(Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) FREAKS & GEEKS is finally available to stream! If you haven’t already purchased the DVD, or have enough grey hair to have watched it when it first aired, Hulu managed to clear all of the music rights and — after a bit of a stumble out of the gait — have the eps properly ordered.
If you’re a product of the 80s — especially if you were a nerd in the 80s — it’ll be a trip down memory lane. If not, given how absurdly recognizable all of the actors and creatives are, it’ll be another sort of nostalgia for you, as it introduced the world to: Judd Apatow, Linda Cardellini, Paul Feig, James Franco, Busy Philipps, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Mike White. A laundry list of modern heavy hitters, all of whom cut their teeth on this show.
(HBO MAX/VOD) This is perhaps one of the strangest films in Altman’s already eclectic oeuvre: a live-action children’s musical adaptation of the comic strip adventures of Popeye, penned solely for the screen, directed by Robert Altman, with Robin Williams as Popeye. Yes, this happened, all because Paramount lost the bidding war for the film rights to ANNIE.
Turns out, this mixture of incongruent ingredients actually worked. The shantytown feels like Altman’s returned to MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, and his trademark overlapping dialogue finds a home in over-crowded comedic numbers. The songs, while extraordinarily basic, are sweetly catchy and are always in-tune with the characters, while also managing to mine the past of the comics and animated reels.
Altman also managed to luck out with a rather subdued Williams, who perfectly encapsulates Popeye’s mutters and utterances, while also being able to turn on the physical bravado when necessary. Also, there’s Shelley Duvall, in the role she was born to play: Olive Oyl. Altman gives her more to work with than you’d expect of Oyl and Duvall runs with it, while still echoing the familiar in-peril shrieks but buttoning it with a defiant barb.
If there’s one fault of the film, it’s the camerawork, which approaches physical comedy with Altman’s standard approach to his improv-centric filming style: a hodge podge of clumsy master shots. Sadly, that doesn’t play well with the slapstick scenes here, so several of the big physical numbers feel slipshod.
Otherwise, this feels like a template for future musicals adapted from ill-fitting sources. While it wasn’t nearly as successful as ANNIE, it’s a far more interesting work.
(hoopla/kanopy/Prime/VOD/Vudu) Paul (Jaeden Martell, IT (2017), THE LODGE) is a thirteen-year-old boy with Hypertrichosis (also known as ‘Werewolf Syndrome’), whose body is fully covered with hair. He’s grown up without his mother and feels ostracized and misunderstood by all — even his loving but somewhat misguided father (Chris Messina, SHARP OBJECTS, BIRDS OF PREY) — so, when he gets a birthday present from his mom, marking a spot in Philadelphia and promising answers, he takes off in search of her.
What follows is a misfit coming-of-age story as Paul encounters all sorts of threats and oddball friends along the way, many of whom mirror those Odysseus met during his adventure, including Sophie Giannamore (TRANSPARENT) as a singer who loves water, executive producer John Turturro as a predatory carnival owner — Turturro should really play more villains — and Eve Hewson (TESLA, previously recommended) as an energetic eye-patched punk who loves to steal.
WOLFBOY’s penned by Olivia Dufault (a playwright who has also written for LEGION and PREACHER — the very definition of an epic misfit adventure) and while the unique folks Paul meets along the way are the focal point of the film, she inserts whimsical elements while keeping them grounded in the real-world. First-time feature director Martin Krejcí manages to instill artistic wonder and scale into traditionally humdrum urban locations. A soundtrack featuring the delightfully melancholy DeVotchKa and Timber Timbre also imbue WOLFBOY with swoony charm.
In my opinion the trailer shows too much but, with this film, it’s about the journey.
(kanopy/Starz/VOD) SAINT FRANCES won me over within the first five minutes by spooning out an absolutely perfect introduction to the protagonist, her whims, persona, and obstacles. It expertly sets up the achingly human story of Bridget (writer Kelly O’Sullivan), a thirty-something Chicagoan woman working through a lot of issues while being a nanny to Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), an extraordinarily interesting misfit child.
The end result is a delight, and pairs well with PRINCESS CYD — not just because it too was shot in Chicago.
“I don’t know why I’m crying! I’m an agnostic feminist!”
(Hulu/Freeform/VOD)? One of my favorite undersung TV shows of the last decade was PLEASE LIKE ME, a delightfully reflective queer Australian TV drama which introduced many folks to Josh Thomas and Hannah Gadsby. (It’s now available on Hulu.) Josh Thomas is now the showrunner of EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE OKAY, on Freeform of all places, which positions him as the caretaker of his two teenage half-sisters after their widowed father dies.
While Thomas was the focal point of PLEASE LIKE ME, he takes a few steps back here. EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE OKAY is primarily about his sisters, with the older sister trying to navigate teen life and her autism and the younger living in the shadow of so much grief.
However, like PLEASE LIKE ME, the show never wallows in sadness, and there are frequent moments of joy and warmth, as well as a fair number of laughs. I watched the last few episodes of the first season during the first lockdown and found it to be quite the balm. Perhaps you may, too. If all goes well, we’ll have a second season to look forward to.
Update (September 25th, 2021): Unfortunately, shortly after the second season finished airing, Freeform canceled the show, so two seasons is all we get.
(Fubo/hoopla/kanopy/VOD) Kathy, a struggling Asian-American single mom travels with Cody, her pre-teen son, to settle the affairs of her dead sister’s estate. While there, the son befriends an aging-but-able Vietnam veteran, who welcomes them into his small town.
While it’s a standard indie film premise, DRIVEWAYS excels in a number of ways, first and foremost by having Brian Dennehy (RIP, Brian — I’ll never forget you in THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT) as the neighbor, secondly by having a simple human story play out simply and, lastly, how it’s visually framed — lots of tight shots instead of expository shots, which are disarming for the first half of the film until it settles into a familiar sort of comfort.
While Dennehy is fantastic, I’d be remiss to neglect both Hong Chau (WATCHMEN’s Lady Trieu) and Lucas Jaye as the mother-and-son pair, who have an exquisitely honest mother/son relationship. Chau is especially brilliant as she tries to compose herself as everything around her is falling apart.
All of that said, my favorite part of the film is how much everyone swears around this kid.
It’s a film filled with melancholy, but is also a very sweet slice of life.
(fubo/Hulu/tubi/VOD) Yes, everyone’s celebrating Amy Sherman-Palladino and THE MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL now, but everyone outside of my wife and maybe a few friends, had largely forgotten her once GILMORE GIRLS went off the air in 2006.
Enter 2012: I vividly remember walking with some folks through a mall to catch a Bollywood film in the Chicago suburbs, and there was a BUNHEADS poster front-and-center between us and the theater, and one dude I was attending the screening with lambasted the poster; ridiculed it. I was a coward, half-heartedly chuckling at his jokes, but inwardly very angry.
It hadn’t aired yet and yes, GILMORE GIRLS has -a lot- of issues, I won’t deny that (especially the Netflix mini — yikes) but Amy Sherman-Palladino has done far more good than harm. And this dude was mocking a poster because it dared to promote a TV show about girls & dance, -while- we were heading to see a frickin’ Bollywood film.
Setting that aside: BUNHEADS is the story of failed ballerina/current Vegas showgirl Michelle Simms (Broadway star Sutton Foster who you may know her better as the lead in YOUNGER, and I really had hoped I’d be watching her on-stage with Hugh Jackman in THE MUSIC MAN right now, but so it goes) who drunkenly latches onto Alan Ruck one night, marries him, moves to a sleepy California town, and then Ruck dies. Simms then falls into teaching at Ruck’s mother-in-law’s (played by GILMORE GIRLS’ Kelly Bishop) dance studio.
While Michelle has a fair amount of drama, the show is far more concerned with the stakes regarding the girls she’s mentoring, and really, it’s about their stories and experiences, and how Michelle helps to guide them through life, despite being a bit of a fuck-up.
It’s quintessential Sherman-Palladino work: sweet, smart, overly verbose, and extremely well-produced (albeit, yes, extremely white). The following numbers below should sell you on the show alone. Why yes, I’ll take a musical dance number inspired by Tom Waits’ Mule Variations!
If you’re a sound nerd, I love how they mic the floors (see Dance Routines Part 2, ~1:30), so you hear every landing, every hit, every slap. I’m hard-pressed to think of a show that was as aurally tactile as this.
If you’re a cinematography nerd, goddamn, the cheats they employed to ensure that the mirrors were always seen, but never the cameras? Blows my mind. And the China Balls!
BUNHEADS had a little something for everyone, and it’s a crime how ABC Family buried it. I’m hoping Amy Sherman-Palladino will revisit it in the future although, granted they did film a farewell dance as a way to give closure, I’d still love to see a reunion special.
(tubi/YouTube)? Bonkers Canadian nightmare fuel for pre-teens that’s surreally entertaining for adults. Best if you go in blind, but if you must watch the trailer, it paints the film (well, TV film) as something simple and naive, but no, it is not that. Not that at all.
(VOD) Katt Shea (POISON IVY) directed and Nina Fiore (BLOOD DRIVE, one of my favorite one-season wonders) wrote this extremely winsome teen mystery that feels like a cult early naughts film. The mystery itself is pretty easy to suss out, but the inventive set pieces and Sophia Lillis’ charming performance elevate the material into something far better than it needed to be.
(HBO MAX/VOD) A surprisingly horny take on the HERBIE THE LOVE BUG franchise, penned by THE STATE’s Thomas Lennon and directed by DEBS’ Angela Robinson. Despite the story existing mostly to sell ESPN, NASCAR, Volkswagons, and Cheetos, it’s silly fun. While the cast is vastly over-qualified — including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Scoot McNairy — they give it their all.