November 13, 2018

Wild Wild Country doc on Netflix

Fasten your seat belts for Wild Wild Country, a six-part documentary about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, his deputy Ma Anand Sheela and the community they created in Wasco County, Oregon. I had to keep reminding myself that this saga was not fiction, but a true life story of the 1980s with the Bhagwan and his sannyasins or followers.

Wild Wild Country

The Rashneeshis were noted for wearing burgundy, red, and orange clothing, sitting enrapt in the presence of the Bhagwan and at other times bouncing around in physical abandonment. The conservative Oregonian locals felt fear and bewilderment at this group of seeming interlopers.

Brother film-makers Chapman and MacIain Way depict the mounting tension between the “cult” and the local and federal government. A fantastic scriptwriter could not have fabricated some of the surprising turns the story takes. I defy you not to become engrossed in this strange tale.

If you want an interesting follow-up to the series, you might consider reading the Vanity Fair magazine article that talks about where some of the principals are now and ponders some of the issues not resolved in the documentary.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/04/wild-wild-country-netflix-cult-documentary-interview-bhagwan-shree-rajneesh-antelope-oregon-sheela-rajneeshpuram

Coco, the movie on Netflix

I’m frequently behind in my movie viewing since I wait until films are released on streaming services. I recently caught Coco, an animated film produced by Pixar and released by Disney on Netflix. All I can say is, “Why did I not catch this masterpiece in the movie theater?!”

The art direction is simply stupendous with its riotous colors and images that evoke Hispanic Culture’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) came up with the story idea and co-directed the film with Adrian Molina. They get an A+ for allowing non-Latinos and Latinos alike to view Hispanic culture through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel who is mistakenly sent to the underworld. He meets his musician great great-grandfather who helps him get back to the land of the living.

The music buff in me loves the song “Remember Me” which is artfully woven throughout the movie, but it is the central theme of family and remembrance that really hits the right chord for me.

Anthony Gonzalez is the young Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) plays his new pal who tricks him into visiting the world below. Most of the excellent voice-over actors are not household names, aside from Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s musical idol. Edward James Olmos is cast as the forgotten Chicharron who disappears from the Land of the Dead. Even Cheech Marin has a small role as a Corrections Officer.

If Coco shows up at a nostalgia movie theater, run at your earliest opportunity to catch it. Until then, view it on Netflix with those you love. Have your Kleenex at the ready. Happy Dia de los Muertos which starts on October 31st.

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.