9/21/19

Downton Abbey

They've returned at last! When Julian Fellowes wrote his miniseries Downton Abbey, it was to be a single season with a self-contained story. As the episodes unfolded and the public responded, he knew he had a winner. Six seasons later, they reluctantly closed the door on Highclere Castle and we bid them a fond farewell. Why did this series last so long?
  • The stories were involving, sometimes funny and always fascinating;
  • The costumes were to die for;
  • The characters were consistent and relatable;
  • The romances, old and new were upbeat and satisfying.
  • The "above stairs" and "below stairs" relationships were solid, interesting and tradition bound;
  • The history of the era was brought to life;
  • The individuals were people we could root for!
So now the movie... 
They are all back, stunned by a pending visit from royalty! To the staff's dismay, this means they are confronted (and usurped) by a visiting palace staff!

I watched:
  • Michelle Dockery: Remember when the women rallied to help Lady Mary Talbot hide that pesky corpse? She is still cool, calm and collected; expected (doomed?) to inherit the place some day. She realizes that Downton is the beating heart of the community.
  • Hugh Bonneville: Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham is trying to adjust to an ever-changing world. It will be tight, but he will find the funds to host the king and queen properly.
  • Elizabeth McGovern: People seem to have forgiven Cora Crawley for being American. She understands that if she wants something done, ask the queen, not the king. The rain cleared up in time for the parade, proving that God is a Monarchist.
  • Maggie Smith: Violet Crawley may be the Earl's meddling aunt, but her acid wit has been a touchstone for many of the women in her world. Now she's in a swivet because a sister is one of the queen's ladies in waiting and an inheritance is at stake! She says Machiavelli is underrated.
  • Laura Carmichael: Lady Edith is far, far too "modern" for Violet's taste! Remember when she hid her baby at the neighbor's? Now she is frustrated by inaction. 
  • Jim Carter: Mr. Carson comes right back where he belongs, ruling the staff from the head of the table below stairs. Retirement does not suit...nor does the king's personal butler.
  • Leslie Nicol: Mrs. Patmore still rules the kitchen! (With Daisy helping as fast as she can.) Who is this imperious Frenchman brought to cook for the king and queen?
  • Brandon Coyle: Mr. Bates and his wife Anna are not ones to stand aside, helplessly wringing their hands. Watch when they swing into action!
  • Robert James-Collier: Thomas Barrow is consistent, but two major events are disconcerting, the first one when he is temporarily replaced by Carson, and the other involves the police. (Spoiler, sorry.)
This is a vastly oversimplified list: the host of familiar faces guarantees our enjoyment and satisfaction. Question: Has Julian Fellowes ever written anything with a less-then-happy ending?

Full disclosure, I watched this series courtesy of boxed sets I borrowed from the library. I'm too impatient to watch week after week. This movie is perfect closure.
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Take a look at this trailer:
https://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi232176665
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7/27/19

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

There are two things I would like to make clear: 1) I do not like Quentin Tarantino movies. 2) I like this one. And no one is more surprised than I! In fact, I have already pre-ordered the DVD.

Written and directed by Mr. T. himself, this delicious time capsule delivers the goods. It's fun, it's scary, it's entertaining. I'm not sure if the younger generation will have quite the same reaction to all things familiar in 1969: airlines (remember Pan Am?), luggage (no wheels), cars, fads (everybody smokes), movies, television (the movie opens with an episode of "LA Law," featuring Rick Dalton), clothes (GoGo boots!), food (I came home and made myself a box of Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese!), and above all, that tingly feeling I got as I recognized a few names and began to worry.

Here is part of Tarantino's terrific cast:
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street") Rick Dalton is a television star. We see parts of his successful series before it was cancelled (he wanted to be in movies). He also does guest spots: watch him sing "Green Door." Oh, and he hates hippies!
  • Brad Pitt ("Moneybag") Cliff Booth is Rick's stunt double. He is also his driver, handyman, gofer, sounding board and one of Rick's few friends (he "carries his load"). When Cliff takes off his shirt, we see the assortment of scars a stuntman accumulates. Yeah, Brad is eating again...
  • Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya") Sharon Tate lives with Rick's neighbor, Roman Polanski. She is luminously lovely...and pregnant. Watch her when she sees her name on a movie marquee.
  • Al Pacino ("Hangman") Marvin Schwarzs describes the career arc of a soon-to-be has-been television actor as he pitches the advantages of starring in a spaghetti western.
  • Luke Perry ("Riverdale") Wayne Maunder plays the father of a kidnapped girl.
  • Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood") James Stacy is the star of a movie that features Rick Dalton.
  • Damian Lewis ("Billions") Steve McQueen describes the marriage-go-round of 1969 Hollywood as he surveys the crowd at the Playboy Mansion. (We recognize many of them, e.g., Mama Cass.)
  • Kurt Russell ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Randy agrees to hire Cliff over his wife's objections.
  • Margaret Qualley ("Fosse/Verdon") Pussycat sells acid-laced cigarettes at a bus stop but hitches a ride with Cliff to the Spahn ranch, where she lives. Of course she calls policemen "Pigs."
  • Dakota Fanning ("Ocean's Eight") Squeaky Fromme (yes, THAT Squeaky Fromme) lives at the Spahn ranch.
I hate to leave anyone out, but it looks like everyone wanted to be in this R-rated venture, so the list goes on and on: Emile Hirsch (Jay Sebring is a friend of Sharon's), Mike Moh (Bruce Lee's fight with Cliff is outrageous), Rumor Willis (Joanna Pettet is a well-known face from the '60s). Movie clips, television clips, and made-up clips make the two hours and forty-one minutes fly by. After the first thirty or forty F-bombs, you won't notice them any more. No nudity, no sweaty bodies, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff (just a couple of bits with a flamethrower).

Just remember, this is Tarantino; he re-writes history when he feels like it: remember when they shot Hitler in "Inglorious Basterds?" When he is funny, he is really funny. When he is violent, he is really violent. This is his penultimate film, his last one is rumored to be a Star Trek outing.
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Here is a sample:
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7/7/19

"Spiderman: Far From Home"

Any movie that begins with Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and sung by Whitney Houston sets the stage; so here we go. First there was "The Blip." A five-year blank spot occurred, remember "Infinity War" and "Endgame?" Now missing people are back and they haven't aged, but everyone else is five years older, so there are support groups, etc., to help people adjust.

With a script written by a committee, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo direct this massive effort. They were given a 90-minute story which the committee inflated to a 129-minute CGI extravaganza. I dozed through many of the stupifying special effects, which consisted primarily of blowie uppie stuff in every color of the rainbow. The effects did NOT advance the story.

Part of the Russos' gigantic cast:
  • Tom Holland ("Avengers") Peter Parker / Spiderman is such an earnest high-school boy, excited about his class trip to Europe, AND maybe a chance to spend some quality time with MJ.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("Avengers") Nick Fury is as impatient as always and Peter Parker's immaturity tests his temper. Particularly when Peter sends Nick's calls to voicemail.
  • Marisa Tomei (we will always love her in "My Cousin Vinny") Aunt May has trouble keeping Peter's secret, but she likes the guy who was the late Tony Stark's chauffeur.
  • Jon Favreau ("Chef") Happy Hogan is the lucky fellow who catches Aunt May's eye. He is also sort of a life coach for Peter as those high school students try to cope with their summer romances.
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Zodiac") Quentin Beck / Mysterio has Peter excited. He may be the perfect superhero to replace Tony Stark / Iron Man! Mysterio tells Peter, "Don't apologize for being the smartest one in the room."
  • We have classmates played by Zendaya (MJ), Jacob Batalon (Ned), Anjourie Rice (Betty) and Tony Revolori (Flash). The adult advisors are the comic relief and the scenery is terrific...until it's blown up. Grrr....
Some things are enjoyable, Peter is given a pair of glasses that had belonged to Tony Stark, so he discovers Edith, who is his own personal Alexa. She will do his bidding without question. Oops! I also enjoyed the trips to Venice, Prague, Czech Republic, London and Dorset. And I got a kick out of that bossy blonde in Austria when she orders him, "Take off your clothes!"

The effective scenes where we see what a fine young man Peter Parker has become, are too few and far between. I appreciated the "In Memorium" segment that acknowledged the missing Avengers. The apocalyptic CGI did not add to my experience. Sorry.
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See what I mean:
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6/28/19

Yesterday

First I must emphasize that this is Entertainment, not Art. This means you have a responsibility: You MUST suspend disbelief. After you've done your part, sit back, relax and enjoy this lovely fantasy, this song-book musical, this diverting journey, as you watch a nice young man who must cope with undeserved fame.

Award-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") knows how to please an audience, so with this story by Jack Barth and Richard Curtis, he brings us a PG-13 screenplay by Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") about a street busker and part time stock clerk at a big-box store who suffers an accident during a world-wide, 12-second blackout. His good friend and sorta manager is at his hospital bedside when he regains consciousness. Problem is, some of the things he has always taken for granted seem to have never existed, including the Beatles, their music, and Coca Cola!

Part of Boyle's wonderful cast:
  • Himesh Patel (Lots of TV) is Jack Malek, suddenly credited with classic Beatles creations because there were no Beatles in this altered universe, even though HE remembers their music. His first attempt to play a Beatles song for his parents (Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar) is an exercise in frustration.
  • Lily James ("The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society") is Ellie, the neighbor, classmate and manager on whom Jack depends. She is stunned by the beauty and simplicity of the song "Yesterday" and thinks Jack has entered a whole new creative phase.
  • Alexander Arnold ("Poldark") Gavin is the first person who can sense the potential of the music. He records some of Jack's songs and puts them on the Internet.
  • Ed Sheehan playing himself, offers Jack an opportunity to tour with him. He also suggests an improvement to one of the Beatles' songs. You'll smile when he compares his and Jack's song-writing skills to Salieri's and Mozart's.
  • Kate McKinnon ("The Spy Who Dumped Me") Debra is the record company agent who advises Jack that she can make a LOT of money for him, then take most of it back.
  • James Corden as himself, hosts a TV talk show where Jack is a guest.
We have people to root for, attractive stars, a silly premise, no gunshots or blowie uppie stuff, and almost two hours of Beatles music, capably performed by the talented Mr. Patel himself. We found laugh-out-loud moments, so we left the theater with big smiles on our faces.
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See what I mean:
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6/24/19

Always Be My Maybe

As a general rule, romantic comedies offer two things: 1) Predictability 2) An interesting path from Points A to Z. This one is no different. Point A is the childhood of two neighbors. These children play together, get into mischief together and as young adults, have "A Moment."

Director Nahnatchka Khan ("Fresh off the Boat"), working with a script from a trio of writers, has fashioned a pleasant little comedy with an unexpected twist or two. I think I'll leave it to you to discover those for yourself; how do you spell "BIG spoiler!"

Some of her cast:
  • Ali Wong ("American Housewife") Sasha had to do her own cooking since she was tall enough to reach the kitchen counter; her creation with Spam told me she had a future (the little umbrella tipped me off). Her parents are preoccupied with chasing the American Dream.
  • Randall Park ("Long Shot") Marcus lives next door. His parents are the closest thing to a mother and father Sasha has ever had; she learned to cook from his mom. He works for his dad during the week and has a garage band that plays local gigs on the weekend. He hates chi chi restaurants with teeny portions and pretentious menus.
  • James Saito (Lots of TV) Harry is Marcus's father. He is hard-working, decent, and always thought those two kids would end up together.
  • Daniel Dae Kim ("Hawaii Five-O") Brandon is engaged to Sasha. That's handy because he is a successful restaurant developer and she is quickly becoming a name brand. Now he thinks maybe he needs a few months off.
  • Vivian Bang ("White Rabbit") Jenny dates Marcus. She is the catalyst for the big spoiler!
  • Casey Wilson (Lots of TV) Chloe is the best personal assistant anyone could hope for.  Sasha is a lucky gal. . . sorta. . .
This is rated PG-13, so expect a bit of profanity, a bit of sex, and a bit of drug use (they smoke pot), but no vehicular mayhem, gunshots or blowie uppie stuff. Harmless diversion...
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Here's how it looks:
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6/23/19

Lost and Found

I would like to think all Irish people are as kind as the ones portrayed in this charming series of vignettes that take place in or near a Lost and Found office at an Irish train station.

Writer/director Liam O. Mochain created these delightful interconnected sketches inspired by true stories. All of Mochain's characters are seen off and on throughout this movie, as it is a small town and they interact.

I'm going to do a terrible thing and not name the actors. I can't pronounce their names and most of their credits are for their work in Ireland. Here are the most visible characters:
  • Joe heads the cast as the proprietor of the lost and found office. He is a busy man, courting the local ticketing agent at the station, so he hires her son.
  • Daniel is given only rudimentary training before he is on his own. Items turned in include an engagement ring, a baby in a pram, and an artificial leg.
  • Outside we see Eddie, who is trying to get money for a ticket to Dublin, as his wife is in the hospital there.
  • Gabriel is an earnest young man trying to pull off the surprise proposal of the century. You won't believe how many things can go wrong!
  • Paudge needs a Mongolian Throat Singer for the grand opening of his Asian-themed pub. He is always hopeful (but cranky) as he invests time, money and labor on each new scheme.
  • From her deathbed, Daniel's grandmother asks him to retrieve a bracelet left behind when her family fled the Nazis.
  • Maya goes into the funeral parlor to use the restroom, then discovers she knew the man in that casket, so she signs the guest book.
  • Sile is a lovely bride, even though she shows a strong Bridezilla streak. Will the groom show up?
The stories are charming and involving. It's fun to see familiar faces in the train station, on the train itself, in the funeral home, the lost and found office and numerous other places.

I've ordered the DVD but despite the Amazon catalog not showing closed captions, my DVD has them. This is a real plus! ...smile...
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Here is a preview:
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6/22/19

Late Night

Emma Thompson is a treasure! From Nanny McPhee to Elinor Dashwood, from Hillary Clinton to Agent O, she never misses a beat. This time she is an Anna Wintour-type talk-show hostess who is becoming irrelevant. Her ego doesn't want to accept the news, thus our story begins...

Director Nisha Ganatra (LOTS of TV), working with writer/actress Mindy Kaling ("The Mindy Project"), brings us an involving story that highlights the trials and tribulations of talk-show writers, along with the challenges of hosting a long-running talk show (and keeping one's name out of the tabloids).

Part of Ganatra's capable cast:
  • Emma Thompson ("King Lear") Katherine Newbury admits to the accusation that she hates women (except Gilda Radner) but cannot accept any threat of cancellation for her long-running show.
  • Mindy Kaling ("A Wrinkle in Time") Molly grew up watching the show and adores Katherine. Through a fluke, she is suddenly hired as a writer, a job she has no background or training for; her co-writers are NOT pleased.
  • John Lithgow ("The Crown") Walter is her loyal husband. Health issues are looming and stress is growing.
  • Hugh Dancy ("Robot Chicken") Charlie is the only friendly face at the writers' table. He warns Molly about pitfalls and helps her find her way.
  • Reid Scott ("Veep") Tom is Katherine's opening monologue writer. He has no intention of sharing that spot!
  • Amy Ryan ("Bridge of Spies") Caroline is the network executive who has the responsibility to deliver the bad news.
We immediately see that the writers are an unmotivated bunch and we can see why the ratings have been slowing sinking for ten years. A "Gotcha!" from the tabloids is a shock but Katherine's producer advises her to ignore it and it will soon be forgotten. Molly doesn't see it that way. Katherine has told Molly to "stop giving advice and write something!"

Newbury's rapier wit and Molly's well-meaning advice make for an interesting screenplay, which I enjoyed. There are a few unexpected twists and turns, but no guns, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff, and no noticeable profanity. The R rating is more for adult perspective than sexual content or violence.

I will probably buy the DVD because the theater where I viewed this doesn't offer closed caption devices and I know I missed some of Katherine's zingers.
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Here is a preview:
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6/21/19

Toy Story 4

Was it only 2010 when we watched, with big lumps in our throats, as Woody bid farewell to Andy and moved on to a new home and a new kid? Woody is just as earnest as ever, taking his job seriously as he cares for the well-being of little Bonnie, who is fearful about starting school. She makes her own toy, a spork that has eyes and a mouth, with pipe-cleaner arms and tongue compressor feet.

Director Josh Cooley, not new to the Pixar world but directing his first Toy Story, has been given a script written by a massive collection of writers. The result is, like "Toy Story 3," fairly adult even though it is a Disney movie. By that I mean the issues resonate more for adults than children, although I suspect, at a gut level, even children recognize the importance of loyalty and friendship.

Brand name actors who provide voices include:
  • Tom Hanks - Woody, always loyal to his fellow toys, is determined to make sure their kid has the toy of her choice (even though it may not be Woody), and masterminds the mind-boggling challenges that confront a toy-sized cowboy, trying to save a confused spork.
  • Tim Allen - Buzz Lightyear wants to help, so he tries to manage our familiar toys as they set out to rescue Woody.
  • Tony Hale - Forky insists that he is trash. Woody keeps rescuing him from garbage cans, trash baskets and dumpsters, all the while trying to convince him how important he is to Bonnie.
  • Annie Potts - Bo Peep has been spotted in an antique store, but this is no longer the sweet little shepherdess Woody remembers. Now Bo is liberated, strong and assertive, while her sheep seem to be inclined to bite (?).
  • Joan Cusack - Jessie may be the next sheriff. This cowgirl really knows how to rally the troops.
  • Keanu Reeves - Duke Caboom is a new toy from Canada, a motorcycle riding stuntman: The Canuck with all the Luck.
  • Christine Hendricks - Gabby Gabby needs a voice box if she can hope for a little girl of her own. Hers was a manufacturers flaw and she wants to have a kid like Woody had Andy.
All of our friends are there, this is a reunion with a few new faces thrown in. The settings are spectacular, the carnival, the antique store, the school, a roadside at night, and the artwork is breathtaking. Watch Bonnie's face as she has to go to school the first time.

The action sequences are exhausting, as sinister ventriloquists dummies provide the villainy, along with that cat! I saw this at Cinerama, just a block from my home, and it was an early matinee, so I had just a handful of people to watch as we exited the theater. All in all, people seemed satisfied. I know I was.
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Take a look:
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6/1/19

Rocketman

Let's get this clear right away: I was never a fan of Elton John. I could take him or leave him although I was aware of his fame and certainly recognize some of his music. The framing device is a 12-step meeting where our fantastically clad rock star admits to all of his addictions. The story unfolds through flashbacks.

This songbook musical makes absolutely no pretense to realism: The songs aren't chronological; people dance in the street; whole crowds levitate! But let me hasten to add, this musical has it all! Costumes, production design, wonderful sets and most of all, it boasts one of the best performances by an actor I have seen all year. I am crediting director Dexter Fletcher ("Eddie the Eagle") and anyone involved in the production. (Reputed to be in the $40M range.) The screenplay, not so much, but I admit they had a lot of ground to cover.

Part of Fletcher's stellar cast:
  • Taron Egerton (the "Kingsman" franchise) is Reggie, soon to be Elton. I've seen him in several movies but never suspected the extent of his talent (he sings Elton John's music; I love "Pinball Wizard") and does a great job showing us the ups and downs of super stardom.
  • Matthew Illesley and Kit Conner play young Reggie (before he became Elton). You will love his audition at the Royal Academy of Music.
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("Jurassic World") is his mother Sheila, a woman who wants love on her own terms.
  • Gemma Jones (the "Bridget Jones" franchise) Ivy is the grandmother we all should have. She loves Reggie unconditionally and is his first, best fan.
  • Jamie Bell ("Donnybrook") Bernie Taupin was the collaborator who helped put Elton John on the map. The two of them collaborated successfully for years. Bernie loves American wide-open spaces and beautiful girls. He sings "Yellow Brick Road."
This R-rated musical has absolutely NO blowie uppie stuff, but plenty of sexual situations, alcohol, drugs (Hey! It's Elton John! Although he has been sober for over 30 years now.), profanity and outrageous costumes. We also get to watch the evolution of our hero's hairline, eyewear, footwear, jewelry, costumes, and stagecraft. This is Entertainment, NOT Art!

Any caveat? The dialogue. The sound is just fine, but without captions, most Americans won't be able to decipher what the characters are saying. Their British accents are unabashedly authentic and FAST! I intend to have the DVD anyway, so there will be no problem for me, but be advised...
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Take a peek:
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5/18/19

Netflix - Compilation 1 - May 18, 2019

Some JayFlix diehards have asked me for my opinion on some of the streaming services. As a confirmed Luddite (!) this is a major challenge because that whole universe is a mystery to me, however, I have blundered into some stuff and had other shows recommended to me (Thanks Sweden!) that have turned out to be things I DO have an opinion about.

I will share these views intermittently, along with my experience in finding things. When I mention a series, it is no guarantee that it will be available when you search for it, but rest assured, it was there when I wrote this. Remember, this is Netflix, so you must understand that most of these are R-rated, and one or two are foreign (English captions), so brace yourself.
  • Schitt's Creek (Four seasons so far) This features two of Christopher Guest's repertory company, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as a filthy rich couple who hit a major financial bump in the road and end up in two rooms in a chintzy motel in little burg (Yeah, you guessed it) along with their spoiled rotten young adult children. This is Stranger in a Strange Land, as they try to cope with poverty, no car, limited means, and a rich assortment of local yokels. (Brace yourself for a Hollywood version of what they THINK local yokels are like.) This is character-driven humor, so the first episode or two is spent introducing you to the characters. The adult children are played by Dan Levy (who shares writing credit with his dad, Eugene) and Annie Murphy; these two share a warped sense of values. I ended up fond of the gay son and that wildly irresponsible daughter, while O'Hara's former soap star character is an absolute hoot!
  • Rita (Four seasons total) This Danish series (English captions) is about a divorced school teacher with three children who sees her mission as her students' first line of defense from their parents. She has a good handle on what her children need; but what she needs? Not so much... As you watch, you will see why those children need protecting, why this is a teacher we admire, and why Americans consider Scandinavian TV to be VERY adult!
  • Laugh-In I looked this one up last night because I had been a fan of the classic series. I appreciated their groundbreaking humor and the vast array of guest stars. Last night they cleverly interspersed clips from the original show with more contemporary faces but I was very disappointed to hear one tirade after another coming from the echo chamber that is today's Hollywood , even the Fickle Finger of Fate was boring. Nothing original, but was fun to be reminded of the old faces: John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Ruth Buzzy, Judy Carne, Tim Conway, Lily Tomlin, Richard Nixon, Goldie Hawn, Sammy Davis, Jr., Rowan and Martin, etc., and catch phrases, "Sock it to me!" "Here come da judge!" "Look THAT up in your Funk and Wagnells" "Beautiful downtown Burbank..." etc., plus a nostalgic visit with the Farkell Family. After those repetitious ideological rants, I just can't in good faith recommend it.
  • Gad Elmaleh's American Dream (a one-off) Spend an hour of entertaining stand-up comedy (not usually something I would seek) with France's Jerry Seinfeld. This guy was born in Morocco, has starred in French comedies (The Valet is a favorite of mine), and now that he has crossed the pond, he brings his own unique view of our country, our language, and our behavior. He is VERY funny and reminds me of a French-Moroccan Victor Borge.
  • Welcome to the Family (Benvinguts a la família) By the way, the language here is Catalon, not Spanish, with English captions. A destitute woman is being evicted, so she grabs her children and throws herself at the "mercy" (?!) of her wealthy (estranged) father and his current trophy wife. I watched one season and it looks like the second season is being filmed. I enjoyed it. Thanks, Sweden.
  • The Ranch (on sixth season so far) This features an unapologetic right winger (Sam Elliott) who owns a ranch in Colorado. He has one drunken son (Danny Masterson) who stayed home to help and a second drunken son (Ashton Kutcher) who blew his first season as a pro-football player and, like a bad penny, has returned. You'll love the father's opinion about almond milk! The rancher's former wife (Debra Winger) runs a bar in town but remains on friendly terms, so it isn't a constant diatribe. The language is raunchy, the stars are appealing and the story line is involving; e.g., the rancher has had a fire, so he is itemizing some of the bad things he has encountered in the past, "Drought, fire, downed fences, sick cows, eight years of Clinton..." I'm on Season Six and have good feelings about that nephew who just showed up.
  • Insatiable (Two seasons) An unmotivated attorney (his father owns a successful law firm) has discovered that his passion is coaching beauty pageant contestants. The unpredictable first episode threw out one twist after another. Suffice it to say, we are with a young woman who has been fat all of her life. She is hurt and her jaw is wired shut for months; lo and behold, a butterfly has emerged from the chrysalis. But let me warn you, bullying causes scars that don't just disappear with those excess pounds. I haven't even finished Season One and I'm hooked. This one was recommended by the Swedish branch of JayFlix and IS licensed for viewing in the U.S. (Some other tempting ones aren't aired in this country....and Netflix can tell! Grrr....)
Stay tuned. I may do this again some time. Please let me know what you think.

5/11/19

The White Crow

Do you remember the international kerfuffle when Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West from the Soviet Union during the Cold War? You're probably too young, but I certainly remember. During this R-rated film, it occurred to me that the media didn't come close to describing the drama of what actually happened, or the events that led up to it. Rest assured, the Russians tried everything possible to prevent it, but we know that Nureyev lived out his life in the West. In fact our family drove from Eugene, Oregon to Portland to see him when he toured with the Royal Canadian Ballet.

Nureyev was born on the Trans-Siberian Express somewhere near Irkutsk, Siberia. His mother was a dedicated, hard-working woman who only saw her husband (a Red Army Political Commissar) occasionally; somehow she managed to obtain a ticket to a theater and thus his first love was born. Teachers spotted his potential, so he was encouraged and trained from an early age. We see all of this in flashbacks interspersed with other aspects of his story.

In keeping with his nickname "The White Crow," Rudolf never fits in. His imperious manner, his towering talent, his take-no-prisoners attitude, and his overwhelming confidence, all conspire to keep him somewhat isolated from his Kirov cast mates and allow him to focus on his friendship with Chilean heiress Clara Saint.

Working from the book by Julie Kavanaugh, screenwriter David Hare ("The Hours") has provided director Ralph Fiennes ("Coriolanus") with a script which features the following:
  • Oleg Ivenko, in his first and only movie outing, is Nureyev. Like Nureyev, his focus is on ballet, although Rudy also has a compelling interest in classical art. In Paris, he is fascinated by a statue dedicated to Libertè, Egalitè and Fraternitè. 
  • Ralph Fiennes ("Hail, Caesar!") is Pushkin, Rudolf's teacher, mentor and landlord. He says, "Technique is only a means, not an end."
  • Chulpan Khamatova is Xenia, Pushkin's wife. She brings Rudy onion soup...among other things.
  • Maksimilian Grigoriyev is the darling young Rudolf.
  • Adèle Exarchopoulos ("Down by Love") is the enigmatic Clara Saint. Her lover recently died so Nureyev helps her grieve. He boasts "I'm better than Valium!"
  • Raphael Personnaz ("Marius") is the French host and Parisian tour guide, Pierre Lacotte, who plays a key role in Rudy's defection. This actor bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Viggo Mortensen.
Much of the dialogue is in either French or Russian, so captions are necessary. Much of the action takes place in Russia, while the language of ballet is French. Expect bits of nudity (male) and many snippets of familiar ballets. I would have welcomed more!

You will relish mini tours of the Hermitage, the Louvre and loving views of familiar art, all under the ever-present eye of the hovering KGB. As you might expect, this will probably have a release limited to the more "Art House" type theaters. I hope I'm wrong.
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Here is a sample:
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5/4/19

Long Shot

So 12-year-old Fred had a crush on his babysitter. Imagine seeing her again, now that he is grown and she is running for President. She has become a world-class figure, articulate and well-traveled. He knows he isn't handsome, so he shoots for Charming.

Director Jonathan Levine ("50/50" which is unexpectedly good, by the way), working with a script from Dan Sterling ("The Interview") and Liz Hannah ("The Post"), hits his target with this R-rated long shot.

Levine's cast:
  • Charlize Theron ("Atomic Blonde") Charlotte Field is in a pressure cooker situation. She needs someone she trusts to help with her speeches. She works for a ninny and has very strong idealistic beliefs.
  • Seth Rogen (Lots of TV) Fred Flarsky is a recently fired journalist; his employer has been bought out and the buyer is diametrically opposed to Fred's beliefs. Charlotte hopes he can cobble together some campaign-winning speeches.
  • June Diane Rafael ("Grace and Frankie") Maggie Millikin is Charlotte's outspoken wingman. She likens a relationship between Carlotte and Fred to a pairing of Kate Middleton with Danny DeVito.
  • O'Shea Jackson Jr. ("Straight Outta Compton" He played his father Ice Cube.) Lance is Fred's best friend, but after a shocking confession, the friendship is strained. (Made me smile...)
  • Bob Okenkirk (Lots of TV) President Chambers is assessing his career and wants to take a daring step.
  • Andy Serkis ("Black Panther") Parker Wembley is the guy we love to hate and Serkis never fails to impress.
  • Alexander Skarsgård ("Little White Lies") Prime Minister James Steward is ready to share his REAL laugh with Secretary Field. (They both have image consultants; she has to work on her wave.)
This is rated "R" so expect profanity, profanity and profanity. No blowie uppie stuff, vehicular mayhem or fisticuffs, but plenty of profanity. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and Theron is excellent. The audience where I saw this film left the theater bemused, because we very much want idealism in American politics.
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Wanna see a preview?:
https://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi1734982169
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4/29/19

Avengers: Endgame

With a twenty-two movie franchise backstory, this one is Nirvana for the movie lover. Plus we in the audience have the joy of visiting old friends whose genesis we already know. This means we can get right to the plot. Oh, "Endgame?" is that a spoiler? Nah. They wouldn't. Would they? We already saw our main heroes disintegrate into ashes that were that floating away at the end of "Infinity War." Eek!

Directors Anthony Russo, older brother of co-director Joe, have a dream team who wrote the script: Christopher Markus ("Captain America"), Stephen McFeely (more "Captain America") plus Marvel Comics originators, Stan Lee, etc., which includes delicious throwaway bits, like citing time-travel movies and TV episodes for technical references.

Some of their gigantic (familiar, superhero-loaded) cast:
  • Robert Downey, Jr. launched this franchise as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and the rest is history.
  • Chris Evans Steve Rogers/Captain America stepped onto a moving train. Much of the cast had been in previous episodes, so this walking, talking anachronism (look it up) had a lot of catching up to do, particularly since most of the humor is referential and this decent WWII soldier didn't recognize anything after "Wizard of Oz."
  • Mark Ruffalo has humanized The Hulk so much Bruce Banner would have trouble recognizing him. I remember one episode where Bruce was struggling to work up a head of steam because they desperately needed The Hulk's rage.
  • Chris Hemsworth has made Thor far more human (and much funnier!) than I ever expected. They lure him to join them by saying, "There is beer on the ship!"
  • Scarlett Johansson has succeeded in breaking into the Old Boy network. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow has become a regular; a colleague loved and respected by all.
  • Jeremy Renner gave Clint Barton an edgy personality and Hawkeye is the result.
  • Don Cheadle brings us the most even-tempered member of the team. His James Rhodes/War Machine is always under control.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch made Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange even stranger than Stan Lee first envisioned.
  • Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther has earned a seat at this table.
  • Paul Rudd is a late comer to the franchise, but for Scott Lang/Ant-Man, better late than never!
  • Jon Favreau started the ball rolling when he directed "Iron Man," so I was happy to see his chauffeur character have an extended scene near the end. 
 The list goes on and on, Spider-Man, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Loki, Pepper Potts, Nick Fury, you know...just like the villain, Thanos. In "Infinity War" he succeeded in grabbing all those Infinity Stones, with which he can kill off half the populations in the universe, so the stakes are as high as ever.

By the way, watch your liquid intake, this runs for over three hours and it's PG-13, so expect lots of fisticuffs and Computer Generated Imaging, but hardly any sex or profanity and there is no section I would suggest you miss for a trip to the litter box. The lengthy fight scenes are broken up with intimate, usually humorous, scenes to keep us involved.

This gigantic hit satisfies on many levels, but mostly because we are with good friends. As far as any story, I am sworn to avoid any spoilers, so I guess you''ll just have to see for yourself. By the way, it is obvious that I will be doing very, very few reviews. My alibi is boring, so I won't bother you with it.
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You are probably familiar with this already:
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1/10/19

The Upside

At least when they decide to do a remake, they pick an outstanding movie! "The Intouchables" (spelling verified) was an audience favorite ("Most Liked") when this sweet, funny French film was featured at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival.

Now, we are treated to a couple of proven actors, an experienced director and a screenplay that is ramped up to suit American tastes. Here is how I viewed Director Neil Burger's interpretation of this true story about the unlikely pairing of a paralyzed billionaire and his irrepressible caretaker.

The cast:
  • Kevin Hart ("Ride Along") So what if Dell has a record? All he wants is get a signature to make his parole officer happy. So what if that guy is rich? He still puts his pants on one leg at a time, doesn't he? Well... maybe not...
  • Bryan Cranston ("Robot Chicken") Phillip is sick and tired of timid caretakers. His paralysis didn't happen because he liked to play it safe. Dell is rude? Bring it on!
  • Nichole Kidman ("Big Little Lies") Yvonne has a job to do and Dell is clearly not qualified. She is efficient, elegant and horrified by his crass behavior.
  • Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife") Lily is a bit too shy for anything beyond an epistolary relationship (look it up...smile...).
  • Aja Naomi King ("How to Get Away With Murder") Latrice has put up with Dell's shenanigans long enough. She has their son to raise and can't keep hoping Dell will change.
As you watch this PG-13 film, please keep in mind that it is based on two very real men who remain friends to this day. You may expect a bit of medical lore, an irreverent mouth and a lot of patented Kevin Hart humor. 

If I were to grumble it would be about Hollywood, once again using racial stereotypes because it's easy. You know, the neglectful father and the delinquent alimony checks. There were some surprises though, like the upscale shower that spoke German. You have to see that one! I also enjoyed Dell's first exposure to opera and how Mozart's Magic Flute is used.

Bottom line? YOYO (You're On Your Own).
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Here is a sample:
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