February 18, 2018

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!

Get Out, a movie on HBO GO

Twenty-somethings at a recent party were all raving about a strange and engrossing movie called Get Out. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (of the comedy team Keegan and Peele), a bi-racial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allisonn Williams) visit her white and very strange parents who live in a bucolic and privileged enclave.

The Armitage family employ black servants who act like automatons. Things get even weirder as people show up for an annual party on the estate. Catherine Keener plays the therapist mother who may have hypnotized boyfriend Chris. Her husband is actor Bradley Whitford playing the forceful and phony suburbanite Dean Armitage.

My favorite character is TSA agent, Rod Williams (actor Lil Rel Hower) who is Chris’ friend and phone advisor as he encounters these unsettling events.

You will find yourself laughing and pulled along by the off-beat storyline, but make no mistake, the movie is exploring some brutally honest and horrifying concepts in our history and culture.

We still need Peele to be funny as a comedian, but here’s hoping that this is the first of his many films that allow him to visit the dark side. Pun intended. We will all be challenged and wiser for it.

If you don’t have HBO GO, you can purchase the movie at iTunes, Amazon Instant Video or YouTube.

Wanted: Australian tv series on Netflix

If you need a high octane tv show to get caught up in, look no further than Wanted, a two season Australian thriller currently streaming on Netflix.

Imagine two women, à la Thelma and Louise, at a suburban bus stop Down Under, one a youngish accountant and the other a middle-aged check-out clerk who inadvertently get caught up in murder, drugs and kidnapping.

Rebecca Gibney as the older, more streetwise Lola Buckley plays well against Geraldine Hakewill as the more timid rich girl, Chelsea Babbage. They encounter dirty cops, human traffickers, loan sharks, a crime lord and people with longstanding grudges. A little bit of romance is injected into the scenario as they elude both the police and the bad guys who sometimes are one and the same.

As an added bonus, the women find themselves in gorgeous locations like Thailand and New Zealand so fans of beautiful cinematography will be rewarded. Make no mistake, this is no Charlie’s Angels, however, with coiffed hair and designer clothes. In the 12 episodes (6 per season), these gals opt for being formidable instead of fashionable.

Americans and Aussies will have to wait until 2018 to see what happens to our two ladies on the lam when Wanted continues with Season 3.

Thicker Than Water on MHZ

If you are looking for a fantastic family drama with amazing acting, look no further than Thicker Than Water, a Swedish/Finnish tv production currently streaming on MHZ. Yes, it has sub-titles.

Three siblings are invited to meet at the family-owned inn in the Aland islands which are part of Finland but full of Swedish-speaking inhabitants. Lasse Waldemar (Bjorn Bengtsson) is the bad boy brother who is a failed restaurant owner in Stockholm. Jonna Waldemar (Aliette Opheim) is the beautiful sister who has made her life in regional theater. Oskar Waldemar (Joel Spira) is the resentful brother who stayed behind to run the family business and take care of “mom.”

The mother meets with each adult child and gives them a one sentence message to remember. She then takes a boat out on the water and shoots herself. After all, this is set in Scandinavia. Her female lawyer lays down requirements the children need to meet to inherit their mother’s estate. They need to stay on the island and run the small hotel, together, for one summer.

Family secrets, former loves, personal dramas and sibling rivalry all come to a boiling point during this summer season at the old family compound.

The ten-episode season does have an element of “murder mystery” about it, but the main emphasis explores the bonds between parents and child, brothers and sisters, spouses and neighbors. Thicker Than Water makes for exciting television in any language.