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 to 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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