Posts Tagged ‘Harrison Ford’

Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X, Forest Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson, Giancarlo Esposito as Rep. Adam Clayton Powell

“GODFATHER OF HARLEM” (Hulu): The great thing about our current streaming situation is that if you’re willing to wait, just about everything you want to see eventually pops up on one of your subscription sites.

So it is with “Godfather of Harlem,” which debuted in 2019 on Epix (I wasn’t going to subscribe for just one show). Now the first two seasons have migrated to Hulu.

Based on the career of real-life gangster Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, the show’s title deliberately  references that greatest of American crime movies, “The Godfather.”

Like that Francis Ford Coppola landmark this is a sprawling saga that contrasts its protagonist’s bloody profession against the shifting currents of his family situation. What makes “Godfather of Harlem” special is its setting — the early 1960s — and its emphasis on Civil Rights and the black experience.

Bumpy is portrayed by Forest Whitaker, whose onscreen charisma helps sell a character who, let’s face it, is getting rich off the suffering of his own people. Bumpy used the notorious French Connection to funnel heroin into the inner city; he seems to have had no qualms about this, even when his own daughter became an addict.

Indeed, my biggest beef with Season 1 is that it totally blows off the moral implications of its hero’s choices.  I’m happy to report that Season 2 finally digs into Bumpy’s moral ambivalence.

What makes the show noteworthy is not its gangster cliches but its rich depiction of an era.  

Bumpy’s main nemesis is Mafia crime boss and dyed-in-the-womb racist Chin Gigante (a marvelously loathsome Vincent D’Onofrio). His two greatest allies are a U.S. Congressman, the womanizing, heavy-drinking Rev. Adam Clayton Powell (portrayed with palpable glee by Giancarlo Esposito) and the Nation of Islam maverick Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), perhaps the most ethically grounded character in sight.

Season One also features a Romeo & Juliet love affair beetween Gigante’s daughter (Lucy Fry) and a black r&b singer (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Race relations being what they were, the description “star-crossed” is wholly appropriate.

The performances are top notch.  Especially loved Chaz Palminteri as mob bigewig Joe Bonanno and the late Paul Sorvino as boss of bosses Frank Costello. Look also for Deric Augustine’s turn as young Cassius Clay.

Jason Segel, Harrison Ford

“SHRINKING” (Apple TV):  How’s this for a pedigree?  

“Shrinking” was created by actor Jason Segel, screenwriter/actor Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”) and veteran TV producer Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs,” “Cougartown,” “Ted Lasso”)…and as you might guess from that lineup, it is wickedly funny with a big ol’ heart.

Segel stars as Jimmy, a recently widowed psychiatrist struggling to serve his patients (among them KC’s Heidi Gardner) while bringing up a teenage daughter (Lukita Maxwell) who sees through his every pathetic ruse.

Sadsack Jimmy shares the mental health suite with his mentor Paul (Harrison Ford…way funnier than I thought possible) and the adorably chatty Gaby (Jessica Williams). Those who maintain you have to be a bit crazy to succeed in the psychology racket will find ample confirmation.

(Just occurred to me…”Shrinking” is the old Bob Newhart-as-psychologist show on steroids…with a Viagra chaser.)

Jimmy’s circle also includes his sardonically-inclined neighbors (Christa Miller, Ted McGinley),  a War on Terror veteran with anger issues (Luke Tennie) and Jimmy’s enthusiastically out attorney (Michael Urie).

As was the case with both “Scrubs” and “Ted Lasso,” I’ve fallen in love with the show’s characters — not to mention its vaguely stressed-out  humanism and its intriguing look into the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of psychiatry.

Mark Addy (center)

“THE MURDERS AT WHITE HOUSE FARM” (HBO Max): The 1985 murders of five members of an Essex farm family are the basis for this six-episode series featuring the great Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon for you “GoT” geeks) as a rumpled police detective who bucks his superiors and public opinion to dig into the case.

In real life things were resolved with the conviction of a family member, but the series has just enough flexibility to leave us wondering if, in the end, they got the right guy.  

In any case, the show offers a pantry full of interesting characters and a whole slew of good perfs.

| Robert W. Butler

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Joan Didion circa 1970

“JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD” My rating: B (Now on Netflix)

94 minutes | No MPAA rating

As an introduction to the life and work of one of our finest observers of contemporary American life, “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” fulfills one of the major obligations of a literary biography. It spurs the viewer to actually read the author’s books.

Whatever its shortcomings, this documentary from Didion’s nephew, actor/filmmaker Griffin Dunne, has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new Didion geeks. And that’s a good thing.

We’re introduced to Dunne’s octogenarian subject through a recent interview.  Didion looks frail and withered, but her brain clicks along smoothly.

Her salient feature, she says, is a “predilection for the extreme.” In her life, her career, her choice of subject matter, that predilection holds steady.

A native Californian, she was encouraged to keep a journal by her mother. Winning a writing contest sponsored by Vogue, Didion went directly from college to that chronicle of New York fashion despite knowing next to nothing about clothing. Instead she wrote personal essays that spoke to millions of other young women.

These would become her calling cards…autobiographical essays that formed a history of our times.

During the upheaval of the Sixties she wrote rock ‘n’ roll profiles (the Doors) and a legendary piece on Haight Ashbury in its prime (“the horror of disorder”).  Branching out, she covered the civil war in Salvador (opposing a CIA-backed government), the Central Park Jogger incident (she never accepted the guilt of the young black men convicted in the crime and exonerated years later) and even turned to politics (she was the first major writer to recognize the soullessness of Dick Cheney). (more…)

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Ana de Armas, Ryan Gosling

“BLADE RUNNER 2049”  My rating: B 

163 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Making a sequel that will satisfy three generations of “Blade Runner”-obsessed geeks isn’t easy.

What’s surprising is how close director Denis Villeneuve and his screenwriters (Hampton Fancher, Michael Green) have come to pulling it off.

Of course this pronouncement is coming from a guy who admired the original 1982 “Blade Runner” (great film technology and a brilliant evocation of a dystopian future) but didn’t actually like it (one of Harrison Ford’s clumsiest performances…plus the movie should have been about Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty, a vastly more interesting character).

“Blade Runner 2049” finds me reversing my original evaluation — I like it but don’t exactly admire it.

Explaining one’s reactions to this eye-popping, ear-shredding futurist epic (the running time is nearly three hours) is made considerably more difficult by Villeneuve’s request  — read to critics at advance screenings — that we not discuss the new film’s plot in our reviews.

Well, that’s kind of limiting.

But here goes.

Once again we have a film about the conflict between replicants — artificially engineered humanoid slaves who are born as adults with phony memories of childhood — and their human creators.

The film centers on “K” (it refers to the first letters of his serial number), a replicant played by Ryan Gosling. K, like Ford’s Deckard in the first film, is a blade runner who hunts down renegade replicants. (The character’s name may also refer to Josef K., the existentially-challenged hero of Kafka’s The Trial. Allegorical names are big here; the principal female characters are called Joi and Luv.)

In the  years since the events of the original film there have been major societal upheavals:  A “great blackout” that destroyed most digital records; the bankruptcy of the Tyrell Corporation which invented replicants; and the rise of mad scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, as irritatingly weird as ever), who has perfected technology to ensure that his new generation of replicants obey their human masters.

But there are still some aging Tyrell-era replicants hiding out in Earth’s less-hospitable neighborhoods, and it is K’s job to track them down and eliminate them.

In his off hours the silently suffering K takes much abuse from his human neighbors, who contemptuously refer to him as a “skin job.”  At least he has a wife at home…well, sort of.  What he is has is Joi (Ana de Armas), a computer-generated hologram who can change her clothing and hair instantaneously to match K’s mood.  She loves him; sexual congress,  though, seems beyond her technology.

No wonder K seems so sad.

Running throughout Fancher and Green’s screenplay are hints that man’s inventions — holograms, replicants — are at least as “human” as their creators, struggling against their programming to express emotional needs and intellectual curiosity.


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Star WarsChristopher-Skinner_star_wars_force_awakens


135 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Force Awakens” washes away most of the bad taste left by George Lucas’ three “Star Wars” prequels.

It’s not perfect. It’s practically a remake of the original “Star Wars.” But it’ll do.

J.J. Abrams, the guy who reinvigorated the “Star Trek” franchise, here turns his imagination loose on iconic characters like Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie.

He and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt affectionately mine our memories of past “Star Wars” films (or at least Episodes IV, V and VI) while laying the groundwork for an entirely new set of adventures in that galaxy far, far away.

Most importantly, they come as close as anyone will to recapturing the original “Star Wars’” blend of corn, comedy and cosmic adventure. If it doesn’t have the same impact this time around…well, we’re all older now.  You’re only a virgin once.

From the opening credits — that familiar written prologue scrolling into the distant stars —  to John Williams’ music to dozens of outright borrows and homages, “The Force Awakens” tips its hat to the things that made the original “Star Wars” such giddy fun.

As we learn up front, 30 years have passed since the destruction of the second Death Star. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil, now bearded and wrinkled) has been laying low; meanwhile the evil galactic Empire has mutated into the First Order.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.


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42 at bat“42” My rating: B (Opening wide on April 12)

128 mintues | MPAA rating: PG-13

The race-redefining rise of Jackie Robinson from the Negro Leagues to the long-segregated majors is the best American sports story ever.

So I wish I could report that the new movie “42” is among the greatest sports movies ever.

It isn’t.

Oh, it’s not a bust. Newcomer Chadwick Boseman gives a star-making performance as the young Jackie and the picture establishes an authentic sense of time and place. It shows all the racist b.s. Robinson  had to put up with as the first black man to play in Major League Baseball.

It’s just that this effort  from writer/director Brian Helgeland (whose resume runs from penning the screenplay for “L.A. Confidential” to directing the brutal noir thriller “Payback”) is is generally effective but rarely inspired. It’s so sincere and straightforward that artistry hardly figures into the equation.

Helgeland clearly wanted his  movie to bring Robinson’s story to a younger generation that most likely never heard of the Dodgers’ No. 42. He hasn’t dumbed things down, exactly, but it’s  a conservative approach — more a teaching moment than a fully-committed cinematic immersion.

The movie does a good job of delivering  the sailiant points of the Jackie Robinson legend, but overall it’s a cautious movie, one that goes out of its way to be nonthreatening, to hold the young viewers’ hands, to guide them through a world they are ignorant of or have avoided learning about.

The film boils down to a conspiracy between two men.


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“COWBOYS AND ALIENS”  My rating: C+ (Opening wide on July 29)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Daniel Craig carries himself like vintage Steve McQueen.

Harrison Ford, on the other hand, is starting to carry himself like Lee J. Cobb.

If you’re old enough to recognize those two names, welcome to my world.

In “Cowboys and Aliens” Craig is a resident of the Old West who wakes up in the middle of the desert with a bad case of amnesia and some sort of big honking electronic bracelet on his wrist that cannot be removed.

Ford plays a crusty old cattle baron accustomed to ruling the area like a Medieval lord.

Before you can say “alien abductions in 1870s Arizona” they’re battling high-tech invaders from outer space.

Jon Favreau’s latest is in many ways a conventional cowboy movie — though not always a particularly good one. We’ve all seen the Western in which the Indians raid settlements taking prisoners and the surviving menfolk organize a posse and take off in pursuit.

Same deal here. Just substitute Martians for Indians.


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