In case you need distractions from all that's going on — the Delta variant killing people, hospitals overcrowded, the collapse of the Afghan Army to the Taliban, political attacks on women's and voters' rights, out of control wild fires in the West, and damaging hurricanes in the South, East, and Northeast — below are my latest streaming tips, offered so that you might escape our terrifying world through TV. Where do I find these films and series? I research them on Rotten Tomatoes and only pick "Certified Fresh" listings above 90% ratings. Please note that the Pat-Oh-Meter ratings shown below are my own, based on a five-star system, where five is tops.
"Giri/Haji" (Duty/Shame) is an intriguing look at Japanese family life and its gangster underworld. In this thriller, shot in Japan and the UK, a Tokyo detective named Kenzo Mori, played by a handsome Takehiro Hira, scours London to find his gangster brother. Kenzo meets a lonely female UK detective who helps him, but to the detriment of her career. Kenzo's rebellious daughter follows him to London, much to his dismay. The series starts slowly, grows in interest, but gets a bit silly when the ensemble cast, including a Cocaine-addicted male prostitute, jump in a car and go on s beach holiday. Suddenly, the detectives fall in love, but Kenzo's wife, still in Japan on a quest to reclaim her grandchild from a gangster, decides she's happier without Kenzo, anyway. Meanwhile, Kenzo's daughter hangs out with the male prostitute, then suddenly proclaims she is also gay. I really liked lead actor Takehiro Hira and disliked his weak/troubled brother's character (as I was supposed to), but there were too many gross scenes of gay prostitution, and I just could not fall in love with the teen daughter as a "baby dike." 3 stars, but definitely worth a watch for cultural interest
"The Capture" is a conspiracy thriller, based on the premise that a secret group of UK detectives alter closed-circuit television (CCTV) security footage to frame criminals, primarily because UK laws are too protective of defendants' rights. The ending fell apart for me when the heroine, who was supposed to be the only honorable one among the detectives, goes to the dark side because she's frustrated by laws that protect criminals from prosecution. 3 stars
"Unbelievable" is the story of a young, troubled teen who was raped but pressured to recant her accusation. The whole mess could have been prevented if she had the courage to tell the truth, but the male detectives interviewing her were antagonistic and unsympathetic. I got weary of the teen's drawn out inability to communicate, but that was due to her having been bounced between foster homes and foster mothers, one of whom did not help her cause. Two female detectives take over the rape investigations and help bring justice. Although this film is based on a true story, I think it was too anti-male. For example, one of the teen's foster mothers caused the male detectives to doubt the teen's story. It wasn't only guys who put the teen in the terrible spot she was in. 3 stars
"Hacks" is an HBO Series starring Jean Smart as an aging Las Vegas comedian who's lost her edge. She reluctantly hires a young, very entitled female comedy writer to help, and the interactions between them are riotous and engaging. This is a smart, funny comedy with a humanist edge. I take note in my recent viewings that almost every TV series or film now must have at least one gay character and one minority character. So the comedy writer in "Hacks" is a bi-sexual white female, while the comedian's manager is a gay Black male. Dare I say, Emmy Award for Jean Smart? Find out Sept. 19, 2021. 4.5 stars, and we look forward to Season 2.
"Lupin" Series 1 stars a famous African-origin, French-native actor I'd not heard about, Omar Sy. He is gorgeous, and a strong actor, but the series concept about a gentleman thief who sets out to avenge his father's death after an injustice by a wealthy family has a ridiculous premise that a tall, hunky, Black guy, disguised with nothing more than an orange cap, is so unrecognizable in Paris that French cops would not see him. The dialogue is in French, but the English dubbing is not performed well. Better to watch with subtitles. 2 stars from Pat; Bill likes it with 3.5.
"Cowboys" is a family-dynamics film about a pre-teen girl who demands that she is actually a boy. Only her estranged father believes her. The mother vehemently resists the boy's transition and tries to control her/his world, so the teen runs away with her/his father. The acting is spot on and does not gloss the rather low-class characters' flaws. For example, the father is a bi-polar ex-con, and the mother is an overweight, needy woman who marries for the wrong reasons. The plot has a wee bit of run-away excitement, some glorious footage, and the family themes are strong. Overall, however, "Cowboys" is a little too sweet at the end. 3 stars
"Bright Lights" gets a big yay. It's a documentary about the symbiotic relationship between Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds, with an insider's look at Carrie's father Eddie Fisher, and her brother Todd Fisher. Turns out Carrie Fisher is bi-polar. I got a bit weary of her yackety manic side, but what a creative mind and talented soul she was. Her mom wanted her to be a singer, but I think Carrie should have been a serious writer, rather than an actor. Debbie Reynolds remains a star until the end, a talented little pip. It was fun to see Debbie dotter about in old age. Todd Fisher's singing voice sounds much like Eddie's, but as Debbie said, "Todd didn't want to be Eddie, and Carrie didn't want to be Debbie." 4.5 stars
"Leave No Trace" is a lovely, moving film about a man suffering from PTSD who lives in a Pacific-Northwest forest with his daughter. The two subsist on mushrooms and rainwater. When forced out, the daughter re-discovers life with humans and wants to be with them, but Dad cannot handle humanity and simply needs to be alone. This is an understated story, with a simple plot but a poignant choice for father and daughter at the end. Solid 4 stars
"Shirkers" is a documentary about a young Singapore filmmaker, Sandi Tan, her film-making girlfriends, and their older mentor, Georges. The group made a film 20 years ago, but Georges disappeared with the footage. Sandi, who is the film's screenwriter and "star," eventually tracks him down. The footage itself is intriguing in terms of jangled, colorful scenes of Singapore, shot in primary colors. One of Tan's friends describes "Shirkers" as a mood piece. The documentary is primarily about Tan's obsession with Georges. In fact, one of her friends, Jasmine, scolds Tan 20 years later, saying that making the film "Shirkers" also was about Tan's obsession with Georges. I loved the three friends' grown up frankness with one another. 4 stars
"Pig" gets a big 5 stars for Nicholas Cage's performance as a troubled truffle hunter who loses his pig to thieves. I'm not sure the rest of the film ranks that high; in fact, I'm struggling to recall much about it other than Cage's performance. I did enjoy the glorious footage of Portland, Oregon, where I've visited often. This was an interesting film, but overall, I give it 3.5 stars. One five-star performance does not a five-star film make.
Not new but we just got around to watching it, "Mare of Easttown" is a seven-part series that focuses on a seedy, northeast town and the unsteady life and career of its heroine police detective, Mare. The whole thing is beautifully crafted and acted by Kate Winslow (5 stars for her!), but the story could have been told at a quicker pace. I loved Jean Smart as Mare's mother. Would we watch a Season 2? I dunnoh. How much down and out reality can you take? 3.5 stars
And finally, we just finished streaming HBO's "The White Lotus," shot on Maui. It's like being on vacation with dysfunctional people — an experience Bill and I actually had years ago and still shudder about. (Clue: Never travel with friends whose marriage is falling apart.) "The White Lotus" is a scathing satire of wealthy tourists and the resort staff who serve them. I love satire and laughed a lot. Bill takes stuff more literally and had to grow into this. Beyond satire, there were themes of Hawaii Islanders being taken advantage of, and of course, there's a gay main character and gay staffers, so there's gay sex galore to go with the heterosexual kind too. I'm not sure what writer/director/producer Mike White had in mind, other than we must, "Manage the Monkey" impulses of your life, but Season 1 was quite entertaining. 4.0 stars