Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! There is a lot of good viewing in this week’s mix and one dud.
American Rust (2021) showtime series, 9 episodes, but I borrowed from the library
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Maura Tierney, David Alvarez, Bill Camp, Julia Mayorga, Alex Neustaedter, Mark Pellegrino, Robert Yang
Directors: John Dahl (5,) Darnell Martin (2,) Craig Zisk (2)
Genres: crime, drama
Synopsis: Del (Daniels) is Chief of Police in a small Rust Belt town in Pennsylvania. As the story unfolds we learn that Del used to be a detective in the big city but left when “the fraternity” asked him to do something he wasn’t willing to do. Now he just kind of mosies around, tries to titrate himself off of painkillers, and attempts to win the heart of Grace Poe (Tierney) a local seamstress who is trying to unionize her factory. Barriers to the romance between them include Grace’s philandering, not-quite-ex-husband, Virgil Poe (Pellegrino, who played Rita’s ex-husband on Dexter.) Further complicating the situation is when someone in town turns up dead and Grace’s son, Billy Poe (Neustaedter) turns out to be a suspect. Also thrown into the mix are a realistic group of townsfolk just trying to get by one way or another in this has-been town that is further threatened by prescription painkiller abuses.
Impressions: Jeff Daniels is an actor that will pull me into any project he’s a part of. His role as Del may be his best one yet. Tierney as Grace, his love interest, is a good choice as the chemistry is there. Neustaedter as Billy Poe may be the character that steals the show. His character is richly nuanced, where the expression looks may be deceiving is apropos. This show is more relationship-based than action-based.
Etc.: filmed in Donora and Pittsburg, PA; LGBTQIA+ friendly; there has only been one season made; in January of this year, Showtime canceled more. I’m very disappointed to hear it.
Awards: 1 nomination
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl, Richard Dormer, Adrien Dorval, Madeline Wickins, Michael Greyeyes, Nive Nielsen
Director: Ericson Core
Genres: adventure, biography
Synopsis: brief synopsis from imdb:
The [true] story of Togo, the sled dog who led the 1925 serum run despite being considered too small and weak to lead such an intense race.
The first part of the story introduces the small, troublesome puppy, Togo, who makes it impossible for his naysayers to discount and ignore him. At first Leonhard Seppala (Dafoe) tries to get rid of the puppy, who seems to be much more trouble than he’s worth. His wife, Constance (Nicholson,) loves Togo though and runs interference for him. Over time, Leonhard’s perceptions of Togo change and he finally gives him a chance.
Leonard, who is a dogsled delivery person, aka musher, has such a good reputation that he is called in for the most challenging assignments. When Nome, Alaska is struck with a diptheria epidemic in 1925, the townsfolk know that Seppala is the man to get the job done. The challenge: go get the serum, which is 674 miles away, across the most unforgiving terrain, seas, storms, cold, winds, and weather imaginable.
Impressions: I loved the story. It focuses on the relationships between husband and wife, couple and townsfolk, dog and man, man with support system, and very importantly man, sled team, and environment. Seppala is a hero, but he is a decent human being first. Lots of harrowing parts in this and the way they are filmed gives them that much more edge. Have the kleenex ready.
Etc.: filmed in Alberta and Calgary, Canada; from wikipedia: This emergency delivery, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy”, is commemorated annually with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Awards: 1 win and 4 nominations
Seppala was known for the humane way in which he kept his dogs, at a time when such things weren’t commonplace. After every Iditarod, The Seppala Humanitarian Award is awarded by the race veterinarians and is given to the musher who takes the best care of their dog team while remaining competitive during the Iditarod race and is highly prized by the mushers.
I chose to include a short interview with Willem Dafoe instead of a trailer because I couldn’t find one that didn’t give important plot points away.
The French Dispatch (2021)
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Steve Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, and many many more.
Director: Wes Anderson
Genres: comedy, drama
Synopsis: Very short synopsis from imdb:
A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine”.
It would take a very long time to lay out everything that happens in this movie. It is one of Anderson’s more ambitious projects. It’s a series of three vignettes about staff members of a fictional publication, “The French Dispatch.” I was able to find an excellent review of the film in the July 12, 2021 issue of The Guardian by Peter Bradshaw. If you would like to read it, it is here.
Impressions: There is no mistaking Wes Anderson’s style in movies. This one is no different. There are so many of his usual ensemble but there are many many more. The vignettes are powerful and memorable. I will be buying this one and watching it as many times as it will take to fully appreciate the work of art that it is.
Grade: 8.5 (could go higher at some point)
Etc.: There are 45 trivia bits at imdb. One is:
Production designer Adam Stockhausen began the location scouting process using Google Maps, looking for promising places before visiting them in person. Stockhausen and Anderson envisioned a town which “felt like Paris but not as it is today – more a sort of memory of Paris, the Paris of Jacques Tati.” The team eventually settled on Angoulême.
Awards: 22 wins and 121 nominations
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Starring: Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor
Director: Jason Reitman
Genres: adventure, comedy
Synopsis: Callie (Coon) is the daughter of the recently deceased Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis in the first Ghostbusters movie.) As the story opens, Callie gets notified that her dad has passed on and left her his ranch and home. As Callie and her two kids, Trevor (Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Grace) are being evicted because the kids’ deadbeat dad won’t pay support, Callie decides to relocate her and the kids to the ranch. Callie is resentful because her father chose his science over his family. It also puts a rift between mother and daughter as Phoebe takes after her grandfather in being scientifically minded. It doesn’t take the family long to fit into the small community, as Phoebe quickly makes friends with Podcast (Kim) and hits it off well with Mr. Grooberson (Rudd,) her science teacher; and Trevor soon gets romantically connected with Lucky (O’Connor,) the Sheriff’s daughter. It also doesn’t take the kids long to figure out that the grandpa they never knew was into some strange activities that they soon get drawn into.
Impressions: I liked the premise of the movie when I read about it and saw the previews. Unfortunately the way the film is put together is simply horrible. Some characters get way too much screen time and others are seen once or twice and never again. Even Paul Rudd was woefully underutilized! The special effects are pretty good, but you have to have a solid story line and some emotional connection to the characters in order to care what happens to them. Coon as the bitter downer of a parent really dragged this movie down. This is the second movie I’ve seen recently where she sucks the life out of it (The Nest from 2020 was the other one.) The villains seemed to get thrown in as an afterthought. The 2016 Ghostbuster movie with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones was way, way better than this one.
Etc.: from imdb: Many of Egon Spengler’s favourite snacks make a reappearance in the movie, such as Cheese-It crackers, Crunch, and the Twinkie.
Awards: 13 nominations
Bat Superpowers (2021) PBS Nova series, Season 48, episode 12
Starring: Nerissa Bradley, Angelique Corthals
Director and Writer: Raphaël Hitier
Synopsis: from imdb: “Understanding bats, their long life spans and why they are resistant to the very diseases they carry such as Ebola and MERS, as well as other diseases like cancer.”
The show travels around the world and interviews some of the best bat experts about the research they are doing with bats.
Impressions: It is a very informative documentary. If I remember correctly, the research on bats has really accelerated since they seem to be taking the rap as being where covid originated. Amazingly, not only is the whole episode (and all other episodes of Nova!) available free at the PBS website but the full transcripts are there also. If you want to check them out, go here.