Jesse Stone: Stone Cold on Amazon Prime

ENTERTAINMENT – Jesse Stone Crime Drama Films Brought to Life Starring Tom Selleck

Previously a homicide detective in Los Angeles, the hard-drinking Stone has the credentials to track down the serial killer.

Continuing with my throwback look on past programing that I recently discovered as fun, entertaining, and well-conceived, this TV series review is on Jesse Stone films, starring Tom Selleck.

Jesse Stone Series

A series of strange murders sends shivers through a quiet New England town. It’s up to a hard-as-nails police chief, Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck), to find the psychopath behind the savage crimes. Previously a homicide detective in Los Angeles, the hard-drinking Stone has the credentials to track down the serial killer. The case takes an even more sinister turn when a teenage girl is raped, and Stone realizes that catching the killer will not be so easy.

 

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There are nine films portraying Jesse Stone as a crime fighting homicide detective:

  • Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005)
  • Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006)
  • Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)
  • Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007)
  • Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009)
  • Jesse Stone: No Remorse (2010)
  • Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost (2011)
  • Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt (2012)
  • Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise (2015)

Presently “Jesse Stone: Stone Cold” is free to Amazon Prime customers.

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Tom Selleck is well cast as Jesse Stone who is the chief of a tiny town.

Tom Selleck is well cast as Jesse Stone who is the chief of a tiny town. This is definitely not your typical made for television melodrama which was surprising. The film is well crafted and unfolds like a noir, especially with Stone’s tough guy exterior. Harmon doesn’t let the action take over the story which allows the characters to drive the film.

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The first of the series of films does well to establish its lead and is set perfectly for the next additions.

The support cast is quite interesting if a little underwhelming, basically because of Selleck’s powerhouse performance leading the way. Viola Davis is a series regular for the first four films, she’s young, entertaining and a joy to watch. Mimi Rogers is criminally underused and Reg Rogers is just so plain to be menacing as the villain of the film. the love story between Mimi and Selleck just seems a little forced when the film should be focusing on the death of his girlfriend. The first of the series of films does well to establish its lead and is set perfectly for the next additions.

 

Jesse Stone (Selleck) is a New England police chief investigating a series of murders, in an adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s novel.

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Cruella from Disney.

ENTERTAINMENT – Disney Releases “Cruella” Starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in May 28, 2021

“…Cruella is a live-action origin story about Cruella de Vil, the dog-napping villain from Disney’s 1961 classic 101 Dalmatians.”

Disney has released an overview on “Cruella,” their upcoming release (May 28, 2021) starring, ‘Academy Award (R) winner Emma Stone (“La La Land“) in an all-new live-action feature film about the rebellious early days of one of cinemas most notorious – and notoriously fashionable – villains, the legendary Cruella de Vil. This new and upcoming film release was brought to my attention by my notable friend, Donna Black. “Cruella,” which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs.

She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute, played by two-time Oscar (R) winner Emma Thompson (“Howards End,” “Sense & Sensibility“). But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.’

Parents need to know that Cruella is a live-action origin story about Cruella de Vil, the dog-napping villain from Disney’s 1961 classic 101 Dalmatians. Before she became known as the criminal with a savage affinity for dog-skin clothing, Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) was a young London-based fashion designer. As her obsession over dog furs — especially Dalmatians — continues to grow and consume her, she transforms into the ferocious villain known as Cruella de Vil. This dark retelling looks to have some scary parts, as well as mature themes, so parents of very young or sensitive kids who love 101 Dalmatians may want to preview this one first.

“The release of Disney’s Cruella trailer has broken the Internet, and fans on Twitter have a lot of different opinions and reactions to share!”

Screenrant reports on why “Cruella: Why Fans On Twitter Are So Divided Over The Trailer.” At present, there are no published reviews of the upcoming release. However, there seems to be a fair amount of controversy in social media on how Disney is approaching the telling of this story.

 

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The release of Disney’s Cruella trailer has broken the Internet, and fans on Twitter have a lot of different opinions and reactions to share! The release of Disney’s Cruella trailer has officially broken the Internet. Fans and non-fans alike have come together on social media to express their support and concerns about the movie’s May 2021 theatrical release. The 101 Dalmatians prequel is intended to give Cruella De Vil, one of Disney’s most infamous villains, her own origin story.

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This movie marks the third appearance of the character, who was first featured in the 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmations, followed by the 1996 live-action remake. Although Emma Stone’s (Superbad) Cruella is giving a fresh, bold reimagining of the character, many Twitter users are divided about Disney’s casting choice and the film’s first trailer.

Just as Todd Phillips’ “Joker (2019)” follows failed comedian and recluse of Gotham City Arthur Fleck, Cruella digs deeper into the story of aspiring fashion designer Estella in 1970s London. However, fans are not understanding the hypocrisy of the the two films and their humanizing of their villain. Arthur Fleck commits murders of innocent humans in society while Estella does the same in turn towards animals. Even with this information, many users are showing acceptance for Arthur’s actions and rejection of Estella’s.

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Even in the most uncertain of times, fans are still hopeful that if Halloween 2021 happens, we will be seeing many Cruella impersonators out and about. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) reinvention of Harley Quinn has been a staple Halloween costume since the release of Suicide Squad (2016). However, many feel that the new Cruella will take over as the most popular costume.

Many fans have spotted the similarities between DC Comic’s Harley Quinn and Disney’s Cruella. Although some are skeptical of the casting choice for the reimagined villain, others believe that Emma Stone will take the role and make it original enough to put the comparisons to rest. On the other hand, some Twitter users are loving the similarities to the eccentric Harley Quinn and have applauded Disney for creating their version of the anti-hero.

From their unbalanced energy to unapologetically leading a lavish, criminal lifestyle, both characters bring a new perspective of two beloved roles. Emma Stone has been a star power in Hollywood for years, but many fans feel that her take on Cruella makes her even more desirable. From her fashion-savvy looks in the trailer to her British accent narration, she has the full package. There were many actresses in the running to play Cruella, but Twitter users are content with Disney’s choice to cast the striking redhead as their lead.

Fans of the Joker film have felt strongly about the representation of Arthur Fleck versus Disney’s portrayal of Estella, to the point where they have analyzed his character traits to its core. DC Comic fanatics can attest to the Joker’s more relatable persona, emphasizing how he is still a real, relatable person with a psychotic mind. Cruella, however, is painted to be someone hard to feel any sympathy for.

In the mass tweets of Joker and Harley Quinn comparisons, there are the select few who want a completely different storyline for the villain. The ideas mentioned online are endless, with many wondering why the film industry is continuing to recycle the same stories instead of creating original pieces. A showdown with John Wick, for example, is a more appealing film plot instead of the origin story of a notorious villain.

Many past films have given audiences the backstory of iconic villain characters with prequels. Even knowing this, Twitter users are still fighting that Cruella De Vil is pure evil and never needed an explanation as to why she became who she is. Movies like Maleficent (2014) were praised by critics for their storytelling about the Mistress of Evil. Cruella has three months until its release, yet it seems questionable for some users as to why Disney even provided her backstory.

Ignorance of a new story is a common theme in Twittersphere, and some fans are speaking out about the constant comparisons to Joker. Supporters of Cruella have tried to spread positivity about the film without mentioning any past films in this subject area. However, it seems many non-fans can’t shake the Disney remake from their mind without associating it with Joker.

The concept of a “Lady Joker” has been trending on Twitter. This moniker has left many fans questioning where this came from and what it means. Comparisons to a male troubled character have left a bad taste in some users’ mouths, feeling that many viewers will not take Emma Stone’s Cruella interpretation seriously because she is a troubled female.

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Vanish on Amazon Prime Video.

ENTERTAINMENT – “Vanquish” Stars Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose on Amazon Prime Video

Morgan Freeman stars in Vanquish on Amazon Prime Video, just don’t expect a quality high drama in this film…

Amazon presents Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose in Vanquish on Prime Video. Kicking the Seat explains his harsh perspective on the film. Though, his POV is much kinder that most of the critics that reviewed this film. From the director of Double Take, Middle Men, and The Poison Rose comes this stylish, glossy action-thriller starring Morgan Freeman (Se7en) and Ruby Rose (“Orange Is the New Black“) that shows what desperation can drive a person to do. A mother, Victoria (Rose), is trying to put her dark past as a Russian drug courier behind her, but retired cop Damon (Freeman) forces Victoria to do his bidding by holding her daughter hostage. Now, Victoria must use guns, guts, and a motorcycle to take out a series of violent gangsters — or she may never see her child again.

 

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As you may have gathered from its 6% Tomatometer score, George Gallo’s Vanquish is not a good movie. Repetitive, weirdly edited, and way too stagnant in the action department to warrant the pedigrees of its leads, the latest Lionsgate release is yet another reminder that the studio who once stood high on the shoulders of American Psycho and Saw is now mostly an ATM for the likes of Bruce Willis.

Ruby Rose stars in “Vanquish” on Amazon Prime Video.

Oftentimes nuance is just as key as context.

Even though I’m going to give the film a negative review (Spoiler!), it’s times like these when I wish there were a third category—maybe “overripe”. This might prompt readers scrolling through the myriad write-ups to stop and actually look past the negativity (or stop hate-reading the negativity).

The film stars Morgan Freeman as Damon, a retired corrupt police officer who had once been something of a hero cop (according to the headlines, at least). After having been paralyzed on a case, he now spends time idling about his incredible oceanside compound, tended to by his assistant, Victoria (Ruby Rose).

One night, Damon offers Victoria a job, using skills she’d buried in a traumatic past: he needs her to pick up several duffel bags full of cash from various unsavory characters around the city—a task for which she will be handsomely paid. She refuses. But before she can outright quit, Damon arranges for Victoria’s young daughter to be kidnapped.

The adventure begins.

Much as you might expect from Rose’s former role as TV’s Batwoman, Victoria’s night is full of encounters with colorful characters. At each stop in her mission, she battles crews ranging from gangbangers to crooked cops to flamboyant, coked-up trust-funders. There’s gunplay, fisticuffs, and a lot of riding around on the supercool motorcycle Damon has provided her (perhaps a cosmic nod to Freeman’s Lucius Fox character from elsewhere in the Bat-iverse).

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We’ve seen this all before, executed in a much slicker fashion, which makes the discount-John Wick exercise that much harder to connect with. From the embarrassing six-minute opening credits montage that (kinda) tells Damon’s story via the cheapest Word Press-looking newspaper headlines (all from “The Daily News”); to Victoria’s constant recollections of events that happened literally five minutes earlier; to night shots that look like they were color-timed with an “antifreeze” filter; to the script’s tired video game level structure in which the cut scenes are cut-and-paste returns to Damon’s house to drop off bags, Vanquish plays like a proof-of-concept animatic that was accidentally released to the public.

Told you Rotten Tomatoes gave it a lousy rating.

But the lousiness is only half the story. Nestled among the junk are a few bright spots that tease a movie very much worth watching—or at least taking more seriously than most reviews suggest.

Let’s start with Ruby Rose. Yes, she’s much more charismatic in the much better movie The Doorman, and I understand that one of the big criticisms of her in this film is her total lack of affect. But her flatness didn’t bother me. Victoria is a character whose entire world is turned upside down within a matter of minutes, and she’s forced to resurrect deadly skills from a life she’d deliberately locked away.

She’s almost going through an hours-long out-of-body experience; you can see her wishing she was anywhere else, holding her daughter tight. It’s possible that expression could be attributed to Rose herself, wanting to get the shoot over with. In this case, though, it’s perfectly safe to err on the side of “right for the character”.

Here’s why Vanquish is, for me, actually a soft recommend.

This detached demeanor also serves the film well in a scene where Victoria gets jacked up on a large amount of cocaine. It’s a positively bonkers sequence that made me pine for a Crank sequel/spinoff/reboot with Rose stepping in for Jason Statham.

(For the record, Morgan Freeman looks like he’s legitimately half-awake. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Gallo and his crew broke into the elderly actor’s house at 3am to shoot some scenes, and convinced him he’d believe the whole thing was a dream the next morning.)

The next gem in Vanquish’s warped crown is Patrick Muldoon. If you only know him as the guy who broke up Zack and Kelly on Saved By the Bell, this performance will be a revelation. As the crooked fed conspiring with a gaggle of lowlife cops against Damon, he imbues the part with reptilian cool. He’s like the smarter, darker little brother of Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, complete with that floppy wisp of a ponytail.

I will say that the resolution is odd but lovely…

Finally, I’ve got to give Gallo credit for imbuing his pseudo-shoot-’em-up with a remarkable twist—which, in good conscience, I can’t give away. Others may have spoiled the outcome of Victoria’s night from hell, and I invite you to look for spoilers elsewhere (if the thought of sitting through Vanquish is just too much to bear). I will say that the resolution is odd but lovely, and I would welcome another filmmaker stealing this twist and incorporating it into much stronger material.

I’m dancing around a turn of events so surprising (to me) that it redeems Vanquish as a concept, and almost as a movie; just not enough to rate it as “fresh”, which makes me feel kind of rotten.

Source: Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon Prime Video, and Kicking the Seat

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Shadow and Bone on Netflix.

ENTERTAINMENT – “Shadow and Bone” Epic Fantasy Series on Netflix

Based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone—which premieres globally on Netflix on Friday April 23rd—is a gripping epic fantasy series with immersive worldbuilding, lavish costume and production design, stunning visual effects, and an appealing ensemble cast.

From Netflix, Shadow and Bone series premieres on April 23, 2021. “Dark forces conspire against orphan mapmaker Alina Starkov when she unleashes an extraordinary power that could change the fate of her war-torn world. Starring: Jessie Mei Li, Archie Renaux, and Ben Barnes.” Based on Leigh Bardugo’s worldwide bestselling Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone finds us in a war-torn world where lowly soldier and orphan Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive.

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As the series opens we meet Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux) who have grown up together in an orphanage, and have a bond between them that runs deep. With a war looming, Mal has been drafted into the First Army as a soldier while Alina works as a cartographer. Before too long though, she is hauled in front of the fearsome General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) who believes that Alina is not only gifted with special powers—making her a fellow Grisha who must join his magical Second Army—but the mythical sun summoner, a saint, essentially the chosen one.

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With her powers confirmed publicly, Kirigan sees to it that Alina is immediately taken to the Little Palace in the Ravkan capital to live alongside other Grisha, who have various miraculous abilities such as the tailor, Genya Safin (a wonderful Daisy Head), who can make scars and blemishes disappear, and would rack up millions of views on YouTube with her makeup application abilities.

Under an intense training regimen and isolated from everyone and everything she knows, Alina is unsettled and feels more like a prisoner at times than someone who’s being protected, while her many letters to Mal go unanswered.

One of the highlights of the series is Zoë Wanamaker’s performance as the Yoda-like Baghra, who shines in every scene as a tough teacher on Alina, attempting to train her to harness her newfound sun summoning powers. While Ben Barnes is a commanding presence as the mysterious general. Meanwhile on the other side of the Shadow Fold—a menacing divide of darkness filled with lethal pterodactyl-like creatures—an unlikely band of criminals led by self-serving Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), with the acrobatic Inej (a captivating Amita Suman) and skilled gunman Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), plan to take the perilous journey and cross through it to the north and launch an elaborate heist on the Little Palace.

Elsewhere, a heartrender (possessing the ability to control someone’s internal organs) Nina Zenick (Danielle Galligan) is kidnapped by Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), a Grisha-hunting Drüskelle from Fjerda, who perceives the woman as a witch and deeply mistrusts her. As their journey continues though, and the two are thrown closer together, the sexual chemistry between them becomes palpable, and Skogman taking his wet shirt off is likely to get more than a few hearts racing. The series creators also find plenty of opportunities for Renaux to be shirtless too, and although they’re not explicit, there are a few steamy romance scenes throughout, and as with the violence in the series it doesn’t feel held back by its YA origins.

Jessie Mei Li stars in “Shadow and Bone.”

When Mal and Alina are together, Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are both natural and familiar with one another, with a chemistry that makes us believe in the rich history between them.

 

In a world rife with othering and prejudice related to possessing special powers as well as ethnicity and race, highlighted by the fact that Alina is part Shu, queer characters are however accepted without comment and casually populate the series. For instance, Nadia Zhabin (Gabrielle Brooks), Alina’s friend at the Little Palace, mentions in passing that she is attracted to Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta), a Grisha woman who takes an immediate dislike to Alina. While Kit Young’s Jesper is the charismatic gunslinging queer fantasy action hero we’ve been waiting for; with the air of an adult Artful Dodger about him, he’s witty, sexy, whip-smart, and makes a for a deadly foe, but also finds time for some hot man-on-man action in the palace stable.

James Kleinmann in The Queer Review explains his origins with Shadow and Bone review. “Having not read Bardugo’s books before watching the series, it took me a while to acclimatise to the world of the show; the unfamiliar history, geography, and politics, but the writers do a good job of bringing us up to speed without it feeling like exposition, and a few episodes in I was hooked. The material certainly benefits from an episodic format and would likely have felt rushed and convoluted in movie form.

With Mal and Alina kept apart for several episodes things take an epistolary turn with some voice-over heavy sequences, which might not be the most cinematic moments of the series, but do allow us inside the characters’ minds. When Mal and Alina are together, Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are both natural and familiar with one another, with a chemistry that makes us believe in the rich history between them. In its attempt to feel grounded in the reality of its otherworldliness, there’s an everyday ordinariness to much of the dialogue and its delivery, that generally works well, but occasionally robs some moments of the high stakes at hand.”

The parallel narratives are nicely balanced, well-paced, and never confusing, and the myriad characters are given enough screen time for us to get to know them, while the world is further expanded in one episode containing some flashbacks to another era. It all builds to a thrilling finale, where the spectacular visual effects enhance the action sequences rather than distract from them. Shadow and Bone is a compelling tale of light vs darkness that feels fresh and left me looking forward to future seasons.

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Robin Roberts Presents Mahalia on Lifetime.

ENTERTAINMENT – Danielle Brooks’ Brings Joy and Voice to Robin Roberts “Mahalia” Film Premiere on Lifetime

The story of the New Orleans-born crooner who began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement.

Born in New Orleans, Mahalia Jackson, starring Danielle Brooks, in “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” began singing at an early age and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in U.S. history, melding her music with the civil rights movement. My great aunt owned her albums and played them regularly on Sunday mornings. The voice of Mahalia Jackson is eternally and undeniably recognizable in my memory. She sang with all the painful splendor in her voice.

Her recording of the song “Move on Up a Little Higher” sold millions of copies, skyrocketing her to international fame and gave her the opportunity to perform at diverse settings including in front of a racially integrated audience at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. While Mahalia’s Carnegie Hall performance is portrayed in this story John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball is not. I would have liked to have seen this historical portrayal as well.

From Rock’n Robin Productions and Lincoln Square Productions, Mahalia is executive produced by Robin Roberts and Linda Berman.

An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson sang at numerous rallies, including the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in hopes that her music would encourage and inspire racial equality.

Mahalia Jackson’s story could span more than two hours quite easily. Scan her biography, listen to her voice, appreciate the fullness of her talent, and it isn’t farfetched to say she’d be as worthy a candidate for a season of “Genius” as Aretha Franklin.

The Lifetime film portrays that Jackson didn’t sing popular music, and points out that she sang gospel, instead. But she did. She is a featured singer on Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige, after which “Come Sunday” and was a vocal version of the piece that became a jazz standard.

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We only see young Mahalia briefly as a child, singing to Bessie Smith’s records in an angelic voice that stops people in their tracks.

Instead of celebrating the girl’s talent, her Aunt Duke chastises the girl, insisting she use her gifts only to upraise God and for no other purpose. Bessie Smith did inspire Mahalia who developed a blues-style of fire and spirit that apparently scandalized Chicago churches at first, but eventually brought Carnegie Hall calling. This style was also the crossover appeal with Black and white radio listeners that likely influenced Aretha Franklin to borrow a portion of Jackson’s flavor for her own vocal stylings; the one that would become the Queen of Soul, donning her crown with confidence.

According to the version of Jackson presented in “Mahalia” and played by powerhouse performer Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black“), the Queen of Gospel did not assume her reign so easily. A lack of self-confidence was partly to blame for that, but propriety policing also dims her light for a time.

Danielle Brooks stars in “Robin Roberts Presents Mahalia” on Lifetime.

Brooks rides out every swoop, rise, and trill in Jackson’s style as she recreates signature moments from the singer’s life.

That message is portrayed to have stayed with her throughout her adulthood, as does the energy and spirit she picked up from those old blues records. In covering the gospel singer, Brooks doesn’t merely capture the essence of Jackson’s vocal fortitude. She’s holding true to Jackson’s guiding principle that gospel’s specialness lies in its ability to lift a person’s spirit and make them feel better.

“Mahalia” isn’t entirely washed cleaned of the singer’s struggles; we see her encounter discrimination in the South and from Black people in the North, such as when a respected professor chides her during a voice lesson that the way she sang was “a discredit to the Negro race,” adding that white people would never understand it.

This is one moment, not a refrain in her life, and that’s a refreshing take in this season spotlighting Black women like Franklin, Billie Holiday and most recently, Tina Turner. Each of their treatments depict pain as an ongoing entity around which these artists had to navigate – and indeed, their tumultuous and abusive relationships with men in their lives loom large in their stories.

In the film, Mahalia exclaims, “When I sing God’s music, it’s hope,” as she explains to one friend begging her to make a blues record. “I can’t stand to live with any more pain.”

Salon describes, “That line may prove to be an essential citation in an ongoing argument about how Black female artists have been portrayed in films like these, especially lately. Here writers Bettina Gilois (who died in July 2020) and Todd Kreidler create a story that is joyful, bright, and facile in the way that Lifetime fictionalized biographies tend to be.”

Salon explains its note, “Take this not a mark against it but an indicator of what to expect: nice isn’t necessarily code for terrible. On the contrary “Mahalia” is pleasing, good mood fodder that should in no way be considered an exhaustive account of the gospel virtuoso’s expansive life. It may not qualify as an outstanding work of art or the definitive dramatization of Jackson’s life, but Brooks’ preeminence is the answer to any question of how this show will get over with audiences.”

“Mahalia” explores the singer’s talent as an extension of the happiness she drew from her faith, her kindheartedness and her humility. Gilois and Kreidler measure her life by way of her talent and her friendships, especially that of her friend Estelle, rendered in a warm, lively performance by Olivia Washington.

Rob Demery as Martin Luther King Jr., in “Mahalia.”

As a tradeoff the writers leap over entire segments of her career, omitting key relationships such as her early work with Thomas A. Dorsey, one of American music’s most influential artists, while finding time and space to portray her friendship with Studs Terkel (Jim Thorburn).

Each of these famous men figures prominently in Jackson’s legend, and certainly Terkel should be there. It remains worth inquiring why Dorsey is erased. Meanwhile auxiliary characters like Jackson’s longtime pianist Mildred Falls (Joaquina Kalukango, Brooks’ co-star in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple”) are shortchanged of development and dimension, although Kalukango works wonders with what she’s given.

Furthermore, Jackson’s Civil Rights presence only shows up by way of her friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Rob Demery), and even this plank is nailed in as something of an afterthought, essential as a way to include the fleeting moment everyone knows but few realize is attributable to her. The woman’s voice that cries out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream!” at during King’s speech at 1963’s March on Washington is Mahalia Jackson’s, after all. And we see that for all of a few seconds.

Danielle Brooks as Mahalia Jackson in “Mahalia.”

Rob Demery stars as Martin Luther King., Jr. at the March on Washington in “Robin Roberts Presents Mahalia.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, thanks to Brooks’ resolute performance and Kenny Leon’s sturdy directing style, “Mahalia” successfully argues for our attention. In the same way that Cynthia Erivo stellar work easily buys forgiveness of the many flaws in “Genius,” Brooks reaches beyond the screen and grabs you every time she breaks into song, doubling that power to meet the grandeur of bigger stages. A lesser director would struggle to adequate frame that mighty power, but Leon rises to her level by matching her artistry with visual artfulness.

Here, too, the director finds a way to marry historic images into the present in a way that makes sense and fits the narrative.

When Mahalia walks on stage at Carnegie Hall, for example, the scene cuts to black and white, marking this as a recreation of a photographed moment in history that also translates the emotional context of the story – she’s scared. It’s the largest venue she’s ever performed in, and her stage fright has rendered the world colorless. Then Brooks, as Mahalia, gazes upward and into the light pouring down from the ceiling, and the camera makes it look like carpet of power pouring down from heaven. That’s when the color floods the picture and the singer, overcoming her fear, belts out the holy spirit.

Such scenes announce the higher role “Mahalia” plays as a parable about a Black woman’s voice and identity, and how often and ferociously both are policed and diminished. Brooks give Mahalia Jackson her due by playing her as the titan she is while being honest about her internalized insecurity about her boldness and Blackness, which is relatable millions of people, but especially to women with similar life experiences to hers.

Mahalia Jackson (L) and Danielle Brooks (R).

To those in awe of her musical contribution it’s unbelievable that she had to be talked into playing one of America’s most prestigious concert venues and not the other way around.

It’s equally as inspiring to watch her find her voice once she’s there – not onstage, but before her performance, when she tells her adopted son to tell the concert promoter to bring the rest of her money in cash.

This would seem to be inspired moment from Viola Davis’ portrayal of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. “It’s Carnegie Hall, Mama,” her son replies with a laugh. Mahalia shrugs him off in a way that gladdens the heart as much as her singing and says, “I got to take me wherever I go.”

“Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” premiered, Saturday, April 3, 2021 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime (NBC Universal Entertainment Family). I was not a fan of all the commercial breaks in this presentation but there are other paid viewing choices, as well.

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"Every Breath You Take" on Amazon Prime Video.

ENTERTAINMENT – “Every Breath You Take” on Amazon Prime, Starring Casey Affleck and Sam Claflin, on April 5, 2021

A psychiatrist, whose client commits suicide, finds his family life disrupted after introducing her surviving brother to his wife and daughter.

From Amazon: “Every Breath You Take” is a searing psychological thriller about a psychiatrist (Casey Affleck), whose career is thrown into jeopardy when his patient takes her own life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother (Sam Claflin) into his home to meet his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter, his family life is suddenly torn apart.

For a thriller that’s overly designed and under-scripted, it’s got the twists and good actors to carry you along.

Variety report on “Every Breath You Take.” Casey Affleck plays a psychiatrist — or more to the point, he plays a movie psychiatrist, the sort of character who’s been around since Ingrid Bergman peered through wire-rimmed spectacles, offering repressed pensées about repression in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945). The movie psychiatrist may, at times, bear a passing resemblance to the real thing, but mostly he’s a creature unto himself: impeccably dry and detached, scribbling great gobs of notes and — inevitably — dealing with a secret closetful of his own issues.

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Affleck, who often plays quiet men with a short fuse, here dials back the hidden volatility, adopting a scholarly air of serenity that he wears surprisingly well.

Handsome in a trim beard and designer glasses, his voice tuned to a note of becalmed empathy, he convinces us that Dr. Philip Clark, a therapist who works out of his home in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t a bad guy, but that he has messed up his life just enough to deserve a comeuppance. Or at least a major correction.

Sam Claflin stars in “Every Breath You Take.”

The comeuppance arrives in the form of Sam Claflin, a British actor who has often played heartthrobs, here cast as a charmingly “sincere” and insinuating creep who makes it his mission to disrupt the good doctor’s life. Why?

One of Philip’s patients, a young woman named Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind), spent 14 months in a psych ward and kept on threatening suicide. So Philip decided to help her out in a most unorthodox way. In his picturesque office den, he squirmed past her defenses by dropping his shrink façade and telling her his life story, including things he’d never told his wife. He shared his trauma.

It worked: Her suicidal thoughts receded, her distressed symptoms went away. We see Philip discussing the case, with a touch of pride, in front of an audience at the college where he teaches. And then? Then Daphne’s friend dies, and she’s so distressed that she takes her own life anyway. So much for a priest of therapy making himself a confessor.

James Flagg (Claflin) is Daphne’s grieving brother, who after getting past the shock of her death presents himself as a polite and gracious chap.

But we can already see that it’s an act, since he wastes no time maneuvering himself into the lives of Philip’s real-estate-agent wife, Grace (Michelle Monaghan), and his daughter, Lucy (India Eisley), a troubled teenager who is home after getting kicked out of boarding school for doing a line of cocaine in a science lab. She’s ripe for a classy bad boy like James. The setup is a knockoff of “Cape Fear”: bad apple with a grudge — maybe a justified one — stalks the object of his hate by trying to tear his family apart. His most threatening tool? Seduction.

Claflin is a terrific actor who, at moments, has reminded me of Hugh Grant. Here, with a courtly manner just this side of brooding, giving those complex dimples a workout, he’s more slithery, like Matt Dillon infused with the leer of John Lydon. His James is a born manipulator who’s almost infuriatingly nice and solicitous. Until he isn’t.

“Every Breath You Take” was shot in Vancouver (standing in for suburban Washington State), and the two houses in which much of the action unfolds are such tastefully grand pieces of real-estate porn, so isolated against their misty snow-capped-mountain backdrops, that they could almost be country mansions out of a Jane Austen novel.

The movie seems to be taking place in The Wooded Land Of No Neighbors Or Streets With Stores. You get the feeling that the director, Vaughn Stein, became obsessed with the design of the thing: the fake fireplaces that look more expensive than real ones, the modernist wine glasses, the museum-like coffee shops, the Clarks’ awesomely long and thin swimming pool, which Grace seems to take a soul-cleansing dunk in every other scene. There isn’t a color in the movie that isn’t gray, white, green, black, or brown, all lit by exquisitely overcast skies.

You only wish that this much attention had been lavished on the script, by David K. Murray, which is functional and, at crucial moments, rather minimal. The movie carries you along, and it’s got some high-tension moments, but there are one too many coincidental running-into-each-other-in-town close encounters (James has a way of popping up like a slasher). And the movie skimps on the basics of what should have been a central issue: Why did Philip decide, so cavalierly, to pour his heart out to his patient? He gets called on the carpet for it, and we can deduce, in the abstract, that he was doing it for himself, but a film with more psychological layering would have utilized a moment in those sessions to sketch in his trauma.

As it is, “Every Breath You Take” is one more movie that uses the death of a child as a shorthand way of depicting a marital breakdown that isn’t quite depicted. It also marks the second time that Casey Affleck has played a man scarred and numbed by that level of loss. He works hard to give a performance that’s very different from his Oscar-winning one in “Manchester by the Sea,” and he gets by with it. But he’d do well now to take a long break from this kind of role. An actor as good as he is doesn’t want repressed grief to become his brand.

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ENTERTAINMENT – “Crisis” Film on Amazon Prime is a Thrilling View of the Opioid Issue in America

Ready to nail someone: Armie Hammer plays a driven DEA agent in one of the three opioid-epidemic storylines of “Crisis.” The film also stars Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lilly.

Crisis” is a thriller that focuses on the rising opioid issue in America, starring: Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez and Guy Nadon. From the film’s opening moments, it is clearly going to be a tension filled story with a conscience. The real question is whether it can live up to its own lofty expectations.

This gives a grander scale to opioid issue.

In order to give the story full weight, director Nicholas Jarecki presents three different storylines. This enables Crisis to look at the problem from different angles. This includes entering the boardrooms of big pharma to following addicts.

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A drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation. An architect recovering from an Oxycodone addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s disappearance. A university professor battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a pharmaceutical company bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.

Greg Kinnear and Gary Oldman in “Crisis”.

Set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, their stories collide in this dramatic thriller from writer/director, Nicholas Jarecki (Arbitrage).

The film does an excellent job of keeping a consistent tone.

The three arcs may concern different sides of the opioid crisis, but they all share a level of apprehension and distrust. As each story unfolds, this feeling never never lessens.

Michelle Rodriguez and Armie Hammer plays a police supervisor and a driven DEA agent in one of the three opioid-epidemic storylines of “Crisis.” The film also stars Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lilly.

“Crisis” is an ambitious attempt to take on America’s opioid problem head on.

Using three narratives is a wise choice that shows how far reaching things have become. It is flawed at times, but it definitely worth watching.

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Coming 2 America movie poster.

ENTERTAINMENT – “Coming 2 America” with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall Premieres on Amazon Prime

The Return of the King: Eddie Murphy Rules in “Coming 2 America”

If you’re looking for “throw back” fun from Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America”, also starring Arsenio Hall, you’ll get the best walk down memory lane with Coming 2 America now premiering on Amazon Prime.

In 1988, Murphy, by then fully in control of his career, made “Coming to America.” The big budget comedy ($36 million, or $81 million in 2021 dollars) was based on a character he created, Prince Akeem Joffer, the scion of a fictional African country who bucks the tradition of arranged marriage and comes to Queens in search of a liberated American woman to be an equal partner.

It’s really impossible to overstate how huge a star Eddie Murphy was in the 1980s. At the beginning of the decade, he singlehandedly saved Saturday Night Live after the original cast—and the audience—had moved on. He made his big-screen debut in 1982’s 48 Hours; two years later, he was so big he turned down Ghostbusters for Beverly Hills Cop, which became the highest grossing comedy in history.

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“Coming to America” was directed by John Landis, the pop cinema genius behind The Blues Brothers and the heady Murphy vehicle, Trading Places. Landis perfected the hangout movie, where plot was secondary to gags and character moments to help the audience identify with the movie star, and create worlds you want to live in. Modern superhero movies take a lot from Landis’ approach. The film was a huge success, earning the 2021 equivalent of $790 million.

Coming 2 America lacks the depth of Dolemite is My Name, but it never aspires to reach it. This is a pop confection whose only goal is to entertain as broadly as possible. Everyone from Murphy on down look like they’re having the time of their lives, and when you visit Zamunda, you may find their happiness infectious.

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Nomadland on Hulu

ENTERTAINMENT – Hulu Presents Oscar Winner Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” Traveling America in a Recession

A woman embarks on a journey through the American West after losing everything during the recession.

Hulu presents “Nomadland” and describes, “the wild talents of Frances McDormand as familiar to us, and I’m not sure they’ve ever been showcased better. And when an extraordinary movie comes along, there can be a reluctance to raise expectations too high, but there’s no other way to say this: “Nomadland” is perfect.”

“Nomadland” introduces most movie fans to the talented Chloé Zhao (credited from “The Rider”), who wrote, directed, edited and coproduced it, as well as found the gorgeous music and probably other jobs we’ll never know about. Zhao has taken a seemingly impossible-to-adapt book, Jessica Bruder‘s nonfiction study of houseless people, and captured a part of its clear-eyed essence while creating something that feels tough, hopeful, and entirely new.

If you liked Frances McDormand in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you’ll love what’s likely her third Oscar-honored performance as the no-nonsense heroine Fern, a prickly widow who loses her job in Empire, Nevada. She hits the road in an RV, picking up work wherever she can: drugstores, restaurants, grim Amazon warehouses. When somebody calls her homeless, she says she’s just “houseless” — no victim, but a self-reliant pilgrim who genuinely likes work and cherishes her rolling residence.

Her trek is grittily realistic, and some of the folks she meets at the occasional urban-nomad gatherings at Arizona’s La Paz fairgrounds — called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous — are real people telling their own stories. A fiction film, it’s inspired by a nonfiction book. But it also plays like an epic myth, set in spectacular landscapes John Ford movies made famous.

All the Hollywood industry buzz surrounding ‘Nomadland’ says this is a film headed for Oscar glory. It is also a touching character study critically described an instant classic.

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McDormand, 63, makes Fern a symbol of stubborn persistence, and a very particular person — solitary yet also social, deeply responsive to nature, too independent to yield to the courtship of a wonderful fellow nomad (genius actor David Strathairn, 72) or her sister’s wish to live a settled conventional life.

Much of that has to do with Fern, whom Zhao and McDormand invented (most other “characters” in “Nomadland” are people from the book, playing themselves). When we meet her, Fern (McDormand) is saying goodbye to everything she knows, storing most of her stuff in a locker and packing the rest into Vanguard, an Econoline van she plans to live in while traveling, picking up temp jobs and seeking wide-open spaces. “It creates more counter space,” she proudly tells pal Linda May as she folds down the lid of a box that becomes her “kitchen” “counter.”

From Hulu, “Fern is living proof that not all who wander are lost.” —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

In “Nomadland,” McDormand’s acting is shyer than in earlier performances like Fargo, she’s more wary here. Intent when listening, she often looks away when she speaks — as if, far from the places she used to know, Fern is unsure of how to engage.

Fern listens a lot to the people she meets in “Nomadland”: to Linda May, who discusses her thoughts of suicide; to Bob Wells, who breaks down while discussing his son’s death; to her sister, who tells her, “You maybe seemed weird but it was just because you were braver and more honest than anybody else.”

Frances McDormand, left, portrays Fern in the film “Nomadland.” Searchlight Pictures

Fern’s (and the movie’s) listening brings dignity and beauty to the lives of people we wouldn’t usually encounter or attend to. They make “Nomadland” bigger than its tiny story — you’d be hard-pressed to say what it’s about, other than Fern’s quest for freedom — so that it feels like a totemic western along the lines of “High Noon,” with McDormand as its Gary Cooper.

Frances McDormand, Courtesy of SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

From Hulu’s reviewer: “I’ve seen “Nomadland” a few times now and I’m struck every time by the details Zhao and McDormand linger on — the hesitant way Fern pets a dog, her immediate responses to yes-or-no questions, the pleasure with which she settles into a lawn chair, her care in reciting Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet. There is great power in this movie’s subtle choices, and what they add up to is an astonishing achievement in American film.

Watch it: “Nomadland,” in theaters and coming February 19, 2021 to Hulu.

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ENTERTAINMENT – Justin Timberlake is a Magnetic Leading Man in Palmer on Apple TV

Apple TV premiered Palmer, where a former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) went from hometown hero to convicted felon, earning himself 12 years in a state penitentiary.

With Palmer, Timberlake is back on-screen, and he’s still got the charisma that made him the best part of some fairly average movies (we’re looking at you, Friends with Benefits and In Time).

Timberlake stars as Palmer’s titular character, an ex-convict released on parole after 12 years behind bars. We don’t immediately learn what Palmer went to prison for, but he seems to be reformed, since he’s fairly polite when living with his grandma, Vivian (June Squibb), and he doesn’t waste any time in finding a janitorial job at the elementary school.

He returns home to Louisiana, where he moves back in with Vivian, the grandmother who raised him. While trying to keep his head down and rebuild a quiet life for himself, Palmer is haunted by memories of his glory days and the suspicious eyes of his small town community.

Behind the scenes with Justin Timberlake on Palmer.

He’s quiet, has a tendency to crack a tall can for breakfast, and isn’t initially a particularly good role model to Sam (Ryder Allen), the young neighbor who Vivian takes in after his drug-addicted mom (Juno Temple) runs off.

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As Palmer adjusts to life back in his small Louisiana hometown, Vivian dies suddenly, leaving him to look after Sam until his mom comes back (if she ever does). All of a sudden, Palmer’s life is full of bubble baths and playdates, which are in stark contrast to his sullen, macho moodiness.

Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen star in Palmer on Apple TV.

Things become more complicated when Vivian’s hard-living neighbor Shelly (Juno Temple) disappears on a prolonged bender, leaving her precocious and unique 7-year-old son Sam, often the target of bullying, in Palmer’s reluctant care. In time, Palmer is drawn into a more hopeful world as he forges a connection with Sam through their shared experience of being made to feel different by those around them.

Palmer sticks to fairly predictable territory.

We’ve seen this kind of “reluctant father” narrative play out time and again — think About a Boy, Big Daddy, or the recent The Midnight Sky — and the film hits all the predictable beats as Palmer goes from stoic to paternal.

Alisha Wainwright in Palmer, now streaming on Apple TV+
Picture Courtesy: Apple.

Life improves for Palmer, and a romance develops between him and Sam’s teacher Maggie (Alisha Wainwright). An inspiring and unexpected journey unfolds for the three of them, but soon Palmer’s past threatens to tear apart this new life.

Even if Palmer feels a little sanitized, it’s well-acted enough to make up for it. Timberlake may not have the grit to make him a very plausible ex-con, but he brings the quiet charm and effortless charisma required to make him sympathetic. And Ryder Allen is instantly loveable as Sam, a young boy who wears hair clips and loves princesses — something that brings out homophobia in his peers and occasional gender policing in Palmer.

It’s heart-warming to see how he retains his sunny individuality despite being neglected at home and bullied at school.

It’s impossible not to root for Palmer and Sam every step of the way, even if you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of how things are going to play out.

Palmer premiered on Apple on January 29, 2021.

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