By Anne Brodie. George Clooney directs The Tender Bar, starring Ben Affleck, based on J. R. Moehringer’s memoir about growing up on Long Island, with Daniel Ranieri as young Moehringer and Tye Sheridan the elder. The boy, JR, is growing up without a father; he’s never met him even though he’s not far away, a New York radio disc jockey. JR knows his voice and creates positive fantasies about him, even though he left his mother Lily Rabe in poverty forcing them to live with her father (Christopher Lloyd) in a dilapidated home on Long Island. While not high on order or cleanliness, the home rings with loving energy and laughter and JR is immediately at ease. He adores his uncle Charlie (Affleck) a truth-teller and hard head who takes him under his wing in ways today’s PC crowd would not tolerate. They spend days at The Dickens, the neighbourhood bar and uncle’s drinking companions extend the web of care over the boy. His dream, and his mother’s, is to overcome his circumstances and go to Harvard or Yale. His father calls him out of the blue and offers to take him to a game, but doesn’t show up. These travails eventually inspire his writing ambitions. I found the story to be scattered and loose and there’s an uncomfortable cloud of violence and danger always at the edges, not the feel-good film it wants to be. Still, an interesting portrait of a creative boy. Now on Prime Video.
The long winter months are frequently populated by Women in Peril “entertainment”. Nothing like an ex, a husband or lover plotting behind the scenes to do away with his victim while appearing successful, popular and charming, or so you’d think, there are so many. Such is the case in Joanne Froggat’s (Downton Abbey) thriller series Angela Black now streaming on CBC Gem. From all appearances, she has a great life, two lovely little boys, a doting husband, wealth and a house to prove it. Friends are over for dinner during which Olivier (Michiel Huisman) controls her with his eyes and threatening posture. She shows up at work at the animal shelter with a missing tooth and bruised face. This has been her life, a secret which friends now are piecing together. Angela leaves home for a breather a friendly man ( Samuel Adewunmi) asks her for a light. They meet again, not by chance. He says he knows her domestic situation; her husband hired him to surveil her to find damning evidence so he can divorce her and take full custody. Angela doesn’t believe it but he persists with new evidence – Olivier wants him to kill her. She turns from victim to warrior but will she be quick enough to stop him? This follows the formula but Froggat’s nuanced performance raises the level of the WIP genre.
The series MacGruber is based on the movie, based on a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, based on and skewering the 1980s TV action series MacGyver. A new season premieres Jan 9 on Showcase with Will Forte in the title role, Kristen Wiig as Vicky and Ryan Phillippe as Dixon Piper. Following a ten-year stretch in the slammer, MacGruber, a loud, bumptious, forceful ex-con and patriot to the core gathers his crew to find and eliminate Brigadier Commander Enos Queeth (Billy Zane). Maya Rudolph winningly explains the MacGruber prior seasons in song to open, then to a prison exercise yard where MacGruber triumphs over a bullying inmate through lightning strategy and moves. The President springs him with a mission – to be the hostage in an international hostage exchange. He could die but he doubts it. This is pretty adolescent stuff, with a few funny moments that are too heightened to carry a series. Aimed straight at youngsters who think it’s uber-cool to say bad words exclusively in a funny voice, it’s purposefully harebrained, repetitive, and frequently laboured, but the good news is we get to see Laurence Fishburne and Sam Elliott. You’ve been warned.
Danny McBride’s series The Righteous Gemstones Season 3 on Crave isn’t much better. The comedy series about world-famous televangelists the Gemstones and all their sins – “deviance, greed, and charitable work” revels in its bottom-of-the-barrel vibe. McBride stars alongside John Goodman and Adam Devine in this unfunny outing made by someone with a serious grudge and set in Memphis, in the American Bible Belt. The family’s exposed in a newspaper article just as Grandpa Roy dies and leaves behind his creaky mansion where surprises lurk and papers are hidden. Honestly, I see a lot of content and hear a lot of vocabulary but this series has the most limited word count of all time built on a foundation of “…”, “….”, “….”… “…” and “…”. I wasn’t offended by the series as much as off my dinner. I realise the series has its fans and positive reviews but holy smokes, I need a shower.
Acorn’s Madame Blanc Mysteries, making its North American premiere is set in the sunny south of France in the village of Saint Victoire, not unlike Cabot Cove or Midsomer, where people drop dead just like that, all the time. Jean (Corrie’s Sally Lindsay) is an antique dealer turned amateur detective whose husband is found dead at the wheel of his crashed can. He was carrying a precious diamond and amethyst ring – he sent her a photo just before the crash – but it’s not there. She believes he was murdered for the ring. The couple lost everything in England due to his bad business dealings and retain only the French cottage hence their move. But its turns out the village is chock full of interesting characters and rife with murders, thefts and the rest of it, absolute catnip to Jean. With help from local gossips, police and Nettrawl, she finds her late husband was seeing an unknown woman. Someone tried to sell the ring to a local jeweller, and the van her husband was driving was sabotaged. Still, she can’t convince the police it was murder so she turns full-time amateur dick. There are needling ex-pat Brit snobs, a young boy and others who fall under suspicion. She learns her husband died from cyanide gas poison gas in his lighter. Someone went to a great deal of trouble – the ring’s valued at 8-12 M pounds. Jean lands in a new mystery with each episode, a woman’s experiences in the French resistance in WWII haunt her, a priceless painting is stolen, an explosion rocks an historic cemetery and a church relic disappears, all as a reality show shoots a show about this quaint, “peaceful” village.
Amazon‘s Being the Ricardos has spurred much discussion; people are surprised that Nicole Kidman wasn’t funny as Lucille Ball; the truth Lucy and Lucille were very different. Lucille was shrewd, had a tough marriage, was first and foremost a businesswoman and she was no one’s fool. I explored YouTube for more insights and found a 2000 PBS American Masters documentary Finding Lucy. It’s free to watch. Carol Burnett, Dick Cavett, Fran Drescher, writer Madelyn Pugh, Van Johnson, Robert Osborne and more speak about the gorgeous redhead whose business and tech innovations and outstanding gift for physical comedy made her one of the world’s most famous women. She’d left a modelling gig in New York for Hollywood during the Depression but didn’t find her niche working with the studios. So she created her own – Desilu – with her husband Desi Arnaz and created I Love Lucy (and Star Trek). She and Desi’s marriage became the basis for a show television on characters Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. It was a revolution. Lucy and Desi pioneered the three-camera sitcom; they were the first to say the word “pregnant” on prime time TV, they showed her pregnant and ran the enterprise, lock stock and barrel. They immediately became masters of their own destiny and were a gift to the medium, with a loyal fanbase that extended around the world. So if you’re upset that Nicole Kidman wasn’t “funny” as Lucy in Being the Ricardos, she was a hell of a lot more than funny. Here is Finding Lucy in full.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1932 suspense thriller Number Seventeen is considered a poor film, one he was forced to make as punishment for the failure of a prior film. It’s cliched, a grab bag of tropes that Hitchock and his co-writer, wife Alma Reville made satire. Top-of-a-moving train chases cram the final act, the characters are well over the top, and the even by then well-worn cliches of suspense/chase films. The action opens on a lonely, windy street as a man’s topper rolls through fallen leaves to an unlocked empty house. He goes inside and bumps into a homeless man looking for a place to sleep. They stumble across a man’s body, recently murdered and a young woman falls through the ceiling – she sees her dead father but strangely doesn’t react. Suspicious, menacing characters crowd in, phony house hunters, detectives and gangsters, all with the same purpose – to find a precious diamond necklace thought to be inside. Character’s true identities are revealed, guns blaze, fistfights erupt and soon enough, a chase across the top of a speeding train, and a colossal crash. No effort is made to disguise the fact that the train, ferry and pier are teeny tiny cardboard models. Still, there’s plenty of excitement thanks to Hitchcock’s fast cuts and signature frozen expressions of shock. Overall, it’s fun, it captures a moment in time and it’s just suspenseful and nutty enough. Stars Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey and John Stuart, and available on Kino Lorber DVD beautifully restored with cool extras including a documentary on Hitchcock’s early films.
Speaking of classic films, just read John Buchan’s slim suspenser The 39 Steps, first published in 1915, the first of five “man-on-the-run” thrillers, the adventures of Canadian ex-pat to the UK Richard Hannay. It’s a fun read and concerns a pre-World War I plot by Black Stone to steal British war preparation secrets, featuring murders, a pulse-pounding chase through northern Scotland and Hannay’s quick thinking. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 “shocker” adaptation bears little resemblance to the book- Hitch changes genders and plot points wholus bolus. The book’s Black Stone nest of spies becomes The 39 Steps in the film. The book’s 39 Steps are just that, a staircase going down a Galloway cliff to the sea where spies lurk. There have been many adaptations and another is in process. Benedict Cumberbatch was rumoured to star, under the direction of Ben Affleck, now it appears Affleck’s taking the starring role in a modern-day re-up. Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, now considered a “masterpiece’ is available to view in full for free on YouTube. So get ready.