August 8, 2020

“Knives Out” Movie on Amazon Prime Video

Because the pandemic has brought film-going to a standstill, many recent movies have been expeditiously transferred to streaming services and unreleased films have gone straight to video.

I missed seeing “Knives Out” in a real live movie theater, but thankfully, Amazon has been featuring the Rian Johnson-directed film for free to Prime members.

“Knives Out” initially seems like a boilerplate Agatha Christie-type murder mystery, with the deceased being famous and wealthy crime writer Harlan Thrombey played by the superlative 90-year-old actor, Christopher Plummer.

The real stars are Daniel Craig as southern detective Benoit Blanc and Ana de Arias as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s immigrant nurse and friend. Flashbacks slowly divulge what really happened as staff, police and family members are introduced to viewers.

The literary scion’s family members are deliciously played by Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Colette, Jaeden Martell and Katherine Langford.

I was especially tickled by the throne of knives in the author’s home that gives a pointed nod to the throne of swords featured in the “Game of Thrones” book and tv series. Plot twists, clever dialogue and subversive themes make this a bracing evening of entertainment. Word has it that Daniel Craig may reprise his southern accent in a “Knives Out” film sequel. Count me in.

Downton Abbey – the Movie

I was sad to see the tv series Downtown Abbey broadcast its last episode of season six in 2015. Small wonder that a movie revisiting these beloved characters was welcomed in the fall of 2019.

The original series was set over several years in the early 20th century, including World War I. The film continues with the characters in 1927 when the King and Queen of England pay a brief visit to the Downton Abbey residence.

Lord Grantham and his wife are much the same. Widower Tom Branson and Lady Mary now jointly manage the Downton Abbey property. Sybil is living life as an aristocratic mother and wife at a nearby estate. Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham embroils herself in a fight over a relative’s inheritance.

In the servant quarters, romance and marriage continue to be a driving force. Daisy is reviewing her marriage prospects. Mr. Carson, now married to Mrs. Hughes and in retirement, is commandeered to manage the Royal couple’s visit. Butler Thomas Barrow, meets a new friend and possible love interest. Tom Branson, an Irish hybrid of both upper and lower classes, saves the king from an assailant and falls for a maid traveling with the royal retinue.

Although not as engrossing as the original tv series, Downton Abbey (the movie) makes for a charming evening of entertainment. May Julian Fellowes continue to write about these memorable characters as they traverse the ever-changing 20th century.

The 2019 film is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fred Rogers Doc on HBO

I watched a church service on Easter morning, cooked some festive dishes and had two virtual parties with friends and family in the afternoon. As evening approached, I tried to think of something to watch in keeping with the Easter spirit. That ruled out murder dramas, Covid-10 news and political pundits.

Suddenly, a recommendation from last Easter popped into my head. A friend had raved about the 2018 American documentary currently streaming on HBO, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I had never watched Mr. Rogers when his show was on PBS, mistakenly thinking it was strictly for kiddies. The documentary points out social consciousness always played a part in his programming.

It was with wonder I watched him share bare feet in a kiddie pool with his African-American postman, a not so subtle counterbalance to the fights over whites and blacks using the same public swimming pools. Through fairy tale stories and realistic conversations between puppets and humans, Fred Rogers tackled difficult issues of the day.

One of the most moving segments of the doc is when Rogers interviews a disabled boy in a wheel chair. There is no pity on either side of the conversation, just a positive exchange of ideas between two individuals.

First and foremost was Mr. Rogers’ reverence for the feelings and education of children. He views television as a medium to create more than just cheap entertainment for kids. (On a personal note, my husband interviewed someone from the cast and was given a ticket to see Mr. Rogers live at the Auditorium in Chicago. He related how the venue was jam-packed with kids shouting and laughing until Mr. Rogers appeared on stage. A dead hush occurred before one little voice called out in awe, “Rogers,” only to be joined by hundreds of devoted fans yelling his name. Sadly, I never got to see the man in person, but I do recall this vivid description from my spouse.)

As an ordained Presbyterian minister, Rogers chose to wear a sweater and comfortable shoes instead of a white collar but his spirituality is apparent in his songs, his speech and his very demeanor. The documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, captures the essence of Mr. Rogers. Watch it with people you love.

P.S. I may yet watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the 2019 movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, but the the footage of the real man is gonna be hard to beat.

Library apps: Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby

Libraries have two strikes against them during this Covid-19 outbreak. They are not considered essential services and they risk attracting numbers of people who may catch or spread the disease. I understand the rationale, but if ever we needed the comfort of books, it is now.

Library apps to the rescue. If you have a library card number, you have access to a wealth of downloadable material on at least three different apps. Overdrive lets you download e-books, audiobooks and magazines like Oprah, Newsweek, Prevention, House Beautiful and Forbes, among others.

https://www.overdrive.com/explore

Hoopla not only carries ebooks and audiobooks, but movies, comics, an impressive catalogue of recorded music and a treasure trove of television shows both old and new. The library card holder is limited to six selections per month however.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/my/hoopla

Libby, an off-shoot of Overdrive, specializes in audiobooks and ebooks. The user is able to set preferences like genre, language and availability. One can explore new releases with the ability to put holds on the most popular titles. Libby estimates how many weeks one will have to wait for a title. I always have one or two books downloaded from this easy-to-use app.

https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/

If you have the money, please order a book from your local bookstore. If, however, you are pinching pennies, you can be grateful Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby apps are free. We have our public library system to thank for this. Books, to my mind, are essential.

The Two Popes – a Netflix original movie

When major film stars agree to appear in films produced by Netflix, you know the movie industry is indeed changing. Witness the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis is no slouch either having worked in films, tv and on stage, most notably to me as The Engineer in the original Miss Saigon on Broadway.

Based on true life, The Two Popes allows the viewer to see the relationship between these two pontiffs. Pope Benedict is the German who loves music but has difficulty connecting with people. Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina asks papal permission to resign from his post. Based on a play by Anthony McCarten, the future Pope Francis admits to dancing the tango and confesses a dark secret to his church boss.

Film director Fernando Meireiles has fashioned a film with intelligent dialogue and tour de force acting moments for both Hopkins and Pryce. You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy watching these two acting titans verbally joust as they get to know one another.

We all know that Pope Francis followed Benedict to the papacy, but the journey is still entertaining in The Two Popes. Hopkins, Pryce and Meireiles all garnered Oscar nominations for their work.

And if you are not all “poped out,” HBO also features The Young Pope with Jude Law and The New Pope with Chicago acting legend John Malkovich.

What’s next? A papal fashion craze? I want a pair of those red leather shoes.

Rocketman, a film inspired by the life of Sir Elton John

Released last year, Rocketman, the bio pic based on Elton John’s early life, has been currently available on selected streaming sites. In short, Taron Egerton is a wonder as Sir Elton. He justifiably won a Golden Globe as best actor for his performance, but was inexplicably left off the list of this year’s Oscar nominations.

Film credits go to director Dexter Fletcher and screenplay writer Lee Hall for choosing a dramatic arc in John’s life that has great emotional resonance. We see his difficult childhood, his precocity at the Royal Academy of Music in London and his search for a musical path. Enter lyricist, Bernie Taupin, played by actor Jamie Bell, who teams up with Elton to add words to his prolific compositions.

We see his meteoric rise as he conquers British and American music markets and becomes fabulously wealthy. Like a rocket, what goes up, must come down. Along the way, he tries to commit suicide and becomes addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, shopping and sex. The movie effectivelyly uses his participation in a rehab group as a device to tell the story.

Throughout the film, we hear those iconic hits and are bemused by his journey through ever more outrageous clothing and accessories. Those platform shoes! Those eyeglasses!

Elton John’s journey in this movie feels a little bit like that of Rocky Balboa’s in the Rocky franchise, but that is not a bad thing. We are rooting for him to turn his life around. Stay for the final credits where you get to read about “the rest of the story.”

If you love Elton John’s music, Rocketman is a must, but the film is inspiring enough for those who are less familiar with his work. Fashionistas will have a visual feast, producing both horror and delight.