Robert Jury’s first feature is a quiet bit of unique Americana. It starts commonly enough: a factory shuts down, putting a good part of a community out of work. At this point you expect something in the vein of Made in Dagenham, but that isn’t this tale. In fact, it isn’t really where the story starts, but that’s all part of the charm and emotional hook of this tale.
Familiar character actor Peter Gerety (Sneaky Pete) takes the reins of this story in an inexorable way. Billy Brown (How to Get Away With Murder) and Talia Shire (Grace and Frankie) back Gerety up and drive the film forward. And drive forward it does to a slow burn and sweet, joyous finale.
Working Man isn’t big and flashy, but its focus on characters and life challenges pulls you in quickly and hangs onto you till the end. For a first feature, it’s incredibly impressive. But even absent that qualifier, it’s an engaging, often funny, always interesting collection of people and issues.
I can’t believe I’m endorsing this show (it was inspired by an ad campaign, for cryin’ out loud), but I am. I never thought it would be something I could watch; Jason Sudeikis (Colossal), just isn’t my usual cup of tea.
But that’s thing about Ted Lasso, while Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt are earnest and interesting and really sell their characters, it isn’t their show. The story is really about all the people around them, and those actors play it genuinely and beautifully. Hannah Waddingham (Sex Education), Juno Temple (Wonder Wheel), Brett Goldstein (Uncle), Jeremy Swift (Stonewall), and Nick Mohammed (The Martian) bring a host of different stories and reactions to keep you hooked. In fact, the humor is often fall-off-the-couch funny, and the honest moments are, well sometimes the same, but just as often incredibly affecting.
Frankly, I’m not a sports guy. Prior to this, the only series that ever managed to overcome my aversion to sports stories was Sports Night. But Lasso managed some of the same magic…making the story about everything other than the sport involved and getting me to care.
Lasso is already renewed for two more seasons, it’s worth your time and it’s the perfect antidote for the dark and stressful times around us. I just hope they can keep up the story and the writing.
A smattering of new shows kicked off the Fall season, or bridged the late Summer into Fall. It was a mixed bag, as you’d expect. There are more to come, but these led the pack and have, in at least one case, already met their fate.
Surprisingly, even with a glut of medical dramas, this Toronto based tale has found a new formula and a set of timely subjects. By focusing the story on a Syrian doctor trying to get recertified in Canada while supporting his family and getting over PTSD, we have a new kind of perspective. It also allows for a number of layered tales of discrimination and issues for immigrants and the poor. Of course, because it is based in Canada, the hospital workings feel a little odd. And, to be honest, the writing isn’t always great when it comes to the medical emergencies, but they manage to pull it off. And the opening of the show is definitely hell of a kick-off.
This one keeps barely holding on to me, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be dropping it soon. For every aspect of AI they get right, they get others wrong or make the characters do something stupid to allow the plot to work they way they want it to happen rather than finding a more elegant, natural solution. Frustrating. The story is a riff on Person of Interest combined with Emergence. Despite some of the writing challenges, the acting is actually pretty good. However, it has been cancelled at the end of its freshman run, so we may never know what it might have become.
Pandora (series 2)
Talk about a complete retcon. The first season of Pandora was a poor-man’s Trek substitute. But as a summer filler it was watchable in a kitschy sort of way…barely. But the end of the first round was so bad I almost didn’t come back. However, I decided to see how they’d write themselves out of their bad choices. The answer: completely rewrite and reconceiving of the show. The writing is still weak and the acting marginal, though a tad improved. I may give it a bit more time given the dearth of new shows this pandemic year, but so far I can’t see a reason to stick with it.
Movies of all types have been trying to capture the challenge of space travel for years… and, for some reason, even moreso in the last few years. From Passengers, to First Man, to Ad Astra, or even Aniara, they all run into the same challenge: being in space may be pretty, but it’s boring. This is what Dark Star tackled decades ago, though with a great deal more tongue-in-cheek. This isn’t to say that these movies were bad or boring, but that they manufactured tension to embrace and carry that basic reality. And only Aniara comes at all close to the truth, though aspects of the others include it.
With that as prologue, consider Away. There is a lot about its science that is, let’s just say creative, but they try to capture that trapped sensibility and the challenge of the time of flight. The result is mixed and just a tad soapy. Even with some really good performances carrying it along, and some nicely mirrored plots Earth-side and on board the ship, it all feels forced and improbable in the results. Which doesn’t make it bad, just not particularly accurate much of the time. For instance, even an international coalition is going to be sure that the crew all get along and are solidly stable, because they want it to succeed.
In between tense, potential disasters that are manufactured each week, the story revolves around several relationships. Primarily it is around Hilary Swank (I Am Mother) and her husband, played nicely by Josh Charles (Freeheld). In a world of entertainment where married couple stories are about marriages at odds, this is a supportive relationship that is strained by their very concerns for each other. Their daughter provides a young-love perspective as well, which Talitha Eliana Bateman (Geostorm) and Adam Irigoyen (The Last Ship) navigate to varying degrees of credibility.
The rest of the crew have both inter-personal challenges and revelations of their past. Vivian Wu, Ray Panthaki (Colette), Ato Essandoh (Tales from the Loop), and Mark Ivanir each get their moments and without whom the rest would have been boring.
But ultimately the real question is: Is it worth taking the journey with Away? And, generally, I’m going to say, yes. Even with the “adjusted” science and forced events, it’s a tense, but entertaining 10 episodes delivered by a talented cast and some unexpected maturity in the relationships. And it is a rare, solid example of near-term science fiction. It also definitely feels like something new and different, and it can stand on its own or go forward. Frankly, I kinda hope they will leave it as a stand-alone event series and not try carry the story any further. It made its point and can only get repetitive or become pale reflections of other shows and movies that have come before. If they chose to leap forward a number of years, there are possibilities, but I’m not sure what it planned.
Let’s face it, just about anything with Bill Nighy (Emma.) is worth watching just for him. Often it is only a taste of Nighy as a smaller side character. But in this film he and Sam Riley (Radioactive) share this story of family and survivorship. Both men play against their typical type, though Riley is a bit more consistent at it; Nighy’s accent kept slipping. However, both provide endearing and riveting performances as they verbally spar and converse.
The cast is also gifted with Jenny Agutter (Call the Midwife) and Alice Lowe (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) who swirl around the two men with funny and poignant moments. Neither is given full rein, but both have impact and are part of why the film works so well. Even the young Louis Healy helps fill out the film nicely with minimal time.
As a first feature, Carl Hunter directs the tale with a confident hand and a delightfully playful vision. Despite the intense emotions of the story in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s (Goodbye Christopher Robin) script, Hunter keeps it all quietly real and funny. Also, the design of the film is breathtaking, from the wide vistas, to the distortion from the lenses, to the odd greenscreen and paper puppetry, it’s a unique combination of visuals that serve to amplify the story. Even the color pallet is retimed in order to make it, to put it mildly, bilious.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this story, and that was fine. I’d suggest you do the same. Go for the comedy and the sweet sense of family it creates. Stay for the performances, message, and the wonderfully odd presentation; but make time for this.
Simple, calm, honest, and heartbreaking. Writer/director Eliza Hittman follows up her breakout Beach Rats by tackling a young woman’s challenge, making it an interesting companion piece even if they aren’t at all related.
Newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder take us on a journey that suggests more than it explains their lives. It is like the worst and best kind of voyeuristic observation. We never feel we’re intruding, but we also get to follow these young women where we shouldn’t.
This isn’t an easy film to describe. Basically, you should see it. It is a window into a world many will not have experienced, and an exposé of reality that far too many others have. That is done as art only heightens the effect and allows for some moments that will impact you unexpectedly…not because they are horrific in themselves, but because they are honest and imply ever so much more.
When I finally had a chance to see Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathan) latest movie, albeit late, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, left drained. While Leviathan was harsh, it was also darkly funny. Loveless is completely upfront, from title and opening credits to the the story itself, about the emptiness and harsh, sad reality the characters share.
The script, also by Zvyagintsev and his Leviathan collaborator Oleg Negin, is generally minimalist. A joy for a subtitled movie (I could actually concentrate on the visuals). But the spare dialogue doesn’t reduce the information provided. Zvyagintsev crafts his moments with great care. They are dense with detail, subtext, and implication. But the interesting aspect of the family is that while the story revolves around the parents, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan), it is the outsider, Aleksey Fateev (Proxima), who has the most interesting character. Fateev, without ever having an “emotional” scene manages to impart a world of understanding and response. But to give him his due, Matvey Novikov, as the son, has some wonderful and intense moments as well…and they’ll tear you apart.
Loveless isn’t a fun film. I’m sure that’s not a surprise. But it is honest and directed in such a way as to pull you through. There are parts of every character that you can identify with, even if, in their entirety, you just want to slap them. But, much like Leviathan, while there is a surface story to engage in, Zvyagintsev and Negin are telling you another story of their country as well. It is nested in their choice of era and in the background news that suffuses the film, as well as the metaphor of the plot itself. It isn’t heavy-handed, but it is there ready to fizz to the surface as you think about it all later.
Zvyagintsev continues to impress me. I hope, like Leviathan, Loveless continues to find an audience. It certainly found awards joy when it released, though it somehow lost to The Square in its Oscar bid that year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to it; it’s a powerful film, and a very well crafted one. Definitely worth your time when you’re feeling resilient.
To get a sense of this odd, supernatural suspense/thriller series, imagine if Les Revenants took place on a beach in the South of France and had more than passing cross-pollination with The 4400. Admittedly, those references may be too obscure for most folks. Think Manifest on the beach, perhaps?
One of the things that I enjoy about French genre entertainment is that, whether it is based more on science (like Ad Vitam) or fantasy (like Les Revenants) it always focuses on the effect of the issues on people and society. Because, in the end, what’s important is how it affects people, not the secret or issue itself; that’s just a medium to explore humanity.
The Last Wave is definitely more on the fantasy side of things, but with the trappings of science. An event occurs in a small town and then, with a bunch of hand-wavy explanations, we are treated to a struggle of conscience and politics that carries the story through to the end. The writing isn’t brilliant, but the story is very engaging and wide ranging. But, in the end, I was happy to ride their wave to the finale, which is complete and as-intended. So, no cliff-hanger that will leave you wondering if you’ll ever see the end.
The story of this movie, by first-timer Mateusz Pacewicz, is intense and uncompromising in many ways. It is reminiscent of Sweet Hereafter in both its pace and issues, but all in a very different frame. Playing on the idea of Corpus Christi, this is as much a personal tale as it is an allegory. But those overtones only come to you post-film thanks to its powerful presentation. Jan Komasa (@Suicide Room) took Pacewicz’s script and created a film that has been celebrated around the world.
And within those efforts by Pacewicz, Bartosz Bielenia owns this film; we spend almost the entire two hours watching Bielenia struggle and rejoice in life. There are a number of good performances around him, but they are all supporting in nature. If I were to call out anyone, it would be his two hosts in the lumber town, Aleksandra Konieczna and Eliza Rycembel, who both have several, quietly complex levels.
The film is inexorable and wonderful and painful all at once. It is aspirational and unflinching. It is a mirror to our best and worst selves. And it’s a reminder of what we can all be, and sometimes what we all are. I don’t mean to wax overly poetic, but while the experience of watching the movie is very down-to-earth, in trying to explain it, a string of superlatives just naturally comes to mind. The ending takes time to absorb and, no doubt, stirs reactions both good and bad. Not everyone who sees the film will agree it works, but, on reflection, I think it does.
Pacewicz continues to impress me with his choice of material and his ability to navigate the darker side of humanity with heart. This is film worth seeing, but it is intense enough that I don’t know if I’d watch it again more than once down the road. But I’m certainly glad I saw it at least this once.
There has been a wave of lock-down art recently. Well, what do you expect with a bunch of artists stuck at home with no outlet? Even the some finales (like All Rise) embraced the situation and wrote it into their tales.
Most of it has come in the form of at-home/garage concerts up till now. But, recently, a number of short video stories have begun to surface.
While there are many, these two really stood out. One for its sheer amusement and the other for its scope. Both are BBC, but I would expect them to be more generally available at some point.
What happens when David Tennant (Doctor Who, Good Omens) and Michael Sheen (Slaughterhouse Rulez) try to mount a play during the lock-down? Well, with the help of relatively unknown Simon Evans as writer/director/actor and their families, hilarity ensues. This series, comprised of 6 short episodes is self-aware, self-deprecating, and utterly irreverent. Find it…and remember to pay attention to and watch through the credits. The fun just keeps on giving while touching on the realities of the world as it is being reshaped.
There are too many people involved here to list. In several half-hour episodes, each comprised of 3 10-minute plays, you see a huge scope of pandemic life. Some of it is is funny, some uncomfortable, and some just poignant, but all are worth seeing and none are so long as to get boring.