Master of None (TV Review)

Master of None (TV Review)

This is an excellent show.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Aziz Ansari. I find his standup to be loud, and kind of annoying, despite being pretty funny. My views have completely changed after pouring through the first season of the Netflix original series, Master of None.

master3The show stars Ansari as Dev, a commercial actor in New York, who is sort of trying to make the leap to film, and his questions about life and love. The show tackles many different concepts, including the portrayal of Indian actors on TV, the guidelines of texting, the role of women and the sometimes subtle problems they must deal with, the relationships between parents and kids, and the stories that led them to where they are, the desire to make something of one’s life, and the struggles that come with relationships when people enter their 30s. It is all poignant, and there is solid humour that runs through the entire show, so that it is not too depressing, but a fun journey through the life of someone, who like so many people, feels a little lost, and doesn’t understand the world around them.

So much of what Dev comes to understand through his adventures in Master of None is that people simply need to be nicer to one another. If that could happen, the world would be a better place. But we have all of these rules in place, and people can be very selfish. It is interesting to have someone of that age group take a look at the world around them, and wonder where things changed.

master2There are so many very strong episodes in this season. Ones that will speak to viewers on different levels. Whether it is about the need to talk to your parents, and to learn about them, instead of always being focused on yourself. Or the problems with the dating world, and the missed opportunities that lay behind us all due to timing, luck, or situation. Or the problems with careers, and the desire to make ourselves happy, no matter who is around us. They are all interesting, they are witty, well-written, and simply put, good.

There could be definite comparisons between Master of None and Louie C.K.’s opus show, Louie. Both are about funny people who have a serious side, and are simply trying to negotiate the world around them, with the blessing/curse of being too observant and understanding too well the way that things work. And well Louie is a highly-revered and amazing show, I would dare say that Master of None is in the same ballpark as it, in terms of general excellence.

master4One of the focal points of the series is Dev’s relationships. He is a single guy, out dating in the world, before meeting someone who is pretty damn perfect for him. From there, we are able to see the tendencies of a relationship, the highs and the lows, between two people that seem so good together all of the time. It provides a very good, and realistic portrayal of the way that two people are able to, or aren’t able, to exist together. It can be funny, and it can be sad. This is one of the gifts of Master of None: the ability to elicit both feelings, often at the same time. It is a fine line for a show to toy with, but Master does a very good job of it, right from the very start.

There is very little to dislike about this show. Every episode is well-written, and explores something that is interesting to people who exist in this world. whether they are in their 20s looking forward, 30s realizing that it’s go time, or older, looking at the world as it is now, and getting to be thankful that they don’t need to exist in the mess of it that we have made. Dev and his group of friends are interesting and likable, and his interactions with them are always of interest as the show progresses. The advice that he gets, the conversations that they have, the way that they discuss the world around them. It’s a great coming-of-age show.

Master of None comes with my highest recommendation. Truly, a very good show.

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Man, there are a ton of films that focus on people growing up while spending their summers at pools, or water parks. They all have things in common: the glory of summer, the camaraderie of summer friends, the ending of eras, similar characters, the pursuit of girls, the coming-of-age while sitting poolside and watching over kids.

Staten Island Summer follows along with all of the cliches that have been created in this genre, as can be seen in other similar films, like The Way Way BackThe To-Do List, and Lifeguard. Honestly, there is very little that is new in this film, and much of it feels like we have seen it all before. And it feels restrained.

staten4The central aspects of the plot that are important are that this is the final summer for Danny, as he will be leaving for Harvard in the fall, and in a Superbad-esque way, he is leaving his underachieving best friend behind. Their goal is to throw the biggest end of summer party yet, and depart as friends, and as legends in their small town.

As always, the pool is full of a colourful cast of characters, including the archetypal dumb guy, fierce girl, goofy guy who is too old to be working there, and boss who serves as a primary nemesis in their plans for the party, the hot girl. There are no new characters here, and this is the main disappointment with this film. Sure, there are humourous situations, but even those are pretty much the same ones that have been shown time and again on the screen. Staten Island Summer also lacks the emotional depth of some of the other similar films, making it stuck somewhere between a teen party film, a coming-of-age-story, or a comedy. It touches on all genres, but never really develops any of them to make it fit firmly in one or the other.

staten3And this is a weakness.

It’s not emotional enough to make us really care about the characters and their struggles. It tries, at times, but never really succeeds.

It is not funny enough, and is far too restrained to be a gross out teen comedy, like American Pie, or films of that nature. They attempt to venture into this territory a couple of times, but it was as though they were trying far too hard to maintain a PG-13 rating (even though it is, of course, rated R in the US). Everything could have been taken further.

The relationships between characters have moments that can endear us, but they remain pretty superficial over the course of the film, again providing that lack of emotional depth to not only the characters, but the story as a whole.

statenStaten Island Summer is not a terrible film. It’s just that there are so many others that are similar, and much better. Viewers could do worse than watching this movie, but if you are looking for something that provides a strong coming-of-age story, watch The Way Way Back instead. If you are looking for more laughs, watch The To-Do List instead. If you want more of a drama, watch Lifeguard.

There are better options out there, and this is the simple issue with Staten Island Summer: it doesn’t distinguish itself at all from these other films that have so many identical things happening in them.

The Way Way Back (Film Review)

The Way Way Back (Film Review)

There is no shortage of coming-of-age films that chronicle the difficult time in a boy or girl’s life when they have to face the realities of everything around them, and start to carve out their own path. Scrolling through Netflix, there are literally dozens of these types of films, and it can be difficult to sort through them, to separate the strong from the weak.

The Way Way Back tells the story of Duncan, an awkward teen who is forced to spend the summer up at a beach house with his mother and her new boyfriend, played very well by Toni Collette and Steve Carell (who has become increasingly good at playing a jerk as his career progresses). Duncan meets the quirky locals that make up the summer families and friends that the area has to offer. He meets the cute neighbor girl, played by Anna Sophia Robb, but can’t seem to get any traction with her. He is stuck in his place, forced to watch as his life unfolds before him.

way4Eventually, Duncan sneaks away to a water park, where he ends up secretly working for the summer. Here, he is able to make friends with a fun-loving group of characters, led by the eccentric manchild Owen, played to a T by Sam Rockwell, and reminding us why we used to love Sam Rockwell.

At the water park, Duncan feels like he belongs for the first time, and he goes through the process of growing up, and starting to turn into the person that he will truly become. The Way Way Back is a sweet story backed with a very strong secondary cast. They truly bring life to their characters, for all the quirks, failures, and foibles that they may have. Together, this group is able to push Duncan on his journey to self-discovery.

way3The Way Way Back isn’t terribly different from other films in this genre. In fact, the summer house or water park/pool idea seems to be used quite frequently. But it works. The summer is a time of loss and confusion for teens, stuck between school years, and forced to grow up and develop in order to take on the next challenges that will come by in their lives. And they need to do it while being supplanted from their friends, the only place where they may truly feel comfortable. The Way Way Back could be compared to The Lifeguard, or even parts of The To Do List or Grown Ups, primarily because of its location around water. And as the film poster will boldly declare, it is from the studio that created Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, providing a strong basis and idea of the style of wit used in the film. But despite the similar locations, The Way Way Back is able to stand on its own two feet as a strong coming-of-age film.

way2It is entertaining, and offers up just the right combination of sentimentality, love, heartbreak, joy, and pain to make it a worthwhile film.

Copenhagen (Film Review)

Copenhagen (Film Review)

The tag line to the independent film Copenhagen goes a long way in revealing all that we need to know about the central character, and protagonist of the film: “When the girl of your dreams is half your age, it’s time to grow up.”

Copenhagen, obviously set in the titular city, is about William, who goes to Denmark in hopes of finding his long lost grandfather, in order to deliver a letter to him from his own father. Originally a “guys” trip, William is quickly abandoned by his friend, and strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old waitress, who decides to help him solve the mystery of who his grandfather was, and how to go about finding him.

cop3What follows is a beautiful film shot in one of the great cities in the world. Copenhagen does the same thing for that city as other travel coming of age stories do, such as Vienna in Before Sunrise, or Tokyo in Lost in Translation. The city comes to life, and strong directing helps the Danish capital become one of the characters in the film.

William must wrestle with the demons of his past, barely knowing his own father, and wanting to know why he was smiling in one of the photographs that he manages to track down. Effy, the young girl, leads him around the city, seeking out clues as to the whereabouts of the man that he is related to, essentially the last relative that he has, even if he has never met him before. William is faced with a reckoning of his own life, his own past, his friendships, and his future.

cop4Throw in a Lolita-esque story line, and Copenhagen becomes something quite special. The central focus of the film shifts from the seeking of his past, to the relationship that he develops with Effy. While there are some questionable decisions that he makes, he tries to grow up, and be the bigger person through his relationship with her. For William, a man approaching 30 years old, it is a kid that is able to teach him what he needs to know about his own life, which makes this a strong coming-of-age story.

Frederikke Dahl Hansen, who plays Effy, is the best part of the film. She plays a quiet and soft-spoken girl, who simply wants to help this stranger out. Her tenderness and maturity are what help William get to where he needs to be, all the while she wrestles with her own issues. Selflessly, she is able to put them aside for the majority of the time, in order to help somebody else out. Hansen is a strong actor with a bright future, and she really breathes life in to Copenhagen.

cop2Despite some less than stellar acting from the other members of the cast, the film is buoyed by a strong script and solid directing. And, at the end of the day, the story is there. Even a little bit of over-acting will not have the power to take down the strong backbone of the film, which is the story line itself.

Copenhagen is one of those pleasant Netflix finds that will not have you regretting the time spent watching it. The movie, while often bleak, other times quiet, is able to do exactly what this genre of film is supposed to do: bring forth a sense of hope in the characters, that they will be able to move on as regular, better people, after their experiences over the course of the story. Copenhagen does this, making it a very good film. Well worth a watch.

Boyhood (Film Review)

Boyhood (Film Review)

There can be little doubt that Boyhood should be considered one of the greatest coming-of-age films ever made. Because it really does show characters growing up.

The concept is simple enough, but has never really been seen on this kind of scale before. Putting together a cast, a filming parts of a movie over a dozen years, in order to show them actually growing up, while maintaining a firm storyline throughout.

boy3It was a bold choice by the great director Richard Linklater, and it truly has paid off, with the large number of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins that Boyhood has already racked up. Consider the idea of selecting a young boy to focus a film on. What if as he grows up, he becomes a terrible actor, or no longer fits the role that you had initially envisioned? It was a huge risk, but Linklater did well in his choices of the cast, and they all worked out in the end.

The gimmick of the aging actors put aside, Boyhood is still a very good film, although not a perfect one. There are parts of the film that seem drawn out, and are definitely less interesting than others. It is a long film, over two-and-a-half hours, and it felt like some parts could have been done more quickly, those middle moments that didn’t do as much to advance Mason as a character. But the whole time, we know we are getting somewhere. We don’t have to wonder about what happens to Mason, because we literally see him growing up on screen. From a curious little boy, to a precocious teenager, to a high school graduate who is becoming a man, we see him grow up, and come into his own. And Mason is a good character, and we enjoy watching to see who he becomes at the end.

boy2Mason, and his sister Samantha, grow up with divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. They see their father every now and then, and go through the process of building a strong relationship with him as time passes. We even see how Mason slowly turns into Ethan Hawke, and by the end of the film, Mason is very much reminiscent of another famous Linklater/Hawke character, Jesse, from the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy. As they age, the kids face all the trials and tribulations of life. Their mother meeting new men, some better than others, the prospect of moving around Texas more than they would like, leading them to new schools and new friends. Mason has to deal with bullies, and girls, and wanting to be an artist in a world that doesn’t really seem to want more artists. He has girlfriend troubles, and needs to decide on where to go to college. You know…real life.

And that is exactly what Boyhood excels at: creating a scrapbook of real life, in an honest and realistic way that manages to entertain us the whole way through.

Boyhood is definitely a Linklater film. There are some elements of Dazed and Confused in there (including a great cameo by the liquor store clerk from that film), along with some Waking Life. And there is definitely more than a little but of the Before trilogy in there, and it is not just the comparisons to Ethan Hawke’s character in both of the films. Linklater loves his characters who talk about life, and wonder about it. He just does it so magnificently, that it is tough to fault him for going back to the well a little bit and rehashing some of the magic that has worked so perfectly for him before.

boy4There is so much to like about Boyhood, which won the Best Picture at the Golden Globes, and is considered by many to be a definite threat in the Best Picture category at the Oscars. It has even become one of the very rare (there are only 11) films to receive a perfect 100 Metacritic score. There will be people who complain that the film is too long, and that there is no real point to the whole thing. Those can be justifiable arguments, but really, the point is just growing up. It’s something we all have to do, and Linklater captures it perfectly, what it is to grow up as a boy. He provides us with insight and thoughts that so perfectly align with things that his audience would have considered at one point or another in their lives, and it just makes everything so real.

Despite being imperfect, Boyhood is an excellent film, and worthy of all the praise it has received. A must-see.

Maidentrip (Film Review)

Maidentrip (Film Review)

Films about sailing are awesome. I always enjoy watching people take to the seas, and undertake these massive, often solitary, journeys to the far reaches of the world. There are some really good films out there about sailing, and there are some mediocre ones.

One of the best that I have seen is Maidentrip, a documentary about the sailing travels of Laura Dekker, a (at the beginning of the film) 14-year-old Dutch girl who wanted to sail solo across the world, over the course of approximately two years.

maiden3There are many great things about this documentary. First, all of the footage at sea was shot by Laura herself. She was not followed around on her journey by support boats, planes, of helicopters. She really was out there, all on her own. Secondly, there isn’t a ton of information prior to the beginning of the trip. We don’t have to take all the time to learn about the sponsors and whatnot, but we do get to see the issues with her voyage. The Dutch government actually tried to prevent her from doing the trip, trying to prove that is was neglectful parenting to allow someone so young undertake such a dangerous journey, all by herself.

The filmmakers don’t let the legal wranglings slow the story down, however. They provide nice amounts of background information, without preventing us from getting to the part that we really want to see: the sailing.

With no media fanfare, Laura eventually pushes off to sea, to start her two year journey. Only her father is there to see her off. It is strange to watch, actually, considering the fanfare that many other journeys like this have received. An example of the opposite can be seen in Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story, another sea tale about a young girl trying to circumnavigate the globe on her own.

At sea, we truly get to learn about Laura. And she definitely undergoes a transformation. While she begins by missing things from home, and wanting to see people on her occasional stops, she slowly stops missing things, and truly embraces and loves being on her own. Even during her longest stretches at sea by herself, she is quite satisfied with it. She doesn’t crack; she doesn’t go insane. She keeps moving. And we, as an audience, respect her for it.

Laura’s maturation on the the waves of the world is impressive, and interesting. She stops missing her father, she explains the separation of her family from a very young age, and while we may think that she has a somewhat cavalier attitude towards it all, we often forget that she is just a teenager, figuring out her place in the world.

Eventually, Laura turns her back on the Netherlands, no longer flying their flag off the back of her small boat. She claims that she no longer has anything in common with the Dutch people, aside from speaking the same language. She instead flies the flag of New Zealand, the place she was born, but never got to spend any time there. New Zealand became a place of dreams for her, somewhere she had never really been, even though it was the place of her birth.

maidenShe struggles with the massive issues of her identity, and she does it all alone. And she does it impressively.

There are so many impressive things about this kid. Her reasons for being out on the seas are not for fame, or the record of being the youngest solo traveler to go around the world. She is doing it because she loves to sail.

So much so, in fact, that when her trip is concluded, she doesn’t stop.

She keeps on sailing.

This is a kid who knows what they want, and is going to stop at nothing to achieve their goals, and find what they are looking for. Her time at sea made her wise beyond her years, and at the end of the film, as a sixteen-year-old, she has truly become independent, mature, intelligent, and fearless. To have the chance to watch this journey is amazing, making Maidentrip such a good film. She really does get to that point where she doesn’t need anybody else to help her. She knows that she can do it on her own. And so she does.

This documentary is definitely a must watch for those who like films about sailing, like Wild EyesDeep WaterKon-Tiki, and the like.

Just a head’s up, much of the movie is spoken in Dutch, so there are subtitles. But Laura also speaks English in parts of the movie, specifically with the people that she meets along the way, on her stops in various parts of the world.

The Kings of Summer (Film Review)

The Kings of Summer (Film Review)

When you are a teenager, all you want to do is to grow up. To be an adult, to prove your worth to yourself, those closest to you, and to the world.

As a teenage boy, it is paramount that at some point, you are able to prove that you are a man, that you are able to stand on your own two feet and demonstrate to the world that you can take whatever it throws at you.

While growing tired of his bitter father, and abnormal family life, two friends decide that they are going to build a house in the woods, to escape the world that has been so disappointing for them to that point. They want to prove that they are men, that they can do the things in the world that they will soon be expected to do.

The Kings of Summer is very much a traditional coming-of-age story, and one that is fun and adventurous, as it should be. Our protagonists follow through with their wild dream, causing their families great turmoil over their disappearances. But they are out to prove that they can live on their own, without the need of their overbearing parents, or the regular trappings of city life. It is a simple desire, and the journey they undertake is interesting.

kings of summer(1)The film is beautifully shot, with great scenery throughout. I liked the script in that it never pushed things too far, and never veered into the unrealistic. They don’t build an incredible palace in the woods, they don’t fall into a Lord of the Flies type of battle for supremacy. They are just boys, enjoying their simple time away from the world. Sure, they have their issues, such as trying to hunt and feed themselves, and despite their desire to get away from it all, it is never truly possible. As with any, or most, teenage boys, girls are an issue, as are questions of popularity and the sens of needing to belong. All of these things are explored in The Kings of Summer, and it is enjoyable seeing it unfold.

We cheer for our protagonists, hoping that they will be able to make everything work, that they can prove their worth, that they can show themselves to be successful and important in their own minds. That they are albe to create something that they deem important, and that they don’t need the outside world that doesn’t really want them in the first place.

I think this film could be compared to a light version of Into the Wild, though not nearly as intense. It is meant to be light-hearted, and it is. And this was a strength of the story, in that we get the feeling that nothing truly bad could happen to our characters, and that they will somehow be able to work things out for themselves, and that in the end, they will be okay.

There is some really good acting throughout the film, from the major characters to the smaller ones. Standout performances come from Nick Offerman, as the bitter father, and Allison Brie, as the sister. Smaller roles, but integral ones to the development of the leads.

Overall, a very solid film here. Not going to change any lives, but it will show that there are types of characters out there who are willing to push the boundaries to ensure that they can change their own. Well worth a watch.