Parks and Recreation: Series Review

Parks and Recreation (season 7) - Wikipedia

Sparked as a sister show to The Office, Parks and Recreation ran for 7 seasons between 2009 and 2015. The show centres around a fictional town in Indiana called Pawnee, and, more specifically, the Parks and Recreation department of the local government. Created by Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, who also created the US version of The Office. Parks and Rec stars and ensemble cast, including Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Retta, Jim O’Heir, as well as Adam Scott and Rob Lowe from the tail end of season 2.

Parks and Rec has to go down as one of my favourite shows of all time. I haven’t made that list yet, but when I do, this is going to be very high on that list. I fell in love with this show. Admittedly, I had to put up with the first season, which would slightly generously be described as ‘meh’ by the more allowing audience member. There is no denying, as far as I’m concerned, that the first season (which is only 6 episodes, I should point out) is sub-par as compared to the rest of the show, in terms of its comedy and its all-around interest factor. It’s excusable; you can see the writers finding their feet about the characters, and, more importantly, the tone, which tries far too hard to replicate what was found in The Office. After the first season, however, they locate that footing, and they locate it well.

Parks and Rec has some of the most likeable characters I’ve ever seen on television. Leslie Knope, the illegitimate protagonist in a show that more often than not tells B and C stories in each and every episode, exudes this positive energy that I submit to you it is impossible not to find compelling. Amy Poehler does an incredible job in the role that she will never be able to leave. Her sincere, energetic, and borderline obsessed love for old-fashioned public service and the people that help (help is a strong word) her do it is a genuine addition to the sum of happiness in the world, an addition I think we all sorely need right now. In spite of that, she isn’t even my favourite, as Nick Offerman’s very nearly autobiographical portrayal of Ron Swanson might be among my favourite performances of all time. I’m not even going to try to get into specifics with Ron, other than to say he’s undoubtedly my favourite, for fear I’ll go on too long. I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the Parks Department, each and every one of whom is a deeply realised character in the show, providing both comedy (hell lots of it) and some surprisingly potent and “real” moments as well. I’d get into special mentions if that special mentions didn’t literally contain every single other character, from Ann Perkins to Jean-Ralphio (fans of the show will spot two references to one character in that sentence). I’ll only mention, for the sake of his stardom, that you haven’t seen Chris Pratt until you’ve seen him as Andy Dwyer on this show.

Stylistically, Parks and Rec adds its own flavour to The Office’s mockumentary-talking-heads camera style. For example, unlike The Office, more or less every single character uses the camera the way Jim would do in The Office. The similarities to The Office exist, there’s no doubt about that. Leslie and Michael Scott are two sides of essentially the same, or at least very similar, coins, and if Jerry (we’re going with the original name) is Toby, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn. There’s something about it, though. Something about the characters and the situation, something that’s a very different flavour from its sister show. There’s a strange optimism, embodied mainly by Leslie and her own force of nature, which gives Parks a very different energy. Aubrey Plaza’s character, April Ludgate, and her change over the course of the show, is actually a near-perfect illustration of what I’m talking about. Of course, she never loses her demonic charm (in case any halfway viewers of the show are reading) but there are gears within her that visibly shift, with her relationship with Leslie being one of a few indicators.

It’s also really tightly wound comedy. Parks episodes are about 21 minutes long, during which they always have a B, and, very often, a C story. That’s a lot of plot to get through in any given episode, which means two things. A) there are definitely 45 minute cuts of this show which are definitely amazing, and B) the show is almost incapable of drag. It’s a challenge to do everything that needs doing in those 21 minutes, but the writers pull it off and it’s beautiful. And hilarious. I can’t emphasize this enough. This show is hilarious. They lean on their characters for comedy, as opposed to situation, which is perfect considering the nature of the characters in the first place. I don’t want to get into specifics as far as running gags and such go, just because I don’t have that kind of word count here (or at least Aryamaan won’t let me have that kind of word count here), but suffice it to say that this is probably the funniest show I’ve ever seen.

I don’t normally do full show reviews anymore. I go season-wise as they release, but I’ve more or less stopped writing reviews for full shows. I watched the entirety of Game of Thrones a month or so ago and not a shred of evidence appeared on this site. Parks and Rec is worth breaking every conceivable rule. I can only reiterate what I’ve already said to describe Leslie’s character to sum up my experience of Parks (mainly cause I can’t think of a better line), which is that Parks and Recreation is a genuine addition to the sum of happiness in this world. On top of being hilarious, it has the potential to be incredibly profound, to an extent that it actually has no business doing. Speaking of things it has no business doing, the last two episodes of this show, a two-part finale, had to have been one of the most satisfying 40 minutes of television, and series finales, that has ever been. A fitting end to a comfortable triumph of comedic television. Bravo.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 92/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score –

Kingdom: Film Review

Kingdom (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

When you recommend people a movie/television show and they ask, “What is it about?” As soon as the word zombie comes out of your mouth, they want another recommendation. But movies and television shows in recent history have drastically changed this trend. Movies like Train to Busan, World War Z and shows like the Walking Dead are providing the highest-tier of entertainment for viewers. Kingdom, for me, lies right at the pinnacle of this list.

When it comes to Zombie films or shows, everything narrows down to one question: When civilization falls apart, would you attempt to preserve what was left and hope for improvements or act in a merciless, selfish manner and try to become king of the ashes when everything burns? This conflict is usually depicted onscreen with a small group of people that battle their own private dilemmas and emotions as in the case of ‘Train to Busan.’ Rarely do movies and shows tell a tale in the wider canvas – as in ‘World War Z’ – but when they do, they do not take a panoramic view of the systematic process by which a society collapses. That is what makes ‘Kingdom” absolutely brilliant.

I couldn’t help but find similarities in the narrative style of ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ but ‘Kingdom’ has a much quicker pace.

Set in the midst of political battles and starvation after a long war, Kingdom begins by creating the setting of a nation that is rotting. This rot has been spread from the highest strata of society with the King being the first victim of this disease. Everybody in the imperial court is staying quiet about this tragedy, attempting to leverage the situation by acting in naked selfishness while claiming to implement the king’s orders. The crown prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), the offspring of the king and a concubine, is next in line for the throne, but he can’t claim it because everyone says his father’s not dying, just sick. The king’s age-inappropriate wife (Kim Hye-jun) is pregnant with a child who will become the new heir and her father is determined to become the most powerful man in the kingdom. But this is just the start to the problems faced by the crown-prince, Lee Chang. With so many characters and so many situations, the complex story is weaved together beautifully.

 

Season 1 was brilliant as a foundation. Not a typical, slow-paced first few episodes to set-up context but was exciting, suspenseful and gut wrenching right off the bat. Through season 1, the episodes got progressively better with numerous twists and turns that you, as a viewer, were not expecting at all. The scares build slowly, but the drawn-out scenes add to the suspense — even if you see what’s coming in the end. The show’s creators have pointed out that hunger is the theme of kingdom, and this shows, from the flesh-craving appetite of the undead zombies, the hunger for power in both the villain and the hero, and the desire to do good in a world gone mad. The characters are developed extremely well; the plot is powerful but it’s the visuals that stand out. The backdrop and scenery is always gorgeous, the shots carefully linger to highlight the expensive and elaborate costumes accompanied beautifully with an effective background score. All in all, it was the complete package, finished with a rustic but elegant touch.

It was kind of strange watching the second season as fears surrounding COVID-19 are on the rise. Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic is not an apocalypse but while this pandemic spreads to all corners of the world, the show is about the start of a zombie pandemic which is almost surreal. Season 2 was as good if not better than season 1, with even more effective twists and turns in the story-line, multiple moments that’ll make you go “HOLY SHIT!” all while still incorporating gorgeous landscapes and costumes, complemented with a powerful background score and gorgeous cinematography. It consists of so many sub-plots over so many different themes with the crumbling of society with class divisions playing a large role while malefactors seek profit in dominance and of course necrotic ghouls running rampant throughout the country. As the series unfolds each episode grows more action-packed and conventionally exciting, with season 2 especially exploring more of an emotional turn than in season 1. With the Crown Prince’s personal Guard, Mu Yeong, and the Queen especially, season 2 allows the viewers to really step into their shoes, while biting their nails of course. Overall, season 2 did not disappoint in any way whatsoever, from its lavish costume design, to grand palaces and vistas to the elaborate choreography, this season becomes a feast for the eyes, with cinematography that is absolutely stunning.

Kim Seong-hun has done brilliantly while directing this epic horror-drama, bearing the torch for all other movies or shows in this genre. The acting was quite good as well with every actor: Lee Chang (Ji-Hoon Ju), his chief guard Muyeong (Sang-ho Kim), physician Seo-bi (Doona Bae), Chang’s former mentor Lord Ahn Hyeon (Jun-ho Heo), and vengeful tiger hunter Yeong-shin (Kim Sung-kyu), putting up powerful performances but with such a powerful plot and visuals, this show will be remembered more for its story and visuals rather than the actors performances.

 

(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH – skip straight to the conclusion)

 

I did have few, minor complaints though; when the Crown Prince sets off to Mungyeong Saejae with his small group of soldiers at the end of season 2 episode 1, the background score suddenly changes to a pop-funky tune, which completely goes against the mood, the ‘vibe’ of the show, giving the prince more of a cult-zombie slaying hero feel which slightly disappointed me. This was soon returned to normal in the following episodes but at the end of season 2 episode 6, the screen pans to a zombie horror house with the same background score which ended the show on low for me. The scene ended by revealing the face of a female, who we do not know yet but appears to be the villain of the story that follows (hopefully, in a season 3). From political complexities with multiple sub-plots to cult, pop-funk ‘super-villain’ didn’t really hit the right note for me after this gorgeous epic. But hopefully, they won’t make this transition and will stick to the original atmosphere of the show. And in the garden, during the climax of the battle between the Prince and the ‘zombies’ why was there a sudden ‘bollywoodizing’ in the choreography with the Prince using his hands to hit the ice instead of another gun and then eventually awkwardly slamming the head of a ‘zombie’ to break the ice, but it didn’t take away much from the scene. However, these tiny aspects are nothing compared to the mountain of positives that this show boasts. Prince Lee Chang’s monologue in the last episode, especially – the delivery, the emotions, the complete circle that the story takes – was nothing less than brilliant. The background score too, overall, is brilliant (barring these two cases – for me) especially in the scene when the Queen walks towards the palace in her gorgeous, intricate costume to ascend the role of Queen Regent. You cannot help but stare in awe.

 

Overall, ‘Kingdom’ is a brilliant mix of the political structure of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the class of ‘Parasite.’ This show is a treat to watch, especially to those who were left unsatisfied with the end of ‘Game of Thrones.’ The end of ‘Kingdom’ does deliver a much more powerful end than the one ‘Long Night’ that we got. The show, though only 12 episodes, makes you experience so much and manages to keep you interested throughout. An absolute delight to watch; from story line, to performances or visual, my respect to everyone who worked on this masterpiece. Trust me, drop what you’re doing and watch this show now.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

 

Aryamaan’s Rating – 88/100

Late Night: Film Review

Image result for late night

Late Night, released in 2019, follows the story of a has-been late night talk show host, the only woman in the business, and the way the diversity hiring of a young Indian-American woman changes the culture of her increasingly unfunny show. Mindy Kaling, whom you might recognize from The Office, plays Molly Patel, while Emma Thompson stars alongside her as the once-great Katherine Newberry. Kaling also wrote and produces the film, which was directed by Nisha Ganatra. John Lithgow is the next most noteworthy cast member.

I was intrigued by the idea of this film long before I saw it. It had been on the list for a while after I saw Emma Thompson doing the rounds on the actual late-night shows to promote it. Workplace dramas have always been in favour with me (for anyone who prays at Aaron Sorkin’s shrine, it would pretty much have to be), and the premise of these characters was very interesting. It ticked all the boxes that it needed to give me a positive predisposition.

I think I was altogether slightly underwhelmed. Late Night is a fantastic concept and a look into an exciting and interesting environment which we don’t often see in entertainment. It’s even supported by a laundry list of very compelling characters on paper. My issues, however, stemmed predominantly from the film’s tendency to tell me things about characters and situation, instead of showing me much of anything. One of the hallmarks of really good storytelling is the ability to communicate something without just saying it. It’s a little unfortunate that with characters that are as outwardly interesting as these, they couldn’t find a way to provide evidence for much of any of their development. Molly (Kaling), is praised many times throughout the film for her comedic talent, a talent that we never actually see showcased very much or to a large extent. The few bits that we do see her write/perform aren’t bad, but nowhere near the level of obvious comedic intelligence that someone familiar with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would recognize. Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Katherine Newbury, undeniably the most interesting character among a few very good ones, is the strongest point of the film, in spite of a couple instances of poor writing.

Well-conceived characters was a pattern in this film, but a lot of the development was, again, a lot of tell-not-show. Almost every character, down to the Katherine’s original writing staff, had enough inherent depth about them to keep it interesting, but dynamics were developed too quickly and without a lot of evidence. The change that comes over the workplace culture of the show isn’t weighted in a satisfying way, it feels like it goes from one extreme (where writers haven’t even met Katherine, which is completely insane) to them sitting on her desk and pitching pirate bits. The actual things that happen, plot-wise and with character dynamics, just isn’t supported by narrative evidence, which would’ve made for such a satisfying experience! Especially considering the inherent quality of the characters.

The comedy within the film is pretty strong overall. If the funny factor was lacking from any direction, it was the quality of the actual stand-up. I wouldn’t classify it as bad or poor, it just didn’t come close enough to my expectations, having great regard for Mindy Kaling as a comedic actor and writer. I mentioned Ms. Maisel earlier, and it’s entirely possible that using it as a yard stick isn’t fair to Late Night, but it is my lens as an audience member and it’s hard to take it away. The writing otherwise was more or less decent, with the possible exception of the ‘climax’ moment, the first monologue to her audience after the revelations about her affair, was a little underwhelming. I appreciate some lines and motifs, her catchphrase is an example of a motif which I really like, but the monologue otherwise was missing something soaring and hopeful.

All in all, this was an alright film. It had incredible potential, and it maintained extremely interesting characters and premise to the absolute last. Some of the developmental execution, however, left a lot to be desired, and I walked away from it feeling rather underwhelmed. Someone who deserves a mention, whom I haven’t yet, was John Lithgow, who did a remarkably good job with what little he had to do. Emma Thompson’s work, more notably, deserves a second mention, and Mindy Kaling has done a hell of a job with the conceptual development of the plot and the characters. Ultimately, however, Late Night chose to tell us about its characters rather than show us.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 70/100                                                                          Aryamaan’s Score –

The King: Film Review

The King poster

With Timothée Chalamet as the lead, “The King” results in being a handsome if dull take on English history. Revolving around the rise of King Henry V of England to the throne and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 during the 100 years’ war with France, the film takes a turn towards being lugubrious and subdued rather than a more fantastical take on the war. The film is based on one of Shakespeare’s more famous plays that tackle the themes of dissolute youth, corruption, and power. But in this case, the screenplay co-written by director David Michôd and actor Joel Edgerton doesn’t make the material distinctive or stimulating enough to appreciate the second, more dramatic take.

The film begins with England embroiled in a Civil War with Scotland and the 100 years’ war with France. While physically deteriorating, Henry IV (Ben Mendelohn) tries to keep restive areas together among threats from all sides. Henry’s son, Prince Hal (Timothée Chalamet), portrayed to be young and impulsive is at the pub and prefers to sleep and drink with Sir John Falstaff (Edgerton) rather than be concerned with matters of the Kingdom. Played with pallid romanticism by Chalamet, Hal is so alienated from his father that he didn’t even bother to show up to his father’s deathbed.

Michôd, best known for “Animal Kingdom” and “War Machine” has done well with the visual shorthand typically found in period pieces – not falling to a monochromatic pallet including greys and chalky whites – as well as violent battle scenes, covered in the realism of mud, chain mail and not necessarily bloody. The historical epic boasted beautiful cinematography, however, what lacked for me was the pacing of the film: it tended to lag at times, creating slow, extended scenes along with the movie. In other words, “The King” strikes the right chords visually, especially with the sets and detailing of the artifacts and costumes of those times, but it is not enough to make up for the lack of pacing. Hal is about to deliver the famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech and I’m excited, looking forward to it but it ends up in an uninteresting anti-climax.

Chalamet, however, was a delight to watch. With Hal being one of his better roles, it’s evident that Chalamet may well be one of the biggest movie stars of our generation. He not only has the ability to fix an audience with his stare but also is an exceptional actor with a huge amount of potential. Edgerton too does very well playing Falstaff, Hal’s friend, confidante, and protector, and Lily-Rose Depp also makes her presence felt, but Chalamet is clearly the standout.

Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, didn’t deliver his ‘finest’ performance, to put it mildly. His accent with the white wig and his attempt to play ‘The Joker” of the 1500s brought down the overall performance quality of the film. A few scenes of his, however, were written and conceptualized well.

“The King” is one about maturity, the loss of innocence and the growth of a boy into a man, or his majesty in this case. But the film failed to highlight this essential transformation. The psychological contours of Hal’s transformation to Henry is not evident enough: his motivations – political, personal are not portrayed to best it could’ve been.

However, all in all, the King delivers as a beautiful visual spectacle with scenes of the battlefield – Falstaff drowning in the sea of soldiers, flaming arrows being shot into the hearts of the enemy and warriors being drenched in mud during the war – simply goes to show Machôd’s incredible eye for framing. But when either Chalamet or Edgerton isn’t on screen, the film loses its reigns that it was so desperately holding onto to stay afloat. The powerful performances and spectacular visuals aren’t enough to help the movie pull through its 140-minute runtime. The film did entertain and I would definitely recommend it, however, it falls short of greatness that it could have well achieved.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score –                                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score – 72/100