The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has yet to release many of its screeners for review by the membership. That, and the fact of the strike by actors and writers out in Hollywood, is no doubt having its impact on what is out there to see and to screen.
Still, there is a lot that remains to be seen. The problem, at least in my view, is that there is not that much that is worthy. Who knows? If this continues we may have to go back to reading… or, heaven forfend, canasta.
There is an exception: a year ago I wrote about a new series of eight episodes entitled The Bear. I liked it then, but felt it might not be for everyone, writing, somewhat cryptically at the time, “… this is no homage to old-fashioned film making, but it catches the eye, and is worthy of your attention. No one will fault you if you say it is not your cup of chowder.”
Well, The Bear is back, and it begins season two much as it had for all of season one, and then… along comes the last three or four episodes. Wow! One and a half seasons of interesting, frenetically styled work which proves out to be merely a set up for these last few hours. Great TV. And the Christmas episode featuring Jamie Lee Curtis? EMMY time.
Almost anything… and, quite possibly everything, might pale after The Bear. It sure did for me, as will be discovered should you read on.
A Room With A View is a 1985 motion picture based on the E.M. Forster novel and features an all-star British cast from Helena Bonham Carter to Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Daniel Day-Lewis. Many revere this motion picture, but I only had a vague recollection of it when Sharon suggested we watch it on MAX. One hour plus into the film… with something like an hour remaining… I had to excuse myself. I just could not get through the thing. Maybe it was simply a let-down after so enjoying The Bear. I don’t think so. Neither did Sharon. She, too, had loved The Bear but nevertheless was able to stay the course with Room, watching Dames Maggie and Judi doing their thing.
The Merchant Ivory film was our second attempt to watch an oldie but goodie during the evening, finding Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950) with Marlene Dietrich, Jane Wyman, and Michael Wilding totally unwatchable. We moved on after maybe a quarter of an hour.
Earlier in the week, a writer friend of mine recommended that I catch a limited series, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, available on Prime. The series features Sigourney Weaver and a nice cast in support with, arguably, some of the most beautiful scenic photography I can remember. Credit the cinematographer, Sam Chiplin, and God. New South Wales and the Northern Territory of Australia are as photogenic as you can imagine, and they are well realized here.
The stories revolve around an orphaned girl and a family history of abuse. Photography aside, I found the piece to be so dark and depressing that at the end of the second episode I turned to a vintage Fred Astaire movie for relief.
Stanley Donen’s Royal Wedding (1951) may not be Astaire’s best… although it comes close… it still was a major help in ridding my wife and I of the sad tale of young Ms. Hart. Truth to tell… The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was such a downer, we needed even more of Fred Astaire and so followed up Royal Wedding with Silk Stockings (1957) where Cyd Charisse joined Mr. Astaire in a musicalized version of the Greta Garbo classic, Ninotchka. This was never a great movie and the decades it has been marinating have not helped.
I was able to get through two episodes of the Netflix series Who Is Erin Carter… a female super spy/assassin whose attempt at retirement in a small European fishing village is not going all that well. One would think a series featuring a strong female lead would be right up my street… here, not so much. Ms. Evin Ahmad can do the stunts well enough, but she lacks that certain something that makes for a compelling film or television lead. The remainder of the cast is even more humdrum which should account for why I never got to episode three.
Transatlantic, also on Netflix, is a series that shows you what Casablanca could have been like if really untalented people had all gotten together at the same time to make that film. View this at your peril.
Medium is a TV series with over 60 episodes on Amazon Prime and/or Paramount. The pedigree of the show is beyond reproach. Glenn Gordon Caron is the show’s creator, writer, and sometime director. Remember Moonlighting? An ABC TV series that introduced the public to Bruce Willis and co-starred Cybill Shepherd? It was brilliantly cast, written, and produced by the self-same Glenn Gordon Caron, right around the time I was making Cagney & Lacey. I admired Mr. Caron’s work on that show both as an audience and a competitor. He is an incredibly gifted individual.
Steve Stark is also a producer on Medium. I met this bright, young man when he was about eight years old and a child actor working out of Chicago. Back then, in the early 1980s, he was cast as part of our ensemble in my erstwhile series, American Dream. I was reintroduced to him thirtysomething years later when he was heading up the television division of MGM Entertainment. As written: bright guy.
Somehow these two talented people decided to cast Patricia Arquette as the lead in their series of the paranormal. I have never “gotten it” about the Arquette girls… neither Patricia or her slightly more famous sister, Rosanna. I am told there are three other siblings who are also actors, but mercifully, I have not seen their work.
The point is that once again… pedigree or no pedigree… I could only get through two episodes. In fact, I only watched the second episode because I could not believe that there would not be a major improvement/adjustment from the first. There wasn’t, and I did not even attempt episode three.
Look, some folks out there in Tinseltown ordered up multiple seasons of this thing. Clearly not everyone agrees with me about the Arquettes; both women seem to work a lot… but Glenn Gordon Caron… how could you? Moonlighting was a groundbreaker. The pacing of the dialogue, the wit, the casting. It was latter day Preston Sturges time. This latest entry has none of those virtues.
I will paraphrase Ernie Kovacs who would acknowledge that, if nothing else, Medium is a good title, in that it is neither rare nor is it well done.
In fairness to Mr. Caron, I would love to rewatch and review Moonlighting but as of now it is not available on any streaming platform “due to the high cost of clearing the rights to the large amount of music in the show.”
I may have to go back to Fred Astaire. I could… and have… done a lot worse.
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