CHANNING TATUM, A DOG, WILL SMITH’S REINVENTION, THE UNABOMBER, MRS. MAISEL, AND MORE ASTOUNDING ENTRIES!
Dog stars Channing Tatum as Briggs, a soldier at the end of term serving in wars in the Middle East. His final assignment – take his late friend’s traumatized service dog across the country to his owner’s funeral and then turn him over for euthanization. Lulu is on constant high alert and reacts violently to loud noises – the sounds of war – and Briggs suffers a degree of PTSD. His new solo status, the absence of his troop’s companionship and brotherhood, cast adrift with no fallback play on his state of mind. He reluctantly takes the growling, vicious dog and they hit the road. Lulu’s too “crazy” to adopt and brings Briggs serious trouble. He “tells” her she’s a liability and the army has no room for liabilities – he may be speaking about himself. She runs off into a forest to the homestead of a conscientious objector. To his surprise, Lulu eats out of a woman’s hand. She “reads” Lulu and finds she wants nothing more than a comfortable bed. As she’s cooler, Briggs takes her to a top-tier hotel in San Fransisco, pretending to be blind with a service dog for a free night. Lulu bites a robed Muslim hotel guest, as she was trained to do in the war, he’s arrested and jailed for a hate crime. It hits hard. The profound relationship between man and dog saves them and offers grace and transformation. It’s unsentimental, concerns the possibility of love and our capacity and necessity of connection and caring for other creatures. Dog is billed as a comedy but that’s debatable – perhaps I was too invested in the dog’s future. In theatres.
Will Smith reimagines his beloved classic comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the highly anticipated new series Bel-Air and its worlds away from the peppy “fresh” original, steeped in realism and intense drama. We begin in West Philly where Will Smith (Jabari Banks) lives. He does well at school and on the basketball court but earns the enmity of a local gangster who threatens his life. His mother (April Parker Jones), out of love, sends him to Los Angeles to live with Aunt Viv (Cassandra Freeman) and Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes). He knew they were rich but he had no idea just how rich until he enters their gated mega-mansion. He’s taken aback and tries on a variety of personas to gauge the social temperature and his standing. His mother told him “Your crown is waiting for you to have the courage to wear it” but misreads her message with poor results. His grit doesn’t work in polished Bel-Air, there’s an expected language and demeanour, but the family sees the good person behind the front and encourages him – while cousin Carlton (Olly Sholotan)who sees Will as a threat at home and at school upends him and digs into his Philly background. Meanwhile, Will’s trying to read the signs while remaining true to himself, in a place where economic status, proper accent, wardrobe can sink or swim a person. He sees his uncle trying to blend in with his old friends who reject him based on his wealth and career and his gifted cousin loses a job because she’s Black. A white kid with an influential father has it in for Will and there’s this girl. There’s a lot at play, addressing issues of race, wealth, class, striving for the American Dream, and then getting it for good or ill. This is a dark take, and reflective of the times. And the wonderful Jimmy Akingbola plays Geoffrey! Produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s media company Westbrook Inc. on Showcase, STACKTV and the Global TV App.
US President Abraham Lincoln is credited with being the architect of emancipation of enslaved Blacks in the American South, but it’s a complicated story. Apple TV+ ‘s four-part docuseries Lincoln’s Dilemma examines events from a modern point of view, casting a new light on his presidency, ideals, the Civil War and the ultimate “freedom” of Blacks. Ironically, ideological and political divisions in the US in the 1860s were similar to today’s, they threatened the democracy on which the United States was founded. The slave-dependent South, having enjoyed the fruits of slavery since the 1600s, was not willing to give them up, its wealth and economic health depended on free labour. Above the Mason Dixon line, slavery was tolerated but not widely practiced. Lincoln did not want to end slavery. His primary concern was keeping the Union together. But his sympathy for the enslaved became a hot-button issue; his name was kept off voter ballots in the white supremacist south – he was a threat to their way of life and wealth. Would democracy fail in 1861, a quaint old-fashioned idea from 1776? Lincoln addressed masses on the campaign trail; at the unfinished Capitol building, he warned of a possible civil war. He would defend the Constitution by appealing to “the better angels of our nature”. But a bloody war came and the slave states, the biggest, wealthiest slave society in the history of the world, defended its right to retain the most valuable assets, Black human beings. It became clear to Lincoln that freedom was meant for all Americans and when the south lost, it was his moral obligation to change the path. Considering there were 12 Confederate States, it was a tremendous leap of faith and one of the great stories in US history. The series is beautifully constructed, artistic, surprising, the interviewees well-chosen, and the unfolding of American history we thought we knew. Jeffrey Wright narrates, Bill Camp voices Lincoln and Leslie Odom, Jr. is Frederick Douglass.
Rigged election? Stealing the vote? Intimidation of opponents? Malignant politician refusing to let go? Ballot machines and votes missing? A leader, a threat to freedom and suppresser of democracy? If this sounds depressingly familiar, I am not referring to the one-term twice impeached former US president. Zimbabwean despot, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa stole heavily from the fascist playbook to steal the 2018 election following his coup just before. True, he kicked out dictator Robert Mugabe but was just another dictator. Camilla Nielsson’s important and gut-punch documentary President follows grassroots political and ethical opponent Nelson Chamisa who bravely stepped up to run against Mnangagwa and his machine in 2018. Chamisa became the people’s beloved hope for the future, a charismatic and principled 40-year-old lawyer; he would bring the country out of poverty and oppression. Nielsson follows him through his campaign when supporters were visible as far as the eye could see, a groundswell, to the election. Chamisa and his idealists stood up for Zimbabwe and were met with armed military, citizen shootings, death threats to voters, a well-oiled campaign to suppress popular opinion. Chamisa and his team weren’t naive but they were not prepared for the depths of dirty, deadly tricks to which Mnangagwa and his team sunk to cling to power. Absolutely appalling and familiar. A reminder and a lesson in the ideas, realities, and definitions of democracy, and its apparent fragility. Not just in Zimbabwe but around the world. On TVOD.
They made a movie about the Unabomber and it’s a work of art. Yep. Ted K on TVOD follows genius Ted Kaczynski, I.Q. 167, the youngest professor at UC Berkely, and math and mechanics prodigy who escaped consumer society to live off the grid in the Rocky Mountains. Based there he launched a terror campaign across the US. setting off bombs that killed three and injured 23 over twenty years. Quite the trajectory. So how did it happen? Sharlto Copley absolutely becomes this freakishly toxic loner who declared war on the society that rejected him. He punished logging, chemical, and corporations that would destroy the environment but his primary hatred was the rise of technology. He declares his mandate in soft, high-pitched whispers, writes threats and mails bombs across the US and tells a gas station attendant “I act merely for my desire for revenge, not for ‘good'”. Tony Stone’s direction is extraordinary, unobtrusive, in his face, in the woods, over his shoulder. In one scene, Ted is seen bouncing around his cabin, and we think it’s an earthquake. But it’s a metaphorical depiction of his cabin when it was seized, bouncing down the highway to a forensics testing facility, a news sensation like the white Bronco chase. The cabin has travelled extensively and was exhibited in two museums. It’s no longer displayed. It’s where he plotted his attacks and built his cache of weapons, while begging his brother for money and dreaming of the woman at the library who likes him (a hallucination). His 35k word manifesto is published, his brother recognizes his style and he’s finally apprehended, given eight life sentences, and remains in a North Carolina prison. What a trip.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S4 finds our favourite standup Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) dealing with repercussions from last season and jumping headlong into the next chapter with her signature vim, vigour and vitality, expletive-laced comedy, and take-charge attitude. So, what if her family and friends don’t appreciate her nighttime jobs on the comedy circuit, the language, colleagues (manager), and her ultra-assured manner? She’s a new woman for 1960, a feminist, like her comedy predecessors, strong in a male-dominated comedy world. Midge does her own thing and is ruled by no one. After delivering a magnificent revenge monologue at the gambling/comedy hole in the wall, she has a wee meltdown in the cab, stripping off her clothes, jumping outside, and stopping traffic. She loses her regular gig and a special to a man and is stony broke. On a Coney Island Ferris wheel, she confesses to Susie she was fired, as Susie awaits insurance money for her mother’s house which burned down in a blaze Susie set for the insurance money! Sophie’s in a rest home and soon Midge is in a strip joint. Brilliant supporting players, craftspeople, writing, and direction make this the enduring, sophisticated treat we’ve been missing and it retains all its candy-coloured glamour. Wonderful touches, a mention of Frances Farmer, Harper Lee, Rusty Warren, a stunning Dorothy Draper chest, and Don Loper-esque wardrobe make it extra drool-worthy. The series’ polished and precise scripting raises the bar for TV comedy but sadly, season five will be the last. Also stars Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Pollak, Caroline Aaron, and Jane Lynch. On Prime Video.
Apple TV+ workplace thriller Severance, directed and produced by Ben Stiller isn’t funny. It’s dead serious, a trippy take on an artificial future workplace, Lumon Industries, where job seekers must undergo a surgical procedure to separate work and personal memories/experiences allegedly for work-life balance. Team leader Mark (Adam Scott) has an acrimonious relationship with his dictatorial boss Peggy (Patricia Arquette) but while at home in company housing, they are next-door neighbours who dabble in an affair with no memory of work. But he knows it’s all wrong. He cries in his car before going into the office, where a mental switch is flipped and he’s the dutiful worker. Good workers are rewarded with character portraits, finger locks, erasers pencils, and maybe a waffle party. John Turturro plays a milquetoast drone slowly going crazy with anxiety as he hunts for “scary numbers”. Helly (Britt Lower) wears navy blue and tries to defy the “system” but always gives up, sobbing or running. At home, Mark is an interesting guy, a former history professor. A man shows up in his yard one night – a severed employee who remembers what happens at work and wants to let the world know. Lumon is hunting for him. Severance is surreal, intense, dark, and entertaining in a horrifying, dystopian future way, and seems so very possible. Also stars, Zach Cherry, Dichen Lachman, Jen Tullock, Tramell Tillman, Michael Chernus and Christopher Walken as the psycho boss of bosses. Really spooky fabulous.
BritBox‘ forensics drama series Traces returns for a second season and this time Dundee, UK is under attack. A series of explosions has terrorised the citizens. The first occurred in a church during a Black faith meeting. A stranger with a backpack entered the room and is invited to worship with them when the bomb goes off, injuring the assembly and killing the stranger. Another bomb explodes in a busy shopping street, and intelligence learns of a plot for a third. It’s clear the bombs are homemade; their components and construction are key to the case. Police are aided by the team at the University of Tayside, forensics professors Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser) and Kathy Torrance (Jennifer Spence) who will study the construction and characteristics of the bombs, and the bodies, while police profile an individual capable of carrying out such egregious acts. Meanwhile, Emma (Molly Windsor) the forensic chemist in training may soon learn who killed her mother, even as the father of her partner Daniel’s (Martin Compston) father is charged with her murder. Underlying problems at the University impact the professors. Married Sarah begins an affair with a married detective, and Kathy’s outed by her students as a B-word and for experimenting on pigs and she’s harassed by the new Dean of the School of Science. A middle-aged couple is arrested on terror charges but new intelligence suggests police are going in the wrong direction. Each character is well defined and the writing’s terrific, the subject matter’s modern, and in all, a great binge.
Last week we posted my interview with Canadian comedy superhero Colin Mochrie on his latest endeavour, the don’t-make-’em-laugh comedy series LOL: Last One Laughing Canada on Prime Video. Contestants can’t laugh but I guarantee you will! Ten Canadian comics gather in a studio, locked in for six hours, trying to make one another laugh. They will do anything, throw away their dignity, sure, but the point of the show is NOT to laugh or be booted. Given the superior skill set of the comics/contestants, well, it’s futile to resist. Jay Baruchel, who is apparently cruel, hosts as the following comics bite their lips – Brandon Ash Mohammed, Dave Foley, Tom Green, Mae Martin, Andrew Phung, K. Trevor Wilson, Debra DiGiovanni, Caroline Rhea, Jon La Joie, and Mochrie, plus three outrageous cameos! Fry up a batch of delicious cheese sandwiches and give it a go! Oh, and good is done – the winner gets $100k for their charity.