Our Flag Means Death (2022)

If you’re a Taika Waititi fan, then you need to watch his new show on HBO Max, Our Flag Means Death. It has the same sarcasm, dry humor, and weird jokes that What We Do In the Shadows has, but this time instead of tackling vampires he goes with pirates. The show is about a rag tag group of wannabe pirates who know nothing about being pirates. They are horrible at it, they are not great fighters and the Captain has no clue what he is doing. He even reads them bedtime stories. All the characters are quirky and funny and you will be laughing from beginning to end. Recommend for those who like Waititi’s sense of humor (it reminds me of a mixture of Mr. Bean and Monty Python). Anyone else watching this little gem?

Selena: The Series (2020)

Selena Quintanilla was Mexico and Tejano music’s glorious, beautiful treasure. An icon who died in a situation filled with tragedy. In Netflix’s new show Selena: The Series, I was super excited to watch her story unfold. Instead, what I got was a very strange, cheesy rendition of Selena’s life. It was like watching someone with a horrible voice sing one of her songs out loud. The wigs, the acting, the sets, everything was just wrong. I felt myself cringing and scratching my head every few minutes (like por que?).

There was no depth and no realization to her character. This could have been a phenomenal series with the opportunity to introduce her to a whole new generation of people. As a Mexican-American person, I have fond memories of watching her perform on Mexican channels at my grandparent’s house, when I say she was their national treasure that is no joke. American audiences were just getting introduced to her before she died and this would have been a great chance to tell her story. I can only hope that another director and actress (I vote for Alexa Demie) will take on this role and create a new version. HBO needs to get on this ASAP. Give me your thoughts on it below.

Men in Kilts: A Road Trip with Sam and Graham (2021)

Being a huge fan of Outlander (yes, I love a good romantic AF period show) I knew I had to check out the road trip of my dreams, Men in Kilts: A Road Trip with Sam and Graham. Starz took their hit actors Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, put them in a camper together, and allowed the adventure to begin.

The two explore different aspects of Scottish culture, everything from the history of Scotch to sport, land, dress (kilts duh) and interesting cuisine. I think I’ll pass on the haggis and take the Scotch instead. The witty banter and antics are fun to watch and it’s nice to see the actors out of their typical Outlander garb. I also enjoyed learning about Scotland, I feel like I don’t know enough about it, so this is a good primer to learn some info without getting bogged down in a boring documentary. A plus in my book and I will keep watching to see where they go next. Who else is a fan already?

Behind Her Eyes (2021)

I feel a little duped on this one. Netflix’s Behind Her Eyes follows Louise, a secretary who works at a psychiatric office and forms a relationship with her sexy, Scottish boss. So far so good. Louise then goes on to form a relationship with his wife Adele, and the two take on a strange bond. Adele teaches Louise a technique to get rid of her night terrors, since she has experience being that she was in a psych ward for a while. The story gets stranger and stranger per episode and I was hooked in the beginning and needed to know how it would end. Well, let me tell you it wasn’t for me and I felt it was a waste of time. Don’t do it, skip this one, pretend you never saw the trailer and almost got sucked in. But hey that’s just my opinion. Did anyone else see this and if so what did you think?

I Care A Lot (2020)

Netflix’s I Care a Lot is a nightmare come to life. Imagine all of your life’s savings being dwindled and scammed away in your retirement years by a complete stranger! Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a woman who serves as a legal guardian for wards of the state who are deemed to be no longer fit to take care of themselves. She takes old people, puts them into a home and leaves them all alone, while taking away their hard-earned money.

All is well in her world till she puts Jennifer Peterson in a home and all hell breaks loose. Her son Roman Lunyov played by our old friend Tyrion aka Peter Dinklage wants her back and he will do anything and I mean anything, to get out of the nursing home. I haven’t seen a good movie in so long and this was phenomenal. I loved every minute, it was stressful, anxiety producing, and overall a great watch. Pike and Dinklage will be definite award contenders, as their acting was phenomenal. If you like dark thrillers with a little bit of black humor, this one’s for you. Have you seen it yet?

Industry (2020)

In HBO’s Industry, sex, drugs, and banking (yes, finance) take on a whole new landscape. A group of recent grads are accepted into a leading bank firm in London, where only the strong will survive. At the end only a handful are selected to remain full time. Each new grad is sent to a different team, each with its own chaotic and frenzied attitude on making money. This show is nuts. You think you are watching a show about trading and banking, and it turns into a whirlwind where every person is trying to survive to save their job. They party and stay up late, do copious amounts of drugs, and in the end try to close million dollar deals with massive hangovers. 

The sex scenes are gratutious, but it works. The show highlights how privileged people have an easier time making it and how the underprivileged and uneducated have to fight a lot harder to earn their spot in the world. In the end, whoever has the most grit makes it. Also, I loved all the new up and coming actors, they are definitely ones to watch! I recommend for those who enjoy that Billions slash Wall Street type storyline. Catch it on HBO and HBO Max.

Serena Kerrigan’s Lets Fcking Date Instagram Live Show (2020)

I know everyone’s into The Bachelor, but I just can’t do it, it’s way too fake, and Netflix’s Love is Blind and Too Hot to Handle we’re just too ridiculously dumb for me. The “finding love” reality show genre is played out and filled with people looking to become insta-famous. All hope is not lost though; I found something to quell my desire to live vicariously through single people, it’s the Instagram live show @letsfuckingdate. The brain-child of Serena Fcking Kerrigan, she live streams her quarantine dates every week and we sit and watch the dates unfold, some of these guys are interesting, totally cute, and some are just straight up boring. SFK fills the void that has been missing Sex in the City 💄 left the air, she’s got the Samantha Jones vibe in check, along with NYC as her playground (albeit stuck inside, but still works). It’s real, raw, gritty, and it’s unearthed territory that needs to be explored. Does love even exist in the Instagram/Tinder era? I will be tuning in every week to find out until @netflix gives her a show. Follow her account and check out her dates and catch them live every Friday 8:30 EST/5:30 PST on @serenakerrigan. Catch up on the past dates on the @letsfuckingdate page. Are you watching SFK yet? Please dish with me in the comments if you are!

Best Documentaries to Stream Right Now

Is it just me or has there been a lot of great documentaries popping up all over television as of late? I have been glued to my TV watching all the thrills, chills, aha moments, and scares, that some of these documentaries bring to the table. Here’s a handy guide to help you figure out which ones to watch. 

Free Solo (Hulu)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to climb up a gigantic wall with no ropes attached to your body, nothing to save you from dropping 7-thousand feet to your death? No, neither have I, but what fun it was to watch professional rock climber Alex Honnold try to conquer this death-defying feat in the film that won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar award for 2019. What sets this movie apart from so many other documentaries that are out there and that have come before is that we are not only shown images of how terrifying this feat can be, but we learn who he is as a person and what drives him to climb in this manner.

Honnold’s obsession with climbing is extreme, so much that he lives out of a van and is willing to sacrifice it all to conquer the wall. Many have tried to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan before him, but none have been able to without the usage of ropes. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi, will literally have you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails in suspense, and is a great escape into a world that most of us know nothing about at all. The images are beautifully shot, and we feel as though we are teetering on the wall next to Honnold the whole time. I highly recommend this film, even to those who are not fans of extreme sports (like myself).

The Dawn Wall (Netflix)

As if the film Free Solo wasn’t enough, Netflix released their own rock-climbing documentary as well. In the film, The Dawn Wall, directed by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer, we get a look into the life of Tommy Caldwell, who by the way is also in Honnold’s film and who helped pave the way for him, and his own journey into trying to climb the Dawn portion of the El Capitan wall. In watching both films, I started to see some similarities in these daredevil men, they have no fear for what is in front of them and are willing to put their personal lives on hold in order to achieve their dreams. Their focus and determination are palpable and it even motivated me to want to achieve something huge in my own life. Caldwell is a gentle soul with a tough as nails personality and drive. His life has been so different and interesting, he started climbing as a child, just let that sink in, imagine a 6-year-old climbing treacherous mountain sides, and at one point was even held hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan. Along with his partner Kevin Jorgenson, we see them scale and live on the wall for days and accomplish a spectacular feat that is worth watching.

The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

For the past few years, I had been hearing about Elizabeth Holmes, the Silicon Valley giant who invented a new way to draw blood and extract over 200 types of medical results from just a minuscule amount. Instead of the usual vials and vials of blood most people have to give, her new device, the Edison would allow blood to be drawn from just the fingertip of a person. Her invention and idea went viral (no pun intended) and she became one of the most sought-after women in the world. Her ideas were impressive, considering she was only 19 when she dropped out of Stanford to launch her invention and company named Theranos. She was able to draw in millions of dollars from investors, give Ted talks around the world, and was featured on numerous magazines covers from Forbes to Fortune, just to name a few. In HBO’s new film, directed by Alex Gibney, we find out how her house of cards came tumbling down and how she deceived people into believing that this product could even work.

Her company was a sham, not a Ponzi scheme, but something that couldn’t be created, and she knew it, but let it happen. She gave people hope and didn’t care that her inaccurate lab results could cause diseases to spread rampantly or cause someone to not get properly diagnosed. I found this fascinating and brilliant and shows how people do judge a book by its cover, as a young, white, blond, seemingly innocent woman, she so easily convinced and deceived millions of people. They took her word for it, and believed her credibility, but in reality, she was a non-blinking strange woman who in a sense has no ethics and a very low moral capability of taking ownership for the lies she told. One of my faves from this list and a high recommendation.  

Quincy (Netflix)

As a fan of Quincy Jones and his work, I found this film to be enthralling, as we finally get a view into his life. Directed by his own daughter, Rashida Jones, along with Alan Hicks, we see a glimpse into his life and the musical genius of how his brain works. It was interesting to see how he came up with ideas for so many famous songs and entertainers and how ultimately, he turned Michael Jackson into an even bigger star. Jones has always had an eye for talent and now as an older person, we see that he still has the drive to help others with their music. He suffered many debilitating bouts of exhaustion and complications from diabetes, but his will and determination to keep going is never stopped. His life has been remarkable, and his legacy will continue to be withstanding for ages to come. What impressed me the most about this film, is that we get to see his work ethic, and how relentless he is to keep working and succeeding with his music. He is awe inspiring and a legend to say the least. If you are a fan of music, then this is one to watch.

Studio 54 (Netflix)

New York City’s Studio 54 was an iconic dance club that launched the disco scene into the world. There have been numerous articles written, movies made, and other documentaries that tell the tale of Studio 54’s rise and demise, but this one offers something different. In this version, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, we get to hear from the man who co-built it himself, Ian Schrager. Hearing him tell the stories and show the pictures from his life and how he created the club with Steve Rubell, gave the film a sense of authority. We tend to believe what we are seeing and hearing if it is coming straight from the person who was there. The club had so many iconic moments, along with strange rumors, that many were almost unbelievable, but Schrager tells us what really went down in those pivotal years of its run. I found the stories fascinating and exciting to watch, one can only imagine what it must have been like to be inside. Utilizing photographs from the time period and video clips, we get a sense of what it was like to be inside. We get a sense that if you were unique and different and maybe someone who didn’t fit in with mainstream society at the time, then you were probably let inside to rub elbows with Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, and Elton John to name a few. After watching this film, I wondered if Rubell would have ever let me into his club, looking down at my non-extravagant pajamas, my guess is probably not.

Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

The words “weird” and “wtf” came out of my mouth so many times while watching this documentary that I just had to mention this one. The film by Skye Borgman, details how 12-year-old Jan Borgman, was abducted by the family friend and neighbor, Robert ‘B’ Berchtold. This man befriended the family and went to extreme lengths to be with Jan, as he believed he was in love with her. He seduced her to the point where she believed she was in love with him as well. What makes this even more strange is how both her mother and father allowed him into their own personal lives. There were so many moments in the film, from alien abductions to gay trysts, where you think to yourself “What the hell is going on here and is this actually real”? I could not believe my eyes and this film will leave you reeling and wondering how a family could have allowed this to happen to their young child.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (HBO)

As a child of the 80’s, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and fondly remember him tying his iconic shoes, and inviting us into his cozy, little world. One that felt calm and happy, never a bad thought in sight. To most children, adults come off as brash and bossy, but with Mr. Rogers, you felt comforted and cared for, all from the proximity of the television screen. As a teenager, I would come home from school, way too old to be watching his show, but nonetheless I would put on PBS and let it play in the background. He blocked off the harsh realities of teenage life and quelled the anxieties that were running rampant in my head. His voice was comforting and familiar and just what I needed at the time. In the documentary, we get the history of who Fred Rogers was as a person, and what drove him to start what was originally seen as a somewhat outlandish TV show. One aimed at kids with quirky puppets and a make-believe world which encompassed an array of various characters from King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchild, to Daniel the Striped Tiger.

This film directed by Morgan Neville, pays homage to a man who revolutionized the television industry and inspired generations of people to be their best and showed them how to enrich their lives by simply being kind and understanding of others. Something that is missing from the cacophony of television shows that are on today. His show touched on everything from racism, bullying, to being disabled, to say that he was a trailblazer is an understatement.

What I found the most interesting is that we get a sense of who Mr. Rogers was as a person. Did you ever see your 6th grade teacher out at a grocery store? It almost felt unreal to see that they had normal lives. I felt the same way watching this film. In a sense I never knew anything about his home life and who he was as a person, just the character he portrayed on TV. We learn about his family and how he was as a father and a husband. There are even testimonials of people who worked with him, and they talked about what a funny and normal guy he was on set. The film normalized Mr. Rogers from an almost fictional character to a real person. Highly recommend it and a good primer to watch before this year’s theatrical release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as the enigmatic man himself.

Honorable Mentions:

Generation Wealth (Amazon)

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Netflix)

Finding Neverland (HBO)

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (HBO)

Fyre (Netflix)

Fyre Fraud (Hulu)

Unacknowledged (Netflix)

Beguiled (2017)

Director Sofia Coppola is known for her distinct viewpoint and stylistic mise-en-scène or better said the visual way she puts together a scene, rich with details, color, and most of all feeling. The main feature of all her films is the female mind; how women take in and feel about their sexuality, whether coming of age or mature, their friendships with one another and men, and their overall desire to find and make sense of their place in the world. Today’s films are filled with the male perspective, the male gaze, the male everything you could say, I can’t imagine that Transformers was made with a woman’s point of view in mind, and that is what makes Coppola so special as a director. In her new film, The Beguiled, she gives audiences a melancholic and poignant tale of a group of women and their need for or perhaps rejection of men in a post-Civil War era.

At the boarding school, led by the head mistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and the school’s main teacher Edwina (Kristen Dunst), the women are kept in charge of the young girls who are left. The rest have been taken back to their homes or have been left behind due to the war. These women haven’t seen their husbands, fathers, brothers, and family in years, so the presence of a man in their home is quite alarming.

 The film is simple on the surface, yet it is a complex story of what happens when a man suddenly disrupts the lives of five females isolated from the world. The film starts out with eleven-year-old Amy going out into the woods to search for mushrooms, when suddenly she comes upon a soldier. Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Yankee, is wounded with a bad leg and can barely walk. He ran away from his regiment and is now stuck on Confederate grounds and knows he is doomed if he stays there. He pleads with the little girl who takes him back to her boarding school for help. When she arrives with him, the girls and women are stunned and shocked, not only is he a Yankee (they really hate Northerners), he is a man.

Martha performs a quick, somewhat haphazard surgery on his leg, and it is decided he can stay till he heals. At first, they were going to tie a blue bandana around the gate to signal that they had a Yankee in their house, but for some reason they decide not to send him away. His presence stirs in everyone different emotions, for the young girls, perhaps a fatherly figure, for (Alicia) Elle Fanning, the older teenager of the group, he represents the sexuality that young hormonal women desire, and for Edwina, he seems the most important, as he could be her way out of the house. As a lover and maybe even a husband, if the opportunity arose. Alicia twirls her hair and looks at him longingly, while Edwina adorns herself with earrings and broches to show herself off. All the women vie for his attention and approval, even though just a few days ago they wanted him out of their premises.

In one of the scenes, Martha hand washes McBurney’s body and slowly wipes him down. The feeling of constraint and desire can be felt, yet Coppola doesn’t show us all, she leaves us hanging with the image and the feeling Martha must have felt considering she hadn’t felt a male body in years. That sense of wanting yet holding back, is shown so delicately and it is what makes this film so captivating and interesting.

What happens from here is enthralling and intense. Tension flies high and the women become emblazoned and bolder in each scene, yet at the same time completely proper and dignified like true Southern ladies.  

The movie was beautifully shot by cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd. Each scene was visually stunning, with light only soft coming in by candlelight. This helped to create an atmosphere that seemed both haunting and thrilling to watch.

All of the actresses in the film played beautifully against one another. While Fanning stood as a real scene stealer, her hormonal desires and the broodiness she felt being stuck in the big house could be felt. Dunst also delivered and gave a performance that was restrained and innocent, yet we could always feel that there was something deeper going on inside Edwina.

Kidman was great as the head mistress, she was in charge and let it be known that she didn’t need any kind of male figure to keep her going. In a sense she represented, all of the women that were left behind in that era. They had no choice but to pick up the pieces and make do with the life they were left with, abandoned by family and male figures. Farrell was probably the best character, he had so much duality to him, and that is what kept us on the edge of our seats. At times he was kind and passive, and at other times filled with rage and fury at his plot in life.

I highly recommend going out and seeing this movie. It does not have robots, mutants, or death-defying action scenes, as every other blockbuster does, instead it gives audiences something a little more meaningful and interesting to watch.

Frontera Filmmaker Shorts

The San Diego Latino Film Festival does many short films showcases featuring a variety that follow a theme. Every year I make sure to check out one of their showcases, this year I attended the Frontera Filmmakers showcase, featuring movies made by directors near our border town of San Diego and Tijuana. Which has seen a resurgence in filmmakers like no other time in history. The mix of films ranged from documentaries to horror to suspense, all unique in their storytelling vision.

One of the films that I enjoyed was the documentary Chicano Legacy: Students Empowering Students, directed by Horacio Jones, told about the struggles that occurred and are still occurring at UCSD, in terms of race relations and education. Many minority students at the school felt that they were not being represented or that there were even many people like themselves on campus. After some racial comments went up on social media by a fraternity house, students protested for change and argued that behavior like so, would not be tolerated on their campus. From there, they fought to have a Chicano mural be put up on campus. Through much blood, sweat, and tears, the students brought it to fruition with the help of Mario Torero, a local Peruvian artist. The documentary gives us the details of how it all happened and how the mural itself was created out of stone tiles made in China. It was an intricate process and the final reveal showcased a beautiful mural featuring Cesar Chavez, Barrio Logan, and the students who rallied for change. This was an eye-opening film for me, as I live in San Diego and had no idea that those events took place at UCSD. As a former student of UCSB, I myself have felt the same way as those students, as my race was hardly represented on campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and recommend it to everyone, students and non-students alike.

Another film that really caught my eye was El Amor No Existe (Love Does Not Exist), a short film directed by Fernando Fisher, about a treacherous love triangle involving a husband, wife, and the husband’s brother. The wife is mean and unhappy with her lot in life and seeks out the comfort of her husband’s brother while he is away at work as a police detective. The husband has no idea what is going on behind his back, but it is all revealed to him on the fateful day where he forgets his gun at home. To top it off, his teenage son, on the same day tells his father that he is gay. He goes to school on that same day and professes his love to another boy, who then proceeds to beat him up for his revelation. When the husband encounters his wife and brother having sex, what happens from there is suspenseful and dramatic and shocking to boot. When the son witnesses everything that happened with his family it becomes a heartbreaking tale. By the end we realize through the film’s story that love truly does not exist in our world. If you get a chance to see this, I would check it out because it was mind-blowing and interesting to watch unravel.