The Best Things I Saw This Week

Wishing a very happy #MillenialFriday to you all! Welcome back to another addition of "The Best Things I Saw This Week". For those of you that are new, this is just a list of things I've been enjoying lately that I'd like to recommend to you. I hope you enjoy!

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MANIAC

This is something I jumped on right away but have not been able to write about it since viewing. Much like all things Jonah Hill, I was anticipating the release of this limited series for many months, since we first got previews of costume design. There are a few things you need to know about Maniac going in: it is dark, it is strange, and it is good. If you keep these in mind, then you should have no problem letting the psycho-pharmaceutical trip unfold before your eyes. 

Maniac is equally great for what it is and what it is not. Your expectations will betray you so leave them at the door. Part of the success of the show is the simple fact that you have both Emma Stone and Jonah Hill at the helm. These two, who have evolved into much more mature actors since their last meeting, are a force to be reckoned with. Different episodes take place in random, different dream sequences that allow Hill and Stone to have fun with a wide range of characters. Even the versions of themselves that are rooted in “reality” are great, as both actors show range in their “real world” characters. Stone swaps her starlet looks and dazzling smile for frayed hair and cigarettes as she plays a con-woman addict. While Hill, departs from comic relief and overt personality to play a troubled, depressed introvert. There is a case to be made that Maniac is just 10 hours of Hill and Stone acting circle around each other. And if that was all Maniac was, then what a treat that would be. Lucky for us it is much, much more.

The show has many layers and many one-off side stories that are all subtly and smartly related back to the over-arching story at hand. It is fun and trippy. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings to life the wild world of the human mind in a story that is equal parts Inception and Black Mirror. As deep and entertaining as the show is, it finds roots in our reality as it makes a case for the importance mental health. The weather is getting cooler so spend a Saturday/Sunday afternoon burning through Maniac. At 10, roughly 40-minute episodes it’s an astoundingly entertaining story told beautifully, in its entirety.

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A Star Is Born

Oscar season is among us! And boy did our first potential entrant wow audiences. On its third remake, A Star Is Born really found itself in the hands of debut director, and star, Bradley Cooper. After hearing her sing La Vie En Rose at a party Cooper found his muse in pop-queen herself, Lady Gaga. The song that caught Cooper’s attention is performed by Gaga in the film and it’s outstanding. In recent years, Gaga has shown us she is much more than a pop vocalist with head-turning red-carpet wardrobe. Her duet album with Tony Bennett showed Gaga for what she really is, a world class vocalist.

We knew this movie would have great music with Gaga in a lead role, but Cooper also surprises us with some next level guitar/piano playing. On the flipside, we knew Cooper would deliver on the acting front. He even provides us with a chunky, deep, southern drawl (you’d think was Sam Elliot himself, who, surprise, is in the movie). But once again, Gaga wows us with her ability to convey emotion through an outlet other than her singing voice.

A Star Is Born in its previous versions was the story of a washed-up rock star finding young talent and then ultimately getting jealous of her star rising much higher than his. This iteration is different. The 2018 version explores what happens when you love someone that you’re holding back. Cooper isn’t jealous of Gaga’s stardom, but he must ask himself if his loving her is getting in her way. It is a sad movie. It is a moving movie. The scenes where Gaga gets on a stage and belts the title tracks are as captivating as I’ve seen in a musical movie. It is a shoe-in for Best Original Song and there has been chatter for Best Picture (although this year is shaping up to be a competitive one), but don’t be surprised if you see an nom in the acting categories as well.

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Live From the Ryman Theatre

When I write these, I like to give you something to look forward to. This live album has not been released yet (although pre-orders are available). Plain and simple, Jason Isbell is the greatest American songwriter. With songs of falling short and trying to better yourself, Isbell is a welcomed departure from the stadium country of today’s radio hits. He plays the guitar like he’s never had to learn anything else and he sings with a calm, low voice that somehow is able to bellow an octave up at the climax of his songs. The remainder of the 400 Unit is a stellar group of musicians that like to take instrumental breaks post-bridge to flex their talents. The two tracks that have been released show dueling guitar-fiddle solos, highlighting the best of any southern band.

Isbell’s life has been a struggle and he sorts that out in his songs. He got sober. He had fame then lost it, and has since found his way back. You hear that in his fans (it is a live album, mind you). On “Cover Me Up” he sings, “I sobered up, I swore off that stuff. Forever this time.” As he finishes that line the crowd comes to a roar. Happy to see their wayward cowboy back on stage, where he belongs. Listen to “Cover Me Up” on Spotify and “Last of My Kind” on YouTube.

There you have it! Another few things to keep you entertained all weekend.

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Take care.