“Goliath” Season 4 (Finale)–Addiction

In this final season of Goliath   we again see the still down-and-out “lemon lawyer” Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) take on a giant corporation.  This time it is an opioid mega-corporation, Zax Pharmaceuticals, and its billionaire CEO, George Zax (J.K. Simmons).   In a fierce and lurid courtroom battle in San Francisco  (eerily conjuring the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma in recent headlines), will McBride prevail?

Season 4 opens with a flashback to Billy McBride, narrowly escaping death by gunshot.  Billy’s mental condition and circumstances propel him into flights of fantasy, perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder, mixed into a cocktail of alcohol. 

McBride is temporarily residing in Chinatown, his apartment paid for by Margolis & True, the white-shoe law firm representing Zax Pharma.  His former partner Patty (Nina Arianda), now employed by Margolis & True,  has offered him a gig not only as a loyal colleague, but also because McBride is the best litigator she knows, even if other colleagues don’t agree.

Other characters add to the escalating courtroom battle.  The estranged brother, Frank Zax (Bruce Dern), and a daughter whom his brother finagled into adopting.  As dueling, antagonistic brothers intent on destroying each other, Frank and George Zax turn sibling friction into fiery and merciless conflict.

Goliath Season 4 pulls back the curtain on the opioid crisis that is relevant to the present day. It hones in on its displeasure at the lives lost for obscene corporate profit.

This is the best season since Season 1 (see my October 23, 2016 review).  Goliath always has had noirish overtones of Alfred Hitchcock, but in Season 4 some (not so subtle) scenes pay  homage to Rear Window.  It’s not always easy to tell how much is real and what’s imagined (which usually, but not always, is telegraphed by filming in black-and-white flashbacks and fever-dream images).   Nonetheless, this finale is riveting and compulsive watching.  Some overwrought scenes drag the momentum from time to time.  There is even a dance-and-song routine by J.K. Simmons, but he is so much fun to watch at his villainous best! Binge-view it to keep track of characters and threads in the plot!

Availability: Amazon Prime

“Underground Railroad”–Tracking US History

Based upon the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad, is produced and directed by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlighting”). This gripping portrayal   is an allegorical account of slavery and the role it has played in American history from colonial times. 

The Underground Railroad, in the mid-1800s,  was actually a network of safe houses and routes from the southern US up into Canada– with other routes to Mexico (which had abolished slavery decades earlier).  The book and film re-imagine these escape routes and safe havens as an actual train running underground to assist runaway slaves in their escape from their plantation owners.

A young slave, Cora Randall (the astounding South African newcomer, Thuso Mbedu) suffers one heartbreaking loss after another–of her mother, beloved friends, and two lovers.  In an act of desperation, she tries to escape a Georgia plantation and discovers the Underground Railroad.

In spite of almost insurmountable obstacles and defeats, she triumphs– somewhat miraculously– first, over her slave owner, and then over a notorious and avaricious “slave catcher” with a demented, damaged soul (the excellent Joel Edgerton), and somewhat surprisingly, over a free-state town council. Cora is compelled to run for her life over and over again. 

Overlaid with magical realism evoking uncanny spiritual powers, the Black communities, depicted as Valentine Hill (echoing the Greenwood “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma) have a strength, which their white neighbors fear, yet deny.

This is a must-see film. It is a history lesson for us all. Underground Railroad reveals, through imagery and drama,  why so many state governments try so hard to ban “critical race theory” from schools.  Perhaps the most disheartening conclusion from watching this masterpiece of visual storytelling, is that the behaviors of those in power back then are so recognizable today.

The viewer needs to have time to feel the raw and brutal emotional truths of those who are trapped and powerless, as well as those who are detached and power-drunk.  The outrage and resentment are brilliantly acted by the main characters to deepen the dramatic effect.

Central to the story is the examination of trust and resilience, dependency and the disingenuous guises of the powerful.  While the psychology of domination and subjugation are unforgettably rendered, the stunning genius and poetry of the cinematic art form need to be mentioned as well.  The cinematography is impeccable.  Watch the photographer’s use of light–some scenes yield extraordinary photographs as works of art.  The lighting is masterful and exceptional.

Criticism, on some of the major internet movie sites–of the darkness of  some scenes– misses the point.  Dark tones are intentional, underscoring the underbelly and darkness of US slavery.  Yet accompanying slivers of light reveal an ineffable quality of heroism and a tentative optimism.

Needless to say, this is not a movie to binge watch. It is too overwhelming.  But the feelings you have after watching each single episode are, in part, because of the quality of the  art.

The subject matter is immeasurably uncomfortable because of its closeness to all of us. It is a time for reckoning.  That in itself may feel menacing.

If you want to know about the burden of  America –without any tone of preaching or lecturing,– watch this masterpiece!

Availability:  Amazon Prime

“Tell Me Your Secrets”–Tell Me Your Lies

In this Amazon Prime mini-series of ten episodes, Tell Me Your Secrets has  three plots:  1) The main plot involves a woman named Karen Miller (Lily Rabe), who was arrested seven years ago as a presumed accomplice to her boyfriend, Kit (Xavier Samuel) for the brutal murders of nine women. She claims not to remember anything, due to trauma. 2) Mary Barlow (Amy Brenneman), a wealthy woman who has established a foundation to help find missing children,  believes her own daughter, Theresa,  was kidnapped by Karen Miller and Kit and is still alive.  3) John Tyler, (Hamish Linklater), a serial rapist, is now on parole and claims to have suppressed his urges and wishes to atone for his past crimes.  Additional missing teenage girls provide subplots, contributing to a complex mix of characters.

Karen Miller,  now in witness protection as Emma Hall,  has moved to a small town, St. James, Louisiana, hoping to leave her past in Minneapolis.    Mary Barlow,  a mother who  adamantly refuses to grieve or acknowledge her daughter may be  dead, becomes an avenger.  John soon becomes intertwined with both Karen/Emma and Mary. All three have pasts which haunt them and each other.  As their damaged psyches unravel their secrets to each other, more questions arise:  Is Karen/Emma being truthful when she claims she doesn’t know about the murders? Is there a natural tendency to gaslight and condemn women whose lovers are criminals, guilty by association? Can a brutal serial killer actually be capable of redemption?  And when does a mother’s obsessive quest for a missing child become pathological?

The cast is superb.  Lily Rabe, as the traumatized Karen Miller hiding behind the identity of Emma Hall, emotes a believable amnesia, and also an openness to trusting others that seems at times naive.  Her torment is palpable.   Amy Brenneman, in one of her most substantial roles to date, is scheming, manipulative, and self-destructive to the point of madness. Hamish Linklater, as the unsettling, affectless serial rapist, goes beyond onscreen serial killers with  a chilling brilliance to his understanding of his targeted victims’ core vulnerabilities (similar, in some respects, to Hannibal Lecter). His desperation and loneliness for a relationship not defined by his crimes is harrowing.

There are multiple plots with so many characters the viewer has to make an effort to keep them straight.  Their relationships are intertwined but also independent, so that the few plot holes do not become confusing. Tell Me Your Secrets is packed with storylines, character arcs, and sometimes ghoulish intensity.  A Season Two is planned, and some of the drama left hanging has been set up for resolution or expansion next year.

Note:  This is definitely not for everyone.  In some sense, it is cross-genre, a psychological thriller bordering on horror, analogous to the mini-series Bates Motel, or its precursor, the classic Hitchcock movie,  Psycho.  Violence is presented both visually and indirectly, but is not dwelled upon at length.  Nonetheless, this potboiler is heart-pounding.

Availability:  Amazon Prime

“Blow the Man Down”–Maine Down Under

Premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, Blow the Man Down   is  a film debut by writer-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. It opens in Easter Cove, a small parochial fishing village along the coast of Maine, in a somewhat clichéd but contemporary riff on “Murder She Wrote”.

 We see a history of covering up secrets by the small town’s residents.  And we listen to a chorus of fishermen sing “blow the man down” –referring to the shoving of a man to the bottom of a boat, either accidentally or on purpose.  And that is where the seemingly simple story begins.

The town’s fish market owner is dead, leaving behind a debt-ridden shop, a house in foreclosure, hospital bills, and two twenty-something daughters with very different expectations: Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor). Priscilla stayed in Easter Cove while the more rebellious Mary Beth went away to college. She reluctantly  returned home when their mom got sick. Both Mary Beth and Priscilla have now had their  dreams derailed.

The deceased mother’s three AARP-age friends gather to remember cherished details of their relationship with her: Suze (June Squibb), Doreen (Marceline Hugot) and Gail (Annette O’Toole). Not present is Enid (Margo Martindale), which seems curious but, as we learn later, not unexpected.

Is Blow the Man Down going to be a cozy mystery with a comfy feeling about a sweet little threesome of elderly women who like to have tea and gossip? Just a simple story with everything on a straight line until the end?  Easter Cove almost immediately turns claustrophobic. Another reminder we are in “Murder She Wrote” territory.  Three murders take place within a week.

Blow the Man Down  is about sisterhood and the lengths to which sisters will go for each other, even when their better instincts say they shouldn’t.  Easter Cove is filled with women, young and old, who have their own dark secrets in a circle of superficially friendly grit and darker compromises.

In an early scene a man chases a screaming young woman through the snow as Enid coldly watches through the window.  We wonder who she is watching and why Enid is not responding to the young woman’s obvious fight for her life.

Saylor and Lowe are amusing in their depictions of desperation and cluelessness, occasionally reminiscent of Woody Allen and the Coen brothers.  And although the two major characters are the young millennial sisters, it is the babyboomer females who hold the screen.  Margo Martindale (of “The Americans” and “Justified” among others) is a quiet scream as  Enid, the protagonist-snake who is the source for the community’s original sin. And June Squibb (who, in “Nebraska”, memorably straddles over a former boyfriend’s grave and mocks his spirit with “See what you could have had”) is  delightful as the town’s action-oriented matron who turns out to be more than the white-haired old biddy the viewer is expecting. Locals always take care of their own.

The acting is solid, the plot perhaps lacking backstory in character development, but the cinematography capturing the foggy and salty experience of fish guts and turbulent waters evokes Maine’s rugged yet insular coastal villages.  Close-ups of a fish-gutting knife and a Sisters’ brand pancake box alongside ocean waves, –lots of ocean waves–underscores the tone…and humor.

Eminently watchable during these sequestered, streamable times.

Note:  Available on Amazon Prime (original series).

Hanna–“Handmaid’s Tale” meets “Jack Ryan”

Hanna Amazon Original Series
Hanna, starring Esme Creed-Miles

On the surface Hanna (Amazon original series) might appear to be another conventional espionage thriller/dystopia about discovery of identity and revenge against those who hid the truth.  However, this reinterpretation of the 2011 action movie starring Saoirse Ronan, is also a dark sci-fi treatise on fascism and violence in society.  In this new release we follow an isolated teen (newcomer Esme Creed-Miles) with almost super-human powers.  She learns both survival and assassin skills from  her ex-government operative father (Joel Kinnamon), both of them hiding deep in a forest in Poland, after escaping Romania. Hiding from a CIA agent (Mireille Enos) who is determined to kill them, the father and daughter’s  cat-and-mouse game  leads to evermore sinister conspiracies.

Those expecting consistently fast-paced action may  be disappointed.  The soundtrack, languorous chase and car scenes are for Bourne Identity and Jack Ryan fans.  The narrative has plot holes, often involving how someone was located and why a change of venue occurs as we move from Romania, to Poland, Morocco, Amsterdam, Germany, and London.

The casting of  Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnamon (both starring in “The Killing”  TV series 2011-2014) was a perfect match for supporting Esme Creed-Miles in her coming-of-age story.  However,  the nine episodes could have been edited to seven or eight for a tighter, more cohesive drama.

Nonetheless, I was hooked by this young superwoman and found Hanna enjoyable and intriguing, especially the dynamic between father and daughter.  Do not compare this mini-series with the film, because so much of the story has been revised. This is one of the better Amazon series we’ve been offered in the past few years.  Highly recommend!

Note:  Available on Amazon Prime.

“Jack Ryan”– New Version of “Homeland”

 

Jack Ryan Amazon series

This new undertaking (by Amazon Prime) of Tom Clancy’s blockbuster Jack Ryan series pays off big-time. John Krasinski as a boyish Jack Ryan adds unexpected dimension to this eight-episode series focused on a terrorist plot in Syria. If this is your genre, you will inevitably make a comparison with Clancy’s books and the older cinematic depictions of Jack Ryan.   However, standing on its own, the new Jack Ryan series is riveting, albeit with some graphic violence and cultural stereotyping.

Reluctantly drafted into being a CIA operative instead of a number-crunching budget analyst by demoted CIA director James Greer (the wonderful Wendell Pierce of “The Wire”), Ryan soon learns that the CIA bureaucracy is no different from any other. His analytical skills are mostly ignored, although always proved right later on. Greer is his reluctant mentor. Add a romantic subplot with Dr. Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish from “Three Billboards outside Ebbings, Missouri”) and you have a complex thirty-something bureaucrat trying to fit into the CIA at the same time he wants a balanced life. In addition, the terrorist master-mind has a family and provides additional complexity to the plot.

This Jack Ryan Amazon series passed my test for binge-worthy: easy entertainment, mostly fast-paced, yet intelligent in character development. There is a great character arc with some memorable dialog and beautiful cinematography. [Filmed on location in Morocco, as a stand-in for Syria.)

 

Note: Confession–I’ve only seen Jack Ryan in film, and have not read any of the books, but my husband has and loved the dramatization with Krasinski. Highly skewed reviews online from one-star to five-star (influenced by the political divide currently perhaps?) Judge for yourself! I can’t wait for season 2 next year.

 

 

 

“Good Girls Revolt”: The Upheaval Continues

 

[Guest blogger, Eva Barrows, has provided a post on the Amazon original series, “Good Girls Revolt”.   Eva  now  is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer and editor of Imitation Fruit, a literary and art journal. Visit her writer website at: www.evabarrows.com and her literary journal at: www.imitationfruit.com. ]

 

good-girls-revolt

The late 1960s was a time of volatile change in America that kindled the flame of the women’s liberation movement. Good Girls Revolt, an Amazon Original Series (released October 27, 2016) is a period drama based on the historical events that took place at  “Newsweek” magazine, renamed “News of the Week” in the series. The female staff at “News of the Week” documents social changes, and demands equal treatment at their magazine, becoming headline news themselves.

“News of the Week” researchers Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), Jane Hollander (Anna Camp) and Cindy Reston (Erin Darke) expertly acquire data from informants. Their male colleagues would then write the articles and take credit and the byline for themselves. Fair? Norah Ephron, played by Grace Gummer, didn’t see it that way. She researches and writes an entire article, putting her name on it. However, “News of the Week” gives credit to a male reporter who had quit the magazine! Outraged, Norah walks out of the “News of the Week” office to look for opportunity elsewhere.

After Norah’s exit from the newsroom, mounting discontent pushes through the “News of the Week” office to the climactic season finale. The female staff confer with ACLU lawyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant), who suggests they take legal action against their employer. Support for the legal action grows as sexist and discriminatory practices continue to plague the women.

This colorful series titillates with sex, drugs, and rock and roll (iconic 1960s tunes from The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and Iron Butterfly).

Season one ends in a well-crafted cliff hanger. “Good Girls Revolt” is perfectly poised for a thrilling season two, where the fallout of the decision to make a stand for change will spur on dramatic, exciting and uplifting television.

Note:  “The Hollywood Reporter” found that Amazon decided not to renew Good Girls Revolt for a second season. So, Sony will be shopping the second season to other networks. Actresses, Genevieve Angelson (Patti) and Anna Camp (Jane) started a Twitter campaign #savegoodgirlsrevolt in support of renewing the show. The show has a 96% audience score on  Rotten Tomatoes.