This week, we take you to videos that take you to another time or place, far from Corona madness…
If you’re like me, you’re getting sick and tired of watching Coronavirus news and could use a break to something that will take your mind away from the present day and place you’re in. This week, we’ve got three gems you might have missed that each provide an escape in their own way.
First is “The Banker” from the Apple Plus streaming service. Now one of the great pleasures in watching a film comes when you can discover a story for the first time that’s not only hugely entertaining, but also a fact-based lesson in a real-life story you would otherwise have missed. This debut feature film offered by the ambitious video-streaming platform serves up a story of two African-American men who beat the odds against systematic segregation in the 1950s en route to wild success as real estate and banking entrepreneurs.
The film stars Anthony Mackie as Bernard Garrett, a straight-laced and uptight man who has a genius-level capacity for numbers and business equations, and Samuel L. Jackson as the strutting and streetwise, yet business-savvy, Joe Morris. This unlikely duo teams up to beat the white-run system’s string-pullers at their own game by enlisting a young white man named Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to be the false public face of their endeavors. It’s a film that jumps off the screen with the sheer exuberance of pride and joy that the actors are clearly feeling in their roles, and is an ever-twisting con artist tale that aimed to do good.
Apple Plus costs $4.99 a month after a free 7-day trial, and can be found at apple.com. It features several other prime series so far, including “The Morning Show” (with an all-star cast of Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon) and a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s classic 1980s anthology fantasy series “Amazing Stories.”
Meanwhile on Netflix, I stumbled across a gem of a romantic comedy/travelogue called “Under the Eiffel Tower,” a 2018 film that gives veteran comedic supporting actor Matt Walsh (he played Mike McLintock on “Veep” in addition to more than 150 other roles and counting) a rare star turn. He plays Stuart, an American man thrown into a drunken midlife crisis when he loses his job as an exec selling bourbon for a boutique liquor company and joins a friend and his family on their French vacation.
Misreading a comment from their daughter, who at 26 is half his age, Stuart embarrassingly proposes to her under the Eiffel Tower. With both the daughter and her parents freaked out, Stuart is disinvited from joining them and winds up meeting a rogue Scottish soccer player named Liam (Reid Scott) who talks him into jumping off the train and staying in a tiny French town in the middle of nowhere.
Both men wind up pursuing Louise (Judith Godreche), a woman they meet on the train who offers to show them around the town because she co-owns a vineyard. Both men wind up pursuing her, unaware that she’s married to a paraplegic older man (Gary Cole), and funny complications ensue. The movie has a Woody Allen-style charm to its non-stop array of funny lines and lovable misfit characters, and has some nice scenery throughout. It’s an easy way to feel you’ve gotten a French vacation for 90 minutes, and it’s streaming on Netflix.
Finally, NBC has what might be the most inventive series on television with the musical comedy-fantasy series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which airs completely free on the network (Channel 4 in Los Angeles) at 8 pm Sunday nights, while also streaming online at nbc.com. Starring the glorious Jane Levy (who broke into stardom with the 2016 horror thriller “Don’t Breathe”) as Zoey, a 30 year old web designer in San Francisco who mysteriously develops the ability to hear the songs that are secretly going through the heads of people around her, the show follows what happens when she tries to help those same people through the emotional crises their songs reveal.
Not only is “Zoey” packed with fun musical numbers, but its characters are richly drawn, multi-dimensional people viewers come to truly care about. They’re also played with pizzazz by a terrific cast that includes Broadway star Skylar Astin as her best friend and potential love interest Max, Tony-winning actor Peter Gallagher as her Parkinson’s-battling father and Oscar nominee Mary Steenburgen as her mother.
Each week, the plots are surprising, thoughtful, heartfelt and always amusing. The mix of music is extremely eclectic across decades of pop and rock, and altogether, this is an extraordinary series indeed.