by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem & J.K. Simmons
Runtime: 2 hours & 5 minutes
Like the rest of the world, I love Lucy. I grew up watching “I Love Lucy” and though it’s from a long gone era – one that as a 33 year old I was never personally a part of – Lucille Ball’s prowess for physical comedy is something that transcends generations.
So when it was announced that the great Aaron Sorkin was going to write and direct a Lucy and Desi Arnaz biopic, I was beyond excited. His quick-paced, witty style would make for perfect dialogue about not only the legend of Ball, but the stellar cast that made “I Love Lucy” what it was – her husband Arnaz playing her on-screen husband Ricky Ricardo and their best friends/neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance).
When the casting for “Being the Ricardos” was announced, my heart dropped and my face scrunched up in disgust – Nicole Kidman as Ball and Javier Bardem as Arnaz. Now, I have no problem with either of these actors and have admired their work. And while I was sort of OK with Bardem, Kidman seemed like the absolute wrong choice.
I didn’t get it. But thankfully, Sorkin did.
The Amazon original movie “Being the Ricardos” depicts a hell week for Ball, Arnaz and the show in 1952. While all the three main plotlines were true, they happened at different times throughout the years, but luckily for fans, we got to see all portrayed within a five-day span.
The movie tackles Lucy’s second pregnancy and the couple’s demand to incorporate it into a storyline on the show – back when it was unheard of to even mention the word “pregnant” on TV. It also portrayed the red scare where Ball was accused of being a communist, which could have ended her career, and Arnaz’s cheating scandal.
They are all set against the backdrop of filming the episode “Fred and Ethel Fight,” which, truth be told, was close to reality in that Vance (played by Nina Arianda) and Frawley (played by J.K. Simmons) did not get along well.
Weaved within all the drama is a snapshot of Ball and Arnaz’s love story. As a fan, I knew pretty much everything that was discussed, but I didn’t know the nuances or the many layers to both Ball and Arnaz. I think it’s easy to think of Ball as the same person portrayed on screen. It does a disservice to her character to only see one side of her. “Being the Ricardos” shows how complex she was from her tough business sense, her genius understanding of what makes a scene funny and her obsessiveness to get it right, as well as her own insecurities. It also showed her deep love for Arnaz, completely preoccupied with trying to find out if he had an affair, all the while her career could be ending if the public believed she was a communist.
Yes, the two were dysfunctional, but there was also passion and fire that was undeniable. While the show itself will always be classic and funny, its whole reason for existing was to try and help Ball and Arnaz be together and save their marriage.
What made Kidman specifically perfect for this role is that it wasn’t a comedy. This was a drama and Kidman captured the cadence in Ball’s voice and her movements. No, her face didn’t look like Lucille Ball really and there were times early in the movie it was a bit jarring. But, she embodied her and I think it was important to have a skilled actress like Kidman in that role.
Bardem and Arianda were also stellar, but Simmons always steals the show in every movie he’s in.
In a December 21 Smithsonian Magazine article about the movie, it stated Sorkin got his blessing from their daughter, Lucie Arnaz who told him to “take the gloves off” to accurately portray the complexity of her parents' relationship, which ultimately ended in divorce.
“Being the Ricardos” did just that and added to the legacy of Ball for all her fans.
by Tyler Glover
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux
Runtime: 2 hours & 43 minutes
There are certain things that make a James Bond movie a James Bond movie: the villain with a diabolical plot to take over the world, the beautiful “Bond girl,” the stylish tux, exotic locations, and the iconic line: “shaken, not stirred.” These criteria almost became like a checklist through the years as new James Bond movies came out. As a result, the franchise became stale. When watching “Die Another Day” with Pierce Brosnan as the iconic Bond, it just felt like any other action flick that I would shortly forget after watching. The Bond movies became something that I only watched if there was nothing else to watch that day.
This all changed with the introduction of Daniel Craig as Bond in 2006’s “Casino Royale.” In the film, Craig is asked if he would like his drink “shaken or stirred,” and he responds with “Does it look like I give a damn?” At this moment, it became clear that the franchise was going in a different direction: one that was exciting to see! When Craig was first announced as Bond, there was a little bit of controversy because of the blonde hair and blue eyes. Part of what made Bond Bond was the dark hair and brown eyes, right? Craig quickly proved everyone wrong!
Now, we are coming to the end of that journey with Craig’s final outing in “No Time To Die.” As I look back, it truly is his amazing performance and sophisticated writing that elevated the franchise to new heights. Every film has started with a killer opening scene that has commanded attention from the very beginning and the spectacular writing holds you until the very final frame. In “No Time To Die,” the opening scene is probably the most chilling opening act that almost feels like it should be the beginning to a horror film. However, it sets up an interesting story that has us think about the fact that to other people, we can be the villains too.
In “No Time To Die,” Bond is called out of retirement when an MI6 scientist is kidnapped. With M’s approval, the scientist, Valdo Obruchev, developed a project called Heracles, which is a bioweapon that contains nanobots that infect its victim like a virus and are tailored to an individual’s DNA so that it will kill them, but be harmless to others. This bioweapon in the wrong hands could claim the lives of countless innocent victims so it becomes especially important to stop it from going global. The villain behind it all is Lyutsifer Satin (Academy Award-winner Rami Malek). Safin is out for revenge because his entire family was murdered when he was young by Mr. White. Bond becomes reacquainted with former love Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and goes toe-to-toe with Blofeld (Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz) as he prepares to stop Safin in his evil plot. This film may have a two-and-a-half hour running time, but it is absolutely thrilling from start-to-finish. In fact, this film has one of the most exciting third acts that I have seen in years.
Craig’s performances in all the Bond films have helped to elevate the stakes. In this film, you feel the intensity and the suspense as you watch him make his next move. Of course, most of these moves are split second decisions that Craig pulls off perfectly. “No Time To Die” also has some surprising plot twists that you may not see coming that made it even more of a thrill. It was a perfect sendoff for an actor who was arguably the best Bond of all time. The best thing that the Bond franchise did was hire him because by things being “shaken” up, the franchise “stirred” up more fans.
by Julian Spivey
The Power of the Dog – Netflix – Wednesday, Dec. 1
Netflix has become the place for likely Oscar Best Picture nominees at the end of each year and director Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is this year’s most likely bet (though “Don’t Look Up” and “The Lost Daughter” premiering on the streaming platform later in the month are also possibility at a Best Picture nom.) “The Power of the Dog” is a Western set in 1925 Montana where according to the film’s basic plotline: “a domineering rancher responds with mocking cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son, until the unexpected comes to pass.” Oscar-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, who might be the front-runner to win Best Actor for this role, plays the jerk of a rancher, while Jesse Plemons plays his brother, Kirsten Dunst plays his sister-in-law and Kodi Smit-McPhee plays his nephew.
Swan Song – AppleTV+ - Friday, Dec. 17
I was listening to The Big Picture Podcast (from The Ringer) last week and was shocked when co-host Sean Fennessey pointed out that even though Mahershala Ali is a two-time Oscar winner (for Best Supporting Actor in “Moonlight” and “Green Book”) that he’s never really had a lead role in a major film. “Swan Song” might get Ali his first Oscar nomination for a lead performance as Cameron Turner, a loving husband father diagnosed with a terminal illness, but given the science fiction solution of cloning himself so his loved ones won’t have to carry on without him. “Swan Song,” directed by Benjamin Cleary, co-stars Naomie Harris, as Cameron’s wife, and Glenn Close as the doctor who gives him a chance to carry on.
1883 – Paramount+ - Sunday, Dec. 19
Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” is the most watched drama series currently on cable television and it pulls in the kind of numbers that even broadcast networks would love to see in the current TV climate. The Taylor Sheridan-created, written and produced series is spawning off a couple of spinoffs now due to its popularity and the first one is the origin story “1883,” debuting on Paramount+ on Sunday, Dec. 19. With the popularity of “Yellowstone” this spinoff should be a great boon for the relatively new rebranded streaming service (that began as CBS All Access) as it tells the origins of the Dutton family and how they came to Yellowstone. The series stars Sam Elliott and the real-life country music power couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Elliott seems born to play a role in a “Yellowstone” series, but I certainly have questions about the limited acting ability of McGraw and the essentially unproven abilities of Hill. “Yellowstone” will see another spinoff, set in modern day, titled “6666,” set to debut on Paramount+ sometime in 2022.
Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster – Netflix – Tuesday, Dec. 21
Jim Gaffigan has done enough to enter than pantheon of all-time great stand-up comedians with his incredible body of work that results in almost a new comedy special per year. His output of work is nearly unmatched by anybody in his business, and it always leads to numerous belly laughs. His latest comedy special “Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster” premieres on Netflix on Tuesday, Dec. 21 just in time for families gathering for the holiday to enjoy as one, something you can’t say about many comedians.
Don’t Look Up – Netflix – Friday, Dec. 24
Adam McKay is something of an anomaly in today’s holiday. He seems to be the one writer-director who can get movies that are comedies, even if they have dramatic aspects to them, into the Best Picture race at the Oscars. His last two movies “The Big Short” (2015) and “Vice” (2018) were both nominated for the Academy’s highest honor and his latest “Don’t Look Up,” premiering on Christmas Eve, is said to be among his best. “Don’t Look Up” stars Oscar-winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two low-level astronomers warning mankind about an approaching comet, they say will destroy Earth. As with most McKay movies it’s a satirical film, this time tacking the climate change crisis. The film has a wonderful supporting cast that includes Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande (who’s said to be surprisingly good) and Meryl Streep.
The Lost Daughter – Netflix – Friday, Dec. 31
I’m sure you probably have New Year’s Eve plans, but if you’re wanting to ring in the new year comfy on your couch with a new film give Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut “The Lost Daughter” a try. The film, which stars Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (who always picks winners whether it’s TV or a movies), is based on Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name and tells the story of a woman, while on a summer holiday, becomes obsessed with another woman and her daughter, which sparks bad memories of her own early motherhood. The film co-stars Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley, who plays a younger version of Colman’s lead. Look for the strong possibility of Colman’s third Oscar nomination in the last four years from this one.