Mid-May Streaming Blasts: ’Never Have I Ever,’ ‘Becoming,’ and More
Mid-May saw a number of new streaming options on Netflix—a very mixed bag!
With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic entering its 3rd month, a number of shows dropped on Netflix in May. From a documentary on Michelle Obama during her Becoming book tour, to a Seinfeld comedy special, and teen comedy and musical drama series, plus one bizarre Japanese entry.
This special dropped on Netflix in May and is a documentary that followed former First Lady Michelle Obama on her 2018-2019 Becoming book tour. She filled stadiums and arenas normally deserved for big sporting events, and would be interviewed by a slew of the biggest TV personalities (Conan, Colbert, et al). Yes, if it was some other author, these book tours would have been confined to your neighborhood Barnes & Noble (and she had these as well); but by and large, it’s about the kind of massive audience she generates, and how many people adore her.
The documentary also allows her to talk about her early South Side of Chicago childhood, her Princeton days, meeting Barack at Harvard Law School, and her family. Her brother is the scene-stealer during these family scenes. Michelle is a real heroine, especially for girls and young women from racially diverse backgrounds, and for them, this would be a must-watch. This could have been a more interesting documentary if they had more footage with Michelle’s now grown-up daughters, and/or Barack himself.
23 Hours to Kill with Jerry Seinfeld (Netflix)
Jerry Seinfeld seems to have a knack for knowing when to bow out, never overstaying his welcome. Now, after more than twenty years, he’s back on a New York stage, performing stand-up, on this special. Certainly, it’s a far cry from his legendary hit sit-com series; but judging from the audience, it looks like any Seinfeld sighting is a rapturous, welcome occasion. This was filmed in early March, right before the pandemic brought Manhattan to its knees. Crazy to watch this and reflect on how it seems like a different time and age, entirely.
The first half of the special is a genuine delight. Seinfeld takes on everyday occurrences and social behavior, holding them up to his personal comedic prism, and the resulting shtick is hilarious. It’s when he uses his married life and life as a parent that Seinfeld ends up sounding cliched and lacking originality—producing observations and jokes that we’ve heard before, or have been regulars in the routines of other comedians. 23 Hours to Kill is Seinfeld exhibiting why he’s such a cult favorite; just be wary of the second half.
The Eddy (Netflix)
An 8-episode limited drama series that’s set in Paris, The Eddy is about a renowned and retired American jazz musician running a jazz club, and getting mixed up with organized crime, while trying to raise his teenage daughter. It stars André Holland (of Moonlight), and Joanna Kulig (who starred in Cold War) as the Polish jazz singer who fronts the house band at the club, The Eddy. That’s the name of a composition that Eliot (Holland) has the band play, as one of their standards. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) directs the first two episodes.
It’s well intentioned, but you almost want to ask Chazelle if he’s rushing (the music numbers are beautifully staged), or dragging (the narratives and characters are all lackluster). There’s an interesting street-level, multi-racial Paris that’s depicted—with African-Americans, Arabs, and Africans dominating the cast. But unlike Whiplash or La La Land—where whether you loved them or hated them, you were transfixed by the main characters—this one never gives off sparks. Shame, as the music interludes shine.
The 15:17 to Paris
Clint Eastwood directs this chronicling of a true to life incident that happened on the Amsterdam-Paris train, when three American tourists subdued a terrorist intent of wreaking havoc and endangering the lives of the 500 passengers on the train. What is the bewildering aspect of the film is that Eastwood decided to cast the three ‘heroes’ as themselves. They’re non-actors, and unfortunately, it shows. If ever you wanted to look for a film that highlights the notion of ‘stretching,’ it’s this film, where one heroic incident is stretched into a full-length feature.
It’s a shame as the 2015 incident does display true heroism, and was duly recognized by the French government who awarded the Legion D’Honneur to the Americans. But the first half of the film, when we delve into the backgrounds and even childhoods of the three, is both clumsy and awkward, saddled by weak acting. It’s an Eastwood decision that is baffling, and ends up being of disservice to the narrative that could have held much more promise.
Never Have I Ever
Executive Producer and co-creator Mindy Kaling has come up triumphant with a wonderful 10-episode teen drama/comedy series that winningly plays on the booksmart premise of high school nerds/best friends looking to be cool, and even lose their virginity. The main difference here is how the three sophomore girls are of Indian descent, of Chinese-American descent, and Indian/African-American descent. Even one of the guys is a Japanese-American. It’s the ultimate ‘melting pot’ casting that gives this series its unique, diverse look.
Kaling draws from her own childhood, the strict helicopter parenting of second generation immigrant families, adding to a genuine, and often hilarious, filter via which we learn more about the main cast. To the screenplay’s credit, it’s not just the Indian Devi who is a fully fleshed character; even her two best friends get their opportunities to leave lasting impressions, endearing themselves to us. The situations, the rivalries, the ebb and flow of friendship are real, and compelling.
The Forest of Love (Netflix Japan)
Directed by the always outrageous Japanese indie legend Sion Sono, this film takes a case of real-life murders from two decades ago, and turns it into a surreal examination of the Japanese psyche, fetishes, and fascination with murder. It’s definitely not for everyone: as it’s hilarious, campy, extremely stylized, but also visceral, macabre, bloody, and gory to the max. It’s got sequences that will make you squirm in disgust or shut your eyes. But, you have to hand it to Sono for coming up with a singular exercise in cinema.
There are young girls in uniform (a particular Japanese fetish), suicide pacts (thanks to Romeo and Juliet being an element in the narrative), a band of aspiring filmmakers, and topping it all, a central character who’s a creepy Lothario/DOM. He plays puppet master throughout the film; and he’s a fascinating, but repulsive, creation. There’s an excess of energy in this film, and it does go on for much too long. A brisker editing could have been in order. Strong constitution is required for this one.
Lead photos from IMdB