#FIRSTLOOK: WHAT TO WATCH JUNE 2020 – “DEFENDING JACOB”, “JEFFREY EPSTEIN: FILTHY RICH”, “LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY”, “ABE”, “JUDY AND PUNCH”, “SURVIVE THE NIGHT”, “HONEY BOY”, “QUEER EYE”, “BUFFALOED”, “DA 5 BLOODS”, “WHITNEY”, “STEALING SCHOOL”, “DATING AROUND” + MORE
The streaming options are limitless right now during this isolation period and our Team gather together some Series and Films that might be on your radar this month!
DEFENDING JACOB (APPLE TV+)
Based on William Landay‘s best-selling Novel of the same name, this eight-part Series stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell as a family navigating the son being accused of a deadly crime. The suspenseful Series throws in a few twists where we realize very early the outcome, but the story doesn’t end there as it goes a layer deeper and we learn about Andy (Evans), a successful lawyer navigating being a father to his son Jacob (Martell) and seeking justice for him, yet having to step aside from the situation based on conflict of interest. We learn that Andy has been covering a deep, dark secret about his family which is key to how the story unfolds. Evans shows us his true dramatic chops, while Downton Abbey‘s Dockery also transforms into a suburban housewife/mother who increasingly grows doubtful of her son’s innocence. Martell, who we loved in It, Knives Out and St. Vincent continues to show why he’s among this next generation’s top young talent. All episodes are available now to stream on Apple TV+.
JUDY AND PUNCH (A71) Set in Seaside, which humourously is nowhere near the sea, this Australian Black Comedy centers on a couple, Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman), a pair of Puppeteers with a popular show. Taking place in an era of Paganism, where justice is sought through hanging and stoning, we see Judy frustrated by her husband’s drinking which leads to catastrophe and domestic violence. Just when we think Judy is dead, she isn’t and she bands with a group of misfits who help her find herself as she exacts revenge on her husband who manufactures a story about her disappearance, struggling to maintain his puppet act on his own. This Film, which got raves at Sundance last year, is the directorial debut by Actress and Writer Mirrah Foulkes, carried by a post-Me Too energy and fantastic performances from its two leads. Wasikowska emerges from the background as the Film progresses breathing a vulnerable courage into Judy, while Herriman who has played Charles Manson in both Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Mindhunter, brings a similar type of manic energy to Punch. Worth a watch if revenge stories are your thing. Available June 5, 2020 on Digital and On-Demand.
JEFFREY EPSTEIN: FILTHY RICH (NETFLIX)
This four-part Netflix series is based on the Book of the same name by James Patterson. Co-written by John Connolly and Tim Malloy, it gives us candid interviews with victims of the convicted sex offender, also exposing some of his high-profile and highly-guarded circle of friends who victimized these young, often under-aged women. Certainly a difficult watch and often enraging how successful Epstein and his legal team were for several years dodging conviction and receiving pardon. Being so secretive and cryptic, we never get a clear picture as to the Whys behind Epstein‘s action, although we commend this being largely about what this opportunity means to his many victims who never really had their justice or chance to be heard with him ending his life.
HONEY BOY (AMAZON PRIME)
Winning much Awards Season acclaim and a premiere at TIFF ’19, this Dramedy based on Shia LaBeouf’s life growing-up as a child actor with his alcoholic, sex offender father, played by himself. Noah Jupe (Mid-90s) plays a younger LaBeouf, as this story which doubles as therapy for LaBeouf who still maintains a close relationship with his father. Honey Boy explores the peculiar dynamic when a child is the breadwinner in the family and the power struggle between parent and child, set in a $40-a-night motel room where they live. A difficult watch at times, we gain insight and some empathy for this troubled, often misunderstood star who also wrote the Film, directed by Alma Har’el. This has been on Amazon Prime for a bit, but definitely worth a watch for their phenomenal work by the Film’s two leads.
FLAVORFUL ORIGINS (NETFLIX) This gorgeously-shot treasure is a quick watch and we easily zipped through this. Those who love to learn about other cuisine and cultures should definitely check this out. Season One draws you right in as we visit the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, China. Each episode we learn about native ingredients which define the region’s tastes and learn about the processes behind making dishes like Raw Crab, Fish Sauce, Master Sauce, Fish and Meat Balls, plus so much more. Highly-educational, giving you insight into the science behind foods also. Something to wind down to at the of the day. Both seasons are on Netflix.
This 2018 coming-of-age Comedy finally surfaces on Netflix and the timing is perfect with many of our grads missing out on their Proms this year, being at home. Directed by Kay Cannon, BLOCKERS centers on three girls about to graduate high school, making a sex pact together to each lose their virginities. Their parents get involved after learning of this and try to intercept this from happening. We see their adventure unfold as the parents try to find out where they each are headed to after Prom. Fantastic performances by our three teen leads Kathryn Newton (Julie), TIFF International Rising Star Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla) and Gideon Adlon (Sam), and our three adult leads John Cena (Mitchell), Leslie Mann (Lisa) and Ike Barinholtz (Hunter). The jokes are relentless as the fumbling parents desperately try to go undercover and understand the lingo, but ultimately the Film is heartfelt and about each of the girls finding themselves. Blockers is so much more than a raunchy Comedy.
LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY (VVS FILMS) By Justin Waldman
First-time Writer/Director Duo Colin and James Krisel come together to bring Last Moment of Clarity to our viewing pleasure. While there are strong performances from the Cast, the familiarity of plot points and themes, along with a truly head scratching turn leaves the audience slightly dumbfounded. Sometimes the best mysteries would be the ones that are left unturned or without the resolution desired by the protagonist, however then one would always be chasing that final answer.
The Movie focuses on Sam (Zach Avery), who is living in Paris, goes to a local cinema and sees his assumed dead partner, Georgia (Samara Weaving) as an actress in the Film and this causes him to question the world he left behind, and, if Georgia is actually dead. Upon launching his own private eye investigation, he runs into old acquaintance Kat (Carly Chaikin) as she tries to help him uncover the mystery.
What makes Last Moment of Clarity work well are the performances by Avery, Weaving and Chaikin. Avery is determined to find out if the woman he assumed was dead, is actually alive and stops at nothing from uncovering the truth, Samara’s performance is grounded and incredibly-focused, and Carly’s desire to reconnect and help her old friend is precise and heartwarming. The action that flows in the Movie while keeping you locked in suspense, including up to the last frame of the Movie, keeps you captivated, but the big plot twist, later explained by a Hitchcockian means, is a bit far-fetched. VVS Films release LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY on-demand June 5, 2020, and DVD/Blu-rayJune 30, 2020.
ABE (MK2 | MILE END)
We didn’t expect much from coming-of-age Dramedy ABE, but it was a pleasant surprise. The Film centers on a 12-year-old boy (Stranger Things’ Noah Schnapp) with a love of cooking, who must reconcile the conflicted feelings brought upon his grandparents. One side of his family is Palestinian, the other side Israeli and this is a recipe for disaster as family dinners often end in both sides not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to harbouring past political and religious resentment. With him reaching the age for a Bar Mitzvah in the near future, Abe must choose which side of his heritage he will adopt. Abe‘s parents enroll him in a summer cooking camp which he realizes quickly is well below his skill set, and he winds-up studying under a professional Chef, Chico (Seu Jorge) without his parents knowing. Will his new skills help him prepare a meal that will being both sides of his family together at last? What happens when his parents find out he’s been hiding this secret?
Schnapp is wonderful in the titular role and the Film takes a genuinely-touching turn when the adults are forced to examine their deep hatred of one another. Abe examines the conflicted reality of growing-up with mixed heritage, the pressures of conformity and also the process of finding one’s self. All the while, Director/Writer Fernando Grostein Andrade presents the story in a fun, lighthearted way with plenty of mouthwatering moments. ABE will be available (to be confirmed) at virtual Imagine Theatres.
QUEER EYE: SEASON 5 (NETFLIX)
The Fab Five are back at it and hit-up Philadelphia this season and true to brand, they hit all the right feels at moments. We meet a diverse range of those in need of help including a Pastor grappling with his church and his sexuality; a Pet Groomer whose boyfriend cheated on her and is in desperate need of business advice; a hunky Jersey Shore DJ in his late thirties who has some growing-up to do; a teen Activist with a nervous energy looking to improve her living space and have people take her more seriously; a Seafood Shop Owner ready to launch a restaurant, coming at the cost of being there for his family; a Pediatrician who feels guilty not spending enough time with her daughter; and a mother and wife who is dealing with her husband’s ALS diagnosis. The latter is the emotional high point where we see the Fab Five connect with her on a level deeper than any other, revealing a raw, visceral truth about appreciating our past and present. We can never grow tired of these transformations and love that they aren’t about changing these subjects as much as they are about making them elevated versions of themselves. A perfect celebration of Pride, released in a timely manner!
SURVIVE THE NIGHT (VVS FILMS) By Justin Waldman
From Director Matt Eskandari and first-time Writer Doug Wolfe, comes Survive the Night, which at times feels aptly-named. Despite some brief moments of tension and action, sadly, even a solid Cast which features Bruce Willis, can’t salvage this.
The Movie focuses on brothers Jim (Shea Buckner) and Matty (Tyler Jon Olson) as they’re robbing a gas station and things go awry and Matty gets shot. They’re both worried about getting caught, but end up going to a hospital and following disgraced doctor, Rich (Chad Michael Murray) home. This is where they threaten his family, Frank (Willis) and Jan (Lydia Hull) included, so Rich can operate on Matty and save him, or his family will become collateral damage.
In addition to a lack of cohesion, we don’t feel these characters have enough at stake, which is baffling considering half the Cast is either trying to save their family or save their own skin and at times we felt this is a Film we’ve already seen. VVS Films release SURVIVE THE NIGHT, out now on-demand and on DVD/Blu-ray July 21, 2020.
THE POSTCARD KILLINGS (VVS FILMS) By David Baldwin
After traveling to London to identify his daughter’s mutilated body, New York detective Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) decides to stick around and help with the investigation. He quickly learns that a serial killer is on the loose, murdering people and setting their bodies up in positions similar to popular art pieces. The killer also seems to be sending out postcards to journalists – suggesting where they might strike next – and Kanon is eager to join the chase around Europe to find them.
The Postcard Killings is stylish and looks great. But for the most part, it feels very cold, clinical and by the numbers. Save for one shocking moment in the middle of the Film, everything plays out exactly as you would assume and it was almost too obvious to predict the Film would be based on a book with the way it moves from scene to scene. It makes for a Film that is neither thrilling nor dull – just one that strikes the balance somewhere in the middle. Morgan shines as the cop reeling from a tragedy, but he only gets a few precious moments to breathe life into the character. I wish the same could be said for Cush Jumbo (of The Good Fight/The Good Wife), who does a lot of heavy lifting yet seems to be playing a heroine character cribbed from any number of other thrillers. VVS Films release THE POSTCARD KILLINGS on-demand and digitally nowand on DVD/Blu-ray June 23, 2020.
STEALING SCHOOL (GAME THEORY FILMS)
Director/Writer Li Dong examines racial injustice and deep dirty Academia secrets in Satire STEALING SCHOOL, where we see a bright young Chinese-Canadian student named April (Celine Tsai) defend her innocence before a tribunal, when an obsessive Teaching Assistant (Jonathan Keltz) accuses her of plagiarism. As the plot thickens, we learn of a darker web of corruption and the lengths others will go to sway the ruling and what’s in it for them. Despite this not being an issue of April’s race, it comes to the forefront the deeper we go and we realize things might not have been what they appeared at first. We’re afraid to reveal exactly why as it would be giving too much away, but everyone’s hiding something from the past here. Dong manages to keep us in suspense the whole ride with theatrics and a bit of melodrama from its lead characters, telling this story which at times feels more Drama than Comedy, neat and concise. Game Theory Films release STEALING SCHOOL on Vimeo-on-DemandJune 19, 2020 and Apple TV/iTunesJune 23, 2020.
BUFFALOED (VVS Films)
Zoey Deutch delivers pure fire in Tribeca Film Festival selection BUFFALOED from Director Tanya Wexler. Set in the chaotic, cut throat world of Debt Collection, we meet Peg (Deutch), just about ready to get into college and onto a bright future till she realizes she’s got to pay for tuition. Making the wrong choices to do just that, she pays her dues in prison only to come out and land a job where she realizes she has the strength of persuasion and is actually good enough to compete against her awful misogynistic boss Wizz (Jai Courtney). What ensues is a turf war between them and we wonder if Peg‘s gotten in over her head, so much that her family gets implicated in some of her sketchy dealings. While the Dark Comedy gets a bit rowdy at times, Deutch manages to capture our interest the entire way with her sheer charisma and despite its absurdities, the Film is making a statement about debt the debt crisis in America today facing every day people like you and me, struggling to afford rent, mortgages and medical bills and the greed that can destroy us. VVS Films release BUFFALOED on-demand June 16, 2020.
DA 5 BLOODS (NETFLIX)
Iconic Filmmaker Spike Lee is back with his latest Feature on Netflix, DA 5 Bloods. We meet four former Vietnam vets: Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to there on a search to find the remains of and some of the gold their fallen Squad Leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) had helped them hide back then. The story follows these men, who had several loose ends untied, including coping with PTSD. The Film even explores some of the complexities and resentment locals have towards American soldiers still, being responsible for the deaths of their families in the war. Entering the picture is Desroche (Jean Reno), a Frenchman looking to buy gold off the Bloods and matters get complicated when they find their lives on the line in the name of completing their mission as things get bloody. Performances are very strong from this tight Ensemble, led by Lindo and at moments it feels too long. Lee always has something to say and it is incredibly-timely that he ties it all together in a Black Lives Matter framework, and once again displays his remarkable ability to tell the complicated stories, humanizing his characters with great detail in the African-American voice.
We still don’t believe she’s gone. We’ve been meaning to catch this 2018 Documentary about our beloved Whitney Houston and after watching it finally we only had regrets we didn’t see it sooner. Filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) gives us a very intimate look at the troubled life of this famed international Superstar who had it all. He also asks some very uncomfortable questions to those who were closest to her, exploring pressure for her to make her life seem perfect to the world. Macdonald interviews everyone from her ex-spouse Bobby Brown, who is uncomfortable discussing her drug use still, to those who worked closely with her like Tiffanie Dixon, her Hairstlylist who found her dead. One thing that is crucial for a Documentary about someone this high-profile to succeed is that it uncovers details that weren’t known prior and some shocking revelations are made about her family which are heartbreaking. This story, painted with a backdrop of her powerful catalog of hits makes this an empathetic, truthful portrait of the Whitney we never got to know.
DATING AROUND SEASON 2 (NETFLIX)
I’ll preface this by saying I dislike Dating Shows – the artifice and song-and-dance that comes with them. But I actually really enjoyed the fly-on-the-wall, unforced approach this very inclusive and diverse Series on dating takes. Each episode we follow along with a new person and their slate of potential suitors on dinner and drink dates. Sometimes you really feel the sparks, sometimes it’s just plain awkward and you’re begging for the date to end. By the end of each episode each subject picks the one person they choose to date again and sometimes these are shocking, sometimes not. We love the vast array of people we meet of varying orientations and ethnicities and that everyone is being as close to an authentic version of themselves as possible. We enjoy that uncomfortable subjects sometimes are brought to light in their conversations and we get why some people still remain single! Now in its second season, DATING AROUND was a quick and easy watch and a totally fresh take on a clichéd genre of Television.
(Photo/video credit: Netflix/Apple TV+/VVS Films/A71/Amazon Prime Video/MK2|MILE END/Game Theory Films)