Here are reviews of five things I’ve watched lately…
“Ann” is Holland Taylor’s one-woman show about the late Ann Richards, who came to national attention when she gave the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention and became governor of Texas a few years later. Taylor fully embodies Richards as she reviews her life, from her political successes to her alcoholism and much more. Well-known for her dozens of TV shows and movies (e.g. “Bosom Buddies,” “Two And A Half Men,” “The Practice,” “Legally Blonde”), Taylor wrote the play and gave a bravura performance during its stage run for several years. But having begun the project at age 70, then doing it on the road before taking it to Broadway (where she was nominated for a Tony in 2013), she was wiped out physically and decided to retire it. Fortunately, the show was filmed for PBS’ “Great Performances” and is now streaming (you can watch it through July 17th here or through the PBS app). I give “Ann” a 9 out of 10.
Greg Warren is a veteran comedian from St. Louis whose hour-long standup special, “Where The Field Corn Grows” has just debuted on Amazon Prime. In it, he talks about farmers, finance, and the difficulties of living in suburbia. Warren is a master of relatability, and his willingness to make himself the butt of many jokes helps his act go down very smoothly. Martha and I watched it last night, and I haven’t heard her laugh so much in a long time, so I’m giving “Where The Field Corn Grows” an 8.5 out of 10.
“Once Were Brothers” is a documentary from last year about The Band, the quintet that spent years backing up Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan before producing a few albums of their own in the early 1970s. The full title is “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” so you know going in which of the five members is going to get the most attention and credit for the band’s success. With Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel all dead, Garth Hudson is the only other living member, and he declined to take part in the movie. That should tell you something about the schisms within the group that still sting four and a half decades after it broke up. Unfortunately, that aspect is not explored very deeply by director Daniel Roher in the doc. It probably would have been difficult to do with Robertson as one of the executive producers. On the other hand, you do get to see The Band in the years they lived together in a house dubbed Big Pink in Woodstock, New York, creating such classics as “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” and “Stage Fright.” There are also interviews with Martin Scorsese (who directed the film version of The Band’s final concert, “The Last Waltz”), Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen, Van Morrison, and Taj Mahal (who makes the ridiculous claim that The Band was North America’s equivalent of The Beatles). I give “Once Were Brothers” a 7 out of 10.
“Grandma” is a movie I missed when it was released in 2015. It stars Lily Tomlin as Elle, who, in the very first scene, ends her relationship with her girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer). Not long after, Elle’s granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up to ask Elle to lend her $600 so she can get an abortion. Unfortunately, Elle doesn’t have much cash, and she’s cut up her credit cards, but agrees to drive Sage around to see if they can scrounge up the money. The supporting cast (the ones who Elle and Sage hit up for whatever funds they can spare) includes Sam Elliott, Marcia Gay Harden, Elizabeth Peña, and Laverne Cox. What makes “Grandma” work is the chemistry between Tomlin and Garner, and the way it doesn’t do what so many other Hollywood movies have done by having Sage change her mind and keep the baby. I’m sorry I lost this one in the shuffle five years ago, but I’m glad I caught up with it now. I give “Grandma” an 8 out of 10.
“The Night Clerk” is about Bart, a young man who has Asperger syndrome. He’s also a serious voyeur, using technology to spy on the guests at the hotel where he works the graveyard shift at the front desk. One night, he witnesses something horrible happen in the room of one of the female guests (Jacque Gray), but he can’t tell the police about it without divulging his surveillance secret. Soon, he’s being questioned by detectives (John Leguizamo and Johnathon Schaech), entranced by a new guest (Ana de Armas), and involved in things he doesn’t understand. I don’t remember exactly when Helen Hunt moved into middle-aged-mother roles, but here she is as Bart’s mom, protecting her son as best she can, but not given enough to do. The hotel-clerk-as-voyeur angle worked well two years ago in “Bad Times At The El Royale” (my review is here), but doesn’t quite hold up in “The Night Clerk.” The plot is resolved far too easily, and the sympathy we should feel for Bart is ruined by the creepiness inherent in his monitoring of others. I give “The Night Clerk” a 5 out of 10. It’s now streaming on Netflix.