March 24, 2019

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2 on Netflix

I am giving a guarded recommendation for the FX incepted true crime drama, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2. My only reservation is the graphic images of violence that linger in the brain long after the nine episodes have been viewed,

The acting is outstanding with bravura performances by Glee-ful actor Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace and Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella. Judith Light, Ricky Martin and Michael Nouri are some of the supporting actors that turn in solid performances.

The production team has opted to tell the story of Cunanan’s murder spree backwards with Versace’s demise in Episode 1. Going back in time, we see him gruesomely dispatch Chicago real estate mogul Lee Miglin and Minneapolis friends in Minnesota. We are introduced to his deceptive Filipino father, his overwhelmed mother and previous sugar daddies. By the time we reach his final chapter in the ninth episode, we have a fuller understanding of what created this monstrous personality.

The scriptwriting, cinematography and general production values are of the highest order. If you can handle the gruesome subject matter, The Assassination of Gianni Versace currently streaming on Netflix might be right up your back alley.

Case Histories on Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime continues to carry many of the best British tv crime series. One such favorite is Case Histories based on the Jackson Brodie novel series by Kate Atkinson. I previously wrote a rave review on Atkinson’s novel Life After Life so she knows her way around writing plot, characterization and dialogue.

Brodie, played by ruggedly handsome Jason Isaacs, acts tough but is drawn to the down-trodden and those with unresolved personal tragedies. The premise may sound conventional, but the crime stories benefit from quirky characters and very high production values. Isaacs, with sidekick Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington), is the centerpiece of the show with his rough exterior and soft-hearted interior.

The show is set and filmed in Edinburgh, Scotland as an added benefit for those enamored with Scottish culture. Sadly, there are only nine episodes over two seasons.
Would that this series have gone on for a few more seasons. Still, you can add Case Histories to your list of worthy Amazon Prime Video crime mysteries.

Schitts Creek, Canadian comedy series on Netflix

One of my sisters has been raving about the comedy series, Schitts Creek on Netflix, but the show title was enough to put it on the bottom of my list. That was a mistake.

Canadian Eugene Levy of Waiting For Guffman and Second City Toronto fame, has teamed up with son Daniel Levy to create a laugh-out-loud comedy series set in the fictional town of Schitts Creek. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), former video king magnate, bought this small town as a joke for his son’s birthday. The Roses lose all of their money and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, Schitts Creek.

Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son, plays the pan-sexual male progeny of this fish-out-of-water family. Mother Moira Rose is played by comedic actress Catherine O’Hara, a frequent collaborator of Eugene’s. Her parade of black and white designer duds and various wigs is almost worth the price of admission. The fourth in this comedic quartet is Annie Murphy playing self-absorbed, jet-setting daughter Alexis Rose.

As in most successful tv comedies, the supporting roles are equally engaging including Emily Hampshire playing deadpan hotel worker Stevie Budd, Chris Elliott as mullet-wearing Mayor Roland Schitt, along with his style-challenged wife Jocelyn portrayed by actress Jennifer Robertson. Other quirky side characters include the handsome local vet, a waitress at the only diner in town, the owner of Bob’s Garage and the only real estate agent in town.

At first, I thought the only joke was how cluelessly sophisticated the Rose family was in comparison to the seeming hillbillies of Schitts Creek. It becomes apparent that this new constellation of friends and acquaintances is a big improvement over their previous big city community in loyalty, generosity and heart.

For every biting bit of humor, there is a warm fuzzy realization that family and real friends help us get through any catastrophe, including losing our bank accounts, our possessions and our social standing. Laughs plus the occasional “Aw….” in Schitts Creek makes for the perfect end of day viewing.

Killing Eve from the BBC

Expecting to find yet another well-made police procedural in the BBC’s show, Killing Eve, I was surprised by the production’s fresh take on international crime, thanks, in no small part, to American actress, Sandra Oh playing MI5 agent Eve Polastri who becomes fascinated with a female contract killer running loose in Europe.

Based on the Luke Jennings novella series, Codename Villanelle, Jodie Comer deliciously plays the dangerous lady with a penchant for paid assassinations. Fiona Shaw is Polastri’s shadowy boss who has secrets of her own. As we are introduced to new characters, we ponder who are the good guys and gals?

Sandra Oh and Comer are the heart of the show as they take turns being prey and huntress to one another. As a bonus, we get to see Villanelle in haute couture amid shots in Paris, Tuscany, Berlin, Romania and London, rather like a great travel show with a a plot to boot.

For every gruesome murder image, we have equally droll scenes to appreciate. If you like witty script-writing, twisty plots and fine acting, look no further than Killing Eve. Here’s hoping that Sid Gentle Films, the production company, can keep up the perfect balance of tension and comedy in Season Two.

Killing Eve, Season One is currently streaming on Hulu.

The Kominsky Method on Netflix

More and more name actors and directors are taking the plunge to the small screen with streaming service Netflix being one of the primary contenders in attracting quality productions.

The Kominsky Method, created by the uber-successful Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mom) has cast Michael Douglas as struggling LA actor/teacher Sandy Kominsky along with Alan Arkin as his button-downed friend and agent, Norman.
The script goes for laughs but the deeper sub-text keeps the dialogue from being cheap. Getting older has never seemed so grim or hilarious.

Nancy Travis is delightful as his sort-of girlfriend and Sarah Baker spot-on as his ever-patient daughter.

Scenes at Sandy’s acting studio are particularly moving as we see people striving to find the sweet spot of theatrical artistry versus the crassness of paid acting work.

The show is chock full of familiar faces playing bit roles such as Danny DeVito as a sadistic proctologist and Lisa Edelstein as Alan Arkin’s spoiled druggie daughter. Even Ann-Margaret and Elliot Gould make cameo appearances.

Netflix has already ordered Season Two so we can look forward to more snappy dialogue about senior dating, parent-child relationships, tax bills and prostate problems. No, this really is a comedy.

May you joyfully binge-watch The Kominsky Method this holiday season.

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