August 19, 2018

The Americans on Amazon Prime Video

Many moons ago, I wrote about the FX series The Americans after watching Season One. As I stated back then, the first few episodes did not grab me, but once the story took hold, I avidly watched all of the series episodes

Season Six, which just ended, is the final chapter in the saga of the Jennings family. Joe Weisberg, the creator of this based-on-fact series, depicts a fictional imbedded Russian couple living in the Virginia D. C. suburbs in the 1980s of the Reagan administration. The stakes become fever pitch when an FBI agent moves into the home across the street.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys masterfully play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. The all-American appearing husband and wife are actually Russian-born and have a penchant for disguises, different personas and violence. Every episode lets them demonstrate tour de force acting. Russell and Rhys have actually become a real life couple and are perfectly matched in theatrical skill and chemistry.

Equally marvelous are the couple’s daughter, Paige, played by Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale as their Soviet handler and Noah Emmerich as neighbor, FBI agent and friend, Stan Beeman.

As a whole the series is on par with The Wire, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. All six seasons of The Americans are available with an Amazon Prime membership. The theme of the show has great resonance today. Maria Butina, a current-day suspected Russian spy has been living in my old home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Talk about truth emulating fiction! Or is it the other way around?

Ladybird Movie on Amazon Prime

The streaming services seem to be competing for rights to current popular movies. When I say current, I may mean LAST year’s Oscar contenders. It takes me a year or more to get to some of the box office hits or indie film critical darlings and then figure out where I can watch them.

Currently on Amazon Prime, Ladybird was not only in Time magazine’s top ten movie picks of 2017, but the film garnered $78 million at the box office on a budget of $10 million. It received 5 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

Greta Gerwig was the director who wrote and directed this charmer about a Californian teen coming of age in 2002. Hurrah for yet another woman making it into the Oscar Best Director category.

The most priceless scene in the movie is between Saoirse Ronan playing high school senior “Ladybird” McPherson who abruptly ends an argument while her mother, Marion (played by Chicago actress, Laurie Metcalf) is driving her in a car. In fact, there is a major Steppenwolf Theater connection with ensemble regulars Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Lois Smith also appearing in the film, along with Stephen McKinley Henderson, another stellar New York theater actor who is notable for his work in August Wilson plays.

There is a definite independent flavor to “Ladybird” but it strikes many universal chords. We watch this precocious teen try to make sense out of financial and cultural inequity, her own identity versus that of her parents and her desire to spread her wings beyond what her family can conceive for her. Strong on humor, this is the perfect weekend movie to arm twist one’s significant other into watching. And they might just thank you.

A French Village/Un Village Francais Season 7 on MHZ

I wrote a blog post on Un Village Francais/A French Village a while back, but an update was definitely needed since MHZ recently made the seventh and final season available on its streaming service.

The wrap-up season has been somewhat of a let-down after six previous engrossing seasons, but most fans of the show will want to see the characters through to their respective ends.

The creators of the program use flash-forwards to future decades including the 21st century. Make-up artists were tasked with aging people in some cases into their 90s with mostly believable results.

Just a word of warning, if you expect the aftermath of the French Occupation to be a “feel good” affair, you will be greatly disappointed. Many of the characters are forever damaged by their experiences. The final episodes have intricate and confusing plot points that may need some further clarification.

If you complete all seven seasons, here is the MHZ page with 41 comments about the final season and possible interpretations:

https://mhzchoice.vhx.tv/a-french-village/season:7/videos/afrvil-c-07006?anon=17dcf608-2acd-428d-9a3e-1784dbc70976

Fearless on Amazon Prime

Hats off to the Brits for featuring heroines who are a little older, show a few more wrinkles and don’t look like they have just exited a trailer for hair and make-up.

Fearless on Amazon Prime stars Helen McCrory as appealing but non-glamorous human rights lawyer Emma Banville who attempts to exonerate Kevin Russell (Sam Swainsbury) who has served 14 years for the murder of a teen-aged girl whose body was found buried close to his workshop.

As Emma starts her investigation, she discovers threads that link to politicians, American military interests and to Olivia Greenwood (Wunmi Mosaku), the original detective on the Russell case who is now a bigwig in Great Britain’s anti-terrorism department.

If you are watching foreign dramatic television, you will notice that the CIA and other clandestine American security personnel have supplanted Nazis as the new villains. Heather Myles chillingly played by Robin Weigert is the ultra-baddie American fixer who will go to any lengths to protect her important clients.

Throw in an ISIS sub-plot, Emma’s gay guy sidekick (Dominic Truelove) along with name actors Michael Gambon and Jamie Bamber and you have a very brainy and diverting six episode series currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Just a heads up that the tag line for the show is “Read Between the Lines” with Fearless below it, so I was initially confused as to the title of the show until I saw the opening credits.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the fearless Emma Banville on another case, and pronto.

The Big Sick movie streaming on Amazon

I recently wrote about the podcast, Stay Tuned With Preet which featured an interview with writer/actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani who was unfamiliar to me.

Amazon is currently streaming The Big Sick, with a script co-written by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. The film definitely covers all the bases of a romantic comedy, but it also examines a Pakistani Muslim family’s belief in arranged marriage, the challenging life of a stand-up comedian and the travails of our medical system when one is faced with a serious and unknown malady.

The film is based on how Kumail and Emily met before their marriage. Emily’s medically-induced coma ultimately brings the couple together as Kumail holds vigil with Emily’s out-of-town mother and father. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter turn in winning performances as Emily’s open-minded but very white parents.

Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon (Zoe Kazan is cast as Gordon in the movie; Nanjiani plays himself.)

You may find yourself laughing at the comedic dialogue yet getting a little teary at some of the touching scenes about life, death and love.

Kumail Nanjiani’s acting and writing credits for tv, movies and video games indicate that he not only got the girl, but he’s done pretty well for himself. He and his wife have turned their rocky courtship in Chicago into an intelligent yet hilarious movie. The Big Sick was indeed a diverting film to view on a cold winter’s night at home.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon

As I was listening to rapid fire clever dialogue in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an Amazon original series, I was vaguely reminded of another show that uses this screwball comedy conversational timing: The Gilmore Girls. Small wonder since both series were created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and co-produced with her husband, Daniel Palladino.

The heart and soul of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the titular character played by Rachel Brosnahan, a mixture of New York housewife chic and very blue humor. The unexpurgated comedian Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) becomes her jail buddy and helpful colleague. The two people most important in her life at this juncture, however, are her wanna-be comedian and cheating husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) and her fledgling manager, Susie Meierson played by the wonderfully acerbic Alex Borstein.

While the heroine’s overbearing WASP parents were played by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrman in The Gilmore Girls, Marin Hinkle and a daffy Tony Shalhoub are cast as Rachel Maisel’s Upper West Side Jewish parents. Hey, if something works the first time around, why break a winning formula?

Set in the late 1950s, the music, the clothing and the New York atmosphere are all convincingly evoked. Palladino’s script does point out that racism and sexism were alive and well, so this was no golden age in our country’s history for large segments of the population. Still, if a time machine existed, I would go back for a night in one of these New York comedy/music clubs.

Thankfully, we have The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as an entertaining alternative. Season Two, please!