You Didn’t Hear This from Me!

A smartphone with a Nomadland screen on the Hulu app

What Has hulu Been up to?

With all of the streaming services out there and all of their offerings, it can be really hard to know what to watch. So we thought you might appreciate us curating some movies and documentaries that are or had been playing on hulu recently. (If they’re no longer playing on hulu, chances are you can find them on another streamer). Here are some mini reviews to help you decide what to watch.

PREY. This film was billed as the prequel to the 1987 blockbuster “Predator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now I don’t know about you, but I was a big time Schwarzenegger fan back in the day. I got hooked – like the rest of America – with “Terminator”. “I’ll be back” — spoken with a halfway decent Austrian/German accent — can still elicit giggles even today. My other faves of his are “Commando”, “Kindergarten Cop” (and we all thought the Arnold couldn’t do funny), “Escape Plan” and 2013’s “Last Stand” where an aging Arnold takes on the bad guys as sheriff of a previously sleepy small town about to beset by criminals.

I say all of this to say that this history means “Prey” had a lot to have to try to live up to. A groundbreaking majority indigenous cast fights of the predator’s first visit to earth. Hats off to the director, producers, and cast for making history. According to my quick internet search — I try to not to read other people’s reviews before I write my own – Prey is receiving praise from both critics and fans. Uh-oh, so what is it that I don’t like about the movie?

Well, not too much, really. Overall, it’s decent. The Predator is scary. The warriors fight back. But there are scenes in which tribe members are running, but they really don’t seem to be moving very fast. For an action film to succeed, the action must be believable. My other critique of the movie is that the male actors often sound like frat boys (read: white frat boys) instead of indigenous young men living in prehistoric times. Some realism in this area could have gone a long way in making the film feel more authentic.

NOMADLAND. This movie stars Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards…”, “Fargo”, “Burn after Reading”). I think the best part about this movie is the realization that many people have ditched the whole I-want-to live-in-an-apartment-or- house thing to live their entire lives on wheels. Some, of course, do so because they have no choice. But it appears that many have decided to opt into this lifestyle. Their spunk, resolve, and curiosity combined with the wondrous sites nomads often stumble upon may spark or renew your interest in driving across the country. (I was so inspired by the movie that I even mapped out exactly how I would visit all of the states I’ve never seen).

SUMMER OF SOUL. Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary about what has become known as Harlem’s black Woodstock is a time machine trip back to when to black soul music was just very authentic. That is, singers could really sing and their musicians played their own instruments. Performances by Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, the Staple Singers, the Fifth Dimension, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, David Ruffin, Nina Simone (what!)  and many more make it hard to believe this footage had been forgotten for  fifty years.

OSCAR PETERSON: BLACK + WHITE. And speaking of forgotten talent, Mr. Peterson may be one of the greatest jazz musicians you’ve never heard of. You will like this documentary because it’s not another story of a tortured black musical genius who succumbs to drugs or alcohol. Oscar Peterson’s story is a story of a life well-lived. It’s also very interesting to see him, a Canadian, react to a very racist America.

THE U.S. VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY. Ms. Holiday was, of course, one of those tortured black musical souls. But we learn from this movie that her pain was deepened by the relentless pursuit by the FBI of her supposed crimes, which really was that she dared to continue to sing Strange Fruit, the song about southern lynchings. Andra Day is a revelation in her portrayal of Ms. Holiday as her physical movements convey not only Ms. Holiday’s extraordinary musical gifts but also the achiness of her soul. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t get its due, largely, I think because it was pretty much panned by influential NY Times film critic A.O. Scott.  And I’ll admit that there were aspects of the story telling that I didn’t like. Those were directorial choices by Lee Daniels. But Ms. Day’s performance is just so authentic and she has such a phenomenal singing voice that the whole movie should have been lifted above its criticisms.

A smartphone with a Nomadland screen on the Hulu app

Official Movie Review: Joker (2019), running time 2hrs., 2 mins. (One very mild spoiler; I promise)

Actually, you CAN say you heard this one from me: “JOKER” IS A REALLY GOOD MOVIE AND YOU SHOULD GO SEE IT! This standalone portrait of the famous Batman villain is best described as a close-up psychological study of a descent into madness. And, when I say close-up, I mean really close-up. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is in each. and. every. scene. This exposure results in a slow build, but the payoff is more than worth the wait. Phoenix rises from the proverbial ashes of neglect and dilapidation to become Charles Manson without The Family, at least not explicitly, bringing us an updated vision of Helter Skelter whose conflict is not between the races.

One of the questions on everyone’s mind is, should he be nominated for an Oscar? Yes. But, will he be and, if he is, will he win? That’s hard to say. Phoenix’s performance is certainly Oscar-worthy, but political correctness could be his downfall, in the same vein that it robbed Leonardo DiCaprio of a much-deserved Oscar for his performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, the deeply flawed reasoning being that awarding his performance would have been synonymous with sanctioning rampant capitalist greed. Poppycock!

But getting back to Phoenix, yes; he crushed it, as we all knew he would. And, although there will undoubtedly be comparisons between his Joker and Heath Ledger’s, I would argue that each actor’s portrayal is so unique that a fair comparison cannot be made. Phoenix brings his own brand of crazy as he physically and psychologically morphs into the being that was once Arthur Fleck; may he rest in peace.

The movie itself is also quite good as it brings together elements from the comic books, previous movies, the Gotham TV series, and the graphic novels. I thought one interesting twist is the portrayal of the Thomas Wayne character. Up until now, we had been led to believe that he was of patrician stock that was raised on the Luke verse, “…to whom much has been given, much will be required”. (Btw, that was the very mild spoiler.)

Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t cry too hard over this rendering of the Wayne patriarch as so many other aspects of the comics have changed over time. Long gone are the depictions of violence with balloon captions like “BAM!” and “BOFF!” (oops, scratch that one, LOL). But I have to say I miss the innocence of the original comics I read at my grandmother’s house when I was a little girl. I remember sitting on the floor of my uncle’s bedroom for hours picking out my faves, mainly Superman, Archie, Richie Rich, and, perhaps a few others I can no longer remember. (Batman wasn’t one of my favorite comics, but the TV show was).

But, alas, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, can we? “Joker” is where we are, folks, in a dark, twisted world where down is up and wrong is right. Hmm, sounds like life is imitating art, doesn’t it? #littleblogger