Tuesday, November 21, 2023

TV: Courage -- momentary and otherwise

The writers strike and the actors strike are over.  We can return to entertainment.  That is, if we can find it?


PARAMOUNT+ is offering something called FRASIER.  It's not the sitcom that ran for eleven seasons on NBC.  That CHEERS spin-off revolved around Dr Fraiser Crane, his father, his brother, Daphne (who eventually married Frasier's brother), Roz and assorted others and was set in Seattle.  This show?  It's got Fraiser in the regular cast just no one else.  They couldn't even bring Dan Butler back as Bulldog.

Worse, they couldn't bring laughter back.  

In fact, the best one-word term for this revival is "disappointing."

That would also be a good term for the fall season period.  Other than football, few new broadcasts have returned to prime time.  FOX has brought back THE SIMPSONS, BOB'S BURGERS, KRAPOPOLIS and FAMILY GUY on Sunday nights. But most have avoided scripted programing thus far and served up cheap 'reality' shows and game shows.  NBC has had a few new offerings and we'll look at those in the coming weeks.

Like Rosie O'Donnell, we weren't watching during the strike.  

We've been playing catch up.  NETFLIX currently has two strong and amazing offerings.  Both are films.

First up, NYAD.  This is play on the Greek myth but Sisyphus finally makes it up the hill.  The film stars Annette Bening as swimmer Diana Nyad and her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll played by Jodie Foster.  Is it true?  Diana Nyad's 2013 victory is in dispute for some.  We don't think anyone can dispute that this is a great movie that gets better as it goes along.  Annette continues to do the heavy lifting to demonstrate what film acting can be.  She's been doing that since she stole a scene from Meryl Streep in the jagged POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE.  She's delivered one amazing performance after another ever since -- THE GRIFTERS, BUGSY, AMERICAN BEAUTY, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, BEING JULIA, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, DANNY COLLINS, FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, THE SEAGULL, THE REPORT, CAPTAIN MARVEL, GEORGETOWN, HOPE GAP, JERRY & MARGE GO LARGE . . .   She's been nominated twice for a Tony, nine times for a Golden Globe (two wins), four times for an Academy Award, four BAFTA nominations (one win) and one time for a primetime Emmy.  NYAD is another triumph for her.

And it's a triumph for Jodie Foster.  Jodie really has a thankless role but she's got the talent to make something out of it -- and does -- and when there's nothing else to pull from, she floods it with personality making it her most winning role in years.  

To see two of the country's finest working actresses play opposite one another is amazing and inspiring.

Next up, RUSTIN.  This is the first film production from Barack and Michelle Obama and there's much to praise.  Aml Ameen isn't among the praiseworthy details.

He plays MLK and we have to yet again note that the American citizen Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was American.  We wouldn't think we'd have to note that yet in one film portrayal after another, Americans keep insisting upon casting British actors in this role.  

It is offensive.  

We have made that point before Samuel L. Jackson started making it and we will continue to do so.  MLK was an American.  What is it about Black Americans that keeps leading film makers to conclude that Black American actors can't play MLK.  We stand by what we've said before: Racism.  Time to play a pimp or a drug dealer?  Cast an American Black actor.  Time to play MLK or Barack Obama or any Black inspirational American?  Find a British actor.  It's getting tired, it's getting old and it's always been insulting. 

It's sad that we yet again have to make this point.  It's sad that we have to make this point in a film produced by the Obamas and directed by African-American George C. Wolfe.  

Let's move to what we can praise.  First of all George C. Wolfe.  Strong direction and the best use of sound for scene transitions since Hal Ashby's COMING HOME.   He deserves praise for handling a large cast and establishing each character.  This film should bring him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director.  We hope he's nominated.  

Also worthy of nominations?

Colman Domingo commands the screen in the title role.  Bayard Rustin was a complex person (more on that later) and Domingo brings him fully to life.  Gus Harper provides some strong moments that could result in a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  Glynn Turman deserves a nomination for that category as well and comes close to walking off with the picture with his portrayal of A Philip Randolph. There is no lead actress.  But there are three women who deserve to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress: CCH Pounder as Dr Anna Hedgeman, Audra McDonald as Ella Baker and Carra Patterson who really delivers in her brief scenes playing Coretta Scott King.

And, for the screenplay, we'd argue that Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black are deserving for a nomination.

What about the screenplay for NYAD.  It's being presented as a true story and there are disputes regarding that.  So, no, we wouldn't advocate for it to get a nomination, sorry.  It's well written but we can't vouch for the veracity and, honestly, no one can except Diana and Bonnie.

RUSTIN focuses on the weeks leading up to The March on Washington and The March itself.  

Minor quibbles?  Mahalia Jackson is shown and, yes, she did perform that day.  So did Odetta, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Marianne Anderson.  Our concern is the last name. Historically, we feel Marianne should have been part of the day's march.  Even if only playing her singing "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" -- especially since it happened and especially since Coretta sings it in the movie to her children and Bayard.   A case could be made for including Joan because she led the sing along of "We Shall Overcome" and "Oh Freedom." But due to the historical nature of the event and Marianne Anderson's having performed at The Lincoln Memorial before (1939 when the Daughters of the American Revolution would not let her perform at Constitution Hall due to the color of skin), we'd argue that was reason to include her onscreen.

These are minor quibbles.  As is Bayard Rustin's life after the event.  He didn't just become a neoconservative, he also supported war on Vietnam.  

RUSTIN captures the man at his most successful and most promising.  And that might be something to share.  

Maybe we're wrong to expect someone to lead and take the right stands over and over.  Maybe a moment's bravery at one important time is what we should expect of others?

RUSTIN captures a great moment for Bayard and for A. Philip Randolph, Dr Anna Hedgeman, Dr King, Coretta and Ella Baker.   It also captures Adam Clayton Powell at his worst. 

Again, maybe it's too much to expect someone to lead a life of strong activism?

Maybe we expect too much.  

Take Joe Manchin and Andrea Mitchell, for example.

Neither would ever show up in PROFILES IN COURAGE.  So maybe it's wrong to expect them to stand for anything?

Manchin, the Democratic embarrassment, is finally leaving the US Senate.  And that should be cause for celebration.  However, despite stating that he doesn't want Donald Trump to win the 2024 election, his actions of late seemed geared towards handing the election to Donald.

No Labels.  What is that?  A generic copy of a better tasting canned soup?  Nope.  It's a new political party.  Joe Lieberman and others are the public face for it and Joe's flirting with running for the US presidency on the No Labels party.   THE DAILY MAIL notes, "Slamming President Joe Biden for going too far left and former President Donald Trump for stooping to ;a level that he's normalized this visceral hatred,' the moderate Democrat said that everyone is 'sick and tired' of divisive politics."

This is not a parody site.  You read that correctly.  Manchin is accusing Joe Biden of "going too far left."  That's what happens when you mix in bitter with aging.  And Manchin is aging.  He's currently 76.  He wants to do a victory lap when, honestly, he'd be lucky to make it down the hall without a walker.  There's no glorious moments for a film about Manchin to portray.  

Which brings us to the newscaster.  Friday on MSNBC, we watched, mouths wide open in shock, as Andrea Mitchell insisted that there were calls for a cease-fire and "a massive rally in DC" for Israel "so really the war has energized people on both sides."

Huh?  They barely had 60,000 at the hate rally last week.  Rallies in DC calling for a cease-fire have resulted in far greater numbers repeatedly.  ABC NEWS, for example, used 300,000 for the DC rally on November 5th calling for a cease-fire.  The US media keeps trying to both-sides genocide.  You have to wonder, in a hundred years, what kind of a movie they'll make about Andrea Mitchell?  Is there even one brave moment they'll be able to work in?  Or will it just be an endless parade of cowardly moments from her 56 years and counting career?


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