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Russian Doll

Not since young Woody Allen
When I opened the user reviews I had a laugh. Someone said this isn't a comedy. Really? I binged through this and my sides were aching because I was laughing so often and so hard. I guess it depends where you live on the scale of tragic life circumstances. Dark does not mean unfunny. Humor can keep us going through the dark.

Natasha Lyonne, like Woody Allen, can get away with being Natasha Lyonne over and over again. It's a gift. Intelligent writing and her ability to throw out brilliant remarks glibly make this possible. In this show, she is surrounded with equal talent. It is a rich ensemble of weirdos and cynics.

I was an enthusiastic fan of young Woody Allen's films. I see similar genus here. Amy Poehler's contribution shines through. In a bigger view, this show represents what gutsy humor looks like in a politically correct media world. It is boiled down to the human, the universal, the existential. And it is hilarious. Kudos to Netflix.


Mad Mads makes it.
The camp violence of this film made me squirm at times, and I'm not squeamish. I can understand why today's 'sensitives' in media might find it off-putting. There is a definite lack of subtle humor in the media-sphere these days. So, think dark comedy. Think the remarkable Mad Mads naked. Think of Matt Lucas as the sissy monster. Think of that sexy Viking amazon, Katheryn Winnick as the coolest of hit pimps. Think of a goofy villain posse whose arrogance is slapstick. Take a deep breath and relax. You'll enjoy the ride. This isn't Shakespeare. It's a comic book. And I don't understand the snooty posture from some of the same people who praise Marvel's violent Netflix productions.

Zumbo's Just Desserts

I am a cook and a baker. I like culinary shows. This is perhaps the worst Netflix offering in the genre. It follows the routine competition model but the presenters and the production values are really below Walmart standards. When Aussies go low, they really do go down under. I do not exaggerate when I say I was nauseous after watching the first episode. I was dizzied by the pace of filming. The exhaustive but choppy bios of the contestants were annoying interruptions rather than interesting breaks. The set, apparently a vast brewery of some sort, was just hideously over-lighted and garish. The camera angles on the actual contestant cooking process were really bad. The whole thing was like the worst of the sloppy messes produced by contestants.

Here and Now

Propaganda or drama?
It pains me to give this series a 6. I am a longtime fan of Mr. Robbins and Ms. Hunter. I am a fan of Peter Macdissi. I was happy to see gay male characters in the cast, even though they are predictably twisted. Alan Ball's previous masterpieces are among my most memorable TV favorites.

But this is something else. I do not dispute whether it is an accurate portrayal of New Portlandia. It may well be. If the social landscape of Portland is dominated by New Left politics, then so be it. However, presenting a portrayal of this by excluding any possibility of outlying thought or characters amounts to an infomercial for those politics. After all 39% of voters in Oregon voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Some of these people must live in or around Portland, unless they have been tarred and feathered. Eastern Oregon voted Republican.

The show is trying to be entertainment. I am aware of this. But the sharp political divisions in the country are ignored totally in this drama, even though it embarks on a course through politically charged issues. It feels like the writers were themselves afraid to even consider a sane conservative or centrist character. That makes it propaganda, not simply storytelling. When anyone expresses a challenge to the enforced Leftist perspective in the piece, they are immediately cast as either disturbed, racist, sexist or whatever.

The most ironic segment is at a dinner party attended by three Black characters and a White character. One of the Black diners explains to another that Portland had been founded as a White Utopia as an illustration of the source of deep racism encountered by them. This is done without acknowledgment of the White diner's marital relationship with one of the Black diners. The White diner, previously shown as a sensitive and fairly intelligent person, acts like a fool, seemingly unaffected by the whole topic. All of this deep racialism occurs in a lovely bourgeois home owned by the Black couple. Such oppression!

White Privilege is beaten like a drum throughout the episodes. White people outside the multiracial family at the series' core are inevitably portrayed as insensitive, flaky or guilt-ridden about being born with skin-sans-color. A particularly evil character is a White female cop who is written as a a butch lesbian. It is implied that she enjoys interacting with the teenage daughter of the starring multiracial family but comes close to sexually abusing the married Black adoptive daughter of the same family, after the two are arrested for assaulting a pro-life protester. And, of course, the pro-life protester is revealed as a pedophile who must drop charges to avoid being put in jail for a parole violation. The stuff of a high-school student's short story assignment.

My disappointment centers on this series being just another extension of Hollywood hypocrisy. It is like one of the recent award shows, turned into a pageant for Leftist politics. Perhaps Portlandians can watch it and feel proud of the direction their culture appears to be going. Perhaps not. It is impossible to tell from much of the content which comes across forced and dimensionless.

Queer Eye

Fifteen years and nothing changed.
I am a gay man of the Stonewall Era. Yes, that was almost 50 years ago, my dears. I was familiar with the previous version of this show. So, I was astounded at the same thing all over again, with the exception of the subjects being from a more possibly homophobic demographic. Perhaps that was what the plug for "acceptance" meant in the promo. That really bugged me.

I personally have never flitted around in a gang of girly men (queens, in the culture). However, I have respected and dated men who were not macho-male stereotypes by any means. This is what I find disappointing in this show. Once again, the showy fem hairdresser dominates and all the boys chime in.

How much better it would be if the connection between straight men and gay men was a naturally respectful one without the camp. My disappointment is deepest in the Netflix producers who fostered this behavior for marketing. It is like using a gay version of minstrel show caricature to attract an audience. I do not mean that the cast don't have skills and talents at all. I simply regret that they have to be smothered in swish. It cries lack of self-respect.

Altered Carbon

Good attempt.
Netflix has been gaining ground in choosing some of its more intelligent content. I am a veteran user of the streaming service and still subscribe. I am also a fan of good sci-fi and have noticed a sci-fi gap in Netflix's catalog This sci-fi and fantasy production is stunningly presented with great CGI and general visual design. It held my interest with this despite the terribly unclear storytelling of the initial episodes, not aided by Joel Kinnaman's zombie affect and Martha Higareda's poor English diction. These elements were accentuated by James Purefoy's presence.

The corrupted-resurrection theme was eventually well developed by mid-series. The withheld back story of the Envoy Resistance could have come much earlier and helped with the flow of the story. By the time it is revealed, it plays like a sloppy and trite love triangle in a boiler-plate post-apocalyptic setting of cave dwellers. Maybe the recycled props helped with cost overruns?

The dialogue varies greatly from snappy to just plain insipid. Occasional use of Kinnaman voice overs are obvious patches for bad writing and editing. The uneven quality of the narrative, especially the rather cheesy climax and denouement, make the whole production seem like an airhead in an expensive suit. It is very easy to watch, but don't expect anything profound.

Black Mirror: Metalhead
Episode 5, Season 4

The best episode so far.
I was shocked to see this rated so low here. It is by far the best horror episode in Black Mirror I have seen so far. The black-and-white video enhanced the experience because it accentuated the dismal and barren world of the droid dogs. It also made it clearer what was driving the dog, as opposed to shifting focus on landscape and human. That aspect of the production was somewhat confusing. It may have translated better if the whole thing was presented from the robot's point of view.

If you have followed the debate on AI and weaponized robotics, you would be impressed with where the writer took this. It is a representation of the mundane use of uplifting technology. And how it can go wrong. I suppose some viewers might not realize how potentially real this bleak future is. That viewer would see this as failing to entertain, because that viewer would be missing the horror of understanding that this could be a real outcome of today's science.

My only objection to the writing is the sentimentalism involving the teddy bears. This struck me as a bit retro, a too Twilight Zone. It detracted from the horror of the overall piece.


Tolkien on Acid?
Where to begin? The first thing that turned me off were the recycled orc masks. They are just so bad. Halloween in Ohio. Then we move on to Will Smith's house in a gang neighborhood where he and his pretty blonde nurse wife live in harmony with a gang who live on their front lawn. Smith proceeds to smash a tiny humanoid fairy (really?) to death with a broom to the applause of his gangster neighbors.

Typical cop drama at its heart with cliche and added political correctness, disguised as grit. Elves represent White Privilege. Orcs represent something hard to figure out. Smith's daughter is the annoying voice of New Left propaganda. This was unwatchable. I found this production extremely disappointing as a veteran Netflix subscriber. Is this the future? Maybe time to look into another streaming service.


Pretty good but really off on Cecil.
Mark Gatiss is a great actor. Casting him as 5-foot-4-inch Cecil was a mistake. Part of Cecil's intense politicking was attributable to his physical challenges. He was ugly, short, even for the time, and misshapen. His father had been a master politician and an invaluable asset to the aging Elizabeth I. I think this piece does the historical character an injustice by making him into something of a cartoon villain.

James IV and I was an accomplished ruler, who became king of Scotland at 13 months of age. His mother had been assassinated by Elizabeth I. This production obsesses on his homosexual proclivities and makes him seem fickle and shallow. Again, a disservice to the historical record.

Tom Cullen is notably the best actor of the conspirators. His physical portrayal of Fawkes is stunning. He exudes menace, unpredictability and bravado. The others seem rather bungling. Perhaps this is an attempt to set up the audience's acceptance of their eventual failure. The debate continues about Cecil's role in setting them all up to fail. In other words, they didn't bungle: They did exactly what Cecil predicted they would do. Thus securing the ruling establishment's role for centuries to come, and providing an excuse for anti-Catholic atrocity.

Production values are polished. The cast is generally excellent. The pace of the story-telling is absorbing and entertaining. It feels more like historical epic than historical account. The stink and gore of the time is well represented. I would say there is a pro-Catholic bias in the telling. This is consistent with the victim culture of our time, but it must be said that Catholics at the time were on the side of entrenched ignorance against more egalitarian progress.

The Deuce

Conveys the era well.
I lived in Spanish Harlem in the period of this series. As a new college grad, recently a dental school drop out, I ventured to Oz. I walked the length and breadth of Manhattan in my wing-tip shoes. I couldn't find work. I was laughed out of clothing stores where I applied for sales jobs by gay clerks who correctly judged me as a provincial. Yes, it was a tough town.

I partook of 42nd Street entertainments occasionally. Times Square and 42nd Street were shabby and inhabited by street people of every sort. The vibe was similar to what we can experience today in large cities of Africa, South America and South East Asia. Why? Because Manhattan then was a place where run-down housing was cheap. Hordes of disenfranchised young people fled there from every corner of America. The false promise of success drew them. Yet the aristocracy still ruled and exploited them.

This series has captured the mood of 42nd Street and Times Square of that time. It has even brought back to me some of the smells of that district. It was pungent with cigarette smoke, burned grease from shabby diners, cheap perfume, and disinfectant. Cars spewed unfiltered pollution. Cabs honked incessantly. Loud voices pierced the din. Wary tourists gawked and skittered.

I appreciate the show's avoidance of retrospective political correctness. Hookers, pimps and corrupt cops were not gentile. Perhaps the show softens them all a bit, but the basic content is accurate. As a young gay man of a politically aware nature, I lived the experience of being hunted by crooked cops and exploited by mob venues.

I winced when James Franco first appeared as identical twins in the pilot. I doubted the show's ability to pull this off, but it has remarkably well. Maggie Gyllenhaal does an exemplary job as an aging prostitute, independent of the pimp patriarchy. Her character exposes the underside of pre-feminist independence for women of the 1950's and 1960's. While Katherine Hepburn was playing upper class women of stature, the reality on the ground was quite different, especially for working-class women and women of color.

This is the kind of programming which might save channels like HBO in an age of increased streaming competition. I place it on a tier with Showtime's "Ray Donovan". Gritty drama with suspense and good character development (writing) seldom fail.

The Hippopotamus

Spunk from Fry
We have been christened by spunk inspired by Stephen Fry. Perhaps not miraculous. Perhaps always pompous. Perhaps always hilarious.

Who better than nearly omnipresent Roger Allam to be the vessel of Bard Fry's venom? I say: Absolutely none. The supporting cast did not always rise to the occasion. Some of the editing could have been better. The boiler plate mansion seemed a bit tired.

All in all, it was a good time. Fry's ability to poke fun at mystical and religious tom-foolery never flags. Even an offended fairy-believer would have to howl occasionally, if she had a sense of humor. It's good to see Fry's work presented well, even though I would hardly expect him to think so.

Lazy Eye

Pleasant surprise.
I'll usually watch a gay movie out of LA when I am just tired of flipping through the Netflix catalog. That probably says as much about me as it says about gay movies out of LA on streaming channels.

This title was not typical. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once I got past the fact that 35-somethings were commiserating about being old and were swimming in a pool in the desert, I was engaged in the dialog. And this film addresses some universal elements of the gay male experience, both contemporary and traditional.

The one great love is a human thing, but gay men experience it in a profound way. Coming of age feeling totally alone in a heterosexual world causes many gay men to psychologically blossom with a first great love. And that first great love is seldom one's last love or only love as a gay man.

This film covers commitment, marriage, nostalgia and loss in a palatable way. The dialog and situations are believable. The actors are likable and natural. It did not fall into the soft-porn trap which sinks many LA gay films into the quagmire of the predictable. I recommend it to any gay man who has loved and lost.

I Am Michael

Really, Mary?
I have to wonder what they were thinking? Another story of mental illness in post-scientific and religious America. But this isn't some cheesy little indie. James Franco, perhaps the king of the hipster closet cases, colludes with Zachary Quinto, an out gay icon, to further blur the lines between heterosexual and homosexual identities. Let's confuse the kids some more.

Gay marriage as the focal point of all gay activism in the past two decades was bad enough. Gays having the right to kill other human beings in uniform was even worse. But this?

Fifty years ago, as an adolescent under legal age, I was threatened with kidnapping by my religious Catholic father who was a cop. There was a mad Catholic priest, likely a pedophile, who would kidnap suspected homosexual boys and take them to a place unknown to convert them. I am not making this up.

In nursing school, I met a man in my psychiatric rotation who had been lobotomized for repeated escapes from a state hospital here in Liberal Massachusetts where he had been confined as a teen by crazy parents in the 1940's. Why was he locked up? He was homosexual and known to be promiscuous. His parents had died by the time I knew him. He was left to be a permanent ward of the state in that hospital. Probably ended up dying homeless on the streets when the hospitals were all closed to save taxpayers money.

So the producers of this joke of a film decided to rationalize the life of a mentally ill homosexual in the misguided name of being broad minded. It would have been fine if the man's mental illness hadn't been rationalized as religious quest. While the film was technically fine, I have to say, "Shame on all of you who should have known better."

Oceans Rising

Should have been allowed to sink.
What exactly is this? It rivals some of the worst parody films ever made, but seems like it is trying to be scientific and profound. Was it written by a 12 year old? Special effects out of the 1960's. Totally improbable premises. Actors who look like they are waiting for Guffman. Like watching a slow motion train wreck. You want to look away but you are fixated by total disbelief. Don't get trapped. Hit the exit button before it's too late.

The Riot Club

Boiler plate.
It's funny how this same story, if portrayed about blue-collar young men in the USA, would just seem trashy. Here, with Oxford and Brit accents, it becomes some kind of morality play for our times. It is the old story of privilege and class collision. There is no new insight. Perhaps the vicarious drunkenness and violence are meant to draw in a teen audience. The characters are anachronistic at best. The only redeeming feature is its attempt to poke at the class issue with some sensibility, despite the overboard histrionics in the pub scene. Unfortunately, it is still who you know, not what you know. That much rings all too true.

The Architect

Would have preferred not to.
A wasted wealth of talent on a script more suited to dark suspense than dark comedy. It succeeds at neither really. Parker Posey reverts to quirk, while Eric McCormack seems to be struggling just to get through it. James Frain, a natural as vampire or demon, seems out of place in his role as a fey seducer. This is one of the few films I have seen which felt like a total waste of my time at its ending. It isn't even interestingly edited or filmed. Jonathan Parker's "Bartleby" (2001) was brilliant, perhaps even prophetic. This film is simply cable TV fodder.


Intelligent film on sexual abuse.
I assume the low average score for this title is due to the difficult and realistically portrayed subject of sexual confusion stemming from paternal abuse. Matt Levett, as Smithy, does an impressive job conveying the internal turmoil of a conflicted young man. The editing of some key scenes was awkwardly done, adding confusion about time lines. But Levett's acting maintained my interest. He carries the film.

I appreciate the film's ability to make sexy Smithy's dysfunctional sexuality stand out against the upbeat backdrop of a bustling gay entertainment district. This was an intelligent element. Less intelligent was the overly prolonged beach scene toward the end of the film. After a while, it had the flavor of bad soft pornography, while too subtly touching upon Smithy's victimization (presumably by his brutal father) which he appears to be acting out with Phil. Phil's passivity hints at his own possible history of sexual abuse. The use of the Meat character as more neutral observer wasn't really effective.

Iron Fist

I have enjoyed the Netflix Marvel content generally, with the previous exception of "Luke Cage", which was so tritely written from the get- go that I only watched one episode. My favorite so far has been "Jessica Jones". I guess Netflix chose to ignore its high ratings among IMDb members. "Daredevil" had two consistently good seasons. Watching an educated blind vigilante kick ass within a code of ethics and without firearms was really interesting.

"Iron Fist" has a good cast, especially the regular Rosario Dawson as Clare Temple. The production values are also good. However, the writing falls short. I do not know whether this is a carry-over from the comics or a fault in the TV writing. The problem is simple: I really could not believe a male character schooled in Buddhism and martial arts for 15 yrs in the Himalayas would melt into a whining school girl in Manhattan when he actually learns the truth of his past travails. Had the Danny Rand character been 12, it would have been OK.

Wai Ching Ho as the recurring Madame Gao is my favorite actor in this series. She is both amazingly evil and amazingly likable at the same time, while just being very funny besides. Her complexity made the hero look even sillier and poorly written.

Z Nation

Consistent drollery.
I am three completed seasons in, and it's still able to entertain and tickle me. This series takes the post-apocalyptic genre to a seriously funny place. It is less sitcom than "iZombie" by far. It avoids junk science for the most part. There are exaggerations and lapses, of course, but the general scientific headset is OK. Addy and Warren, the ruthless feminists, battle the patriarchy. Doc, the post-apocalyptic Yogi the Bear on weed, provides sufficient slapstick to keep the lightness afloat. Underneath the laughter, the serious issues of power, politics and control get hashed out with blunt satire. The writing is good and sometimes hilarious. The production design is quite good for low-budget TV. This show is another example of good TV with brains over bucks from SyFy channel.

Dix pour cent

Sophisticated and funny.
Bravo once again to Netflix for bringing this intelligent French production to U.S. screens. The series is reminiscent of Woody Allen's work. Its humorous and cynical look at the behind-the-scenes foibles of show business is very engaging. It is well paced and visually interesting. The acting is superb. It pulls off its use of star cameos flawlessly. Anyone familiar with American productions with star cameos will know what I mean. They are often awkward and horrible. The series ensemble is excellent throughout. The production offers diversity as well as subtle mockery of it. I hope Netflix will do another season. It seems to me that some of their best work dies after one season, unfortunately for us viewers who appreciate higher quality productions like this one.

Grand Designs

Grand developers.
I enjoy this series on Netflix. Probably wouldn't watch it with commercial interruptions. It slogs a bit with needless repetitions and filler monologues by McCloud, who is poetic but verbose. The episodes should have been 30 minutes. My father built our family home on an urban lot just outside Boston in the 1950's. When I say he built it, I mean just that: He built it by himself in his 'spare time'. I was turned off by the toff attitudes of some of the homeowners in this show. I also researched and found at least one of them flipped a house a year after the show. On the show, those owners acted so committed to the house and neighborhood. They inconvenienced 17 abutters to build over several years. They also devoured an urban green space to build the concrete monstrosity. Fascinating TV on the one hand, but environmentally irresponsible on the other. It's strength is its technical points about building. The gooey interviews with the owners could be edited out.


Surprisingly good.
This period in history is my favorite to study. The European transition from Medieval to Renaissance is the foundation of modern mankind. It was the movement from religion to science. Cromwell had just successfully led a revolution against aristocratic rule in Britain. This had sent ripples through the consciousness of leaders across Europe and its colonies.

So, I was delighted to see this series was researched well. Its fluff is forgivable in the days of HDTV. It could probably pass the test of smell-o-vision if it existed. The reality of the time would not.

I am a fan of George Blagden. I enjoyed his acting in "Vikings". He has a visual intensity that suits roles like these. Noemie Schmidt as Henriette was a notable success at playing a royal pawn of the time. Her part's femininity was balanced well with her rationality. She played it well. Stuart Bowman (Bontemps) and Tygh Runyan (Marchal) are excellent at playing key roles which are historically central to life at court, but are often ignored.

The relationship between Philippe d'Orleans (Alexander Vlahos) and Chevalier (Evan Williams) is an interesting way of interpreting homosexual relationships in the aristocracy of the time. It's a pleasant departure from the usual exploitation of homosexual characters as psychopathic villains. Vlahos does a better job at staying away from swish stereotype.

On the level of pure physical beauty, it is a fantastic production, as good as any epic film about the subject. It is another example of the positive effect streaming video markets have had on small-screen media.


It holds true.
I was surprised to see that I had not commented on this film here. I recently watched it for a third or fourth time on Netflix. I am not someone who watches things over and over. I like fresh bread more than toast.

This film is different. It is an outstanding glimpse into the lives of real people. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a documentary about two male lovers that could be as honest. Tom Cullen harnessed the pain of practiced loneliness, armored with honesty. Chris New had the ability to act out a shamelessly spoiled narcissism which is neither mean nor entirely selfish. These two personalities together, trying to coexist in love and passion, capture an essential element of gay male dating life.

Few films strike me as timeless. I am too old and cynical. But this film represents a timeless interaction between two struggling souls who wish to reach out from their comfortable loneliness. This is a common gay-male struggle which has survived liberation and gay marriage politics.


What happened?
When I started watching this series, I was skeptical. I suspected a soap opera, Latino style. But then the environmental and public health plot pulled me in. Then it became a murder mystery, sort of. Around Episode 6, I started checking my Netflix menu to see how many more episodes could possibly be left, since everything was obvious.

Then it plodded on for 6 more episodes. Unlike a Dickens story, there were not many characters and virtually no subplots. There were multiple editing and time line glitches. Spliced footage of alligators and capybara inserted as filler added little. The landscapes were pretty, but....

German Palacios (Simone) was the acting highlight. Luis Machin (Rizzo) added some threatening darkness. Arianna Anghileri did well considering her character's lack of any real development. I pressed through to the end to see if there was a redeemable turn of events, but there wasn't. Just a tidying up with a couple of tearful scenes of a survivor, who was perhaps the most annoying character of all.

Une chance de trop

Doctor Duh.
I found this series very disappointing. French crime drama is usually slick and darkly tinged with existentialism. Not so this piece. Perhaps it was infected by a certain current feminism, which elevates any female dysfunction under stress as unassailable.

Alexandra Lamy, as the assaulted and besieged mother/doctor of a kidnapped babe, is most likely doing her best with the bad script. She comes across as an unlikely physician. She is neither pragmatic nor level-headed. She also seems incapable of team work with anyone. Her denial of her sister's addictive criminality is just plain dumb and unlikely in an urban physician.

The rest of the cast, with the exception of veteran Hippolyte Girardot (Detective Tessier), deliver melodramatic, soap-opera performances. I have to attribute this to the script. It is comparable to Danielle Steel romance pulp. It makes Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple' series look dark by comparison.

This series brings forth a concern I have had about Netflix international selections. If Netflix begins to cater to demographics instead of literary taste, it may lead to a leveling of production quality to a poorer standard. The appeal of Netflix to date has been its peaks and valleys of quality and cultural diversity. It would be unfortunate if it contributes to a reduction of its own productions to a flat plain of mediocrity.

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