Couple of Solid Movies Streaming This Week
Quiet week in new home entertainment, but that’s OK. Both options are good ones, plus you will be amazed by how many movies open next week!
The High Note
by George Wolf
Since rising to fame on Black-ish, Tracee Ellis Ross has apparently been biding her time, patiently waiting for the right vehicle to showcase her talents as a singer. It isn’t hard to understand the apprehension.
Oh, look, another TV star trying to sing. And this one just wants to ride her mother’s (Diana, FYI) iconic coattails!
Ross chooses wisely with the endearing The High Note, absolutely killing it as Grace Davis, a modern brand of pop diva.
Davis still basks in the glow of worldwide fame, but it’s been a minute since she scored a big hit. Grace’s longtime manager Jack (Ice Cube, with more proof of his maturation as an actor) wants her to ink a long-term residency in Vegas, but Grace isn’t sure she’s ready to be pushed onto the “greatest hits” circuit. And there’s a small but potentially mighty voice in Grace’s corner.
It belongs to her personal assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson, flashing a winning mix of naïveté and ambition). She’s been lobbying for new Grace Davis music, which would carry some weight if everyone only knew how great a producer Maggie could be if they’d just give her the chance!
If this sounds like something for the Hallmark Channel, did I mention Maggie has stumbled across David (the impressive Kelvin Harrison, Jr., with his own vocal chops), a talented musician who could use an L.A. music producer and maybe even a girlfriend?
Sure, you can guess where most (but not all) of this goes, and in other hands it might have been a tone-deaf stiff. But director Nisha Ganatra (the underseen gem Late Night) runs Flora Greeson’s debut screenplay through the filter of an endlessly charming cast to craft an extended mix of finger-snapping smiles.
Look beneath those layers of what may feel like fluff, and you’ll even find a sometimes awkward but still refreshing look at two women gracefully navigating the path to controlling their own destinies. Nice.
Don’t discount those finger snaps, either. In a music business movie the music should mean business, and the tunes in The High Note sound like something a producer might actually get excited about, especially when Ross lets it rip.
She makes Grace a determined diva that’s spoiled but still worth rooting for, infusing her big numbers with the expressive vocal power of an actor and a character who are both seizing their moment.
The first single from the soundtrack, Ross’ “Love Myself,” is already looking like a hit. The High Note sounds like one, too.
The Ghost of Peter Sellers
Available to stream from Gateway Film Center.
by Hope Madden
You can’t go home again. You can go to Cyprus again, though, which is what director Peter Medak does in an attempt to come to terms with the project that nearly derailed his blossoming career.
Objectivity be damned!
Medak’s documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers deconstructs the disaster that was his unreleased 1973 pirate comedy Ghost in the Noonday Sun. Medak believes he may be the first director to make such a documentary.
He’s not entirely wrong. Richard Rush directed a doc about the making of his own The Stunt Man – but that was an Oscar-nominated success. And though Terry Gilliam was involved in Lost in La Mancha—a doc outlining the endless disasters that doomed his first attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote— he was not the director.
Rather, this time the documentary is the filmmaker himself documenting not his successes but his massive, almost career-ending failure. That failure was partly due to incessant weather troubles and other catastrophes—hell, his pirate ship sank the day it arrived in Cyprus.
But according to Medak, those involved in the shoot and those who knew the actor best, the main problem was Peter Sellers.
“It’s not as if any of us didn’t know that Peter was nuts,” remarks the incredibly sage producer John Hayman, nearly 50 years after the fact. “But none of us knew how nuts.”
Medak’s clearly been haunted by the production—and, to a degree, by Sellers—since the shoot wrapped. Riding high at the time on two critical and box office successes (Negatives, The Ruling Class), the in-demand director jumped at the chance to direct the brilliant Sellers, then considered the greatest comedic actor in the world.
But Sellers—possibly, as friends suggest in the film, a man suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition who was exploited by money hungry moviemakers—would not be the artist Medak hoped he’d be.
Lunatic behavior combined with an outright desire to sink the film turned an already underwhelming script, underfunded production and nightmarish environment into something crippling.
The stories from the set are fascinating, as are moments of commiseration between Medak and directors who’d dealt with Sellers on other films (Casino Royale and the Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu). Equally interesting are the sympathetic but knowing, even giggling responses Medak’s tales of woe elicited from Sellers’s family and friends.
“Oh, yes. He definitely did that.”
But too much time spent with director who is also subject turns many scenes into a self-indulgence.
That doesn’t topple The Ghost of Peter Sellers. Medak’s confessional pity party delivers a compelling look at the wrong side of filmmaking as it offers yet another take on Sellers—his genius as well as his demons.