MADE FOR LOVE SEASON TWO (2022)

(HBO MAX, for now) I’ve written about MADE FOR LOVE twice before — first concerning the initial HBO season and second regarding the original novel. Now I’m writing about the second and, sadly, final HBO season so, this will probably be the last time I’ll write about it.

Both the initial novel and the first HBO season dialed in on a very sloppy woman named Hazel who routinely made bad decisions and rarely thought about or regretted them, which lead to the trauma of being a woman escaping from a technological bubble created by Byron Gogol, an obsessive man’s technological spider-web. She ultimately gets roped back into the bubble — The Hub — but MADE FOR LOVE’s second season is a tad more flip, far more darkly comic, albeit at the cost of a lack of focus.

While the end of the first season of MADE FOR LOVE aptly set the stage for a second season — going against the grain of its source material, I’ll add — the second season feels like a wild swing for the fences; it tackles a number of wide-eyed high-concepts in ways that recalls cyberpunk classic MAX HEADROOM while still hewing close to its character study of Hazel’s difficult relationship with her father, how she can course-correct her life, and ultimately find a better version of her self.

There are times when the season feels rushed, however there are also a number of subplots and character arcs that feel tantalizing but sputter out — especially the reintroduction of Zelda, the dolphin that aided Hazel’s escape in season one. However, the highs exceed the lows — this season ventures into batshit-crazy territory and completely exploit the universe. I wish I could say why without spoiling matters.

Season two bites off more than it can chew, certainly, but goddamn it is an aspirational piece of high-concept work that utilizes tech and humanity in ways that feels revitalizing.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022)

(Cinemas) I’ve gone on record as being both an easy laugher and an easy crier when it comes to film viewing, but it’s very rare that I do both at the same time. The Daniels’ (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheiner, who previously helmed the surprisingly affecting dick joke of a film SWISS ARMY MAN) EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE had my face wet and aglow more than a few times.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (henceforth referred to as EVERYTHING) is an absolutely outrageous film; it’s mind-bogglingly high-concept, often amusingly puerile, always inventive, but also remarkably emotionally grounded. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, read no further and just go see it, preferably on the largest screen possible. (Although, if you do read further, I promise no major spoilers.)

EVERYTHING is all about Evelyn (see what they did there?) played by a never-better Michelle Yeoh — and that’s saying something, as her career is vast and multi-faceted and brilliant — who helms a laundromat with her overly joyful husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, who you may remember as INDIANA JONES’ Short Round) that is currently being audited by the IRS, specifically by Deirdre (Jaime Lee Curtis, clearly having the time of her life). Meanwhile, Evelyn is trying to mediate matters between taking care of her addled, elderly father (the illustrious James Hong), and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and her daughter’s girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), all while personally bemoaning all of the options she could have pursued over her life, including singing and acting, instead of tending to a struggling laundromat where her husband keeps slapping googly eyes on everything.

When heading up in an elevator in a non-descript IRS building to meet Deidre and iron their financial matters out, Waymond’s disposition completely shifts; he pops an umbrella to obscure a security camera, and then gives her the barest of instructions and information, which ultimately results in: right now, I’m not your husband; I’m the same person, but from a different, splintered universe, and I need your help. Evelyn’s then walked through the process of accessing her multiverse personas, explicitly through silly, surreal actions.

Matters escalate and what ultimately follows is a very heady trip through not only a mid-life crisis, but a personal reckoning with family. And hot dog hands, which happen to exist in a universe in which people play pianos with their toes. (I can’t help but think that’s a bit of a Tarantino riff. Notably, Uma Thurman is thanked in the credits.)

While EVERYTHING feels a tad too long at almost two-and-a-half-hours, none of that running time is wasted. It is jam-packed, almost overstuffed, with so many ideas, so many effusive, brilliant visual gags, so much hurt between Evelyn and Joy, so much enthusiasm from Way, so many brilliantly choreographed and executed fight sequences, it’s hard to say what they could have cut. The film is an embarrassment of riches, a treasure-trove of cinematic appreciation, but also a surprisingly thoughtful take on hope and love and humanity and of aging and of missed opportunities. While I’m prone to crying and laughing too much at a film, it is an astonishing achievement, and one worth being exuberant about.

Lastly, buy an everything bagel before diving in, and save it for after. You’ll thank me later.

FLASHFORWARD (2009)

(VOD)? FLASHFORWARD was a post-LOST high-concept ensemble show (based on Robert J. Sawyer’s novel of the same name) helmed by David S. Goyer (who has penned everything from DARK CITY to BATMAN V SUPERMAN). Due to reasons that are (very slowly) exposed over the show’s first season, every human in the world blacks out for 137 seconds which, as you can imagine, was very unfortunate for anyone in an automobile or airplane at the time. However, the majority of folks encountered a vision of what appears to be their life in six months, hence the title of the show. Notably, some people didn’t see anything, and some of those people believe that means they won’t be alive in six months, and more than a few of those folks -do not- react reasonably to that thought.

It features Mark Benford (Joseph Finnes, popular for the best-forgotten SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) as focal character FBI agent investigating ‘the incident’, and he’s also a recovering alcoholic. (In his flash-forward, he’s fallen off the wagon). Mark’s FBI partner is Demetri Noh (John Cho, HAROLD & KUMAR, the rebooted STAR TREK films, and also pops up as Billy Eichner’s boyfriend on the previously recommended DIFFICULT PEOPLE). Courtney B. Vance (THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON) plays the FBI director overseeing Mark and Demetri, and Mark’s wife is surgeon Dr. Olivia Benford (Sonya Walger, one the best parts of LOST). LOST’s Dominic Monaghan portrays a scientist (which is a bit of a stretch, James Callis (the rebooted BATTLESTAR GALACTICA but also the previously recommended 12 MONKEYS TV series) is peppered into a few eps as are Gabrielle Union and Annabeth Gish. Also, sadly-departed magician Ricky Jay brings his skills to a handful of episodes.

So, FLASHFORWARD has an intriguing concept, a versatile storytelling engine, a fantastic cast, and a significant budget, so you probably expect me to write that it’s an underrated one-season wonder.

You would be wrong.

This is not a great show. It spends too much time spinning its wheels, the characters are extraordinarily one-dimensional and uninspired, and the dialogue is very clunky. It’s not a terrible show, but it never finds its footing, and I doubt if it would have even if it had been renewed.

So, why am I recommending it? I’m recommending it solely for one supremely stupid recurring exchange between husband and wife Mark and Olivia that is clearly intended to be a sarcastic-but-cute inside joke:

“I hate you.”

“I hate you too.”

I have no idea whether this is in the original novel. It does seem like a lift from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY but, when I watched the series with my wife, we had forgotten about that comedic bit. The same exchange also occurs between Alain Delon and Ann-Margret in ONCE A THIEF (1965) and — when delivered by them — it’s comedic and even sexy.

Fiennes and Walger — while normally being very winsome actors — can’t pull it off. Sadly, they have little romantic charisma together, but also it’s just poorly framed because they aren’t complex characters.

To the show’s credit, it’s worth noting that Olivia’s flash-forward is that she’s with another man, so it’s a bit of unsubtle foreshadowing, but it still rang hollow when we watched it when it was first broadcast.

Since then, my wife and I often jokingly bring up that poorly executed exchange so, in a way, it was inadvertently effective writing. While it’s an exchange that has been handled far better in more memorable works, it’s FLASHFORWARD’s use of it that’s become our inside joke.

ELECTRIC DREAMS (1984)

(DVD/BR/YT) ELECTRIC DREAMS is an odd high-concept romantic rivalry/surveillance thriller about architect Miles (Lenny von Dohlen, best known as the agoraphobic florist from TWIN PEAKS), his computer, cellist Madeline (Virginia Madsen), and the love triangle they inhabit, one with shades of CYRANO DE BERGERAC.

Given that I was both a computer nerd and practicing cellist as a youth, I’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years. Yes, its portrayal for what a mid-1980s computer was capable of doing was wildly overblown, but it had a fantastic soundtrack — as you would expect as it’s courtesy of Giorgio Moroder — and was extraordinarily shot. It has a number of lush scenes that highlight the difference between video and film, as well as a more than a few fantastically composed visual vignettes, and Madsen is absolutely charming as Madeline. It certainly was one of the first narrative films that ‘spoke’ to me, that made me feel seen, given that it was both about computers and a cellist.

The film features a musical number where Madeline warms up by playing Bach’s Minuet in G Major (what the ELECTRIC DREAMS soundtrack dubs as the ‘Mad Minuet’), which was one of my warm-ups when I was a young cellist so I can’t help but love it, but I also adore how long and -fun- the scene is. I was never a brilliant cellist — although I was good enough to be in a quartet to play for then-Vermont governor Howard Dean — but when I got on a roll, when I was in the zone, it felt just as exuberant and gleeful. You can view the number below:

ELECTRIC DREAMS has been unavailable in the U.S. for some time now, but there was a recent UK Blu-Ray release via Second Sight (https://secondsightfilms.co.uk/products/electric-dreams-blu-ray ). There’s also a copy floating around YouTube that I may have already ‘accidentally’ linked to. (Shh, don’t tell!)

“Hm. Very smart, but weird.”

P.S. There’s a great post-mortem about the film available on YouTube. And, for what it’s worth, there are two scenes I remember vividly from watching it as a youth: the motherboard being washed out, and Madeline’s cello being crushed in the elevator. Madsen’s method time was worth it.

VIBES (1988)

(Prime/VOD) When I first found out about VIBES a few months ago via TCM Underground, I was very upset. “What do you mean there was a late-80s film with Cyndi Lauper, Peter Falk -and- Jeff Goldblum? Why am I just finding out about this?!” Now that I’ve had a chance to watch it, I can understand why it never registered on my radar but I do feel it’s the sort of film that anyone who has any interest in either of the three performers — which I think encompasses most of humanity — needs to know about.

VIBES capitalized on the short-lived mid-80s screwball romantic adventure genre spurred by ROMANCING THE STONE and the like. It’s comprised of two psychics (Lauper & Goldblum) who are enlisted by a dodgy cad (Peter Falk) to track down treasure in a lost Incan city. As you’d expect, the romantic intrigue and banter between Lauper & Goldblum should be enough to propel the film forward but, sadly, Goldblum’s halting delivery hampers an already weak vaudevillian script. For example, here’s an exchange between veteren character actor Michael Lerner and Peter Falk, regarding Falk’s wife: “Harry, I once slept with your wife.” “Estelle? Or Vivian?” “Both.” “Well, you’re one up on me!” (Cue rimshot.)

The sole highlight is Lauper as a 1980s Mae West but, sadly, the material simply isn’t there to let her shine. While she has the enthusiasm and rhythm for the role, her jokes rely on a more energetic and combative performer than the languid Goldblum (who has since been given far more opportunities to hone his comedic timing than Lauper).

I don’t want to oversell -or- undersell this film. Veteran TV director Ken Kwapis does the best with the material as he can, Julian Sands does a classic Julian Sands heel turn, and Steve Buscemi briefly appears as a sad-sack gambler! It’s an intriguing oddity, and it’s worth your time if your Venn diagram of interests intersect with any of those I listed above.

AWAKE (2012)

(VOD) AWAKE was a short-lived high-concept procedural TV crime drama about Michael Britten (Jason Issacs, HARRY POTTER, THE DEATH OF STALIN), a detective who loses his wife (Laura Allen, TERRIERS, THE 4400) in a car accident. He falls asleep and, when he wakes, instead of his wife being dead, it’s his son (13 REASONS WHY’s Dylan Minnette). Next time he falls asleep, his son is still dead. He straddles these two realms, living a fractured life, all while solving crimes and attending therapy sessions with separate therapists (BD Wong in one, Cherry Jones in the other).

The show’s creator, Kyle Killen, previously dabbled in the ‘dual lives’ genre with his infamously truncated FOX series LONE STAR, which featured James Wolk (the Bob in MAD MEN’s ‘Not great, Bob!’. Also, ZOO.) as a bigamist and, while LONE STAR was unjustly canceled too soon, AWAKE feels like a more mature, more interesting take on the material, as it scrutinizes a man who won’t reckon with the schism in his life, so he’s forced to endure all permutations.

AWAKE was one of the rare post-LOST genre shows that used its high-concept to dig deep into the humanity of its characters, while still fueling a remarkable storytelling engine. The season one finale — also the series finale — broke the future potential of the show wide open, or lent the show some closure, depending on how you look at it.

If you do watch it and want to read about what they intended with the finale and potential future of the show, there’s a great interview with Killen here: https://ew.com/article/2012/05/26/awake-finale-kyle-killen-burning-questions/