HBO Max Season 1 review: ‘JULIA’ cooks up drama and delight.

JULIA

JULIA is inspired by Julia Child’s extraordinary life and her long-running television series, “The French Chef,” which pioneered the modern cooking show. Through Julia’s life and her singular joie de vivre, the series explores a pivotal time in American history – the emergence of public television as a new social institution, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity and America’s cultural evolution. At its heart, the series is a portrait of a loving marriage with a shifting power dynamic.


Before finishing the screeners, I told friends they had to start the new HBO series “Julia.” The most common response I received was, “Didn’t they do a movie on this?” To be honest, the answer is “kind of!” Have we seen this story before? Yes. Do I care? NO! 

Witty and full of complex cultural commentary, HBO’s “Julia” is an absolute joy. Exploring Julia Child‘s iconic rise with a sharp eye on how it fits into the rapid societal change of the midcentury period, “Julia” succeeds in presenting complex ideas while keeping the show fun. The series is a visual feast of charming period settings, costumes, and sumptuous footage of Julia’s home cooking, recipe creation, and inspirational fine dining. An example is a luxe scene where Julia and her editor Judith strategize in a crowded Boston bar — the only women in sight– dirty martinis in one hand and casually finishing a dozen icy oysters each with the other. Ultimately the chef brings out two whole Maine lobsters served on a large plate accompanied only by ramekins of melted golden butter just at the resolution of their brainstorming– perfection. 

 While the series naturally focuses on Julia’s story and the unique power dynamics shifting within her marriage,  I  found the character studies on the tribe of women that made up her inner circle most fascinating. Fiona Glascott, Brittany Bradford, and Bebe Neuwirth shine in showcasing their own stories as they build the iconic culinary brand together. 

While “Julia” doesn’t shy away from issues you expect for a series set in this period (i.e. egregious workplace sexism), I was intrigued when they also made room to explore more complex ideas about what Julia Child’s success means within the feminist agenda. Despite her own accomplishments, what does it mean to build an empire by motivating homemakers to prepare more elaborate home-cooked meals than ever and raising the bar for what it means to be an ideal wife? Late-breaking cameos from iconic figures of the time play a unique role in bringing many of these factors to light in a way that is bold to incorporate into essentially a tribute piece. 

 My recommendation: Mix yourself a proper cocktail, add a flourish whether the drink deserves one or not, and watch this series.

The eight-episode Max Original comedy series, JULIA is now available to stream in full.


Cast: The eight-episode series stars Sarah Lancashire as Julia, David Hyde Pierce, Bebe Neuwirth, Brittany Bradford, Fran Kranz, and Fiona Glascott. Guest stars include Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, Robert Joy, Erin Neufer, Jefferson Mays, James Cromwell, and Adriane Lenox.


About HBO Max:

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering with 10,000 hours of curated premium content. HBO Max offers powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs, and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. #HBOMax #WarnerMedia

SUBSCRIBE TO HBO MAX http://bit.ly/HBOMaxYouTube

GET HBO MAX https://itsh.bo/ways-to-get


 

Topic series review: ‘DECEIT’- a story of a real-life honey trap brings the drama.

DECEIT Official Synopsis:

Five months on from the brutal murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common and the Met Police are still no closer to capturing the man they’re convinced is responsible. First identified through a television appeal, the evidence is stacked against Colin Stagg. The media feed a national obsession, covering every detail of the case and demanding justice. The police are determined to catch the man who, in their eyes, is guilty before he kills again. In desperation, the relatively young detective inspector leading the case, engages the nation’s most famous criminal profiler to devise a bold undercover operation which will see an attractive, young female officer start a relationship with Colin Stagg.


As each episode begins, the filmmakers behind the miniseries DECEIT make it abundantly clear that the show involved a plethora of research. In 1992, a woman named Rachel Nickell was brutally murdered in front of her two-year-old son. Police believed they found the guilty party based on an expert forensic profiler. After bringing top undercover officer Sadie Byrne into the mix, they devise an elaborate operation to obtain a confession. 

The series’ four episodes appear to jump in time as Sadie studies Colin’s interrogation tapes. She draws him into her web first with letters, then phone calls. DECEIT’s intrigue is relentless. It’s a fresh perspective from the typical detective plotlines involving female officers. The danger feels heightened. 

Eddie Marsan plays profiler Paul Britton with an unsettling intensity. His scenes with Algar are tense. Sion Young is Colin Stagg. He is both frightening and pathetic, creating a skin-crawling effect. 

Niamh Algar is captivating as a fictionalized version of a real-life undercover officer. It’s like meta method acting, watching her prepare for a role within a role. The deeper she gets into the character of Lizzie, the further she spirals. Her anxiety and fear are palpable. It’s a hell of a performance. 

DECEIT’s lighting has a heavyhanded neo-noir effect, especially when Algar plays “Lizzie.” The editing keeps your mind sharp. The story draws you in, and the characters hold your emotional attention. I appreciated the updates on our players during the finale. Separating truth from fiction reminded me that innumerable lives were ruined. It’s a final nail in the reality coffin for the viewer. DECEIT is a unique entry amongst the true-crime fare.


The 4-part miniseries DECEIT, streaming exclusively on Topic beginning April 14.

Based on a true story, this UK crime thriller follows Lizzie James, a female detective employed to obtain evidence against Collin Stagg, the prime suspect in the brutal murder of Rachel Nickell, which occurred in broad daylight in London’s Wimbledon Common. The case went on to become one of the most infamous entrapment cases in British law enforcement history.

Directed by Niall MacCormick and starring Niamh Algar (Raised by Wolves, Topic’s The Virtues), Eddie Marsan (Deadpool 2, Ray Donovan), and Harry Treadaway (Star Trek: Picard, The Crown), DECEIT has been hailed in the UK, with The Telegraph calling it “a gripping portrait of a real-life undercover operation,” and The Evening Standard declaring that the series “stand[s] out from the usual true crime fare.”


About TOPIC
Topic is the boundary-pushing streaming service from First Look Entertainment for thrillers, mysteries, dramas and documentaries from around the world, serving viewers who crave entertainment beyond the mainstream. Whether it’s a Nordic-noir crime thriller (The Killing), an Italian supernatural political drama (The Miracle), or a haunting true crime docu-series from the UK (The Missing Children), Topic expands your view of the world.

Featuring North American premieres, exclusive TV series and film, and programming from more than 40 countries, Topic showcases an unparalleled collection of creators, perspectives and experiences. Complemented by our Topic Originals, we prioritize bold storytelling and champion underrepresented voices. Topic Originals and exclusives include Oscar® nominee The Letter Room (starring Oscar Isaac), Lambs of God (starring Ann Dowd), BAFTA® nominee The Virtues (starring Stephen Graham), Emmy® nominee The Accidental Wolf (starring Kelli O’Hara), Dark Woods, Gotham Award winning Philly D.A., and Soul City (directed by Coodie & Chike).

Topic is available to US and Canadian audiences on topic.com, AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android & Android TV, Samsung, Apple TV Channels, Roku Premium Channels, Bell Fibe, Amazon Prime Video Channels, and Comcast (Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and XClass TV). Topic is part of First Look Entertainment which also includes Topic Studios, the award-winning entertainment studio which develops, finances, and produces content for all platforms.


Review: ‘Inventions that Changed History’ is a Palette Cleansing Delight’ streaming on discovery+

Inventions that Changed HistoryInventions That Changed History reveals the wild and often unbelievable stories behind many of pop culture’s most impactful inventions. Historians, Scientists, Pop Culture Experts and Hollywood Celebrities take us on this wild ride full of information and incredible tales.


Ready to dominate at the next Trivia Night? “Inventions that Changed History” is a light, silly romp that is likely to help your team win a free round. With a mix of historical exposition on familiar inventions– Mr. Potato Head and waterbeds make silly and fascinating segments– it is the perfect palette cleansing alternative to more serious documentaries (or the news). 

Filled with surprising celebrity cameos from fan favorites like Guillermo from “What we do in the Shadows,” Meredith from “The Office,” and Amanda Seals from “Insecure” candidly riffing on a nostalgic parade of core memories for Gen X/ Millennials, the show is a good time all around. In particular, I was locked in learning the origins of the Easy-Bake Oven while simultaneously trying to remember if and how severely I  burned myself– not enough to stop it from being one of my favorite toys. Oh, the 90s! 

A fun concept with plenty of options to explore, this could quickly become a niche favorite. What a treat!


Episodes 1 & 2 Streaming on discovery+ on March 31st

Two episodes premiering weekly through April 14


Executive Producers: Tom Forman, Chuck Dalaklis, Jenny Daly, and Jon Beyer

For Discovery, Wyatt Channell and Howard Swartz serve as executive producers

Scores of Hollywood celebrities like Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Lance Reddick (“The Wire”), Nicole Sullivan (MADtv), Haskiri Velazquez (“Saved By The Bell”), Amanda Seales (“Insecure”), Flula Borg (Suicide Squad), Yeardly Smith (“The Simpsons”), Jeff Ross (Comedian), Eric Griffin (Actor/Comedian), Harvey Guillen (“What We Do in the Shadows”) and Rachael Harris (The Hangover), join in on the fun as they take a hysterical and insightful hands-on approach to the inventions that molded their youth and stayed with them into adulthood.


Episode 2 Inventions:

Mr. Potato Head 

Pop Rocks

Corn Cob Holders

Easy Bake Oven 

Box Wine

Rubber Chicken

Listerine

Vending Machines

 

Episode 1 Inventions:

Waterbeds

Barf Bags

Big Mouth Billy Bass

Flushing Toilet

Super Soaker 

Sea-Monkeys

Pool Noodle

Slip ‘N Slide 


 

Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘NAVALNY’ (coming to CNN and HBOMax in the spring.)

NAVALNY

Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.


My final film for Sundance was  NAVALNY about the Russian opposition leader whom Putin had poisoned with a nerve toxin that if administered correctly shuts off all of your nerves, killing you in a way that looks like a natural death because it dissipates quickly from the body.  The film is an examination of the poisoning by various places including the excellent Bellingcat coupled with a look at Navalny’s career.

Coming into the film after several days of my friends talking it up, I was initially rather disappointed. The early part of the film was kind of dull and run-of-the-mill. The film wasn’t doing anything bad, rather it was hitting the typical points of a story like this. It wasn’t until the poisoning happened that the film clicked and we were off to the races as the story of trying to find a smoking gun link to Putin gave a serious shot of adrenaline into the proceedings. Suddenly there was not only a mystery to be solved but also there was a real danger to the proceedings because other than a stupid person can see clearly how evil Putin is.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a compelling story with a connection to current events (the Russian threatened invasion of Ukraine).  You really get a sense of how bad Putin is for his country and the world.

If I have any reservations is that watching the film doesn’t always give us an entirely clear-eyed picture of Navalny. The filmmakers clearly love him, and there’s is no denying he’s at least a seeming better choice than Putin, but there are still questions about his past (links to ultranationalists) and he is a bit too smooth for me to entirely take the word of one film.

Reservations aside the film is highly recommended, if for no other reason than it’s a hell of a story.



To read all of Steve Sundance 2022 coverage, head over to Unseen Films!


Sundance (2022) capsule reviews: ‘The Dark Heart’ series & feature ‘Leonor Will Never Die’

THE DARK HEART

Sweden: in a mythological landscape, search parties roam through forests of spruce, secret conversations are whispered in open fields, and verbal duels fought on narrow country roads. A story of family feuds, inheritances, and forbidden love.


Sweden’s true crime game is above and beyond. The US had already remade series like The Killing and The Bridge. Sundance 2022 audiences can dive headfirst into The Dark Heart. The series is a five-part psychological drama-thriller about how an old family feud clashes with a young, forbidden love story, leading to a tragedy with a deadly outcome, ultimately solved by a private investigator who gets obsessed with the case. The series is based on journalist Joakim Palmkvist’s book “The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator”, which delves into the story about how a mysterious missing person’s case is investigated and solved by a local Missing People-volunteer involved in the searches. Think Broadchurch and Mare of East Town vibes. Small town politics and mystery with enough breadcrumbs and insinuation to keep you guessing. You will not be able to look away.

Cast: Aliette Opheim, Clara Christiansson Drake, Gustav Lindh, Peter Andersson.

World Premiere. Fiction. 


LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE

Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay.


As a writer, this script is essentially a dream, pun intended. Leading lady, Sheila Francisco is an absolute joy to watch and her energetic narration/script reading is a blast. In her coma, she is living inside her story. The recreations of 80s action films are astounding from the perfectly hokey score to the fight sequences. The visual jumps from these, to real-life, to memories, keeps you on your toes. The semiautobiographical nature of Leonor’s writing makes for a haunting present circumstance. The nonchalance in which her son and ex-husband converse with their lost loved one is bizarre. But that’s only half of the wackiness that ensues. Leonor is weird meta fun. You cannot help but adore the heart behind it.

Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon.

World Premiere.


For more information and the complete lineup for Sundance 2022 film, click here!


Discovery + review: ‘SET!’ invites you to take a seat at one of the weirdest and most wonderful competitive sports you’ve never heard of.

Once a year, a group of feverishly determined table setters vie for the “Best of Show” ribbon at the Orange County Fair table setting competition. Often referred to as “The Olympics of Table Setting,” contestants can spend over 6 months preparing their table to compete and ultimately be judged. A merely misplaced soup spoon can mean the end for an otherwise perfect table. But like any competition, it is not without its dramatics. Old rivalries, controversy, and eccentric personalities come to a head as SET! explores topics far beyond the silverware.


Competitive tablescaping? Yes, you read that correctly. What, praytell, is competitive tablescaping? Well, it’s only the most amazing, strange, imaginative, cutthroat sport you’ve probably never heard of. Each year, under the guidance of a specific theme, competitors create place settings that will either wow or ward off a panel of judges and their fellow contestants. In SET!, director Scott Gawlik documents the six months leading up to the annual Orange County Fair table setting competition and its coveted “Best In Show” ribbon. 

Every inch and angle of cutlery and drinking glasses amounts to a point total. Scores are a cumulative system where one tiny mistake could cost you the top prize, which I think is bragging rights and not the 50 cent ribbon. What makes this sport so massively entertaining comes down to the interpretation of the theme and the competitors’ personalities. In SET!, featured competitors are not shy about sharing their opinions. More often than not, they’re downright catty. 

The judging is rigid. The rules are clear, but that doesn’t mean some of the comments aren’t questionable. Gawlik presents this aspect with glorious tongue-in-cheek energy through the film’s editing. But the drama pervades the entire process. A mostly female-dominated pastime, SET! also features a male competitor, Tim, who made his Dr. Suess-themed table on a literal dime. Others spend thousands on a single display. The snark, the tears, and the infighting make SET! something akin to Christopher Guest‘s Best In Show and The Real Housewives. The eccentricities of our featured contestants make SET! popcorn-worthy, high-stakes drama. The final displays vary in size, tone, and unconventionality. Some tables are complex, while others are simple and clean. But it’s the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of SET! that holds you captive. I never thought I’d be so invested in the placement of a water glass, and yet, here I am wondering what my holiday table will look like a month from now. 


Streaming on discovery+ on November 12th

Directed by Scott Gawlik

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Newport Beach Film Festival*


Blood In the Snow (2021) Shorts reviews from Super Channel weekend.

Here are some of the short films showing on Super Channel this weekend at  BITS 2021…


Giant Bear (*shown alongside Don’t Say Its Name)
Gorgeous animation of the desolate and snowy tundra. One man comes face to face with a legend. The Inuit vocal track will consume you. This one left me with a lot of emotions.


The Death Doula
A man’s past interferes with his ability to usher a client into the afterlife. This nuanced story presents questions of morality and anguish. Beautiful and costumes sets help ease the viewer into a lulled sense of safety. It is incredibly unique.


Watershed
The world’s water supply is poison. A soul survivor stumbles across a young Mandarin girl who may have figured out how to create clean water. Danger lurks off of every overhanging eve. With powerful visuals, Watershed is an awesome treatment for a feature or series. I need to know what happens next.


Part of A Series of Web Bites:

Creepy Bits- Chapter 1- “Baby Face”
Is a young Mom seeing things on the baby monitor? This is still a fear for me. Are those dust particles or spirits gliding across my screen?! This one goes much further. It’s unsettling.


Narcoleap: S2
Thanks to a “previously on Narcoleap” recap, we get the concept of the show, immediately. And it’s cool. Director Kate Green, who also created the series, gives us drama, complexity, and a ton of great characters. As you keep watching, the show gives you a genuine Quantum Leap feel, but you also catch a Dollhouse vibe through its humor and sci-fi aspects. This is a full-on production. How has this not been picked up by Syfy or CW already? This is my formal push. It deserves a wider audience.


GHOST- A Primitive Evolution
Radio signals connect two post-apocalyptic survivors. This is both a short film and a music video. I have to say, this song rocks. Loved the bridge. I would watch this in longer form. There are solid concepts here and a very cool final shot.


Midnight Lunch Break
Becka is a mouthy shock jock radio host who gets an in-studio visit from a masked listener on Halloween. This one is laugh-out-loud hilarious. At 5 minutes, it’s such a tease, I wanted to see more!


The Revenge of the Snowflakes
A woman’s success is spoiled by online trolls. She takes her boyfriend along in a tongue-in-cheek revenge moment turned violet. This short was great but it was clear there is so much more to the story that we don’t get to see. I wanted a feature to back up the 5 minutes… Which is a great thing.


We All Dream (*being shown with Motherly at 9 pm this evening)
A young girl’s apparent sleepwalking poses a constant danger to her family. All is not what it seems. This is wildly fun and creepy. It produced a slow grin I couldn’t wipe off. Give me more of this story ASAP.


Disquietude (screening with Tin Can Sunday night at 11:30 pm.)
Grab your headphones or crank up the audio for this one featuring a musician. It’s vital to the plot. Trapped inside an anechoic chamber with only her music and thoughts, each infinitesimal sound becomes exacerbated to the nth degree. This would drive anyone mad. It’s perfectly panic-inducing.


You can check out the second half of BLOOD IN THE SNOW (2021) in person

November 18-23 at The Royale Theatre

Tickets are on sale now!


Blood In The Snow Film Festival (2021) capsule review: ‘Don’t Say Its Name’- Females leads, folklore, and fear. Oh, My!

DON’T SAY ITS NAME

The quiet of a snowy Indigenous community is upended by the arrival of the mining company WEC who have signed an agreement to drill the land. But before drilling starts, WEC employees begin to turn up dead, attacked by a mysterious force. As a local peace officer and a park ranger investigate, they come face to face with the vengeful spirits that have haunted the land for generations.


BITS 2021 audiences got an eyeful this weekend with indigenous tradition and terror. This complex story of activism and horror hits on more levels than you expect. Don’t Say Its Name utilizes local talent to cement its authenticity. Violet spirits collide with capitalism on a reservation attempting to maintain its soul. A mining company is corrupting the land. Both nature and the community will not have it. 

Two kickass female leads in one film? Thank you. The cast generally consists of more women, and I am not complaining. It’s inspiring to watch these actresses communicate with each other. Leads, Sera-Lys McArthur and Madison Walsh will make you stand up and yell, “F@ck Yeah!” Of course, we cannot forget the horror element that provides genuine jump scares and grounded storytelling. For gore fans, there is plenty of blood from the very beginning. The practical FX are classic. The terror factor alongside cultural erasure makes Don’t Say Its Name a fascinating watch. Add it to the growing list of great Canadian horror. 

Don’t Say Its Name is opening on VOD/Digital on November 16

Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2021 is taking place on Super Channel Oct 29 to 31st and at the Royal Cinema Nov 18 to 23rd, 2021


Review: The thought-provoking documentary ‘CIVIL WAR (OR, WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE)’ tackles the whitewashing of history. It airs tonight on MSNBC at 10 pm ET!

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CIVIL WAR (OR, WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE) Urgent and complex, Civil War (or, Who Do We Think We Are) travels across the United States, exploring how Americans tell the story of their Civil War. Filmed from the last year of Obama’s presidency through the present, it interweaves insightful scenes and touching interviews filmed North and South, painting a Read More →

Hulu original series review: ‘Baker’s Dozen’ – Not a new recipe but still a tasty treat.

BAKER’S DOZEN

Passionate amateur bakers will go head-to-head with seasoned professionals in each episode of “Baker’s Dozen”. Join hosts Tamera Mowry-Housley (Emmy-award winning host of “The Real,” FOX’s “The Masked Singer” and Hallmark’s “Christmas Comes Twice”) and Bill Yosses (Author and former White House Pastry Chef) for this fast-paced competition series that will determine the best baker of all! Which of the 13 bakers has what it takes to create the next viral baking sensation, win the golden rolling pin and take home the cash prize?


Hulu has a brand new, delicious baking competition series titled Baker’s Dozen. Each episode sees you guessed it, 13 baker’s battle it out in the kitchen. The competition happens in three rounds. Round One criteria are judged on creativity, presentation, and execution. Only 5 winners from the one-hour first round proceed into the bakeshop to compete again. The talent pool is all over the place, but that is the charm of the series. You’re rooting for everyone for different reasons. The creativity is off the charts because the contestants don’t have a choice. If they want to move ahead in the competition, they must stand out.

Round Two kicks it up a knotch. In three hours, the remaining bakers must tackle a themed challenge, but their creation is finally put to the taste and uniformity test. Round Three, the final round, gives the round two victor a huge advantage; help from a special guest. The ultimate prize is not only the title, but cash and the elusive golden rolling pin. The chemistry between judges Tamara Mowrey-Housley and former Whitehouse chef Bill Mosses is delicious. They are honest, kind, and informative. It’s a nice give and take, and they are pro hosts. Baker’s Dozen utilizes an open-air kitchen that we’ve become familiar with. It’s bright, colorful, and equipped with everything a contestant could desire. That final round is what differentiates each episode. It’s a major feat to accomplish in 5 hours. Baker’s Dozen is a bingble, sweet treat for Hulu audiences. Your mouth will water, your eyes will be delighted, and it just might inspire you to get baking.


The HULU original
Baker’s Dozen is streaming now!