All posts by Ben Sears

Barry: Season 3, Episode 4 – TV Review

“All the Sauces”

  • Creator: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
  • Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan

Grade: A

Let’s take a moment to give some praise to Sarah Goldberg for her work as Sally. She’s produced plenty of awards-worthy moments throughout her run in Barry – even receiving a Supporting Actress nomination at the Emmys after season 2 – but “all the sauces” contains one of her finest moments to date. She spends most of the episode fretting about her speech at the premiere of Joplin, worrying if she’ll come across as inauthentic and poring over every last detail. But when Natalie giddily drops the news that the show has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, she quickly drops her prepared remarks and vacillates between being too choked up to speak and trying to get the words out. She wants so badly to stay on topic and promote the show, but after everything she’s been through, professionally and personally, she can’t help but contain her excitement. It’s a remarkable moment, and Goldberg makes sure we feel every bit of it.

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Senior Year – Movie Review

Senior Year

  • Director: Alex Hardcastle
  • Writers: Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and Brandon Scott Jones
  • Starring: Rebel Wilson, Mary Holland, Sam Richardson, Zoe Chao, Angourie Rice, Jade Bender, Chris Parnell, Alicia Silverstone

Grade: C

There are two ways to play Senior Year, a comedy about a cheerleader who slips into a coma before her senior prom for 20 years and wants to pick back up where she left off. One is the bonkers 21 Jump Street way in which everything is heightened and anything can happen, sending up the same genre it’s clearly pulling from. The other method is to use the insane setup as a way to explore a character who had the best years of their lives taken from them, in a saccharine, rom-com way. Consider it a coming-of-age comedy in which the central character has technically already come of age. Unfortunately for first-time director Alex Hardcastle, he never fully commits to either type of film. 

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Pleasure- Movie Review

Pleasure

  • Director: Ninja Thyberg
  • Writers: Ninja Thyberg, Peter Modestij
  • Starring: Sofia Kappel, Zelda Morrison, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cook, Dana DeArmond, Mark Spiegler

Grade: B

Perspective is an important, understated tool when creating a film. In Ninja Thyberg’s directorial debut, she wields it like a knife. Specifically, Thyberg shows the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the porn industry from a newcomer trying to reach the top of the world. But Pleasure is more than a retread of Boogie Nights (more on that in a minute) with a female protagonist. The film is an unflinching look at the modern porn industry and the deeply rooted misogyny inherent in how it’s run. Of course, the film wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the committed performance of its lead, Sofia Kappel.

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Happening – Movie Review

Happening

  • Director: Audrey Diwan
  • Writers: Audrey Diwan, Marcia Romano and Anne Berest
  • Starring: Anamaria Vartolomei, Sandrine Bonnaire, Kacey Mottet Klein, Luana Bajrami

Grade: B+

A film about a woman’s search for an abortion could easily feel like a heavy-handed attempt at political relevance, but that is not what Happening is about. Rather, director Audrey Diwan’s sophomore directorial feature grounds its drama in its lead character’s dilemma. It’s no secret that reproductive rights have been a hot-button issue in America for decades, even after the passing of Roe v. Wade – ironically, I screened this film the night before the draft opinion was leaked that would essentially overturn the landmark case. That the film takes place in France in 1963 and still feels as prescient is no small feat.

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Barry: Season 3, Episode 3 – TV Review

“Ben Mendelsohn”

  • Creator: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
  • Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan

Grade: B

Even in an episode where the plot doesn’t progress significantly, Alec Berg and Bill Hader still manage to find room for some really great character development. Such is the case with “Ben Mendelsohn”, where the status quo largely remains unchanged from the beginning of the episode to the end. And that’s ok! For as exciting as it can be, not every episode needs to seismically shake up the world to feel like an authentic version of Barry

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Barry: Season 3, Episode 2 – TV Review

“limonada”

  • Creator: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
  • Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan

Grade: A-

Old habits die hard, and this seems to be the theme not only of Barry overall but in this week’s episode in particular. The lingering question after “Forgiving Jeff” was how Barry would handle the fallout of Gene discovering his true nature. Turns out, he’s gone off the deep end in a way we haven’t seen from him before, and the results are concerning, to say the least. And Barry’s not the only one who’s reverting back to old, bad habits.

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We Own This City – Limited Series Review

We Own This City

  • Creator: David Simon and George Pelecanos
  • Starring: Jon Bernthal,
  • Six episode limited series. Six episodes watched for review.

Grade: A-

“We own this city” is often a familiar rallying cry in rap songs, used to highlight the downtrodden, the forgotten, and the rejects of the rapper’s home town. But, in the hands of David Simon and George Pelecanos, the phrase “we own this city” becomes something of an ominous threat. Simon, the maestro of The Wire, often cited as one of the greatest TV shows ever made, imbues We Own This City with a lot of similarities of the landmark series, but updates it to reflect Baltimore’s ever-changing landscape.

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Barry: Season 3, Episode 1 – TV Review

“Forgiving Jeff”

  • Creator: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
  • Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan

Grade: A-

It’s been nearly three years to the day since the world was treated to a new episode of HBO’s dark comedy Barry. And in those three years, the world has surely changed significantly, so how much will a new season reflect those changes? The premiere episode, “Forgiving Jeff” is a clear indication that, though the show won’t be addressing the pandemic just yet, the world within the show is very much a different place.

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Dual – Movie Review

Dual

  • Director: Riley Stearns
  • Writers: Riley Stearns
  • Starring: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Theo James

Grade: B-

In just a handful of feature films as a writer and director, Riley Stearns has firmly established himself as a connoisseur of dark, deadpan humor. But he uses this style of comedy to effectively explore surprisingly complex themes. 2019’s The Art of Self-Defense used its humor as a way to explore toxic masculinity and the ways it permeates our culture. Dual scratches the surface of bigger ideas, but is less successful in its execution. Stearns is unquestionably a unique voice in the independent film landscape today though, which earns Dual a certain amount of brownie points.

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All the Old Knives – Movie Review

All the Old Knives

  • Director: Janus Metz Pederson
  • Writers: Olen Steinhauer
  • Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Pryce

Grade: C-

Officially speaking, we’re out of the first quarter of the year of our Lord 2022. But All the Old Knives may as well have been released in the first quarter, when studios traditionally dump all their projects in which they have zero faith to make any lasting impact. This effect is exacerbated when a movie premiere on streaming services, when they can be buried amongst the platform’s endless library, which makes it harder for any film that’s barely promoted beyond an obligatory banner ad to make any lasting impact. Not that the film does itself any favors though, as it’s the kind of lazy genre exercise that barely justifies its existence.

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