Shorties #14

Fall is in the air! There are pumpkins to carve and seeds to roast. There is candy to buy for trick-or-treaters and then eat a week before Halloween and then replace. There are costume components to purchase. All of that takes money, so instead of heading out to the theater, I've been giving Netflix a good workout. And giving Netflix a good workout means...Shorties!

#1: Awake - Season 1: This 2012 show only lasted a single season, but after I heard it talked up, I thought it sounded like it was worth a binge watch. It revolves around a cop who gets into a car accident while driving around with his family. His reality then fractures in two: In one, his wife survives the accident, but his son dies. In the other, it's reversed. In both universes, he is sent to a shrink, both of whom assure him that THIS reality is the actual one, and the other is a dream world. They encourage him to process his feelings so that the "false" reality goes away, but he actively does the opposite. If there's a way he can remain with both of his loved ones, even if it's in a patchwork existence, he's going to do it. That is a fantastic premise, and the show was acted well (Jason Isaacs is the main character, and B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones as the two psychiatrists are also standouts). The differing color palettes between the two worlds helped distinguish plot threads without being excessively intrusive. All that was great, but the show was weighed down by some formulaic case-of-the-week storylines, and a blatantly unnecessary conspriacy theory surrounding the accident. In the final analysis, I'm glad I watched it, but I can also see why it got cancelled. (Grade: B-)

#2: Grand Piano: I'll never get tired of telling people this 2014 movie is Speed on a piano, and watching their reactions. Elijah Wood plays a concert pianist who choked during a previous performance, and is only now returning to the stage after many years. As he begins to play, he sees a note in his sheet music that if he misses a single note, he'll be killed by a sniper (John Cusack). This, as you can imagine, does not do wonders for his concentration. The best thing about this movie is that it knows exactly what it is, and isn't clouded by a heavy sense of self-seriousness. All that's asked of the audience is to kick back and enjoy the ride. It's a very slight movie; not much actually happens. But it's got a good sense of fun, and I'd definitely recommend that people watch it. (Grade: B+)

#3: Assault on Precinct 13: It's very important that I note that this is the original 1976 film, and not that unnecessary remake a few years back. This movie could have easily fallen into the Pop Culture Homework Project, but I feel like one assignment about the crime-ridden streets of the '70s is plenty. The movie establishes its stakes early, gunning down an adorable blonde girl with braids. You won't be too upset by her murder; the actress is on one of those abominable Real Housewives shows now. Her father tries to get revenge against the gang that killed his daughter, but is forced to run to a police station that is slated to close soon. There is just a skeleton crew left, and a couple of prisoners are dropped off for [blah blah plot reasons]. The gang, hot on the nearly-catatonic father's heels, lays siege to the station, and gun battles ensue. Minimal time is devoted to character development. This is simply a group of characters flung together and trying to survive the night. I kind of miss action movies like this that didn't do a lot of moralizing. It just throws us straight into the action. (Grade: B)

#4: Exam: That's two action-packed movies, so why not throw some character-based intellectual dramas into the mix? I watched this 2009 one based solely on an intriguing premise: A group of applicants, all desperate for a job, are put into a room with a slip of paper on their desks, and told that whoever answers the sole question best in the time limit will be given the position. They flip the papers over to find they're all blank. Psychological torture...go! Some applicants want to depend on their own skills to pull themselves through. Some want to cooperate. Some want to eliminate the competition. It's sort of a corporate version of The Hunger Games. The execution is a bit off, as the characters' actions are somewhat hackneyed and predictable. Still, it was a very interesting movie, and I'm always going to want to watch those, even if they're not quite able to capture lightning in a bottle. (Grade: B-)

#5: Populaire: Let's wrap up with this 2012 French romance, in which a stodgy boss hires a klutzy secretary, solely because she's a fast typist. He wants to vicariously grab some glory by entering her in speed-typing competitions, and from there, you can pretty much guess every story beat. She gets progressively better. She suffers a setback. They fall in love, but don't want to admit it. Then they admit it, but there's a misunderstanding that drives them apart. Then they get back together and triumph. So, it's Girls Just Want to Have Fun. But here's the thing: I fucking love Girls Just Want to Have Fun. No matter how well-worn this territory is, this movie is so charming that it's impossible not to like. It won't win any originality points, but it's a perfectly cute movie that is worth the watch. (Grade: B)


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