tv catchup, part 4

Outlander. Outlander has pulled off a fairly rare feat: its fifth season was on a part with its first. To my eye, there is a consistency between the various season, such that I can't say off the top of my head which is the best. Outlander continues much as it always has ... its best features (sex, acting, cinematography, music) are still fine, its worst qualities (too frequent use of rape as a plot device, not knowing what to do with black characters once the show gets to America) still problematic. It's not a perfect show, but if nothing else, it shows that Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) remains one of our finest showrunners.

Watchmen. Not only was Watchmen a fascinating revision of the original comic with a sterling cast, it also managed to both illuminate that original and add to it in important ways. Regina King is tops, as usual, but Watchmen is filled with actors giving impressive performances. Even Henry Louis Gates Jr. turns up, playing himself. Watchmen is timely ... its made-up world is like our own in worrisome ways (including the fact that in the world of the show, Robert Redford is president). It's also oddly prescient, in a rather backwards way: while the universe of the show is an alternate one, it hinges on the actual events in Tulsa known as the Black Wall Street Massacre, which has been in the news of late. Apparently this is a mini-series rather than a continuing story, and if one season is all we get, it's enough. But I'd watch a second season, for sure.

Bonus: Perry Mason. Only three episodes have aired, and I can't say I'm impressed, although I haven't given up yet. Good cast, good recreation of 1932 Los Angeles, but thus far, the only reason I can figure that the lead character is named Perry Mason is so we can get excited about his origin story. But it works just as well without being attached to Mason. Tatiana Maslany is great ... no surprise there.

geezer cinema: my spy (peter segal, 2020)

It was my wife's turn to pick our weekly Geezer movie, and when I asked her what was her choice, she said it had "that guy you like". I was surprised to learn she was talking about Dave Bautista. Honestly, I didn't realize I was a fan. It's just that I'm not fond of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and find his character to be the most enjoyable thing about them.

Well, now I've seen one his starring vehicles. He's OK, just as the film is OK. But I wouldn't go any further with my praise, and in fact, I didn't much like My Spy. It's an unoriginal story (big tough guy teams up with cute little kid) done without any attempt to break out of the norm. There's not as much action as you'd think (it came in at $18 million, which is pretty paltry these days), it's rated PG-13 (for "action/violence and language"), which is probably appropriate, the movie isn't really for kids.

In fairness, Bautista is decent, the cute little kid (played by Chloe Coleman) keeps her cuteness on the right side of too-much, and Kristen Schaal has a reasonable-sized part. I laughed a couple of times. It's entirely possible My Spy is in the YMMV category, but really, it's nothing special.

if beale street could talk (barry jenkins, 2018)

Barry Jenkins pulls off a difficult task in If Beale Street Could Talk. He moves smoothly between a touching love story and the realities of life for black people in America. He (and James Baldwin, who wrote the book) gives us complete characters ... they aren't perfect, they aren't bad, they are not stereotypical. Jenkins is on the side of humanity, so the characters tilt closer to perfection than to badness. And it's clear that the main force pulling them away from perfection is the society in which they live. Somehow, Jenkins shows a realistic society within a love story, such that you could almost say If Beale Street Could Talk ends up a hopeful note. Almost.

Jenkins has a lot to work with, starting with Baldwin, of course. He also has a terrific cast. Regina King finally gets her Oscar (Supporting Actress). If you haven't picked up on the greatness of Brian Tyree Henry yet, here's your chance, because he makes the most of a small part. Jenkins doesn't always take the easy route, either. While the film has a fine soundtrack, Jenkins doesn't use it to place the film by calling on our nostalgia for the popular tunes of the time. It's not the way we are used to hearing a soundtrack, where we are bombarded with the hits of the day. We get Miles and Coltrane and Nina Simone along with Al Green and Billy Preston. It's effective without pandering to the audience.

It's hard to single out one scene among the many, but Henry's work here is unparalled:

If Beale Street Could Talk is #441 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.