Tag Archive: netflix


 

dear-white-people-season-2

I don’t think Justin Simien will take any offense to me saying each incarnation of ‘Dear White People’ has been an improvement on the one before it.

The latest season (or volume as it were) builds on Season 1’s re-introduction of the characters and settings of Winchester University, and creatively expands on them in so many ways, the few highlights I’m about to list below only scratch the surface…

  • If you feel the need to play the comparison game, I guess ‘Atlanta’ would be the other choice, but the number of strong individual episodes in this season is absurdly high.  The ‘mushrooms’ episode.  The ‘abortion’ episode.  My actor’s bias has strong feelings for episode 8, which is essentially a one act play for the characters of Sam and Gabe; the amount of personal and political material in that half hour alone is obscene.
  • But my favorite episode of this bunch is the ‘Joelle’ episode.  The character is obviously a fan favorite, and the realization/breakdown of ‘the hotep’ was too hilarious and painfully accurate.
  • A ton of good cameos I won’t completely ruin, but I have to say seeing Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson play against ‘what I was expecting’ was fantastic.  For the USC crowd my old classmate Daheli got more screen time this season as the Iyanla Vanzant doppleganger and she makes the most of it.

So yes, all the applause.  Carve out 10 more half hours of your time for this.

Streaming on Netflix.

 

Advertisements

 

onmyblock

I understand (kind of) that Netflix can’t promote the living heck out of every single project they put up.  I kept hearing about ‘On My Block’ by word of mouth, and I was only two episodes in before I started telling people around me, ‘You need to get involved with this,’ and now that I’ve finished season 1 (and I’ve heard Netflix has already greenlit season 2), I’m writing about it today.

The best pitch came from one of the homies who actually finished binging it before I did: ‘It’s one of those CW shows, but for us.’  Accurate.  ‘On My Block’ is an often hilarious, coming of age story centered around four teens: insecure, nerdy Ruben, trying to stay out of ‘the life’ Cesar, tomboy growing into a woman’s body Manse, and the resident goofball Jamal.  Following the kids entering the first year of high school, the series does a great job giving each member of the ensemble a relatable individual arc that doesn’t pull the overall tone too deeply into melodrama.

And it has to be said: young actors can be hit or miss, but the casting on this one is pitch perfect.  A lot of the fun of this series comes from how much we’re cheering for each of these characters and their quests.

Ten half hour episodes.  Quick and easy binge if you’re interested.

 

 

first-match

Do not let it be said we’re anywhere close to running out of fresh angles for genre stories…

At its core, ‘First Match’ is a coming of age story.  But here are just a few of the ‘not worn out’ touches…

a) the protagonist is a young black girl

b) she tries to bond with her father by joining her high school wrestling team

c) the potential ‘dark side’ angle has her going into female street fighting (not quite MMA but close…)

We all gravitate toward hero stories of course, but, especially in this (teenage) phase of life, it’s very compelling to watch someone set themselves up for a ‘good’ future, and potentially blow it because their emotions override their logic.

Well acted and directed. Definite recommend.

Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

roxanneroxanne

Even for someone like me who’s more or less the same age as hip hop, it’s hard now to imagine the early days, when even people who saw money couldn’t imagine millions of dollars.  When it was a neighborhood thing and not a worldwide culture.  ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ does an excellent job of reminding you of the origins and a lot more.

If you don’t know the story of one of the first women of hip hop, this movie is a nice introduction.  Aided by performances from Nia Long and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (I’ll never get tired of saying that), ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ shines most as it reminds of the additional hurdles a female MC had to (has to?) overcome on top of trying to get ahead in a male dominated industry.  Need muscle when someone tries to screw you out of money?  Have a baby?  Just to name two.  The hip hop lover in me also loved the fairly organic way some other names of hip hop were integrated into the story without taking it over (Marley Marl, UTFO of course, Biz Markie, and another young kid from Queensbridge by the name of Nasir…)

Definitely worth seeing if you’re a hip hop historian.  Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

ricky_gervais__square

The new Ricky Gervais stand up on Netflix is interesting to me because, it’s really three shorter sets edited together…

In the first set, he’s basically doing his David Brent, ‘oblivious asshole’ character to poke fun at the Kardashians (well just one really) and how his own celebrity and wealth have left him ‘out of touch’ with the common man…

The second set is a more traditional stand up routine where he talks about everything they don’t tell you about becoming middle aged.  Self deprecating jokes, fat jokes and dick jokes, you know the drill…

In the last set he seems to be speaking in his natural voice, as he (with humor) focuses on all the good of social media (the ability to unite and organize around a cause in hours instead of months) and the bad (how we all fall victim to gaslighting).

It’s a sharp not quite 90 minutes from someone the vast majority of us will never think of as a ‘stand up comedian’.  If you’re a fan of any of his work (‘The Office,’ ‘Extras,’ ‘Derek’), I think it’s definitely worth checking out.

 

‘Strong Island’

 

_S2_Strong-Island

‘Strong Island’ is another film that’s compelling both for what’s on screen, and also for how perfectly timely it is with larger discussions happening in 2018 America.

Nominated this year in the Best Documentary – Feature category, the skeleton of the story is way too familiar to everyone now: a young black man is murdered, the local police look at the evidence and drift toward the attitude of ‘Well, he wasn’t an angel…’

Yance Ford (the director, the sibling of the victim, and if I’m not mistaken, the first transgender person nominated in this category) gives us enough time with all the judicial elements of the story to upset anyone with a conscience.  The true gift of the film is in the time spent (and the focus) on how a crime like this, the sudden, unnecessary death of a young man, implodes the whole family unit.  (There’s a larger metaphor in there for the black experience in America if you wanted to go there.)

Powerful film.  Now streaming on Netflix.

 

‘Icarus’

 

icarus

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, ‘Icarus’ is one of those films where the larger implications stick with you a little more than what you see on the screen.  Especially right now…

Doing well but never really excelling as a cyclist, Bryan Fogel (also our narrator) hooks up with Girgory Rodchenkov, a leading Russian scientist in the field of ‘sports medicine’.  What starts out as a ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ light hearted relationship (with Fogel using my needles on a daily basis than I ever want to see in my life), first turns a little more serious as the Russian team (the ENTIRE Russian team) is briefly banned from competing in the Olympics, then turns legitimately scary as Grigory escapes Russia (leaving his wife and family behind), and eventually ends up in witness protection in America as he goes into detail, on the record, with how Russia has essentially, a state sponsored doping program, and uses the former KGB to make sure its athletes don’t get caught.

Fascinating for what it is, as a documentary on 21st century sports.  Interesting because of what else we’ve essentially proven about Russia bending and breaking all protocols to get what it wants and end up on top.

Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

shes-gotta-have-it-netflix

I had no expectations for the Netflix version of ‘She’s Gotta Have It.’  We have ‘Insecure’ now.  We have ‘Dear White People’.  We have ‘Master of None.’ We have ‘Atlanta’.  All good to great in different ways, all cover being young and/or black, and/or single, and/or living in New York City.  That’s one.

Two: for all the shows listed above, part of my (selfish) enjoyment is being a generation removed from the ‘voice’ of the show.  Spike is of the generation before me, so right or wrong, I had concerns about someone two generations removed writing about the current scene.

Very happy to say I couldn’t be more wrong.  The Netflix version of ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ is very much its own thing: funny and serious and topical and told through the ‘Spike Lee New York City’ lens.

Add Dewanda Wise to the list of talented, beautiful dark skinned actresses who are taking advantage of the shots they’re given.  The 2017 version of Nola Darling is still a proud Brooklynite with three male suitors; the series fleshes out her artistry and her interest in each of her suitors very well.

I know how problematic Spike has felt about certain elements of his first film.  Pretty much every adaptation here works for the better.  Mars Blackmon in 2017 is a half Puerto Rican hip hop head? (Genius.)  Opal feels less like a lesbian predator and more like, possibly, Nola’s true love? (Brilliant.)  The post-Thanksgiving sexual assault is now a script flipping, female gaze on male sexuality?  (Outstanding).

It was a perfect binge for the holiday weekend.  Well worth checking out when you have time.

 

‘Mudbound’

 

Brody-Mudbound

Dee Rees’ latest feature might be the first great film of this era that ‘doesn’t take place right now’, but speaks directly to ‘right now.’

‘Mudbound’ tells the story of two families, one white, one black, both struggling to make ends meet while working the land in Mississippi, circa World War II.  The film/story is structured so no one actor stands out above the rest, but everyone in cast plays the hell out of their parts.  The poor whites may not be inherently racist, but they are fully aware of the benefits their skin color provides.  The older black generation is proud but they know all too well the consequences of rocking the boat too hard (translation: death).  The brothers who left America (Jason Mitchell is the standout if you had to pick one) see there’s another way to live, and has an understandably hard time coming ‘home’ and swallowing his pride and taking shit from the people whose lives he protected.

Really strong outing by all involved.  Streaming on Netflix. Worth checking out.

 

 

defjam

Part high school reunion, part interview show, ‘Def Comedy Jam 25’ is a fun 90 minute journey on Netflix.  As more than one comedian noted, there was a time when black comedians could be killing it for years and never even dream of being on the Tonight Show.  Russell Simmons recognized the void and got HBO to buy in.  Everyone from household names like Rock and Chappelle to the Kings of Comedy pay their respects in this show.

I’m old enough to remember Def Jam at its peak, but whoever organized the clips still did an excellent job of pulling from some classic sets and one liners you’ve just forgotten about if you haven’t seen them in 20 years.  There was a nice tribute to Bernie Mac; I still feel his Def Jam set is the best stand up routine I have ever seen (way too X rated to repost here but not that hard to find).

As for the Netflix episode, there’s a part near the end where DL Hughley and Chappelle go off script…  That’s all I need to say, isn’t it?  Best part of the show.

Worth watching if you’re a fan of urban comedy.