A REVIEW OF HBO’S “the righteous gemstones”

By the way…this one’s spoiler-free. Enjoy.

I love when comedies are smart. When they take taboo subjects that very rarely get discussed (as people either find them too ridiculous or too unnerving to talk about) and shine the brightest damn light possible on them. Growing up on the coast of Mississippi, being raised southern baptist, and attending christian schools, I can say that I have seen my fair share of religion and teachings. I’m still spiritual in my own way, but I choose not to attend church services as I’ve been given plenty of reasons to mistrust religious organizations, especially those of the mega churches where every Sunday seems to be a Pink Floyd concert with a sermon in the middle of it. So, of course, I found HBO’s new comedy series hilarious, riveting, and having one hell of a soul.

“The Righteous Gemstones” is a brilliant comedy series that pokes fun at religion and leaves no mega church unharmed in its wake. Starring John Goodman, Danny McBride, Edi Patterson, Adam DeVine, and Walton Goggins, we are taken into the lives of the Gemstone Family, a multi-generational media conglomerate with live Sunday sermons broadcast all over the world. Goodman plays the patriarch Eli Gemstone, who is battling depression due to the passing of his wife (even going so far as to erect a fountain with a statue of her head topping it), and dances between wanting to follow his wife’s final wishes and the power of the dollar all-the-while having to corral his misbegotten children. Jesse (McBride), Judy (Patterson), and Kelvin (DeVine), as they’re called, are truly the protagonists of this series.

Jesse sees himself as the perfect…well, everything. As a father, brother, husband, pastor, etc. From the first episode, this is shown to be very, very untrue and it only gets better from there. As they say, pride comes before the fall. Judy is the 40-something, unmarried sister who looks for attention, be it from her father, lover, brothers, uncle…really anyone, like a heat seeking missile and behind that smile is a rage monster. Kelvin, the youngest, has been set to task as being the youth pastor in his family’s business and given really no responsibilities, other than keeping his friend Keefe Chambers from returning to his past devil-worshiping ways. Their back and forth bickering, slap stick, and general immaturity are the comedic highlights of this first season.

All three are spoiled to the point where reality has faded into the opulence of private jets, Mercedes G-Wagons, and even a flippin’ roller coaster on the family compound. However, mistakes are made that are liable to upend the family and cause irreversible damage to the image that Eli Gemstone has been cultivating for decades. How the family goes about reconciling these mistakes are truly hilarious and end in somewhat of the plucking of the good ol’ heartstrings. Also, another shining cast member is that of Walton Goggins who plays “Baby” Billy Freeman who is just electric in his role. I don’t want to get into too much detail as this is a must watch in my eyes and should be in yours too. – YoungYoda

If You Ain’t First, You’re Last

A Review of ESPN Films’ and Netflix’s 10-Part Documentary, “The Last Dance”.

I have personally never been a competitive person. Perhaps it’s my laissez-faire attitude due to my overwhelming french lineage. Maybe it was always because my dad made sure that having fun was the priority over actually winning. It could also have been my lack of physical prowess and in turn my focus on that which is more intellectual. Whatever the case may be, I am no Michael Jordan. “The Last Dance”, ESPN and Netflix’s co-produced documentary miniseries, focuses on what made “Air Jordan” the greatest of all time and how the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls came to an end with their sixth championship.

There are in fact, very few Michael Jordans whose competitiveness borders on obsession. When we think of the greatest who ever played in sports, the names Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and Wayne Gretzky come to mind. Topping this list and overshadowing these names, is of course Michael Jordan. Jordan was and still is (thanks in part to Nike) an international sports hero. What “The Last Dance” does great is put a spotlight on how he came to be that, starting with his draft in 1984 and what he recalls as “a shitty team”. He had to overcome an environment where many of his teammates partied and phoned in their play, not caring if they won or lost. Jordan was the ultimate fire lit under the ass of the Bulls’ organization. He was there for one thing and one thing only, to win. He practiced, worked out, stayed in his hotel room, and focused on raising up that Larry O’Brien trophy (at the age of 21). To Jordan, nothing else mattered other than to win it all on the biggest stage in basketball.

It took him seven years to reach that pinnacle. And in that time, he endured multiple losses at the hands of one of the hardest hitting teams in the league, the Detroit Pistons. Battered and bruised, he willed himself to become better. He raised his teammates up and confronted them when he didn’t believe they were giving the same effort, which, let’s be real, was not possible. On the court, he was an asshole, but he was an asshole who was going to win and drag his teammates along for the ride. This spirit for the love, no, the respect of the game has made him a household name (along with the six championships he would ultimately bring to Chicago).

But, “The Last Dance” is not just a focus on Jordan’s basketball prowess and his championship rings. It goes deeper into his personal life, during this time, showing a man who couldn’t walk outside without the press hounding him; wanting to know if this was his last year or what he thought about Scottie Pippen. It showed his relationships with his teammates and coaches, most notably Pippen, Rodman, Steve Kerr (Go Wildcats!) and Phil Jackson. I personally recommend the Rodman episode as it shows just how much of a dominant presence he was on the basketball court and also Jordan’s respect for his toughness and defensive prowess.

Some of the harder and more touching moments in the series is when MJ’s father, James Jordan, is brought up. How much of an impact he had on his son’s life, even telling him not to balk at the Nike deal (Michael Jordan was an Adidas fan), and how he was there for every moment from the lowest, due to a foot injury, and one of his highest being right by his side during that ’91 championship. “The Last Dance” also touches on James Jordan’s murder and how that affected Michael to the point where he fell out of love with the game and subsequently turned to baseball for 18 months (and apparently given a few more at bats, would have made it into the majors in his 30’s). For being a basketball documentary, the audience gets to see a depth not usually shown in sports films.

“The Last Dance” is not just a look at Michael Jordan the phenom, but an intimate portrait of a man with a lot of talent, but whose hard work, passion, and drive made him into a superstar. It also shows the ugly side of fame, where every movement made is press fodder and where every action is put under a microscope (Funnily, all this was before the invent of social media) and the mental toil it has on an individual. Lastly, it shows something we don’t often see characterized about Michael Jordan, that he is human.

By the way, the infamous “Flu” game was actually food poisoning. If you’re a sports fan, particularly of 90’s basketball, then this a total recommend. Insert crying Jordan meme. YoungYoda Out.

‘Come and See’: A Horrific Masterpiece of Hell

Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) is a relentless horrific masterpiece that is a mandatory watch to understand the horrors of human ugliness.

CREDIT: Sovexportfilm

Usually, when one experiences a nightmare one at least wakes up from it, they will wake up in a sweat and tormented by what they experienced in their nightmare. If the nightmare was a one-time thing then you will go on with your day unfazed. There are also those nightmares that haunt you forever and you can never forget even if you try to. The atrocities depicted in Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) are a nightmare but they are nightmares that the people of Belarus never woke up from.

Come and See (1985) follows Flyora a young Belarusian boy who joins the Belarusian Partisans in their fight against the Nazis in 1943. Soon after Flyora’s village is exterminated he embarks on a journey that introduces him to the horrors of war. Throughout the film, you see atrocity after atrocity and it all effects and ultimately changes Flyora. From the first time you see Flyora to the last, you are witnessing a completely different person inside and out.

The film is masterfully directed by Elem Klimov, everything from the cinematography to the sound design and score formulates one of the most harrowing pieces of art I have seen since Polytechnique (2009) last year. The atrocities presented on the screen even though they are heavy to sit through are important to watch. I like many people in the United States never learned about these atrocities committed against the Belarusian people. Movies, like Come and See (1985), should be seen by everyone 17 and above in a history classroom setting. We must watch and learn from this part of our history as human beings. It is what we owe to those who had their villages burned down by soldiers who followed a hateful and outright evil ideology.

My life is forever changed after watching this picture, and I do not think I will ever be the same after watching this. I will have the Criterion Collection Blu Ray on my shelf as I wait for a time to rewatch it that may or may not come back. One thing is for sure, Come and See (1985) is truly the greatest war film of all time but not because it is a spectacle or a glamorization of these events. This film shows what we as humans are capable of and is a call for peace while also being evidence of these terrible moments.

You can stream Come and See (1985) on the Criterion Channel or purchase the new restoration on Criterion’s website or Barnes and Noble.

75 Films From Asia: HAPPY TOGETHER (1997)

Happy Together (1997), is a beautiful and sensual film from Wong Kar-wai that is a special achievement from the incredible director.

CREDIT: Kino International

There is not a lot of filmmakers that I can say that I fell in love with their work just one movie in. Now having watched Chungking Express (1995) and In The Mood For Love (2000), I can say that Wong Kar-wai has definitely made it to one of my favorite directors of all time. Even though those two films are hard to top it does not take away from this heartbreaking but sensual piece of art. Wong Kar-wai once again shows me that there is something so special to the way he crafts his movies. There is a sort enticing but saddening aspect about Happy Together (1997) that pours out of the screen when you watch it.

The film revolves around a turbulent romance between its protagonists, Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-fai as they live in Buenos Aires, Argentina after moving from Hong Kong. It is filled with beautifully stylized love scenes and stunning chemistry between the two actors. You can totally feel the romance between the two of them, but most importantly you can feel the heartbreak both feel not being able to be there for each other. Both of them even though similar in ways are completely different opposites that attract.

The film combats homophobia, sex work, love, loneliness, obsession, and heartbreak on top of more minor themes. Kar-wai never fails to show the ups and downs of their relationship while creating a stylized piece of art. Everything from the music choices to the coloring choices makes the movie as exquisite as it feels. The picture never fails to depict its characteristics while also aiming to create something different from other romance films.

It is not as great as In The Mood For Love (2000) but it is also not a bad film by any means. I am sure that Wong Kar-wai does not even know what it means to make a bad movie. All three of these movies form him feel special, and they are all filled with something to fall in love with throughout its runtime.

Watch Happy Together (1997) on the Criterion Channel. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.

75 Films From Asia: PSYCHOKINESIS (2018)

Psychokinesis (2018) is a noble and entertaining directorial effort with its various ups and downs.

CREDIT: Next Entertainment World

All the superhero films I am used to watching are from the United States, which are controlled by the two giant brands, Marvel and DC. These films can get a bit stale over time with not much to say beyond the surface of the film. Now, this is not the first film Yeon Sang-ho having watched, Train To Busan (2016). I am even looking forward to his next directorial effort, Peninsula (2020). As you can tell, I went into Psychokinesis (2018) with some form of expectations seeing what this director can do with all his skills in his arsenal.

The film revolves around a bank security guard who gains telekinetic powers by drinking out of a water fountain that was struck by a meteor. He uses his powers to make money at first but then tries to help his estranged daughter when a company wants to take their family business down. Psychokinesis (2018) is a good movie with an interesting plot involving superpowers and class warfare. The film is not perfect by any means but it has a lot of heart in it. The film’s second act lacks structured pacing to it, and some of the characters feel as if they are just there with no motives. Although it is not great there are a lot of characteristics that make it worth finishing like its wonderful cinematography and fight choreography. Once again, the film shows that Yeon Sang-ho understands completely how to handle the camera and set up the atmosphere of the film. The problem of this film mostly lies within the writing of the film but overall it is not the worst or best movie-watching experience I have had.

Watch Psychokinesis (2018) on Netflix. We also reviewed this film on The Nerd Corps so go and check out what we had to say about it! Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.