Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Taking a turn

With this post, Cinema Salon turns a corner.  I’m giving up any attempt at breadth and currency of coverage, and the presumption of offering “consumer guidance” on the best new films and shows now streaming on various channels.  On one side of this page I expect to be posting periodic viewing diaries or thematic essays, and on the other career summaries of some of my favorite film makers and performers.
Here are some last bits of consumer advice on substantial monthly savings through “cord-cutting” and careful management of your streaming channel subscriptions.  It makes little sense to let multiple subscriptions go on indefinitely, especially as rates go up.  You can save 1/2 to 2/3 of your monthly charges, for example, by rotating Hulu, Netflix, and HBO Max subscriptions, rather than treating them like regular utility payments.
The lower cost of subscriptions that include commercials makes sense only if you put a very low value on your own time and brain cells.  I find the annual rate a bargain for the Criterion Channel and PBS Passport, Amazon Prime comes as a collateral benefit, and Kanopy is generally available with a local library card.
Other channels, led by AppleTV+, are good for an occasional month or two, when prompted by a particular show.  Many others, such as Showtime or Britbox for example, are certainly worth free trials from time to time, which you can multiply by going through Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO hubs, as well as signing on through Roku account or the channel directly.
Many media outlets offer periodic rundowns of the best programs currently streaming on various channels, easy to google.  As you may have noticed, I rely a lot on Metacritic reports as well as ratings.  Here’s a link to their listing of what’s best among a given channel’s recent and forthcoming offerings.  [This link is specifically for Hulu, but simply click on one of the channel logos to navigate.]

As a sample of where these posts are heading, I append a few remarks on recent viewing.  Speaking of Hulu, I’ve just discovered how easy it is to pause your subscription for 1-12 weeks, so I’m doing so after squeezing the juice out of the channel for a couple of months.
Probably won’t get to finish the second season of Abbott Elementary (MC-90), which is quite enjoyable, but not unmissable.  Within the straightjacket of a 22-minute network sitcom (which I rarely watch), this workplace ensemble of teachers in a Philadelphia public school is fast and funny, sharp and witty. 
I’m not as enthusiastic about the third season of Ramy (MC-81) as I was about the first two (reviewed here and here), since it seems to be following the path of Atlanta in becoming darker and stranger, but I still look forward to further exploration of the Muslim milieu of New Jersey.  I expect some kind of redemption narrative in the next season, since Ramy and his family have been in a steep descent.
Despite its takeover by Disney, Hulu continues to have an interesting (if hidden) array of foreign films and documentaries.  Bitterbrush (MC-79) is in the estimable tradition of Sweetgrass (reviewed here) as a meditative look at livestock handling in the mountain West, this time cattle wrangling in Idaho instead of sheep herding in Montana.  The biggest difference in this case is that the cameras follows two women, who are engaging both with each other and the viewer, instead of just observing laconic cowboys.  The soundtrack of Bach is lovely and somehow appropriate.  This one is worth a look, both intimate and spectacular.
I’m not really a fan of British mystery series, but I am always eager to watch Lesley Manville at work, sort of like an English Meryl Streep, a swiss-army-knife of an actress.  So that led me to two recent shows.  In Sherwood (MC-90, Britbox), she’s the widow of the primary murder victim.  But in this series the murder is a mere Hitchcockian “macguffin,” the solution of the crime a throwaway, a local Nottingham joke about an archer in the forest.  What matters here is the portrait of a divided community in depth and over time, where the grievances of a miners’ strike decades ago still inflame daily life.  David Morrissey is the primary detective in this nicely-layered and -designed tale.
In Magpie Murders (MC-79, PBS), Manville is a book editor whose bestselling author dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances, leaving his last book without a final chapter.  So Manville must turn sleuth to find the missing chapter, and incidentally solve the mystery of the author’s death (the plot will ring a bell for those who’ve seen the Knives Out franchise on Netflix).  The story flashes back and forth between the enacted plot of the book, and Manville’s encounters with the villagers who were obvious models for the characters in the book.  Again, the solution of the mystery is not the real appeal here, at least to me, but the clever characterizations and the settings, added to Manville as the bookish sleuth, make it worth watching.
Another actress who will induce me to watch shows I would otherwise pass by is Samantha Morton, so while I had Starz on trial, I took a look at one of that channel’s signature genres, all those queens and princesses of old, now joined by The Serpent Queen (MC-76).  She plays the older Catherine de Medici, narrating the story of her early life (played by Liv Hill) to her maid, a protégé in French court intrigue.  In the five episodes I saw before the trial expired, Morton’s role was disappointingly peripheral, but I found the contemporary parallels and updates to 16th century politics witty for the most part, rather than silly like Hulu’s The Great (i.e. the other Catherine).
For another updated version of an old story, there’s Catherine Called Birdy (MC-75, AMZ), an unlikely departure for writer-director Lena Dunham, in adapting a well-known YA novel about a girl in medieval times whose father tries to marry her off to restore the family’s financial situation.  She’s a willful and independent young woman (played by Bella Ramsey, in a telltale lift from GoT) who goes to comic lengths to make herself unmarriageable.  This is not a bad film, but neither is it a good one.  But I did make it through, which is more than I can say for Rosaline (MC-61, Hulu), an anachronistic take on Romeo and Juliet, from the POV of Romeo’s jilted girlfriend, in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – I gave it a chance because of Kaitlin Dever in the title role, but she was not enough to keep me watching.
As you can see, unless motivated to dig deeper, I’m just going to be recording my offhand reactions to what I watch, rather than trying to encapsulate films or shows in 200-300 words.

[Late November update]  Haven't been watching many tv shows lately, more baseball and basketball, and a lot of rather old films, which I'll be covering in my next post here.  But one show that has captured my attention is the second season of The White Lotus (MC-81, HBO), which I am liking rather more than the first (reviewed here), if only because it's set in the one place I regret not visiting in my life - Sicily.  Love the cast as well as the setting, and hope this season has a more fully satisfactory conclusion than the last.

Making my way through the fifth season of The Crown (MC-65, NFX), I can see why the critical reception has fallen off somewhat, but I remain engaged with the show, pleased with the new cast (not least for another Lesley Manville sighting, as Princess Margaret) and still mightily impressed by the show's production values.  [I'll say more when I get to the end of these two series.] 

Finally, I want to highlight two new stand-up routines on Netflix:  Hasan Minhaj: The King's Jester (MC-tbd), which follows neatly upon his earlier Homecoming King and Patriot Act (recommended here).  And with Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would, the polyglot comic and mimic breaks out of the constraints of hosting The Daily Show and unleashes a language-drunk barrage of finely-crafted impressions and observations.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Final round-up of 2021 films

I’ve been holding fire on my final picks for the best films of last year, until I could see one of my anticipated favorites, which finally arrived on Hulu:  Petite Maman (MC-93).  Céline Sciamma has emerged as one of the best writer-directors working today, and her latest displays her talents admirably.  It’s a short, sweet fable about mother-daughter relationships.  After the death of her grandmother, and the unexplained decamping of her mother, an eight-year-old girl escapes into the woods where she encounters a similarly-aged girl who looks an awful lot like her and has her mother’s name (the two are played by the Sanz sisters, Josephine and Gabrielle).  Is this dream, imagination, or magic?  From a child’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter, it’s all one marvelous fantasy, indistinguishable from reality.  Sciamma’s sensitive and layered direction yields authentic performances from all, and the cinematography is bathed in fairy tale forest light.  However petite, this film has a breadth and depth of emotion that exceeds its childlike dimensions.
I wanted to watch Parallel Mothers (MC-88) again, after a tantalizing but limited viewing on an airplane, so I took a week’s free trial of Starz.  Pedro Almodovar is a master filmmaker, and this is a masterful film.  The mothers in question are played by Penelope Cruz, at her best, and newcomer Milena Smit more than holding her own.  They meet in the maternity ward, and from there the lives of the 40ish fashion magazine photographer and the single teen rape victim intertwine.  And their combined motherhood stories intertwine with a literal exhumation of a mass grave from the Franco era.  It’s a twisted tale, but very smoothly told, with Almodovar in full control of the intensely-colored mechanisms of melodrama, producing one of his “women’s pictures” that truly celebrate the strength of women.
While on Starz, I caught up with The Truffle Hunters (MC-84), a documentary that follows neatly in the esteemed tradition of Honeyland, as a Mediterranean account of old folkways of food gathering.  Rather than an aged Macedonian woman beekeeper, this film follows several aged Piedmontese men and their close-knit dogs, as they hunt in the woods for a rare white truffle.  Beautifully and intimately filmed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, the film eschews narration for direct encounter, accruing layers of significance in the process, more edifying and entertaining than you might imagine the subject could be.  Try this delicacy, if you can find it.
Dream Horse (MC-68, Hulu) is an endearing movie that I recommend if you enjoy underdog (or underhorse) sporting stories, though it’s not anything you haven’t seen before, even if you missed the very good 2015 documentary on which it’s based, Dark Horse (MC-75).  The film’s biggest asset is the ever-reliable Toni Collette in the lead role, as the grocery clerk/barmaid who decides she wants to breed a race horse, and thereafter enlists a supporting syndicate of her neighbors in a down-on-its-luck Welsh mining town.  Damien Lewis plays an equine enthusiast who quits his accounting job to manage Dream Alliance’s racing career, which unsurprisingly reaches great heights.  Euros Lyn is a Welsh director whose credit I first noted for the excellent recent tv series Heartstopper (and another, Capital), but from now on I will take his name as an indicator of quality.
To say that Audrey Diwan’s Happening (MC-86, AMC+) puts me in mind of Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is already to offer high praise, for the portrayal of a young woman in desperate search for an abortion.  Awarded best film in Venice, this harrowing human drama is set in 1960s France, based on a memoir by
 Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux, and graced by an immersive, luminous performance from Anamaria Vartolomei.  Up close and personal, honest and wrenching, the film follows a bright literature student unwilling to give up her future to one unfortunate mistake, in a time and place where reasonable medical care is thoroughly criminalized, and desperate measures ensue. With Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and Robert Mulligan’s Love with a Proper Stranger, this would make a great film series to demonstrate what the overturning of Roe v. Wade might lead us back to.
Respect (MC-61, AMZ) deserves some of the same, but not nearly as much as its subject, Aretha Franklin.  Though Jennifer Hudson does a credible job of portraying Aretha onstage and off, this film does not seem to have anything new or interesting to say about the Queen of Soul.  Some of the concert or recording studio performances are well-staged, but it’s a big mistake to recreate the Amazing Grace gospel concert already covered by a famous documentary.  It would have been better to take a more focused approach than following the template of every performer biopic.  Especially since the tv series Genius: Aretha, with Cynthia Erivo, went into Aretha’s family history with far greater detail.  Some fine supporting performances though, particulaly Marc Maron.  The direction is mixed, but ultimately it’s the writing that limits this film.
In the same vein, I found Baz Luhrman’s Elvis (MC-64, HBO) more watchable than expected.  I sampled in passing, and wound up watching all the way through.  Austin Butler gives a credible performance as Presley, on stage and off, while Tom Hanks (heavily disguised and frankly miscast) narrates as his manager “Col. Tom Parker,” and Baz’s pizzazz is relatively in check.  But it’s an odd perspective to take, the promoter telling the performer’s tale, and the telling rather by the numbers.  While I was no particular fan of Elvis, his story is worth recounting even within its very familiar outline, and Luhrman colors it with his kinetic, sometimes hyperactive, direction.  Even as debunked by his Svengali, Elvis’ career deserves the overworked accolade of iconic, a bejeweled picture of his era.
While my archaeologist son was site-mapping by drone in the Republic of Georgia, I caught up with a film from there that won multiple awards at Tribeca and was recommended to me by a friend.  Brighton 4th (MC-76, Kanopy) begins in Tbilisi but spends most of its running time among a Russian-speaking émigré community in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood.  It follows a former Olympic champion wrestler (played by the same), as he goes to rescue his son, who is supposed to be studying medicine but is actually doing manual labor and running up gambling debts.  The portrait of the émigré enclave is quite strong, mixing humor with no-exit despair.  Definitely provides a glimpse into Georgian characteristics, and the lives of displaced people following a mirage of foreign opportunity.
Encanto (MC-75, Disney+) seems like a worthy pick for the animated feature Oscar, even though Flee was a much better film.  Encanto does for Colombia what Coco did for Mexico or Moana for Polynesia, bringing local folklore to life, color, and song (via Lin-Manuel Miranda).  The animation was dazzling, the music catchy, and the story not too hackneyed, with songs rather than chase sequences to keep things moving right along.
Having canvassed all the likely titles, I’m now ready to present my own (revised and updated) answer to Metacritic’s compilation of film critics’ Top 10 lists, with description and further linkage at Metacritic’s ranking of the 2021’s best films by numerical rating (given in parenthesis below).  One advantage of this delayed listing is that all these films are now available on streaming channels.
My Top Ten
Drive My Car (91)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (97)
Petite Maman (94)
Summer of Soul (96)
Rocks (95)
Flee (91)
Parallel Mothers (88)
CODA (74)
The Father (88)
Mass (81)
Runners-up (four filmed musicals, followed by four B&W films, four assorted, six foreign, and a pair of lesbian dramas.)
Tick, Tick … Boom! (74)
West Side Story (85)
In the Heights (84)
Come from Away (83)
C’mon C’mon (82)
Passing (85)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (87)
Belfast (75)
The French Dispatch (74)
The Lost Daughter  (86)
Judas and the Black Messiah (85)
King Richard (76)

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (86)
Bergman Island (81)
Hive (71)
A Hero (82)
I’m Your Man (78)
The Hand of God (76)
The World to Come (73)
Two of Us (8
My personal “No thanks”
The Worst Person in the World (90)
Licorice Pizza (90)
The Power of the Dog (89)
The Green Knight (85)
Pig (82)
Dune (74)
Recommended documentaries (aside from Summer of Soul and Flee)

My Name is Pauli Murray (73)
Attica (87)
MLK/FBI (81)
The Truffle Hunters (84)
Stray (83)
Listening to Kenny G (81)
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (77)


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Jolly good shows - or not so

This post is like the Jeopardy! category “Potpourri,” covering recent programs on various streaming channels, starting with AMC+ on a trial subscription.  [Updated through September.]

This Is Going to Hurt (MC-91, AMC+) is the best new show of 2022 so far, if you were to believe Metacritic.  I’m not quite that high on it, but found it highly watchable, despite my general indifference to medical dramas.  With the notable exceptions of St. Elsewhere and Nurse Jackie (and of course, Doc Martin), I haven’t been a follower of hospital-based shows (don’t remember ever watching an episode of E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy), but here’s one that caught and kept my interest.  Adapted by Adam Kay from his memoir of the same name, into seven 45-minute episodes, this BBC import stars Ben Whishaw as an overtaxed junior doctor in the ob-gyn department of an NHS hospital.  He and his colleagues are stressed to the max, to the detriment of both work and home life, to ends both comic and tragic.  The level of acting and verisimilitude is high, and leavened by humor and outrage.  If you like this sort of thing, you will certainly like this.

While I really enjoyed the first season of State of the Union (MC-79, AMC+), I was even more taken with the second.  Nick Hornby, a reliably funny and truthful writer, and director Stephen Frears return with another series of ten short episodes of 10-12 minutes, each detailing the meeting of husband and wife on their way to a marriage counseling session.  After a London pub with Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, now the scene is a Connecticut coffee shop, and the couple are played by Patricia Clarkson and Brendan Gleeson.  This series makes a great pairing with the Showtime documentary series Couples Therapy, where they go behind closed doors to disclose what actually goes on in counseling sessions, but these preliminary discussions are illuminating in their own amusing manner, brilliantly staged and acted.

I gave Ten Percent (MC-63, AMC+) three episodes to distinguish itself as anything but a pale British imitation of the far superior French series Call My Agent! – which I raved about repeatedly through its four seasons – but that was a test this show did not pass, so it seems strictly for English speakers who couldn’t read subtitles fast enough to keep up with the antic dialogue of the original.

In reading my comments, you ought to know that in my view “whodunit?” is about the least interesting question that fiction or film can ask.  Mysteries are a mystery to me – who cares?  More so the older I get, since I used to read a number of Tony Hillerman novels, so I tuned into several episodes of a belated adaptation, Dark Winds (MC-80, AMC+), mainly for its Native American flavor and atmosphere.  Zahn McClarnon is solid as Navajo Tribal Police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, but not as good as he is in Reservation Dogs (the highly-anticipated second season now underway on Hulu).  The rest of the cast is variable, and the direction merely serviceable.  In striking contrast to Better Call Saul, which is so immaculately done on all levels.  So with new episodes of BCS and RD available, it’s easy to pass up this “Southwestern.”

I’ve long been a Paul Newman fanboy, and more recently a consistent follower of Ethan Hawke, and the latter offers an unabashed appreciation of the former, along with Joanne Woodward, Newman’s longtime partner in love and work, in The Last Movie Stars (MC-91, HBO), a well-made six-part documentary series.  Initially that seemed like a lot of time to devote to a celebration of the pair, but it turned out to have many more levels than celluloid hagiography.  With the impetus from the couple’s children, there was a lot of material to work with.  Crucially, transcripts of interviews done for Paul when he was contemplating an autobiography; he eventually decided against doing so, and burned the tapes.  The transcripts came down to the children however, and in a Covid-lockdown project, Hawke got many of his acting pals to read them aloud (e.g. George Clooney as Paul, Laura Linney as Joanne).  The story encompasses both movie life and domestic life over a half-century together, and beautifully matches scenes from their movies with narration from their personal lives.  And the beauty of the doc’s duration is that it includes full scenes from the films, rather than clips or snippets.  If you want to drown in those blue eyes, or the green pair, then this immersion is for you.

I follow the career of Olivier Assayas, but wasn’t eager to see his 8-hour series remake of his earlier film, derived in turn from a famous French silent serial.  Nonetheless, the new Irma Vep (MC-84, HBO) captured my interest when given a chance.  First off, Alicia Vikander -- nuff said, easy on the eyes, could just watch her for hours.  The Day for Night meets Call My Agent! vibe shines brightly for me, always receptive to films about filmmaking.  In such a self-referential work, it certainly helps to have the key to the roman-à-clef elements.  The director of the film-within-the-film is clearly a satiric Assayas self-portrait, played by Vincent Macaigne from CMA!.  Alica V. is pretty plainly playing a character based on Kristen S. (who cameos).  And so on.  At first glance, the whole thing may seem rather self-involved, but it turns out to be an intimate lens on the madness of movies, with much to say about the culture of the moment.  Its historical perspective is exemplified in the way the series glides seamlessly among backstage realities, the update under production, and the Louis Feuillade silent classic.  Most of all, the series is a meditation on cinema, what it has been, what it is today, what it can be – a secular ritual, a magical rite, a calling forth of the light.  Not for everyone, but a treat for specialized tastes.

Toby Jones’s mug on the series promo was enough to draw me to Capital (Wiki, PBS), though he is only one character of many on a gentrifying street of South London, where everyone is being subjected to mysterious postcards that say “We want what you have.”  That means different things to different people – the dying widow, the overextended banker, the Pakistani shopkeeper, the Zimbabwean refugee.  In the vein of social satire, the Dickensian interweaving of neighborhood characters and situations is convincing, but once again the unraveling of the mystery was not all that interesting.  This adaptation of a John Lanchester novel, in four hour-long episodes, does not overstay its welcome.

In the realm of nature documentaries, David Attenborough and his team are pathbreakers, and their latest is Green Planet (PBS).  I’ve never seen such an adept combination of time-lapse photography and tracking shots, which animate the plants that are the stars of this series, with animals and humans as bit players.  Music also contributes to the experience, though sometimes laid on a little heavy to goose the drama.  Nonetheless, I’m beginning to accept my brother’s argument, made while he was selling off New Jersey’s public tv bandwidth for other worthy causes, that PBS doesn’t provide any programming that couldn’t be found on a commercial channel.  It may be because the CPB was starved during the Trump years, but I am certainly watching the channel less than previously.

After equivocating about the first season of Undone (MC-86, AMZ) and looking in on the second only in due diligence, I ultimately found myself absorbed and admiring.  This series is both deep and far out, highly visual and psychologically penetrating.  Before I likened it to “Waking Life meets Russian Doll” in somewhat belittling comparison.  Now I’d put it in the same class, and with their simultaneous second seasons, I’d say Undone exceeds Russian Doll in telling a peculiarly-similar time travel tale, the animation offering a free hand to make the temporal transitions, and the quest more uplifting (family harmony the goal, rather than krugerrands). 

Speaking of due diligence, I took in the similarly-rated series Chloe (MC-86, AMZ).  I was not drawn in immediately, and put it aside, but then I was looking for something to watch as I was riding my new stationary bike, and picked this as something to which I didn’t have to devote full attention.  More a psychological thriller than a whodunit, the series follows a young woman, played by Erin Doherty, who had a best friend as a teen, but was rejected for a new group of friends.  Left out, she followed that glamorous coterie on social media.  When the friend calls her out of the blue, just before her apparent suicide, Becky assumes a new identity to insert herself into the clique, either to understand Chloe’s death or to inhabit her life.  Can’t say this story warranted six hour-long episodes, but it did make the virtual miles go by.

I checked out the first two episodes of the new series adaptation of A League of Their Own (MC-70, AMZ), which weren’t exactly bad, but lackluster.  I took a look at some of the original film again, and wondered why any remake was thought advisable.  Then tried another series episode as bike material, and it just made the cycling more arduous.

Two acclaimed FX series induced me to re-subscribe to Hulu.  The Bear (MC-86, Hulu) debuted to great acclaim, and I join the chorus of praise.  Christopher Storer was not a familiar name to me, even though he has worked with Bo Burnham and Ramy Youseff, but this is his breakout as the full package: writer, director, showrunner.  It’s a frenetic comedy/drama of eight half-hour episodes (already renewed for a second season), set behind the scenes of a family restaurant called Original Beef of Chicagoland.  The older brother who ran it rather haphazardly has died and left it to his younger brother, who took a different path and became an award-winning high-end chef, played by Jeremy Allen White, again unfamiliar to me but quite convincing.  There’s his brother’s old friend and other staff members resistant to the new regime, but he attracts a fellow Culinary Institute graduate as sous-chef, played by Ayo Edebiri, with high aims for the establishment.  With a raucous helter-skelter pace, lightning wit, and explosive situations, the viewer is immersed in the back-of-house chaos of restaurant work, and marinated in Chicago local color.  I look forward to future seasons.

The second season of Reservation Dogs (MC-93, Hulu) lives up to the promise of the first, and then some.  It’s really a showcase for Native American talent on both sides of the camera.  (Is “Native American” still okay for a white man to say?  Or should it be “Indigenous Peoples”?  Canadians seem to have the right idea with “First Nations.”)  Where the first season followed a group of four teens mourning the loss of their leader by suicide, and scheming to get off the rez, the second widens its lens to take in more of the community, with each character getting their moment in the spotlight.  (Right there is the one advantage of “their” becoming a singular pronoun.)  Anyway, I really enjoy and recommend this show.  Give it some time to establish its world, and you will be drawn in.  This series is a convincing argument for diversity, and letting unheard voices be heard.  Show creator Starlin Harjo invites many collaborators in telling a variety of stories about various characters, increasing to ten episodes this season.  A big thumbs up for this one.
In temporarily re-subscribing to Hulu, I took advantage of the cheap add-on of Disney+, having accumulated a few programs to watch since last taking a short subscription (to see Hamilton a couple of times, with and without captioning).  Top of the list was On Pointe (MC-61), a 6-part documentary series promoting the School of American Ballet and its training for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.  We follow a number of students, ranging from 9-17, as they study, audition, rehearse, and perform – all of them appealing, graceful, articulate, and super-motivated – with commentary from parents and teachers, through a school year centered on the annual run of The Nutcracker.  Though anything but hard-hitting, this series is a pleasure to watch, for the dancing and for the kids themselves.
Another Disney offering was The Beatles: Get Back (MC-85), Peter Jackson’s eight-hour re-edit of the raw rehearsal, recording, and performance footage that went into the 1970 film Let It Be, after the band broke up.  The film highlighted the tensions that led to the break-up, but this longer version celebrates the intense and joyous process of collaboration that went into the Beatles’ incredible success.  It’s fascinating to watch the Fab Four (plus Billy Preston) interact, and to see familiar songs take shape in the studio.  (Who knew “Get Back” started off as a protest against anti-immigrant policies?)  The characters are familiar and beloved, but the process is the fascination of this series.  Rock out, friends.
To catch a couple of films I’d been looking for, I took a week’s free trial of Starz.  While on the channel, I sampled one of their original series.  Gaslit (MC-70) turned out be better than I expected, but not good enough to pay for a month’s subscription, so I only saw six of eight episodes.  This semi-comic retelling of the Watergate saga features an all-star cast, led by Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell and a barely-recognizable Sean Penn as John Mitchell, with Dan Stevens as John Dean and Betty Gilpin as his wife Mo.  Based on a Slow Burn podcast, this series was not up to the level of Hulu’s Mrs. America, for example, but did vividly recall a momentous episode from our Boomer history.  [Update:  I saw the last two episodes after all, and wish I hadn’t.  It was one thing to look at a common historical event from the perspective of some peripheral characters (cf. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), but another to lose sight of the event itself, in the personal minutiae of figures like Martha or Dean or (God help us) Gordon Liddy.]
Herewith I wrap up a summer of tv viewing, with comment on Better Call Saul still to come, and also some final words on the films of 2021. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Coming home to Netflix

I maintain a manual watchlist of a dozen or so streaming channels, and I’ve begun to save money by subscribing only when I’ve developed a critical mass of programs on any given channel.  Earlier this year, when Netflix had literally nothing I wanted to watch, I suspended my subscription for the first time in 22 years.  After a number of months not sending them my $15.49 – which in turn caused their stock price to crater – I’d built up a list of shows-to-see that warranted a month or two back on the channel.
Preeminent among them was Borgen: Power and Glory (MC-87), and the belated return of one of my all-time top-ten tv-shows did not disappoint.  Having won and lost as Prime Minister of Denmark, Birgitte Nyborg returns as Foreign Minister in a new coalition government, still played by the dazzling Sidse Babett Knudsen.  Many other characters return as well, to good effect.  This delayed fourth season revolves around the ramifying crises emerging from the discovery of oil on Greenland, where the indigenous majority hopes it will finance independence from Denmark, while the Danes are caught between their Green commitments and a financial windfall of billions, and the U.S., Russia, and China all take a geopolitical interest.  Birgitte navigates these waters with impressive skill, but also with a compulsion for power that corrupts her thinking and makes her forget who her friends are.  This is a political show that believably takes you into “the room where it happens.”  If you were a fan of the first three seasons, rejoice at this reprise.  If you weren’t, be advised that they rank with the best tv ever, and that they’re also available on Netflix.
The second season of Russian Doll (MC-79) is more sci-fi and scattershot than the first, but Natasha Lyonne is still marvelous in the lead, and the show returns with an intriguing if incomprehensible story and a striking visual style.  This season has a time-travel rather than a Groundhog Day premise, with the character Nadia inhabiting the body of her mother in the 1980s and grandmother in the 1940s, in a quest to recover a cache of gold stolen from her family by the Nazis.  Though not as enthusiastic as I was about the first series, I still enjoyed this follow-up, at least till I gave up trying to decipher all the off-hand dialogue or follow the zigzags of the plot.
Candidly a rip-off of the original Australian series (my comments here and here), Love on the Spectrum U.S. (no MC) has its own appeal.  But its coast-to-coast coverage of familiar locations loses some of the piquant individuality of the original.  On the other hand, the “reality-tv” range of characters, with all their different manifestations of autism, conveys that while we are all different types, we basically want the same things, intimacy and connection.  Funny and touching, and never icky.
If you want - or need - a lesson on the legacy of white supremacy, then Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (MC-89) would be good place to start.  Jeffrey Robinson’s illustrated presentation is for the most part common-sense, by-now-familiar history and not the Right’s boogieman of CRT.  It follows a timeline from 1619 to today that is cumulatively enraging and convincing, but the only news to me was a revolt of enslaved people in pre-Revolutionary times.  Built around an actual lecture, with graphics and cutaways to personal documentation, this show seems truthful and telling, with a minimum of exaggeration or special pleading.
The drama and the humor are a little thin in Adam Sandler’s Hustle (MC-68), but the basketball action is pretty great, with a bunch of current and former NBA stars playing themselves.  Sandler is an international scout for the 76ers, who finds a diamond in the rough in Juancho Hernangomez.  Jeremiah Zagar does a nice job of Philly-centric directing, which enhances the sports movie formula.  Of recent hoops-oriented shows, this movie cannot run with Swagger but posterizes Winning Time.
Richard Linklater is probably my favorite director from the generation after mine (late as opposed to early Boomer).  Apollo 10½ (MC-79) does not rank with his classics, but is a very pleasant memory piece about growing up in Houston in the late Sixties, given added dimension by the practice of rotoscoping, live action overlaid by animation, which Linklater debuted in Waking Life.  While slightly fictionalized, the film has all the specificity of memoir, and is more a matter of time travel than space travel, digging into the culture of childhood in that time and place, in a nuclear family of six siblings, and a new-built neighborhood crawling with other children.

Netflix has a nice thing going in the tradition of Sex Education, and the new teen LBGTQ+ comedy Heartstopper (MC-85) continues in that vein, though gentler and less raunchy.  Adapted by Alice Oseman from her extremely popular (but previously unknown to me) series of graphic novels, it’s live action with a few animated touches, and tells the story of an openly gay, but bullied, English 15-year-old with a crush on a popular rugby player, who amazingly returns his affection and struggles to come to terms with his apparent bisexuality.  In the group of friends are a movie nerd, a book nerd, a trans girl, and a lesbian couple.  Hard to say how this series remains so sweet without ever becoming saccharine, but it must have something to do with the authenticity and sincerity of the characters and their creators.  These eight half-hour episodes are highly recommended, and a second season is on the way.

In the same vein, Never Have I Ever (MC-84) returns for a third season (my rave for first two seasons here), and remains charming, truthful, and funny as ever.  This show I recommend without reservation -- I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying its wit and heart.  Mindy Kaling and her co-creators revisit the familiar territory of a SoCal high school, with an emphasis on broadly-appealing diversity.  Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is delightful as the lead character, now a junior (as the series, with one more season to go, covers high school year by year).  Devi is a brainiac nerd who somehow has landed her dream boyfriend, but that does not solve all her teenage problems.  (John McEnroe is also delightful, crankily providing her stream-of-consciousness narration.)  Her circle of friends confronts various other romantic surprises and quandaries, in refreshing a tried and true genre with ethnic spice.  Winsome and winning.

In a different vein, I returned to Peaky Blinders (MC-77) for its sixth and final season (MC-86), after skipping the previous two, having found the series to run out of interest, just repeating a stylistic exercise that was initially striking, but now reduced to formula.  Dark, heavy, loud, bloody, in thrall to the Godfather Saga – this show seemed a novelty at first, but wound up just going through the motions.

I usually get around to seeing the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature, so I caught up with the Netflix production The Mitchells vs. The Machines (MC-81), which deserved the nod.   The novelty of its visual style; the non-stop barrage of gags, too many for any single viewer, but something for everyone; the winking adaptation of action movie clichés; the tech satire of robot apocalypse; the anti-heroics of a normally dysfunctional family – all work well, even if the obligatory action scenes go too fast and too long.  

Following upon the success of Wild Wild Country, Netflix presents another documentary about a closed community out West with Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (MC-80), this time a polygamous sect of Mormons, one of the models for the HBO series Big Love.  This series of four 45-minute episodes doesn’t have the scope or ambiguity of the prior doc, but offers some impressive personal testimony illuminated by home movies and photos, to tell the sketched-in history of the FLDS.  Two missteps are the inclusion of some recreations that undermine the veracity of the archival footage, and the failure to delve more into the psychology of believers, rather that making a mere crime (or horror) story about the pursuit and conviction of a moral monster.  What held this patriarchal tyranny together?  This story is only half-told.

So all in all, there is plenty of reason to subscribe to Netflix for a month or two at a time, but also no reason to automatically renew every month, given the workaday quality of so much of their programming.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Putting Showtime on trial

Nurse Jackie is in danger of losing its status as my all-time favorite Showtime series to Couples Therapy (MC-90).  The just-concluded third season was reason enough for me to sample another free trial of the streaming channel, nicely prefaced by a New Yorker profile of Orna Guralnick, the therapist around whom the show revolves.  Three people sitting in a room talking about feelings and interactions is much more involving for me than any gun battle, car chase, or action sequence.  And this series is brilliantly put together.  I was an early and eager adopter, reviewing the first season here and the second season here.  If anything, the third season is better yet, so all I’m going to do is reiterate my heartfelt recommendation of this truthful, moving, and funny show.
Back to Life (MC-88) definitely has merits, but I’m not going to say “you gotta see it.”  You might however like to see it, if you’re into British sitcoms about troubled but funny young-ish women, as I am.  Daisy Haggard is the writer and star, playing a woman just released from 18 years of prison for the death of her high school friend, and returning to her hometown on the Kent coast.  So it’s sort of a comic female twist on the premise of Rectify, and it keeps adding dimensions as it goes on.
Aside from the aforementioned, there are no Showtime series that I really recommend, so you’re on your own there, but their line-up of movies has enough interest to fill out your free trial.  Here are some of the latest:
Stanley Nelson’s Attica (MC-87) definitely earned its Oscar nomination for best documentary feature.  A half-century later, that prison uprising remains a resonant demonstration of official brutality with a racist cast, unpacking the significance of Nixon’s (and Rockefeller’s) campaign theme of “law & order.”  The max security prison in an all-white Upstate town, where it was the primary employer, was largely populated by blacks and others from NYC.  When the inmates turned the tables and seized thirty-some guards as hostages, the stalemate went on for several days, until the government’s show of force left scores dead, including ten hostages killed in the one-sided hail of bullets.  Covered both by news and surveillance footage, along with latter-day interviews with survivors on both sides of the event, this film is shocking and revelatory, somehow summed up by the reaction of one “lawman” after the massacre, jubilantly raising his weapon and shouting “white power.”
On a second and more satisfactory viewing, Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon (MC-82) strikes me as even better than my first impression, starting with the lustrous black & white cinematography.  So does the wonderful byplay between a surprisingly-gentle Joaquin Phoenix – a documentary interviewer of children, but childless and unattached – and his charming if troubled 9-year-old nephew, well-played by Woody Norman.  They are thrown together when the boy’s mother (Gaby Hoffmann) has to care for his ailing father, and they gradually come to mutual understanding and appreciation.  This rambling and impressionistic film succeeds in entering a child’s mindset in a variety of ways, as the pair travel from LA to NYC to New Orleans on work assignments.  Very nicely done all round.
I really liked Columbus, the first film of the pseudonymous Korean-American auteur Kogonada, not to mention his video essays for Criterion and direction of half the episodes of Pachinko, so I regret to report that I am less than lukewarm about his latest, After Yang (MC-79), a domestic drama with a sci-fi premise.  Yang is essentially a robot, the “techno-sapiens” big-brother companion to a young Chinese girl adopted by Colin Farrell, a thoroughly-subdued tea enthusiast, and his African wife.  When Yang starts to malfunction, the stresses in this blended family are explored, in an Ozu-inflected style and pace, which I however found somnolent rather than engrossing.
Before signing off Showtime, I caught two well-reviewed recent films that I found a chore to watch.  I have to confess that my English major sequence started with Chaucer, so I never read [Gawain &]The Green Knight (MC-85), or Beowolf for that matter, and I’ve never been a fan of sword & sorcery films (Game of Thrones notwithstanding).  So I am a poor judge of David Lowery’s adaptation, the more so since I’ve found myself resistant to all of his work.   But I will say that it bored me almost to tears, despite the visual dazzle and the presence of Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander.
The Souvenir Part II (MC-90) is even more obscure and self-important than the first part.  I don’t even know what to say about it, especially in the face of all those critics who saw so much more in it than I did.  The first film was a memory piece about a trauma that Joanna Hogg experienced while in film school in the 80s, and the second is about the student film she made about that painful affair.  I took an interest in the interactions of the students making the film with her, but it was torture for them and for me.  The whole thing is an enigma that I didn’t care to solve.
All in all, I can’t see paying for Showtime on any continuing basis, but an occasional free trial could be worth your while.  Some judicial systems offer a verdict of “not proven” as an alternative to guilty or innocent, so that’s what I’ll give to Showtime, along with a suspended sentence. 

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Back to the tube

After more than a month “across the pond” and away from my usual screens, I’ve got some catching up to do, so let’s get right down to it.  First off, I have to mention two well-received films from 2021 that I caught as in-flight entertainment, with all the attendant liabilities, missing a lot of dialogue in one, and in the other scenes too dark to see, not to mention the tiny screen (and interruptions) for both.  Nonetheless, Parallel Mothers (MC-88) may muscle its way into my Top 10, and C’mon C’mon (MC-82) will slot high among my Runners-up (see here for the current state of my lists).  Both Pedro Almodovar and Mike Mills approach their best work with their latest, as do Penelope Cruz and Joaquin Phoenix in the respective lead roles.  And both films will warrant a second, better look.
Over in England, I happened to catch the first half of the final season of Better Call Saul (MC-94).  I’ll reserve comment till the ultimate episodes land later this summer, but the show would have to stumble badly for me not to anoint the BB/BCS duo my favorite television of all time.
While over there, I also happened to read the novel on which the outstanding AppleTV+ series Pachinko (MC-87) was based, which gives me a chance to redouble my recommendation for one of the best new shows of 2022.

Speaking of which, Julia (MC-76) will certainly figure in my best of the year list too, though I am far from a foodie and had to be won over by the sheer quality of the acting, writing, and production in general.  Caught the final episode upon my return, and it did not disappoint; now looking forward to a second season.  Can’t say the same for another HBO series, Winning Time (MC-68); I’m a sucker for hoops flicks, and I certainly remember the Magic-Kareem “Showtime” Lakers, so I watched to the end in spite of qualms about style and substance, suspect characterizations and weak game action.

[Update:  HBO now offers another Julia (MC-69), a documentary feature from Betsy West and Julie Cohen, who previously made RBG and My Name is Pauli Murray, other estimable portraits in female heroism.  This doc pairs nicely with the series, though I found it more interesting on Julia Child’s life before celebrity took hold.]
Two HBO series I’ll be sticking with are Gentleman Jack and Hacks, both having strong second seasons which I’ll highlight below.  HBO Max is the streamer of the moment for me, as the rest of this post will attest, but I have to highlight an unusual offering from that channel – an extensive retrospective of the films of Yasujiro Ozu!!  The Criterion Channel offers a deeper dive into the work of the master, but the dozen titles on HBO Max make a very tasty sampling (here are my comments from an earlier Ozu survey).

HBO continues to produce documentaries of interest.  The Janes (MC-83) were a feminist collective in Chicago, emerging from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the Sixties, who found their political and humanitarian purpose in providing illegal abortions in the pre-Roe v. Wade era.  This historical account by Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin is regrettably timely, in showing just what overturning that Supreme Court precedent may mean today.  An effective if workaday balance of period photos and footage combines with more recent interviews with the women involved, to make this film generational time-travel that hit very close to home for me.
Though too long at four hours in two parts, I’m not sure what I would leave out of George Carlin’s American Dream (MC-85), Judd Apatow’s follow-up to his similarly in-depth examination of Gary Shandling.  Carlin’s 40-year career certainly describes an arc of American humor and American history, and it’s more than amusing to take that journey with him, in an exploration of just what stand-up comedy can accomplish.
Shifting gears, HBO presented Sundance documentary award winner Navalny (MC-82), which was a worthwhile introduction to a significant geopolitical figure, as Putin’s foremost domestic opponent.  Daniel Roher’s film definitely conveys a sense of Alexei Navalny’s personality, but for me faltered in the end by going for a thriller vibe in the all-access, you-are-there, real-time account of his return to Russia, after proving who tried to poison him and implicating Putin himself.  That discovery anchors a remarkable sequence, but in the end we know he’s going to be arrested the minute he gets off the plane, so all that build-up could have been spent painting a fuller portrait of the man and his movement.
Unlike your Bridgertons or Sanditons, Gentleman Jack (MC-80) is an English heritage piece that is more interested in history than contemporary fashion, though its tale of lesbian romance in the early Victorian era seems very of the moment.  Show creator Sally Wainwright grew up close to the antique Yorkshire mansion Shibden Hall, which is the primary location of the series, and she’s been obsessed for decades with the voluminous diaries of gentlewoman Anne Lister, since they were decoded and published.  That level of detail and attention infuses the production, and Suranne Jones embodies the energies and passions of the formidably accomplished Miss Lister, a force of nature, bold not just sexually but entrepreneurially, a model industrialist, investing in canals and railroads, coal mining and casinos.  Sophie Rundle makes a good match as Miss Walker, wife avant la lettre, and the rest of the cast is sterling.  Beyond the entrancing production values of the series lie provocative storytelling and profound characterization.  Subsequent seasons have yet to be greenlit, but the second season finale works just as well for the series.   We can only hope that Wainwright gets to continue her historical affair with this “Yorkshire lady of renown,” though in the meantime she’ll be re-teaming with Sarah Lancashire (of Julia) for a third season of Happy Valley, which was certainly what I found the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales to be on a recent visit.
I’m a shade less enthusiastic about the second season of Hacks (MC-88), but the pairing of Emmy-winner Jean Smart as the aging Las Vegas star comedian, and Hannah Einbinder as her millennial writing assistant, continues to work well.  This season they’re trying to put her career (and their relationship) back together, hitting the road in a fancy tour bus, trying out new material in random venues.  Other characters weave in and out, with generally amusing tangents, while the frenemies keep bumping up against their generational differences, even as each has a passion for their common work.  Quite enjoyable, but I’m not longing to see more.
Of new limited series on HBO, We Own This City (MC-83) serves as a worthy postscript to The Wire, as David Simon and many of that superlative show’s writers and actors return to Baltimore and the underbelly of its poe-lease and politics.  This six-parter is a docudrama about an actual case of police corruption, as the investigation unfolds in pinball fashion with time leaps and flashbacks, frankly not so easy to follow unless you’ve read the nonfiction book on which the series is based.  The attendant temporal whiplash is this series’ biggest problem, though the viewer has to piece the story together just as the investigators do.  Still, the details accumulate and paint a fatal picture of the human costs of the war on drugs, and the police behavior it unleashes.  A solid cast led by live-wire Jon Bernthal is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), with a cameo by Treat Williams enunciating the primary theme of show, in a nice nod to Prince of the City, a memorable film that indicates how little reform has come to policing over the past forty years.  As a footnote to the postscript, also on HBO, Wire alum Sonja Sohn capably directs Slow Hustle, a documentary on the fate of one of the main characters in We Own This City, good in its own right but excellent as a companion piece.
But there’s one new film on HBO to mention.  First Reformed was announced as Paul Schrader’s final film, but here we have The Card Counter (MC-77).  Maybe he should have quit while he was ahead, though I suspect Scorsese put him up to this Taxi Driver/Color of Money/Zero Dark Thirty mash-up.  Though Schrader’s always been a film maker that I’ve taken seriously, this movie seems like a rehash of some of his obsessive themes and tropes, most dubiously the conclusion with some kind of redemptive violence for the troubled protagonist.  His spoiled Calvinism does not appeal to me, but much in this film is well done, topped by the riveting lead performance of Oscar Isaac.  And I credit the film for introducing me to the piquant Tiffany Haddish, whom I had not encountered before.  But I debit it for trying to be too many different things at once, and losing me after I was drawn in.
I’ll end this post by taking note of two offerings from Hulu, just as I am readying to rotate that streaming channel out of subscription and plugging back into Netflix.  For me, The Worst Person in the World (MC-90) did not live up to its Metacritic rating, Cannes acclaim, Oscar nominations, or even my own reaction to the previous two films in Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy.”  I seem to have a blind spot for the appeal of actress Renate Reinsve, somewhat as I used to for Greta Gerwig (though all is forgiven after her direction of Lady Bird and Little Women), as they played winsome but directionless young women approaching thirty (a genre revitalized by Fleabag and its successors).  So this is likewise a dark rom-com, and I appreciated the lived-truth of many scenes, but could not bring myself to care how the main character would wind up, or even whether she was in fact the title character.  Her fate was as indifferent to me as her bookstore job was to her – pretext without text, though with some texture.  Not painful to watch at all, but short of heightened expectations.
You don’t have to be in love with Emma Thompson to enjoy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (MC-78), but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  She is joined by, and matched to, Daryl McCormack in this hotel-room two-hander, though a different part of the anatomy might be more descriptive.  She’s a fifty-something widow, a former religion teacher, who wants to discover what she’s been missing in her whole sex life.  He’s a twenty-something Irishman, though gorgeously biracial, who’s almost as much a therapist as a sex worker, confident but not without his own sore points.  Through a series of encounters, they explore each others’ vulnerabilities and gratifications.  It’s all about the two performers, but the writing by Katy Brand and direction by Sophie Hyde brings out the best in them, in this poignant and funny exploration of getting naked and achieving satisfaction.
One further postscript, from another streaming channel I’m signing off for now.  I thought a Sundance audience award winner on AppleTV+ might replicate the appeal of CODA, but Cha Cha Real Smooth (MC-69) had more in common with something like Garden State, an egomaniacal attempt to be ingratiating. Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars in this presumably autobiographical story of a recent college graduate working in a parody of a fast food place, who finds a more congenial job as a “party starter” at Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and other middle school celebrations.  He’s attracted to the mother of one autistic girl who shows up to many of the parties.  No mystery there, since she’s played by Dakota Johnson.  The first film I ever saw her in was The Lost Daughter, but now I discover that she was the star of the Fifty Shades of Gray movies, and many others I would never watch or even hear of.  So her mannerisms were fresh to me, and I was won over to her performance, while Raiff himself remained too sweet for my taste, too cute for my belief.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

What Cinema Salon can do for you

And what you can do for Cinema Salon.  This is an unashamed pitch for readers, a plea for people to see what is on offer here, to sample my recommendations for your viewing pleasure.  See for yourself, then tell your friends.  I’m not looking to create a viral sensation, but just a web of connection to like minds.  Allow me to indulge myself with the notion that Cinema Salon is not merely self-indulgence but a public service.
I try to provide concise and cogent viewing advice for friends and potential friends, to report on my extensive viewing in a manner that is copious but not tedious.  The aim is to capture my own reaction to what I watch for my own recall, and to offer some consumer guidance to others.  I certainly have my convictions – both enthusiasms and asperities – but try not to have opinions.  Though never definitive, my commentary may be indicative, guiding you toward unsuspected treasures. 
This is my autobiography in film watching.  To an unusual degree my life has been defined by all the films I’ve watched.  I approach the world as a distant observer, so cinema has provided a portal to worlds I would never have known, helped me understand people more than I ever could in person.  I subscribe to Roger Ebert’s definition of film as a “machine for empathy,” and the most basic question I ask of cinema is whether it expands the range of my human sympathies, does it help me to understand people as individuals, or in groups, in different times and places?
If a movie is trying to be an amusement park ride or house of horrors, a puzzle to solve or video game to play, with tokens instead of real people in real situations, then I will have to be convinced of some special appeal to give it a look.  Among the genres for which I have little patience:  action/adventure, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, police or legal procedurals, or any mystery where plot takes precedence over character, anything that was originally a comic book.  
I’m inordinately fond of documentaries, receptive to imaginative animation, predisposed to old films and foreign films, with a predilection for realism or neorealism in all its varieties.  I no longer draw much of a line between film and television, it’s all grist for the mill.
Another of my touchstones is Grierson’s definition of documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality,” with as much emphasis on creativity as on actuality.  If “all art aspires to the condition of music,” as Walter Pater and others have asserted, then I would counter that the best cinema aspires to the condition of documentary.   
So in reading my abbreviated cinematic commentary, it helps if you know me and my predilections personally, but I trust that in reading my reactions to all these visual provocations, you will come to know me, for better or worse.  
That might not be much of an inducement, but there are a number of factors that may make Cinema Salon useful to you.  Primarily if you are thinking of cutting the cord, or have done so already, to save that monthly blanket cable-tv charge and replace it with selective subscriptions to streaming channels. 
This site is committed to the primacy of streaming, since I haven’t been to a movie theater for many years, and very rarely resort to a DVD.  I put in the effort to keep abreast of what’s available on all the various streaming channels, and frequently offer channel-specific updates. 
Along with streaming availability, I always include the Metacritic rating in my listing, with direct links to more info on the film or show, including trailers and reviews.  That’s one way I maintain the initial impetus for Cinema Salon, as a virtual film discussion club, in continuation of the actual one I used to convene at the Clark Art Institute. 
Metacritic is both filter and portal.  As a rule, I have to have some collateral incentive to watch any film with a rating under 70, or any tv series under 80.  But the website opens up a world of connections to continue the virtual conversation.
No longer programming screenings at the Clark, I had thought about abandoning this tie-in website but found the resolve to continue, and now expect to keep it up as long as I am permitted the frivolity of watching movies and tv as if there were a living in it, as well as a life.
Again, my ideal reader is someone who has cut the cable cord, or is contemplating doing so, and who approaches visual media with a sense of purpose and an open mind, rather than looking for mere distraction or background noise.
If you fill that bill, please click the “Read more” link to see my ranking of streaming services: