By Anne Brodie
Alert! The highly anticipated Michelle Obama documentary Becoming debuts on Netflix next Wednesday May 6th! Here’s a sneak preview.
Never thought I’d see the day that the Scotty Bowers story of the 1940’s Hollywood gas station to the stars would be adapted for mainstream viewing, but that day has arrived. Netflix goes there with Ryan Murphy’s highly entertaining series Hollywood and names names. Bowers was a gas jockey who got into the big game in town, centred at the station. Out of work actors, demobbed soldiers, models and attractive gas jockeys worked the pumps and customers, including Hollywood A-listers Rock Hudson, Katharine Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Cole Porter, George Cukor, Hattie McDaniel and more. Murphy’s sexy series follows an aspiring actor and screenwriter as they rise in the ranks thanks to connections made “on the job”. Patti LuPone, Dylan McDermott, Jim Parsons and an exceptionally pretty cast dwell in a candy-coloured post-War Hollywood, the dream factory at its most lurid. This is Hollywood Babylon scrubbed up and glossed for easy digestion. Come on in, the water’s fine.
Natalie Wood’s singular Hollywood career and achievements have been greatly overshadowed by her 1981 tragic death at age 43 off the coast of Catalina Island. Her family and friends finally speak out in HBO’s excellent, well-researched documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, hosted with love and insight by her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner and ex-husband R.J. Wagner. They remind us that Wood, who started in showbusiness at two was a gifted actor whose stardom rivalled Elvis’ and Marilyn Monroe’s and that she was a happy, upbeat and loving person. Gregson remembers waking up to a radio news report that her mother’s body had been found; she was just eleven. She says their family was shattered forever and deeply pained by rumours about the circumstances of her death that persist today. Wood, R.J. and Christopher Walken were to sleep on the family boat off Catalina, and Wood apparently slipped from the dinghy while, according to the captain, RJ and Christopher Walken argued inside. The family addresses the rumours and state what they believe happened in this tribute to her memory. Interviewees include sisters Courtney Wagner, Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Dyan Cannon, Jill St. John and more. On HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO, Crave and partners.
From the makers of Fleabag comes an hysterical limited comedy series from the UK on Apple TV Plus. Trying stars Rafe Spall and Esther Smith as a free-spirited couple determined to have a baby. Jason and Nikki haven’t been able to conceive so they ponder other means – “Can we find one on the internet?” and if they do, hope it doesn’t “grow up to be a prick”. Their lifestyle has been carefree, nay selfish so being thrust into a massive learning curve of adoption, family expectations and uncertainty has them on edge. Fortunately for them – and us – they are brilliantly matched, witty, funny and honest with one another, able to communicate in meaningful ways we don’t see often on TV. Driven by anxiety and fear and managed with humourous goodwill they steel themselves for a bumpy ride on the reality train, (or bus!) Are they suitable? Is the house gross? Do they drink too much? Nikki is given to blurting things out, as is their agency rep played with gusto by Imelda Staunton. And kudos to director Jim O’Hanlon! This outstanding series is highly addictive so be careful. Hear my interview with Spall and Smith on What She Said Saturday.
Disney+ is set to stream the final chapter of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which brings the generations-old battle to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy in an epic, resounding conclusion, is available May 4th, the day fans have made their own as “Star Wars Day.” Disney+ offers the complete Skywalker saga in one place for the first time. The epic nine-part saga began in 1977 with George Lucas’ groundbreaking Star Wars: A New Hope and carries through to The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker features iconic performances by Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, with Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.
Joel Kinnaman enters the toxic, tangled illicit underworld of fentanyl in the tough as nails crime drama The Informer. He’s a former convict working undercover for the NYPD to investigate a deadly Polish drug cartel. He witnesses the murder of a fellow undercover cop posing as a buyer and now the police, the FBI and his associates are all over him. His family is at risk and he’s forced to return to prison to get information and save them. He’s given assurances for his safety and release but once inside discovers he has zero protection in a severely corrupt prison system. It’s a tough watch and not for kids from director Andrea Di Stefano co-starring Rosamund Pike, Common and Clive Owen. On VOD.
Felicity Huffman’s tour-de-force performance in Tammy’s Always Dying is harrowing, showcasing her versatility as an actor. She’s the titular Tammy a woman old beyond her years, suffering from terminal cancer, addiction and profound selfishness that has wrecked her relationship with her daughter (Anastasia Phillips) and best friend (Clark Johnson). Among her many foibles, each month around government paycheck time, she takes herself to the bridge and threatens to jump; her daughter is always there to save her. She constantly stirs the pot, unbalancing those around her, making them responsible for her, while driving them away. Amy Jo Johnson directs this sobering Toronto-set story about a woman who “just won’t die’. From Amy Jo Johnson and available on Rogers, Bell, Telus, Shaw, Sasktel, Cogeco, iTunes, Sony PlayStation, MTS, Microsoft Video and Google Sony.
Jerry!!! You’re back! Our bel0ved Jer stars in an all-new Netflix comedy special Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill debuting May 5th. James Bond vibe which certainly flies in the face of his long-standing show-about-nothing tradition, so colour me curious. Jerry makes a spectacular arrival at NYC’s Beacon Theatre and proceeds to bring us joy – just what we need!
Alice Wu’s The Half of It on Netflix follows the misadventures of nerdy small-town girl Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis). When she’s not managing the house as her widowed father catches up on his TV shows, she’ s raising money to pay the bills, via her high school essay writing business. Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) hires her for a different reason – to write love letters to the beautiful, kind and talented queen of the school. Ellie and Paul become good friends even though she finds herself bewitched by his crush. It’s a winning, sweet story of longing, creativity and the presence of all kinds of love.
Netflix’ Dangerous Lies is a popcorn crime mystery touched by the Hallmark wand. Katie’s working in a Chicago diner one night when a young man enters and shoots the owner. Her husband Adam heroically captures the guy who is sentenced to prison. Unable to return to the diner, she finds work as a personal carer, assigned to a wealthy elderly man (Elliott Gould) with whom she forms as easy friendship. Her husband joins them as a gardener, despite rules against spouses working together. The client says he hears footsteps in his rambling mansion and soon after, dies. Surprisingly, he leaves her the house; her lawyer warns against the changes that come with big money, and come they do. They find a cash-filled trunk, her husband acts suspiciously and a smarmy real estate agent attempts to force her to sell him the house, but she stands her ground. A series of strange occurrences makes it clear she’s in trouble, and the detective assigned to the case thinks so too. Look out! A reasonable, non-challenging timewaster. Directed by Michael Scott, starring Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher and Jamie Chung.
And now on VOD Sorry, We Missed You directed by hero filmmaker Ken Loach, starring Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor, looks at the devastation caused by the growing gig economy, inspired by the death on the job of courier Don Lane in 2018. Ricky, Abby and their two children live in Newcastle. Both parents work in the “gig” economy, he has a franchise driving for a parcel delivery service and she is a PSW who cares for vulnerable clients in their homes. The fine print of his contract states that if he misses a shift, he will be fined and sanctioned. If he’s late his route will be given to someone else. They work 14-hour days, six days a week and are rarely at home with their kids. The son lands in jail and father comes to fetch him, missing a shift and he’s heavily fined. Dog attacks him, he seeks medical care and he’s heavily fined. One day he’s beaten and robbed on the job. He’s in rough shape but risks more fines so he doesn’t go to the hospital. This hideous cycle threatens the family with unpayable debt. Loach’s socially conscious films focus on the British working class realistically and unfold as if things are happening right now, as action and dialogue are often improvised. Loach is one of the great British directors working today. Oh, and gig economy be damned.
So here’s some light entertainment heavy on the nostalgia – Hollywood’s most famous singing cowboy Gene Autry is revived to gallop into the age of streaming thanks to Shout! Factory. Gene Autry’s personal archive and films are coming, a few a month, for those who love him and those who don’t yet know that they do. His fully restored films and TV series curated with Gene Autry Entertainment will be available across all the digital storefronts. Seriously corny cowboy stuff, tell your elder friends and family.
South of the Border (1939) Federal agents Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette are sent to foil plans of foreign spies attempting to gain control of Mexican oil fields. Full of action, humour and music, this 1939 release introduced both the title song and teen performer Mary Lee to movie audiences.
Gaucho Serenade (1940) A case of mistaken identity sends Gene and Frog across the country to help a little boy evade the gangsters responsible for the false imprisonment of his father. Duncan Renaldo, TV’s popular Cisco Kid, appears and the big tune is “A Song at Sunset”.
Melody Ranch (1940) Lawlessness runs rampant in Gene’s hometown of Torpedo until he returns as Honorary Sheriff and cleans it up. Showcasing classics like “We Never Dream the Same Dream Twice”. Melody Ranch was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry in 2002.
The Strawberry Roan (1948) is Gene Autry’s first colour picture, Champion the horse becomes a legend of the West chasing a gun-crazed posse. Filmed in vibrantly hued Cinecolor in Arizona it includes “The Angel Song.”
Blue Canadian Rockies (1952) Gene Autry and Champion go to Canada to stop the marriage of a woman to a fortune hunter. A Mountie is murdered so Gene must take on the case when lumberjacks threaten to take over and bring peace to the Blue Canadian Rockies. Features the title song and “Mama Don’t Like Music.”
Public Cowboy No. 1 (1937) Gene Autry’s tried and true crime-fighting methods are put to the test when cattle rustlers employ modern technology – refrigerated trucks, planes and two-way radios, and a local reporter slams his old-fashioned ways. Gene and Champion prove that straight-shooting still works best. Hear the song “The West Ain’t What It Used to Be.”
In Old Monterey (1939) Sergeant Gene Autry, formerly a rancher pretends to quit the Army to persuade stubborn farmers to sell their land for a military proving ground. Gene soon discovers that unscrupulous mine owners are secretly vying for the land. Listen to the classic song “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”
Rovin’ Tumbleweeds (1939) Rancher Autry takes a job singing on the radio to aid farmers and ranchers whose lands were destroyed by raging floods. Blaming crooked politicians, he goes to Washington and finds he has a lot to learn. In this classic release, Gene introduces his immortal theme song, “Back in the Saddle Again”.
Ridin’ On A Rainbow (1941) Assisting in the search for murderous bank robbers, rancher Gene Autry goes undercover as a showboat entertainer to capture the crooks and recover the money. Showstopping musical numbers include “Be Honest with Me,” nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Song of 1941.
Sioux City Sue (1946) Gene trades in his wings for spurs in his first movie after returning from World War II. To get his ranch out of dire financial straits, Gene reluctantly goes to Hollywood to make a movie. But his real troubles begin on his return when everyone finds out he’s the voice of Ding Dong the animated singing donkey.