye
I expected Streaker to be crap, light enough to pass the time when I was too burned out for anything else, but otherwise worthless. Instead, what I got was a funny caper and heart-warming rom-com. It had me cheering for the streaking "gang" and worried that the budding romance would fail.
With the purest of intentions, high-school teacher Balz Naef gambles away money that isn't his to lose. To avoid being found out, he and a bookie create a new gambling opportunity, taking bets on how long streakers - whom Naef recruits -- can stay on the soccer fields before they are caught by security. The fans are amused, but management is not, and Detective Sandra Strebel assembles a team to identity the miscreants. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues is detailed enough to be interesting, and events are for the most part believable, or at least not wholly absurd.
The acting is excellent, and the production values are high, as one might hope when it is produced with the cooperation of a dozen or so European Football Clubs.
Not having streaked since 1974, when it was an American college fad, I was heartened to see in 2017 the (albeit fictional, movie) Swiss/German attitude toward the pranksters: a matter of police interest, yes, but not, apparently, a violation of horrendous moral turpitude. There may still be hope for humanity. If you aren't offended by non-sexual, mostly distant nudity, you're quite likely to enjoy this film.
Ahora o nunca (2015)
You'll Laugh, You'll Cry... just a little.
Now or Never has actors whose previous work I've greatly enjoyed (Dani Rovira, Maria Valverde, Clara Lago). But it also has a basic plot that I totally despise: a quest - here, getting to the wedding on time -- is endangered by happenstance, aggravated by bad decisions and incompetence. What results is not quite "irresistible force meets immovable object," but I watched it fearing the worst.
This isn't Rovira's, Valverde's, or Lago's best film. It isn't even their best rom-com, and Rovira and Valverde hardly share any scenes. But, fortunately, good acting and sympathetic characters overcame the plot limitations. I laughed as much as I groaned. My eyes teared up a little at the end. (In Billy Crystal's voice: Hate it when that happens!). It's enjoyable, overall.
Your Average Melodrama
Desire is your average melodrama: its exaggerated characters and contentious events appeal to the emotions, dramatizing a scenario surely uncommon but by no means improbable. Estranged sisters Lucia and Ofelia differ greatly in their attitudes toward sex, the degree of satisfaction sex provides each of them, and their ability and desire to please a partner. Occasional flashbacks show the havoc already wrought as the women became who they now are.
Unexpectedly brought together at Lucia's wedding, the sisters and the men in their lives find self-control overwhelmed by desire. Fidelity gradually goes out the window. When this is discovered, the crap hits the fan.
Desire is well acted for a melodrama, and not unbelievable, I think, even though the lifestyle in a wealthy estate is so unfamiliar. The direction left a couple of minor points unclear; that might be the result of my dependence on subtitles. And it's explicitly sexual, which apparently surprised or offended a number of reviewers. If this film -- whose plot is all about sexual desire -- had not shown strongly simulated sex, I would have felt that it failed to suspend disbelief. Desire does not, however, come even close to the "primarily intended to arouse" standard of pornography: it's just explicit enough that you know the characters' passions. A couple of kids riding horsie on pillows, made relevant only by the adult narrator, is hardly worthy of complaint.
Watch Desire when your brain is too tired for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but not yet jaded enough for Dirty Blondes from Beyond. It's not great, but it isn't horrible, either.
Axolotl Overkill (2017)
Klip lite meets Goodbye First Love
Unlike the protagonist of Klip (Serbia, 2012), teen Mifti does not allow her self-worth to be defined by her lovers. Either misunderstanding or being intentionally misled in her relationship with middle-aged Alice, Mifti naturally reacts with pain and anger, but any bad choices she makes arise from instinctual attempts (without forethought) to find or please herself, not others.
Axolotl Overkill shows a slice of life of a teen with too little parental guidance and too much urban opportunity for self-destructive behavior. But it's just one slice, from the middle of the loaf. Unlike a true coming-of-age tale, nothing here hints that sex, drugs, or rock-and-roll are new to Mifti; she's been like this for a while, apparently. And unlike Goodbye First Love (France, 2011), Axolotl Overkill shows no maturation of the main character. The salamander called "axolotl" is neotenic - its development halts at a juvenile phase, never taking adult form, and we are left expecting Mifti won't grow up any time soon, either. The resulting storyline may thus be less satisfying to many viewers (including me), but it is nonetheless a realistic portrayal of one possible youth experience, of a nature that may be unfamiliar to many.
It's very well acted, directed, and filmed. It lacks traditional story-telling closure. Whether it has heart, whether you will feel empathy for the young character, depends on each viewer. It's worth watching once.
Molina's Ferozz (2010)
Puppy On a Hot Tin Roof
Molina's version of the fairy tale combines slasher horror and Cuban black magic in a coming-of-age film that is visually attention-grabbing but ultimately unsatisfying. Unclear events muddle the plot, and a bizarre casting choice diverts attention from the acting.
Incestuous, rape-inciting matriarch Zulma owns the land and shacks where daughter-in-law Dolores and granddaughter Miranda try to avoid her abuse. Dolores longs for attention from her husband's brother, priest/witch doctor Inocencio. Inocencio, however, is struggling to restrain his desire for young Miranda, who is just beginning to explore her budding sexuality. Zulma's son-and-grandson (!) Dully babbles incoherently and spends his time masturbating while spying on women bathing in the river. Ill-defined werewolves roam the woods. When Zulma plots to kick Dolores and Miranda off the land, blood splatters and romance, loosely defined, ensues.
Several plot points are unclear: The link from magic rituals performed by Zulma and by Inocencio to any subsequent events is baffling, especially to those of us not steeped in the lore of Santeria. Dolores may have attempted a spell, too, but that was as clear as mud. An attempt to poison someone is started and then apparently forgotten. And the wolf creature's limited role serves only as a symbolic link to the fairy tale; it's the humans that one should fear.
Casting choices limit our ability to suspend disbelief: Zulma is so glaringly played by a man (Francisco Garcia) that I expected a reason for it. But no, this pink elephant in the room wasn't relevant to the story, and any rational symbolism escapes me. Dayana Legra's portrayal of the young teen, Miranda, is often credible, although the role might have been better played by an age-appropriate actress. It's likely that one very explicit and unusual scene of tender sensuality ruled this out.
Ferozz is not a terrible movie, and its level of gore and sexuality are not, for the most part, exceptional when compared to other modern horror films. It's entertaining enough to watch once, if only to gripe about what could have been done better.
Thi Mai, rumbo a Vietnam (2017)
Just the Right Mix
I watched this because I'd seen Dani Rovira and Carmen Machi in Spanish Affair (1 & 2), and I had high expectations that Thi Mai might blend this slightly more serious plot with just the right amount of heartwarming humor. I wasn't disappointed!
When her daughter dies just as she's been approved to adopt a young orphaned Vietnamese girl, Carmen travels there with friends hoping to adopt the child herself. Battling bureaucracy and lack of a common language, Carmen won't give up, determined to coax some ray of goodness from a sad beginning.
A lot of light films resolve big problems in ways that are ridiculous. Thi Mai does better than many, with a solution that mixes the unlikely with the credible. The scenery, both rural and urban, is fascinating to those of us who haven't been there. My only gripe is that Vietnamese dialog wasn't subtitled. Perhaps the director wanted us to feel the protagonists' limitations?
If you're ready for a gentle tug on your heartstrings, this is a movie well worth seeing.
Love Steaks (2013)
The Sun So Hot, I Froze to Death
This should have been an easy movie to like: coworkers discover romance while fighting their personal demons. And it feels weird and wrong to cry, "Too much realism!" But that was the problem, for me. Sous-chef Lara is a likeable person, when she isn't drinking. When she drinks, I'm reminded why I avoid alcoholics and other addicts like the plague - they're just unbearable to be around... and to watch. The acting was so good I couldn't stand it, on a par with Ben Gazzara in "Tales of Ordinary Madness" (Italy/France, 1981). And it doesn't help that she works with a bunch of only nominally adult jackasses in a kitchen where the noise never ceases.
Masseur Clemens is portrayed annoyingly well, too. When his #HimToo moment occurs, he reacts with neither extreme of "hot diggety" nor "get the hell out until you can behave". Instead, he dithers, uncertain and insecure. And he continues to dither through much of the movie, although who can blame him when the object of his affection is a boozehound? The resulting plot is just a little too real-time, like a novel that hasn't had its first edit.
It's difficult to enjoy a romance movie when you don't feel much affinity or affection for the characters. Building that affinity would require prologue, I think. It's not a bad film, but it could be better.
Move Over, Mapplethorpe and Serrano
Vidar left me unsatisfied. Here in Minnesota, the "bachelor Norwegian farmer" is a decades-running meme only recently terminated by #MeToo; that this character exists in film was cheering of itself, and he comes across as empathetic at first. The method of vampire siring -- hilarious to me, mind-blowingly offensive to Christians -- created the potential for a fascinating film. But the subsequent plot was too one-dimensional and the characters' motivations too thin. I stopped caring much, and at film's end my reaction was "Meh. Quitter." It's worth seeing just for the audacity, but it could have been so much more.
L'enfance du mal (2010)
Real World Grit from a Girl to Avoid!
Anais Demoustier provides a frighteningly believable performance as a 15-year-old who is badly raised and who lacks any confidence whatsoever in the righteousness of the judicial system. She lies about her circumstances to insert herself into the household and lives of a judge and his wife. Then, manipulating all those around her, she forges toward her goal with sociopathic indifference to the collateral damage.
With a supremely professional supporting cast and a simple, classic soundtrack, the ambiance stays just dark enough to keep the viewer worried the entire time without veering into the genre of horror. This is real-world grit, and very satisfying.
Unlike many French films I've seen, this one didn't leave plot points unresolved. It didn't jump forward while giving the viewer no clue to how much time had passed. And the subtitling seemed complete and error-free. Nicely done. I enjoyed it.
Meester Kikker (2016)
This is a funny and cute film that 10-and-unders will enjoy. Of course it's a bit silly, but that's what you'd expect when a teacher turns into a frog. Other than the fantastical premise, the story line is realistic and very well acted -- especially by the children, who have the majority of screen time. The villain of the story is just mean enough to be slightly worrisome, but not horribly scary. Describe it as "mild peril"...
... but without the usual "rude humor." It's squeaky clean. There's no impropriety, no smoking, and no swearing, not even milder epithets or name-calling. Even the innuendo common to so many children's films is absent. Minor misbehavior shows the characters as believable human beings and may (with subtlety) teach something about taking risks.
It's light. It's simple. It's not really written for adults, but we enjoyed it nonetheless!
Best Laid Plans (2017)
Not enough substance.
I only watched the first episode. The hosts help two pairs of homeowners make a couple of interior design decisions for their homes, which are undergoing major and undoubtedly expensive renovations. The renos as a whole were interesting, and it was good to actually see floor plans. But the conversations about the decisions were not very informative, boiling down to which member of each pair of homeowners felt strongest about his/her preference once they'd had a look at options. Way too much time was spent on this; I got bored. There are plenty of better reno shows.
Excellent, Mediocre, Slightly Humorous, and Baffling, All at Once
Meis is a 15-year-old girl tentatively exploring this scary thing called sex while living with her dysfunctional family, residing in a small house at a curve on a rural dead-end road. The curve is important.
The excellent: Through Meis's train-of-thought narration, and wide, colorful visuals of the environment, we deeply feel her desire to expand her experiences. No one lives nearby, she doesn't have transportation, her only friend is a girl close in age who visits infrequently, and the story is apparently set before cell phones became our nannies. We feel her sense of boredom to our core, yet we aren't bored. She annoys Mom, distains Dad, and thinks Grandma is faking it, as she substitutes the risks of climbing high structures for the risk she wishes to take but hasn't.
The mediocre: Meis is intimate with Sue. We get a sense that Sue is more into their relationship than Meis is, but that's all, we don't see much of them together. Unfortunately, Supernova neither shows nor tells how deeply Meis feels about Sue, or how far their intimacy has progressed. We learn that unlike Sue, Meis is interested in boys, too, but has no experience with them. (She's certainly not "oversexed.") We never learn how strong is Meis's attraction to each gender, nor whether she accepts her possible bi nature or is bothered by it. Meis seems like a thoughtful person in many other regards; by not giving us a deeper insight into her thoughts about her sexuality, the director (who also plays her mother) fails us. If, being only 15, Meis doesn't know what she feels or thinks about this, even that should have been made clear. It wasn't.
The Humorous: The film derives from the book, "My Father Says that We Save Lives." Yeah, well. They save lives by removing the road signs warning of the sharp curve in front of their house, causing drunk or careless drivers to crash into the living room, rather than continuing to the end of the road and driving into the water to drown. They keep a box of mementos of each of the crashed drivers, numbering seven when the story opens. Dad, driving too fast, was number one; this is how he met Mom some 15-plus years ago. Meis is hoping that number eight will be age-appropriate, male, cute, and demonstrate lovemaking and romancing skills like those of the men she surreptitiously reads about in Mom's bodice-ripper novels.
The baffling, minor and major: Other than "saving lives", what makes them so happy about causing the wrecks? Why does Grandma stop her neurotic head-shaking to smile about it? Are they getting insurance money? If so, where's it going? It sure isn't used to maintain the house.
When Boris arrives with a bang, WHY does he stay at their house??? Nowhere else to go? Why didn't the family call an ambulance? (He's okay after a while). Would it kill the director to give us a clue? This just wasn't believable without some explanation. (I realized later that the arrival of these invariably male bad drivers seems to act as "inspiration" for Mom and Dad... but only 6 times in 15 years??? Yeesh.)
Why, before this story starts, did Grandpa commit suicide? Is Grandma trying to "join" him? Other than possibly denying his death, why does she continually shake her head? These questions aren't critical to the plot, but could easily have been shown with little impact. There was oodles of time.
For the prudes: As in the majority of American states, the Dutch age of consent is 16 and has similar exceptions for slightly younger people when their lovers are close in age and not in a position of control. So Meis at 15 (acted by 21-year-old Gaite Jansen), Sue, and Boris are thus likely legal. Mom and Dad, of course, have concerns.
Even with it's faults, which easily could have been eliminated, this is still an enjoyable and interesting film.
The Little Hours (2017)
More Franco Nunsploitation!
Not 1970s master of erotica Jesus Franco, of course. It's Dave, finally allowed to act in an age-appropriate role. The Little Hours does follow the classic plot formula, though: a male visitor to a 14th century convent puts the nuns in a tizzy. And as often happens, witches are involved. Hijinks ensue. Could it be worthwhile?
Despite knowing that Fred Armisen is in this film, I decided to watch it anyway, hoping that Brie, Micucci, Plaza, Reilly, and Shannon could make it watchable. And they did. Compared to the old erotica, this is funnier and more entertaining, with good flow and a not unbelievable plot. (As "nunsploitation" it's our usual American pap, watered down to suit the Puritans. Where is the happy middle ground?) Most of the acting wasn't bad.
But the dialog... oh good grief. At first, every word from the three female leads jarred the senses: they kept their modern day personas, vocal stylings, and vulgarity level. Eventually you get used to it; it becomes just part of those characters, but that takes time. Reportedly a lot of the dialog was ad-libbed, and it shows. Even so, Franco, Brie, Reilly, and Shannon come across quite naturally. Plaza, too, as a mean and slightly crazy person. But Armisen, and unexpectedly, Offerman, seemed like beginning high school dramatists reading from a teleprompter. Fortunately their roles weren't huge.
It would be too strong to say that Kate Micucci "made" the show - it's too much a joint effort -- but she raised the enjoyment level several notches higher than it would have been. Such an incredibly annoying, insecure, hanger-on and tattle-tale she plays to perfection! And on belladonna, she's hilarious.
Even with its faults, The Little Hours blows Wondrous Boccaccio (Italy/France, 2015) out of the water as entertainment from The Decameron. And most of the 70s stuff isn't even in the same league, except as erotica. So watch The Little Hours and enjoy it for what it is: it could have been better, but it's not bad at all.