Hulu review: Terence Young’s “Dr. No” (1962)

The mid-twentieth century posed an identity crisis for all of the West, but for the United Kingdom most of all. With the breakup of the British Empire following World War II and the expansion of the Soviet Union in the East, European colonialism was under attack.

It was to be expected for the white male wish-fulfillment that is James Bond to infiltrate English cinema for the next sixty years, which is why 007’s first outing is as dated as curdled milk.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Terence Young’s Dr. No (1962) is available to stream on Hulu. The spy film is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.

Since its release, it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population has seen at least one of the twenty-four subsequent Bond pictures produced by Eon.

In Jamaica, MI6 Station Chief John Strangways (Timothy Moxon, voiced by Robert Rietty) is assassinated alongside his secretary, Mary Trueblood (Dolores Keator), by “the Three Blind Mice” (uncredited), who steal documents related to “Crab Key” and “Doctor No.”

The Head of the British Secret Service, M (Bernard Lee), dispatches Agent James Bond (Sir Sean Connery) to look into Strangways’s cooperation with the American CIA on a case of disrupted rocket launches in Cape Canaveral via radio jamming.

Bond’s investigation crosses paths with the treacherous Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) and the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, speaking voice by Nikki van der Zyl and singing voice by Diana Coupland) before leading him to the lair of Doctor No (Joseph Wiseman).

The movie is iconic for what would go on to become James Bond’s most recognizable tropes (Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme,” Maurice Binder’s gun-barrel title sequence, Connery’s line, “Bond, James Bond,” the “Bond girls,” the campy villain, et cetera).

Without it, we wouldn’t have Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale (2006) or Sam Mendes’s Skyfall (2012). But even those superior entries are still answering for the sociopolitical sins of their father.

Intersectionally, Dr. No is as insensitive with its representation as to the most toxically masculine, white supremacist Bond flick you can think of.

Marshall and Wiseman are both white actors playing Asian characters: Miss Taro fulfills the “dragon lady” stereotype of the duplicitous Asian woman seducing the white hero with her exoticism; and Doctor No, the evil Chinese genius plotting to take over the world.

The very setting of the film is symptomatic of the English filmmaker’s juxtaposition of the “civilized” British protagonist against the “barbaric” Third World.

Edward Said’s theories on orientalism state that Western thought can be traced back to René Descartes’s philosophication, “I think, therefore, I am.”

This state of “being” versus “nonbeing” can exist only in a universe of opposites, and, in such a universe, post-Descartes white culture was bound to see anything different from itself as the opposite, as the “unculture” to its “culture,” as an evil to be vanquished.

Bond’s travels to settings like Kingston mimic this invader’s narrative.

And the very casting of Connery itself turned out to be a poor choice for the film’s politics. He said during a Barbara Walters interview he condones violence against women.

As if Bond’s womanizing ways weren’t problematic enough.

And what makes it problematic is what feeds more into the white British male’s power fantasy. Bond always “gets the girl” at the end, objectifying his romantic leads into spoils of war.

The sexualization of “foreign” women is the apparatus through which white Europeans have committed their genocide-by-rape.

But, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-scripting Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die (2020) and with men and women of color in talks to replace Daniel Craig (who, in and of himself, is redemption for Connery’s Bond), 007 is on its way out from under the shadow of Dr. No.

But, because it’s the one that started it all, Bond will forever have to answer for it. As a (critical) fan of the character, this reviewer doesn’t even enjoy it for what it is – it is offensive, tired, and, worst of all, boring.

Hulu review: Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” (1992)

With only fifty-three percent of reviews aggregated through Rotten Tomatoes praising Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992), this Hitchcockian classic of its time is an underrated and misunderstood film.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Basic Instinct is available to stream on Hulu. The neo-noir erotic thriller was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.

It was the fourth-highest-grossing release of its year, despite a divided critical reaction and public protests from gay rights activists.

Set in San Francisco, troubled homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) investigates the murder of Johnny Boz (Bill Cable), who was stabbed to death with an icepick during sex with a mysterious blonde.

The prime suspect is crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), Boz’s bisexual girlfriend, who wrote a book about the killing before it was committed and claims an obsessive devotee is setting her up.

As Catherine lures Nick into her world of sex and drugs and violence, his relationship with police psychiatrist Doctor Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) grows increasingly deadly.

Douglas may get top billing, but Stone is the star of the show. She carries herself with confidence and intelligence and just the right amount of danger.

The most recognition she engendered for her star-making turn was a Golden Globe nod because audiences fail to take her seriously after the infamous interrogation scene.

Like Emilia Clarke in HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Stone is more talented than people are willing to give her credit for, and there’s more to her performance than the beauty that meets the eye.

This is due to Verhoeven’s direction. Stone reprises her role in Michael Canton-Jones’s Basic Instinct 2 (2006), but even though it’s the same actor playing the same part, Catherine Tramell is borderline unwatchable in the sequel.

Verhoeven characterizes Tramell as the postmodern femme fatale, who seduces and kills with no loftier motive than that she looks good doing it.

The movie was controversial upon its release for its representation of bisexual women, and while there is something to be said about Hollywood’s lengthy history of demonizing lesbians, and while Basic Instinct exploits lesbianism for the male gaze, it is still ahead of its time sexually.

Catherine and her lover, Roxy Hardy (Leilani Sarelle), are both feminine.

Conversely, in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (2010), not only do Annette Benning and Julianne Moore conform to “butch” and “femme” gender roles, respectively, but the more feminine of the two also is the one to have an affair with Mark Ruffalo.

Narratively, though, Basic Instinct is overlong, convoluted, and repetitive. In the end, what the central mystery boils down to is an elaborate revenge plan the villain would have had to be nigh clairvoyant to cook up.

Logically, the drama demands more than its fair share of suspension of disbelief.

But Basic Instinct is more… well… instinctual than it is rational, and, for that, it is cinema at its most dreamlike.

Hulu review: Paul Feig’s “A Simple Favor” (2018)

Can you keep a secret?

If you don’t know what to watch next, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor (2018) is available to stream on Hulu. The black comedy mystery thriller stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. It is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.

Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a widowed single mother who vlogs.

She befriends Emily Nelson (Lively), a fashion PR director as well as wife to English professor Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), after a playdate between their sons, Miles Smothers (Joshua Satine) and Nicky Townsend (Ian Ho).

When Emily disappears, Stephanie tries to solve the mystery.

All fictional genres are governed by their respective rules of writing, especially in film, which is edited according to an assembly-line formula as cutting as journalism, but the beats of suspense are arguably the most rhythmically drummed.

Jessica Sharzer’s script marches along its tightrope of tension with nary a misstep, a whole as much greater than the sum of its parts as a jigsaw puzzle. This female-led noir, written by two different women, feminizes a stereotypically misogynistic tradition of storytelling.

And leading the charge is Lively, the femme fatale herself. Even with a male filmmaker behind the camera, she is not objectified under the male gaze – in fact, her costumery, though sexy, is borderline androgynous, stylizing her sex appeal without exploiting it.

Through a look on her face, Lively can charge even just a line of dialogue into a livewire.

Kendrick dynamizes, too, as the unreliable narrator with secrets of her own. She chases her candy-coated vlogger persona with an ominous subtext which unsettles every foundation she lays for this closet where she hides her skeletons.

Stephanie is as psychologically complex as any noir antihero, but in a way that doesn’t masculinize her.

Now, for all the movie’s generic pleasures, its comedy dulls its sharp edges. The climactic fart joke is anticlimactic, and, as with many age-diverse casts, the child actors try too hard (which is not to judge them, but the adults who write and direct their characters).

This isn’t to say humor and crime are mutually exclusive, but, where, say, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) satirizes the “missing white woman” media narrative ingeniously, A Simple Favor is apolitically set in white, upper-middle-class suburbia.

Still, no picture is above reproach, and while A Simple Favor isn’t perfect, like Stephanie and Emily, it’s picture perfect.

Hulu review: Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

In response to the moral panic surrounding the youth counterculture of the Cold War, with Communism threatening to indoctrinate pro-Kennedy children against their pro-Eisenhower parents, a cycle of “demonic child” films were released in the 1960s and 1970s.

Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), and Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) constructed a zeitgeist around Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), the last New Hollywood masterpiece.

But Carrie isn’t Satanic, and the three productions that are, are said to be cursed – indeed, the year after Rosemary’s Baby came out, the director’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult of… well… Devil-worshipping hippies.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Rosemary’s Baby is available to stream on Hulu. The psychological supernatural horror picture is the auteur’s own Academy Award-nominated  adaptation of the same-titled 1967 novel by Ira Levin.

Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of creepy neighbor Minnie Castevet.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (independent filmmaking pioneer John Cassavetes) move into an apartment in New York City.

A struggling actor, Guy befriends the elderly Minnie and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) right before he tells Rosemary he wants a baby.

Rosemary experiences a lucid nightmare about an incubus raping her in front of the Castevets and Guy the night they try to conceive, and that’s only the beginning of the the paranoid, conspiratorial dread Rosemary lives during her pregnancy.

Polanski honed the craftsmanship behind his atmospheric tension with his Nóz w wodzie (1962), one of the most impressive debuts ever put to film, a feature much like Rosemary’s Baby where the Hitchcockian terror lies not in the bang, but in the anticipation of it.

In Polanski’s and the Master of Suspense’s hands alike, the most familiar moments throughout the everyman’s day become fodder for the most cinematic anxiety (which makes it all the more real).

They are inherently European artists, learning how to do more with less on the postwar continent without all the American isolationism and atomic imperialism shielding Hollywood from such ruination.

Perhaps Polanski’s Generation X Antichrist was born from being next-door neighbors to the far-left Soviet Union.

And the both of them reached their fullest potential when they came West.

Rosemary’s Baby paved the way for Francis Ford Coppola’s Hollywood Renaissance masterwork, The Conversation (1974), the most significant sound film since Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927), with its cloak-and-dagger mystery.

Carrie, too, owes its iconic twist ending to this Levin interpretation, the novelist also having written The Stepford Wives in 1972 as well as Sliver in 1991.

What keeps Polanski obsessing over these neurotic themes, notably in Repulsion (1965, which would go on to inspire Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010)) and Chinatown (1974), is his childhood as a Holocaust survivor, as expressed through The Pianist (2002).

Rosemary’s Baby is the drama of a gaslit woman who suspects she’s the target of evil incarnate and turns out to be right about the people organizing against her.

The darkness tantalizes everyone around her via their most destructive characteristics, until Rosemary herself succumbs, too.

But Polanski himself is an abusive man.

In 1977, the filmmaker was arrested and charged for drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl in Los Angeles, ultimately fleeing to France in 1978 before he could be sentenced and avoiding all countries likely to extradite him to the United States.

Whether one can support a creative’s work without condoning their behavior, is up for debate, but whichever side you land on may color your interaction with the movie.

But how horrifying it is that a Polish Jew’s family was killed by white supremacists the year after he shot Rosemary’s Baby. It makes this tale of Lucifer’s bride all the more personal for its director.

And that much more powerful for its audiences.

Hulu review: Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg’s “Pocahontas” (1995)

Beginning with Ron Clements and John Musker’s The Little Mermaid (1989) and ending with Kevin Lima and Chris Buck’s Tarzan (1999), the Disney Renaissance is to Disney what the Hollywood Renaissance is to Golden Age Hollywood.

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) may be the first animated film ever eligible for the Best Picture Academy Award, but Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s The Lion King (1994) is the studio’s masterstroke.

With Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg’s Pocahontas (1995), the overpowered media conglomerate attempts to recapture the prestige of Beauty and the Beast as well as the success of its predecessor, The Lion King, the top-grossing traditionally animated movie of all time.

Ambition paints every frame with all the colors of the wind, but ambition can also dance perilously close to pretension, and one misstep can spell disaster.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Pocahontas is available to stream on Hulu.

The animated musical romantic drama won Best Original Song for “Colors of the Wind,” and composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz were honored a second time that year with the Oscar for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.

The eponymous hero would go on to become the first Native American Disney Princess and the first woman of color to lead a cast of Disney characters.

Set in 1607, Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) sails with the Virginia Company to the New World in search of adventure.

Once landing in Tsenacommacah, he meets and falls in love with Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, with Judy Kuhn as the singing voice), the free-spirited daughter of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means, with vocals from Jim Cummings).

But the greedy, genocidal Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) is obsessed with pillaging the Powhatan tribe’s land for gold, and his conquest threatens to make a tragedy out of the star-crossed lovers’ forbidden romance.

Artistic liberties are taken in almost all works of historical fiction – to quote Sir Alfred Hitchcock, “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out” – but the sanitization and whitewashing found in Pocahontas have aged the text poorly.

The real Pocahontas was not a “magical minority,” but, rather, a child bride, and the colonizers didn’t make peace with her people after she learned how to speak English by “listening with her heart.”

As for John Smith, his “exploration” was more correctly an “invasion,” an “imperialization,” and it shouldn’t have taken a “noble savage” like Pocahontas to humanize First Nation people in his eyes (through her sexuality, no less).

This problematic, post-Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) white savior narrative of exotification crystallizes at its most egregious in the musical number, “Savages.”

The back-and-forth parallelism of the song conflates the white supremacy of the European settlers alongside the self-defensive resistance from the indigenous groups, drawing a false equivalency between the two that the First Americans were as intolerant as the British Empire.

Intentionalism is a critical fallacy, and Disney’s white liberal, apologistic intentions here are irrelevant.

If the true story of Pocahontas is too upsetting for their key demographic to understand without reducing the Powhatan culture to something that existed only for white men to appropriate it, then it’s a story that never should be told to children.

But, for what it is within the context of the Disney canon, Pocahontas is an epic entertainment. The soundtrack raises goosebumps, and the animation is as colorful as the signature song.

Apolitically, the love story between John Smith and Pocahontas is one of the most mature and affecting in the Disney universe, and, hey, if nothing else, Ratcliffe is shown to be more villainous than Powhatan.

If your child is too young to learn the real history behind Pocahontas, then at least take care to teach them what reel history means. The insultingly oversimplified themes of the picture will be digestible enough to entertain them, but the more harmlessly so, the better.

And as far as Disney fare goes, its family-friendliness is just as accessible for adults looking to enjoy a more grownup tale of intercultural (though largely fictionalized) romance, as it is for kids looking to sing along to some catchy tunes.

Hulu review: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” (2007)

Not only did this abortion of a movie kill Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, it also spawned Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) reboot, a franchise which lasted all of two films.

Yes, it really is as bad as the reputation that precedes it.

If you don’t know what not to watch next, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007) is available to stream on Hulu. The filmmaker is also part-responsible for Ivan Raimi and Grant Curtis’s script.

That sixty-three percent of positive reviews aggregated via Rotten Tomatoes is a passing grade for a failure of a superhero film.

One year after Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004), the time is right for an uncharacteristically vain Peter Parker (Maguire) to propose to the struggling (not to mention jealous and selfish) Broadway actress Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), whose star flickers as Spider-Man’s rises.

Harry Osborn (James Franco), Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), and their sisters all do battle with Spider-Man.

Ad interim, an extraterrestrial parasite falls to Earth on a meteorite and bonds itself to Peter, teasing out the dark side of his powers, jeopardizing his humanity, and whispering disastrous hairstyling advice into his ear.

To be fair, Spider-Man 2 was the all-time greatest of its genre until the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), so any sequel was all but destined to fall short (much like Nolan’s own The Dark Knight Rises (2012), as a matter of fact).

And Spider-Man 3 comes its closest to working in the first act, with the conflict between Peter and the New Goblin mounting to a critical pitch throughout the course of the (accidental) trilogy.

Once Harry succumbs to amnesia (yes, seriously), the soap operatic melodrama drowns the drama in so much curdled cheese, and the tightly wound tension wets its pants in a flaccid anticlimax.

Even the laughably miscast Grace as Venom could have seduced Peter into killing Harry under Raimi’s horror auteurship (which distinguishes the hospital setpiece in Spider-Man 2), but, instead, we get a superfluous Sandman, and an underused Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard).

Consequently, the character arcs are oversimplified into the most thoughtlessly digestible versions of themselves.

That’s why this critic strained to synopsize this overcrowded picture.

It’s an opportunity missed – Peter could’ve lost MJ after murdering Harry, and then Raimi could’ve directed a sequel about Gwen, with the splendidly computer-animated Sandman as the antagonist – and it’s an opportunity sorely missed, because Maguire is Spider-Man.

His boyish screen persona satisfies the comic book wish fulfillment of a nerd becoming a superhero, as opposed to the hipster supermodel that is Andrew Garfield; Tom Holland is the best of both worlds, and he may not be what Sony deserves, but he is what they need right now.

Hulu review: ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (2004-2012)

When the First Lady of the United States references your series for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner joke, you know you’ve got an instant classic on your hands.

If you don’t know what to watch next, ABC’s Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) is available to stream on Hulu. Marc Cherry’s mystery comedy-drama was a ratings juggernaut over the course of its run. It is the longest-running hourlong television show with all-female leads.

Set on Wisteria Lane, the primetime soap opera is narrated by Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) after she commits suicide.

The ensemble cast are Mary Alice’s friends and neighbors: the recently divorced girl next door, Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher); the overwhelmed mother, Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman); the WASP-y Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross); and the adulterous Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria).

Each season turns along a central mystery at its axis (the inaugural season being the circumstances which led up to Mary Alice’s death) as these four titular housewives come to grips with love, motherhood, and friendship.

Like Showtime’s Dexter (2006-2013) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Desperate Housewives should’ve ended after its fifth season, but went on for eight instead. The first five mysteries are the most bingeworthy.

After the infamous time jump between the fourth and fifth seasons, it holds itself to be self-evident that Cherry could only develop these characters so much.

Visiting them five years into their future is a gimmick which sticks the landing for a staff of writers whose reputation precedes them for setpieces and cliffhangers, but it’s one that cannot be outdone.

Susan, Lynette, Bree, and Gaby become not who we know them to be when we initially befriend them, which is organic to their dramatic trajectories, but they begin to feel like strangers in the final three seasons.

These last seasons fail not because they’re bad, but because they’re forgettable, which a soap never should be. The sixth-season “witness protection program” twist is yawningly predictable, and this reviewer can’t recall what even happens in the seventh and eighth seasons.

Not every program can be AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013), quitting while they’re still ahead, and Desperate Housewives is in the business of generating viewership, not crafting high art, which it does well, even if it’s what’s keeping it on life support past its expiration date.

If true genius in entertainment is to be found in knowing one’s limitations, then a visit to the campy, twisty, addictive fun of Wisteria Lane won’t overstay its welcome as long as you don’t plan on moving in there.