The editor has suggested, due to some pretty horrific recent events, that I keep this week’s selection light, maybe write a column on viewing comfort. I may have met her halfway. There are definitely times when I crave broad comedy to soothe my beleaguered psyche. As previously mentioned (repeatedly), my wife and I spent the early months of the pandemic revisiting our DVD collection – yes, we still have one – to enjoy a simple laugh in the face of the apparent impending collapse. of the society. We’ve screened Wet Hot American Summer (2001), Wedding Crashers (2005), and most movies bearing the Apatow or McKay imprint, with generally delicious and restorative results.
When I’m alone, however, and in the depths of a generally self-induced trauma pit, I tend to favor thematically darker, usually brooding, almost always violent fare. There were dark afternoons with Apocalypse Now (1979) and a bottle of Bourbon, and late/early morning evenings marked by Michael Mann battle sequences.
And so, this week, in search of relief and in search of something new in the absence of a particularly compelling new film, I turned to prestige television; everyone seems to think it’s the new cinema anyway.
HBO may or may not have invented the medium, but it’s hard to deny that the network has done more work than any other institution to perfect, streamline, and (I loathe to use the phrase) platform it. The Wire and The Sopranos and Oz are more important cultural touchstones than almost any film, novel or other work of art of the past two decades. And, yes, people seem to like Game of Thrones.
The advent of streaming and growing audience acceptance of long-form storytelling has allowed television series of a certain standard to continue to evolve and progress. While there have been complaints in the past that television is a writer’s medium, a medium that diminishes the role of the director and the visual design of a show, I counter that there can be more freedom artistry, more invention, and a more definitive style in some of these series than in the vast majority of films.
BUYING TIME: THE RISE OF THE LAKERS DYNASTY, created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht, with a pilot episode directed by Adam McKay, tells the story of the transformation of the LA Lakers franchise – and the National Basketball Association, really – under the ambitious, free and probably crazy leadership of Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly). Buss, a doctor of physical chemistry turned real estate investment mogul and bon vivant, decided at some point that he just had to get into basketball, just when the number of spectators and the enthusiasm at across the league were down sharply. Leveraging his holdings (including the Chrysler Building!), he took on the task of rebuilding the Lakers and, initially unbeknownst to Buss, carrying the former owner’s sizable debt.
With no object and caution thrown to the wind in favor of adventure and optimism, Buss drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), an oversized and alarmingly feisty point guard who hovered over a national championship. at Michigan State University. Even that simple decision puts the rookie team owner at odds with the establishment, including star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) and long-suffering coach Jerry West (Jason Clarke), and puts him in mutual combat with Boston’s ultra-dominant, ultra-dominant Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis).
I hope you’ll forgive the aphorism (and the 35-year-old spoiler), but fortune seems to have favored the bold. Buss built a dynasty, just as he planned, and Winning Time puts us in the rooms where it happened.
In true McKay fashion, the show uses a singular, vibrant visual language to tell its story, alternating between clean, warm-toned film, a striped super-eight, and vintage videotape (how much of that was accomplished with modern digital technology I can not say). The characters address the camera and the editing simulates and bounces as deftly as the players on the pitch. It’s often serious, decidedly adult and universally well-acted, charming and deeply entertaining. I have a soft spot for the basketball era with its roots in that time period, although I’m a casual fan at best. Even if I didn’t like the game at all, I would enjoy the show. HBOMAX.
TOKYO VICE. Years ago, I gave a good friend, a scholar and student of Japanese art and culture, a signed first edition of Jake Adelstein’s Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (title excludes need for a synopsis). Seemed like a fun gift, interested as we both are in true crime, etc. Well, the scholar read the book and nearly threw it in my face, unhappy with Adelstein’s seemingly untroubled immersion in Japanese culture and effortless romantic life.
That anecdote aside, Adelstein’s memoir was adapted, with a first episode directed by Mann and starring Ansel Elgort and Ken Watanabe. HBO launched the series with three episodes in a block, distributing the rest to weekly broadcast.
Although Mann has faltered a bit in his recent feature film, the pilot episode of Tokyo Vice bears many of his trademark touches: careful attention to detail, a troubled but determined protagonist, a nimble but still controlled camera, and a setting immersive and intensely authentic. . HBOMAX.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
READING IN PROGRESS
AMBULANCE. A Michael Bay heist film with an ambulance as an improvised escape vehicle. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Eliza González, Kayli Tran and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. A.136M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE BATMAN. No bright green costume filled with purple question marks for this villain. A darker, more sinister version of the Riddler heads to the big screen in this new Dark Knight adaptation. With Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz and Paul Dano. PG13. 176M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
EVERYWHERE AT THE SAME TIME. Reality crumbles and the multiverse Michelle Yeoh comes to the rescue. With Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis and the legendary James Hong. A.146M. BROADWAY, MINER.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: DUMBLEDORE’S SECRETS. Hey, that can’t be worse than his Tweets. PG13. 143M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
FATHER STU. Marky Mark gets religion with racist POS Mel Gibson, who I assume will continue to make movies until the Rapture. A. 124M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LOST CITY. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star as a romance novelist and her cover model is immersed in a jungle adventure. With Daniel Radcliffe. PG13. 112M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MORBIUS. A scientist becomes a bloodsucker after a slip in the lab. Jared Leto stars and presumably transformed into an actual vampire for the role. PG13. 110M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PORCO ROSSO. Hayao Miyazaki animated a classic about when pigs flew biplanes and fought pirates in the 1930s. PG. 142M. MINOR.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2. Animated video game sequel about a very fast hedgehog. PG. 122M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
For showtimes, call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theater 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theater 822-3456.