“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.