Highlights of the Month: September 2018

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In this post, you’ll find Highlights for the Month of September 2018.


Top Performances or Scenes (In No Particular Order)

Julia Garner as Ruth (Ozark) & Ellie (Maniac)

If I do a top ten, twenty, or thirty actors, scenes, or characters, Julia Garner is a must for inclusion. Just episodes 4 – 6 of season 2 of Ozark, show why this young actress is a show stealer. For whether you are talking about the writing which makes Marty seem like a father figure to Ruth or Ruth being mentally and emotionally dismantled by both Helen and Cade, you’ll have nothing but tears.

This gets followed up with her role in Maniac, opposite Emma Stone, and the idea that Garner, outside of One Percent More Humid, is a huge asset to whatever production she is in. And when it comes to the aforementioned movie, it was more so the film not focusing on the tragedy of the film enough than Garner.

Lynn Whitfield as Lady Mae (Greenleaf)

Mae trying to reassure Sophia that she is okay and she can pass that along.
Mae: I just needed a little me time.

Lady Mae has been a lead character in Greenleaf since the beginning and as masterful as Whitfield has been, you were given what is expected. At this point, most would agree she has been typecast but plays a mother who is very hard on her child quite well. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a staple of her career.

However, this season, as Mae’s husband James served her with divorce papers, we see Whitfield step away from being the hateful mother or scorn being the primary emotion she exhibits. Instead, we get that vulnerability she usually only gets a moment of in past roles, like her role in Madea’s Family Reunion. She gets to wallow in her feelings, without screaming and shouting, and you can see the build from James cheating on her, her daughter killing her only ally in her brother, and so many other things coming to roost. Making it where she has to let go of the dream of a man she has long invested in with almost no return at this point. Thus forcing her to invest in her own life for once.

Letting her hair down and dealing with no longer being part of a dream she invested most of her life to. Now she has to reinvest in her own.

Deborah Joy Winans as Charity (Greenleaf)

Jabari dismissing Charity from his life.
Charity: They don’t want me at home.
Jabari: Well, I don’t want you here.

Though Charity has taken a bit of a left turn in recent episodes, earlier within season 3, as she deals with Kevin moving on, there was a certain pain you had to feel. Particularly when she got thoroughly rejected by Jabari, in person. With that, you see how multiple avenues of how she found validation in her person being stripped from her. The few things she had to bring joy to her life being gone.

Her first husband found a man and left her, and they are trying to start a new family with her son involved. The man who loved her, after the effects of giving birth, replaced her easily, and the church? Her family’s church? It’s riddled with dysfunction and with her getting a taste of something that is all hers, to go back and do as she did before? That would be too much to bear.

Brigette Lundy-Paine as Casey (Atypical)

Casey realizing Clayton's classes are advanced.
Casey: Oh, cool. Yeah. I just never knew I was dumb.

Forgiveness is a big thing for Casey in season 2 of Atypical. She has to learn to forgive her mom and she does so through seeing how much her dad needs her. Then, thanks to her relationship with Izzie, and emotionally cheating on her boyfriend, it brings a whole new level to her understanding of her mom. And through all this, Lundy-Paine guides us by the hand through the stress of having a parent who can die and dealing with burgeoning bi-sexuality. Not to forget, having Sam in her life who she loves but in pursuit of treating him without pretense, it blows up in her face sometimes.

Amanda Seales as Tiffany (Insecure)

Tiffany taking note of how things are changing in the group, and how she is starting to feel left out.
Tiffany: Like, we’re different now.

It is because of Tiffany that season 3 of Insecure doesn’t feel like growth is solely about Issa, Molly, and Lawrence. With Tiffany being pregnant, and unable to keep up with her friends, we see Seales, largely known for being comedic or breaking down pop culture in an easy to consume way, acting. We don’t see Tiffany as an extension of Seales, but a character. One who has perhaps always known she was a bit of an outsider but with the utter disregard for her situation taking place during Coachella, she now has evidence.

Leading a very real moment for even if you subtract the pregnancy aspect, realizing your old friends aren’t perhaps able to come along as you hit your next stage is heartbreaking. Yet, at the same time, you have to grow. Issa just got out of a ho phase, Molly is a mess, and as much as Kelli is Tiffany’s friend, she seems stunted at times as well.

Thus leading to Tiffany pushing the unspoken question of: How long should a person wait for their friends to catch up before eventually initiating the process of letting go?

Elizabeth Olsen and Mamoudou Athie (Sorry For Your Loss)

Leigh in grief support.

While Red Table Talk and Five Points are great shows, I’d argue Sorry For Your Loss brought a certain legitimacy to Facebook Watch neither could provide. For as much as I love the conversations Jada Pinkett-Smith has with family and friends, and Five Points made for a nice, FreeForm-esque drama, Sorry For Your Loss is HBO, Netflix, FX, etc caliber. A compliment largely driven due to Olsen’s handling of the lead character Leigh.

In playing a grieving young widow, dealing with a husband who might have committed suicide, she makes the premise have oomph and not just feel like a gimmick. Plus, Leigh is made to be human. She isn’t made to be liked and loved by everyone but if she cares about you, she may very well be yours for life. And with the assistance of Athie, who deserves his own pedestal, we get quite the tear-jerker.

Matt trying to make sure Leigh knows what she is signing up for.
Matt: I-I need you to understand that this isn’t fixable.

Leading to why Athie has to be highlighted. I think we can all agree we are coming to the point where diversity needs to move beyond skin color. We have to have different upbringings, cultures, and more to truly say we have gotten beyond superficial change. Part of how Athie as Matt is part of the solution is by being this nerdy Black guy with depression. Something which, I’m sure, can be found in many a web series, maybe an indie movie, but certainly not on platforms like Facebook Watch and getting the kind of press and attention this show gets.

And just in one line, similar to how Night School brought light to learning disabilities, and the stigma surrounding them in Black communities, I feel Matt did through two sentences. Said sentences being:

“When I got diagnosed […] it was one of the happiest days of my life. My doctor telling me I had a disease instead of a character flaw.”
— Season 1/ Episode 4 “Visitor”

Which was such a powerful statement because, before he was diagnosed, he was considered lazy, amongst other insults. Something many of us, Black or those who deal with depression, hear as we grow up. Especially if undiagnosed. So to see and hear a Black guy say it, to me, that was on the level of Theo having dyslexia on The Cosby Show. A moment which gets etched into you that reminds you that what may seem like a character flaw may have something else involved. Not to excuse people who might be genuinely lazy, but at least for Black folk, there is that option before you just immediately pick that idea.

Blake Lively as Emily (A Simple Favor)

Emily and Stephanie talking about their past, like something Stephanie did with her brother. Well, half-brother.

While fond of Blake Lively, at the same time I have sort of typecast her as the quintessential blonde love interest. What I know of her filmography, minus weak memories of Gossip Girl, had her as this sort of longing figure in movies. A woman who always seemed to force a smile despite how she was breaking up inside.

However, it seemed she took a page out of her husband Ryan Reynolds book and decided it is time to play bold, bad, and have some selfish fun. Giving us her character in A Simple Favor which likely will be put right next to Serena as a classic Blake Lively character. For just her attitude, and the way Lively plays off co-star Anna Kendrick, it creates the rare movie, starring women, which isn’t a reimagining or remake, that you feel the need to push people to see.

Penn Bagley as Joe (You)

Joe showing his basis for justifying his actions, and thinking he won't get caught, are from movies.
Joe: I’ve seen enough romantic comedies to know.

While there are countless movies and shows which address dating in the social media and app age, You takes a different approach. It brings about a sort of horror movie vibe but roots it in reality. Thus making it where Bagley as Joe is a very uncomfortable character. For while he is, by all means, a stalker, Joe is written and played in such a way you teeter back and forth between seeing him as a psycho and reminding yourself you are romanticizing his actions. Coming up with excuses for him just because his childhood might not have been great and he is nice to his next door neighbor.

Then comes that layer of you wanting to separate what is crazy or not for then you gotta address your own issues. For while hacking into someone’s account and following them home is crazy, what about doing a deep Google search? Perusing their unlocked Facebook account? Though you recognize the extremes as they come by, it’s the grey area which gives Bagley and the writers room to try and make Joe someone who doesn’t seem like he should be in prison. Even if he is a murderer.

Desiree Ross as Sophia (Greenleaf)

Grace holding her cross necklace in hand.

Though it could very well be too soon to know how Sophia may turn out, with her spending 3 seasons as a lackey to Zora, if not proof her mom had sex in the past, her latest storyline may shove her to the front of Greenleaf. For with her having her whole uterus taken, thus meaning she can’t have kids, it seems Sophia’s faith in God will be tested. Which, for one of the few pure souls on the show, it makes for something you anticipate with glee.

Not because you want to see her suffer but faith when it comes to people Sophia’s age isn’t explored much on television. It is in faith focused movies, but to see a young Black girl struggle with faith after a personal tragedy? We don’t get that. Hell, most shows even mentioning the idea of going to church, consistently, loving the lord, is rare. So to see what happens with Grace, especially after seeing Ross’ performance upon learning what happened, fingers and toes are crossed.

Glenn Close as Joan (The Wife)

Glenn Close as Joan, watching Joseph win the Noble prize.

When it comes to performances, a lot of the times we highlight the dramatic moments. People going through things we can’t imagine and kind of disregard being subtle. Close in The Wife forces you to take note of someone holding back tears, anger, and feigning a smile. For as she says in the trailer for the film, she is a Kingmaker. And with her husband, who is a terrible writer, claiming one of the biggest prizes in literature for her work? Oh, can you imagine playing a character who goes against the anger many of us would have? Especially considering how that lie molded her life? Much less was born due to a husband who never allowed the idea that she was good enough but had to have a man’s name attached to her work for it to not only be published but successful?

Romany Malco as Rome (A Million Little Things)

Title card for A Million Little Things.

What Malco presents in A Million Little Things is akin to Mo’Nique in Precious. From an actor who you mostly, if not exclusively, know for comedy, we get a very emotional experience. Granted, it is mostly because you lack expectations which makes you blown away. However, even with so many comedic actors showing how easily and well they can tap into darkness, it is hard to not be caught off guard.

Especially since, similar to Athie, Malco is playing a character with depression. A black character with it. The only difference being, we may get to see Malco’s character work through his depression vs. Althie’s who is dead.

Productions Recommended or Rated Positive

Movies

Smallfoot

Title card for Smallfoot movie.

Smallfoot could potentially rustle some features with a message which pushes questioning people in authority, even if their role is to protect you, and even religion. Yet, I think it tries to push the need to question in a healthy matter than pushing its viewers to become revolutionaries. The idea simply seems to be here, ignorance may be bliss but with knowledge comes power. Which may be hard to sometimes handle but it is better to feel empowered than to not know and thus be controlled by lies.

Leading to why the positive label. Though perhaps one of the strangest children’s movies I ever watched, it seems bolder than many of them. Now, whether being bold will bite this film in the behind? Well, when it is officially out on September 27th, in theaters, we’ll find out.

Life Itself

Title card for Life Itself movie.

Chapter 3 is the main reason I am not putting a recommendation tag on this. For, as much as I love how deeply this movie dug into my psyche and emotions, chapter 3 felt like a way too long resting period. It threw off the pacing and felt like a completely different movie. Yet, once connections to the first two chapters were made, and we got into chapter 4 with Rodrigo, things picked up and I was back in my feelings.

Leading to why the positive label. Even with the dig on chapter 3, as you recollect what happened, you realized this was all about showing you not just the power of love but also the importance of the storyteller. For whether it is like in Chapter 1 when you revise the story to fit your need, or chapter 3 which has the story made plain and simple, there is more than one way, beyond two, to present what led to two people coming together and irrevocably changing their lives, and maybe a third person’s, forever.

And through the methods Fogelman uses and these actors perform, you will gain a new respect for the power of love and part of that respect will stem from fear. For as beautiful as it is, it is also destructive and will make you willing to sacrifice it all. Sometimes because you can’t deal with life without it or because you want to preserve it and know that sometimes means walking away.

The Wife

Title card for The Wife

I’ll be so glad when the diversity initiative is about more than youthful people of color getting more screen time. Because, as with most movements, it seems more about the youth than anyone else. For, like with Close’s role in The Wilde Wedding, there are just some stories 20, 30, even 50-year-old ’s can’t play. And life doesn’t stop at 50. You need roles like Joan or Shirley MacLaine in The Last Word. For whether it is drama or comedy, animation even, there is still a life to be had, stories to be told, and the need for people out there to feel seen.

Hence the positive label. Close’s presence and work has really pushed the need to not make her one of the few women who can bounce around from small movies like Anesthesia and The Girl with All the Gifts, to big productions like Guardians of the Galaxy. There should be a huge amount. For whether Oscar worthy stories like this or productions like Sea Oak, which was a bit weird, there is an unexplored avenue and untapped audience. Which hopefully, in time, is changed.

A Simple Favor

Title card for the movie, A Simple Favor.

If you watch mysteries, you’ll notice most of them end not too long after the big reveal, and for good reason. For, as A Simple Favor shows, trying to milk the reveal and what made you fall for the movie in the first place, it’ll ruin the high of the reveal/ big twist. Making it seem that the writer didn’t know how to end after that so they kept rambling on until even they realized they were starting to ruin something quite entertaining.

Yet, despite overstaying its welcome a bit, I would say A Simple Favor is worth seeing. It feels like a nice shake up for more recent fans of Lively and as for Kendrick? While we don’t see anything new from her, Lively does seem like someone she should definitely work with again. For, even when you want to check your phone, to see how much time is left, their chemistry and banter will keep you going until the ridiculous end.

Destination Wedding

Title card for the movie, Destination Wedding.

This is perhaps the weirdest romance film, that didn’t take some arthouse, let’s humanize really screwed up people to the point they seem pathetic, route. Instead, they let two miserable people be miserable, and kind of show how their isolation and past issues perhaps just needed to be talked about with someone who understood. Not the kind of person who would say, “You’ll find someone” or some optimistic nonsense like that. Just someone who could be brutally honest and not so heavy on the pleasantries.

Hence the positive label. The romance genre really is stale and even when they try to spice it up, it is usually with a troubled young woman, like in the aforementioned Night Owls or Breaking and Exiting, or else flipping it with a guy who has mass delusions or suicidal thoughts, like Before I Disappear. If not pushing the same tired archetypes but changing their ethnicity, see Crazy Rich Asians. Yet, Destination Wedding pursues something different. Not something I want to see copied in masse, but definitely gives me hope that there are avenues left to explore that companies will still finance.

The Hows of Us

Title card for the movie The Hows of Us

I’m a sucker for a cute romance film and with this one not going overboard, not even having a full-on, “Please forgive me” grand gesture, I have to say I like this film. Granted, the writing is basic and if it wasn’t for the actors playing off one another well, this could have been trash. Yet, because of Bernardo and Padilla, and the long game played by Primo to win back the love of his life, you’ll find yourself swoon from time to time, chuckle, and worry this may end amicable, but not with the result you have been led to desire.

Next Gen

Next Gen title card from end of the movie.

Outside of the film’s villain lacking any real depth, as well as how the film mishandles what happens to Dr. Rice, which should have left some serious trauma for Mai, Next Gen is really enjoyable. It gives strong Pixar vibes, thanks to Mai and her relationship with 7723, as well as her lack of a relationship with her mother and father. Also, between the action and how the film has the ability to get you teary-eyed, it really pushes you to think Netflix is really trying to end the summer right.

Hence the positive label. While Justin is very basic and you have to fill in the lines to give him some depth, this is a rather enjoyable movie. One which, you surprisingly don’t get bored by or feel the need to occasionally pause and wander. Really making me wish Justin/Ares situation was handled better, alongside Dr. Rice, for then this would have definitely been recommended.

June

Title card for June.

This is the type of short which really makes me wish American history was more diverse in the formative years. That learning about Asian American, Black American, Latinx American, and etc history wasn’t an elective but part of the core curriculum. Particularly since my enjoyment of reading doesn’t extend much into the academic genre.

But, that is why shorts and films which tackle the subject matter like June need to exist. For we each learn and absorb things in different ways. And the visual of June unsure, after dancing and having a good time, which bathroom she can walk into speaks volumes. And if we are to see Crazy Rich Asians as the start of something, one can only hope more shorts, and eventually, films, like June find a place amongst the movement.

Boarding School

I feel the need to note that being labeled positive shouldn’t reflect on the other films with the label. Each one is labeled positive based off what was expected and delivered. With that said, I wasn’t expecting much since, like many, I don’t strongly believe most people can deliver a good horror movie. Nearly all of them I come across seem to want to focus on the gore, jump scares, entice with sexual content, and thus the story and dialog seem like an afterthought. Never mind the acting!

Yet, with Boarding School, while it does seem like an unintentional comedy, it works. I wasn’t laughing like a hyena but I did get a surprising amount of enjoyment out of this. For even when at its worse, thanks to Mrs. Sherman at times, I was either rolling my eyes with a smile or giggling. Hence the positive label for while this may fail as a horror it does decently as a comedy. If only you have the sense of humor required to find this funny.

TV Shows

Atypical: Season 2

Atypical title card

Largely, Atypical addresses many of its critics, especially those of the autism community, while making it so Sam’s autism doesn’t define him, nor become the central part of everyone’s story. It simply is something he was born with, is part of his life, and while it influences many things in his life, it doesn’t stop him from doing a thing. For, as seen, even if it is speaking in front of a bunch of people, if motivated to do so, he will find a way to set aside the neurosis autism brings and do what needs to be done. For if there is one thing Atypical pushes is that with the right support, those on the spectrum can potentially do anything.

As for the rest of the characters? Casey gets to step out in what feels like a big way, while still remaining attached to Sam’s storyline, and nearly all the favorites from last season have at least one stand out moment. Making it where, outside of Julia’s character seemingly existing until her actress’ contract runs out, and Nate who brings nothing but eye-roll inducing trouble, this remains one of the best coming of age shows on a major platform.

Ozark: Season 2

Title card for Netflix's Ozark

To say this show greatly improved since season 1 would be an understatement. In season 1, as noted in the first season’s recap, Ruth was the main reason to watch the season. However, in season 2, Wendy stepped up beside her, Helen as well, and between presenting, sans Charlotte and Rachel, complicated and strong women, it also made crime much more complex as well. For unlike many shows, we got more than the wheeling, dealing, and celebrating getting over on someone. We got the stress, the constant fear, and it being more than one or two factors to worry about but every which one that could show up. Including your own daughter!

And while, yes, there are definitely quite a few times this show took the easy way out, be it how it handled Roy, Frank just letting things ride out until the end, and having Darlene’s temper nowhere near the level of season 1, these things can be forgiven in a way. Not completely, for like Helen representing a largely, so it seems, Latinx organization there is a need to raise an eyebrow. Yet, these things can be touched upon and improved.

Hence the positive label for I honestly was kind of dreading this season since I struggled through the first one. But, that is the beauty of a second season. You can learn what didn’t work with the first one, what did, maybe check audience feedback, and continue to push things forward. And as for what’s next? Well, the casino is on its way and Frank seemingly is ready for war. Add on Roy is likely to be replaced, when it comes to investigating Marty, and there are a few things to look forward to. Nothing huge, which makes you clamor for season 3 now, but enough breadcrumbs to get you through till the next binge-worthy show.

Books

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give Title

While I can’t imagine reading this again, it is the kind of book you keep, share, and don’t want to just be sitting on a shelf or in some warehouse somewhere. It’s the kind of book you want to become part of the education system. Not just in urban areas either. As time goes on, the Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, and etc books need to be replaced. They aren’t the last and only great novels which someone can overanalyze and make deeper than they are.

In the case of The Hate U Give, we get everything a modern book would need to swap with those books. The books which, assuming I’m not alone, make it so reading beyond an article seems like the least desirable way to spend your time. Hence the positive label and recommendation. The Hate U Give is the kind of book which could inspire a slew of new readers, writers, maybe even activist. For the power of this book is that it can act as a catalyst. One which may help or inspire someone to speak about their own hurt and pain, and maybe help others express it.


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About Amari Sali 3221 Articles
New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

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