It is the time of year where folks who are (or were) in Show Business begin to see their trade papers thicken and their mail boxes stuffed. Ads with a For Your Consideration bent fill up most of Variety as well as The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. In the mail are screeners and/or special codes one can use to gain access to material one might otherwise do without.
Since I am often asked what is worth watching, I sometimes do a piece or two where I write a more complete review of TV, the movies, or Broadway or some combination of all three (see Hamilton. No, really… SEE HAMILTON. It is on the Disney platform). Some stuff I love (Hamilton) some stuff really pisses me off (see my review of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s version of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess). Some stuff I chip at the lofty pedestal on which they are presented (MANK) or I really whack at it (Schitt’s Creek). Some stuff carries me off the deep end of unbridled praise (see almost anything I have written about Aaron Sorkin … West Wing, Newsroom, Trial of the Chicago Seven, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. etc. etc.).
Some reviews are longish, some noticeably short. What follows (because there are so many titles) will be on the short side:
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (Netflix). I have already written that it is a “should see.” Besides, it is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. ‘Nuff said. Oh, yeah Sacha Baron Cohen is terrific as Abbie Hoffman… but then, the entire cast are all pretty terrific.
Sometime back (before COVID-19 shut New York down) I wrote brief, but favorable reviews of two Broadway shows now seen just over a year ago. They have made their way to the home screen. The first is PROM, a very old-fashioned (meaning fun) Broadway musical. Hamilton it ain’t, but it is the kind of musical that used to run on Broadway for years… that was, not only before COVID… it was before Hamilton. All that said, I commend it to you. The cast is wonderful and includes James Cordon, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, plus a nice cameo by Tracey Ullman. You will find it on Netflix and be glad you did.
Heidi Schreck’s play, What the Constitution Means to Me should easily be brought to the small screen but, frankly, it suffers from the transition from stage to screen… meaning it was much more fun when I saw it live on Broadway. Still, if you didn’t get the chance to do that, Amazon Prime is the answer for filling that particular void. The same thing happens with the extremely talented Hannah Gadsby on her two Netflix specials, Nanette, and Douglas. What works perfectly on stage is just too big on your TV. Her stuff is brilliant, but if she is going to continue going from stage to screen, she should get Netflix to spring for a top-quality director.
His Honor, on Showtime and starring Bryan Cranston leading a very accomplished cast, is a limited series (10 episodes) that is not only a tense drama but one riddled with moral dilemmas. To load it up as much as this show does is to have a lot of contrived coincidental crossovers. What the hell, it takes place in New Orleans, and so the corrupt small city, where everyone knows everyone else kinda thing, almost works without too many questions. Almost. In that same idiom, I have already written how disappointed I was with the usually supremely talented David E. Kelly and the final two episodes of The Undoing on HBO. Executive Producers Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife/The Good Fight) don’t let that happen with His Honor. All that considered, I still grade it at best a B.
I was late coming to The Crown on Netflix, so I probably don’t have to tell you how riveting it is… especially for anglophiles (such as the vast majority of Americans). Across the channel (in more ways than one) French Exit, starring the still gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer, is supposed to be coming to a “theatre near you” any time now. I urge you not to risk exposure to COVID for this very light weight, unsatisfying movie.
The Father, with Olivia Colman (moving over from The Crown) as the daughter, and Anthony Hopkins in the title role is also a tiny movie being released to theatres, but it is in a whole different category than the French Exit. That said, I still caution you to “stay safe” and wait for either the movie to come to your home screen or for the end of the current pandemic…whichever comes first. The Father is a nice little movie, but not something for which you should risk your life. Both performers in this flick are sure Oscar nominees and the marriage of art direction with that of the film’s director makes for intriguing symmetry.
I don’t know what the theatrical release plans are for Palm Springs (Hulu), another little movie that is simply terrific. If you liked Ground Hog Day, you would LOVE this. Great fun. On the subject of “tiny,” there is the Netflix offering, Pretend It’s a City with Fran Lebowitz. It is for the very few and would be better on YouTube in two-minute segments paired with Randy Rainbow who, I suspect, can make almost everything…even this… better.
The fight scenes inPrime Video’s One Night in Miami are well done. Eli Goree does a great Cassius Clay, and the remainder of the lead actors are solid and well-cast. The film suffers from being too closely adapted from the play on which it is based… especially when in the hands of a first-time director. Regina King is extremely talented, but she could have/should have taken some lessons from writer/director Sam Levinson on how to direct dramatic scenes in a confined space. In Malcolm & Marie, Mr. Levinson, with the considerable help of Zendaya and John David Washington (the only two actors in the film), pull off a true tour de force in what should be required viewing for any director faced with the adaptation of a stage play. This movie is not for everyone… just anyone who has ever been in a dynamic relationship with a member of the opposite sex. It could be this generation’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Only more real. (Netflix)
News of the World proves again what a true star brings to the table. Tom Hanks… the Jimmy Stewart of his generation… puts this sweet movie on his considerable back and just carries it off. He gets a lot of help from a wonderful supporting cast of folks you have mostly never heard of, starting with Helena Zengel. See it. If you are at all like me, you will find yourself smiling throughout at the sheer pleasure of being in the hands of such a stand out professional as Mr. Hanks. Amazon Primewill “sell” it to you on your home screen.
I already wrote about the “H” flicks… Hamilton and Hillbilly Elegy. Suffice to say, see the first… PUHLEEZE… and ignore the second.
Pieces of a Woman is quite intense, with intensity of a different sort built into The Dig. Both are worthy and available on Netflix.
Amazon Prime’s Schitt’s Creek, Ozark, The Queen’s Gambit (bothNetflix), The Comey Rule (Hulu), and Unorthodox (Netflix) have all gotten very favorable attention from multiple sources. I liked them all save for the Canadian Creek show which I found unwatchable. Admittedly, I only saw the early episodes and not the most recent season which won all those EMMYS… and I know some reasonably intelligent folks who tell me that they like it. Proceed at your own risk. I think the thing should be spelled with only one t and no c.
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Stewart and I agree with Barney’s reviews, with this one exception … we loved Schitt$ Creek. We strongly advise Barney to skip the first few episodes and get into the quirky characters who turn out to be good-hearted, generous, and loving people (even self-centered Moira). Dena Stewart