October 24, 2020

VIEWING THE VIDEOS: Powerful Documentary, Cute Holmes | Reviews


A documentary, “Harry Belafonte on The Tonight Show,” about a Black man hosting the “Tonight Show” in 1968, raises important questions about whether things have changed. A much lighter movie, “Enola Holmes,” imagines what would have happened if Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister.

It’s Viewing the Videos.

Harry Belafonte on the Tonight Show (Peacock)

A country divided. Demonstrations in the streets. Political chaos. Minorities struggling for equality. Charges of police brutality.

Sound familiar? Actually, it was 1968 and the new documentary “Harry Belafonte on the Tonight Show” on the Peacock streaming service, takes a vivid look at a fascinating part of that time.

(In case you didn’t know, Peacock is a Netflix-style streaming service that offers both free and paid options. This show is available on the free tier.)

It was a troubled time marked by opposition to the war in Vietnam and efforts Blacks to find an equal place in society. At the time, Blacks were virtually invisible on television.

In the midst of all this, Johnny Carson turned the “Tonight Show” over to Harry Belafonte for a week, the first time a Black person had hosted the late-night show for a week.

At the time, the show was 90 minutes and viewer choices were much more limited, which gave “The Tonight Show” tremendous impact. It was a national gathering for politics and entertainment.

Although most of the videotapes of that week are gone, interviews with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy remain. The filmmakers were able to interview Harry Belafonte, who remains articulate at the age of 93. The guest list included Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Diahann Carrol, Paul Newman (who seldom did television interviews), Wilt Chamberlain, Nipsey Russell and several dozen other public figures.

Although there is limited actual footage from the shows, the documentary provides a sharp look at the social and political climate in the late ’60s and does bring to mind the question, has the political and social climate in this country really changed in the intervening decades?

Five Palm Trees

Enola Holmes (Netflix)

The premise for “Enola Holmes,” the story of Sherlock Holmes’s younger sister, is a gimmick: Sherlock didn’t have a younger sister. But the story is so produced and acted that it’s a delightful product for its young adult target audience as well as adults who are looking for something on the lighter side.

Milly Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) dazzles as young Enola. She shows a wide range as an actor. It’s hard to believe she’s only 16, and on top of that, for part of the movie she disguises herself as a boy and pulls it off.

And it doesn’t hurt to have Superman himself, Henry Cavill, as Sherlock. It’s not that big a part, but Cavill moderates his mega-star charisma to make Sherlock, who could be very austere, quite likable and fond of his young sister.

After Enola’s mother disappears on her 16th birthday, her older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) try to send Enola to finishing school. Instead she runs away to London, encounters a young nobleman on the run from his relatives and becomes involved in the suffragette movement in turn-of-the-century London.

This movie is based on the first book in a series about Enola, by Nancy Springer.

This is a Netflix production and they spare no expense creating Victorian England with magnificent steam powered trains, densely packed streets and exquisite layered clothing of the times, including a corset for young Enola, which does come in handy when she is attacked by a knife-wielding villain.

This is not too serious, but instead is a high-quality film that provides entertainment for the whole family.

Three Palm Trees.

Utopia (Amazon)

Adapted from a British television series by Gillian Flynn (author of “Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects”) is a dark and violent movie finished last year, but is surprisingly timely in its depiction of an America beset with a pandemic, a deadly flu, vaccine production, a climate of misinformation from the power structure, crop failures, and doomsday preparations.

Based on her past success, Flynn knows her way around dark themes, but for all its intensity and graphic violence, this story is very sluggish getting started. The central characters are a group of nerds who meet up at “Fringecom,” substituting for comicon, but some of major characters John Cusack and Rain Wilson don’t show up for a while.

All those worldwide problems are simply distractions for the real plot. You’d have to watch the show to find out what’s going on, but it’s not worth it.

This is a magnificently mounted short run series (“Magnificent mounted” is a Hollywood term for a weak story show that has a bad script) in the tradition of “The Prisoner” or “Mr. Robot “ or “Lost” that takes a long time to come to a conclusion, but I can’t recommend you invest in eight episodes.

Two Palm Trees if you like going down the rabbit hole for some answers.

FROM THE VAULT

Gone Girl

The gripping story about a possibly homicidal wife (Rosamund Pike) who may be framing her husband (Ben Affleck) for murder is the story in “Gone Girl.” The screenplay was adapted by Gillian Flynn (“Utopia”) from her novel and launched a thousand discussions on whether or not a husband knows what his wife is thinking. Highly recommended.

HOW WE RATE THE FILMS

Home videos are simply rated recommended or not recommended.

New Releases are rated as follows:

Five Palm Trees: Must see

Four Palm Trees: Worth seeing on the big screen

Three Palm Trees: Recommended for home viewing or on the big screen

Two Palm Trees: OK if you’re not paying

One Palm Tree: Skip it. Save your money and your time.



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