Netflix Review – Hollywood: How It Didn’t Happen

Netflix makes a series set in a fictional Hollywood in a fictional America that tries to apologize for the real ones, poorly.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

It’s 1946-1947 and WWII Veteran Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and his pregnant wife Henrietta (Maude Apatow) move to Hollywood so that Jack can try to be an actor. After they start going broke, Jack takes a job working at a gas station for Ernie West (Dylan McDermot). It turns out that the gas station is a front for a male escort service, so Jack finds himself servicing various men and women, including Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), the wife of Ace Studios head Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner). Avis helps give Jack a leg up in his career and soon he is trying to make it for real in Hollywood. At the same time, director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) is trying to get a movie made written by black screenwriter (and Jack’s fellow escort) Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope). Raymond’s girlfriend, Camille (Laura Harrier), is also an up-and-coming actress who finds herself stuck in bit parts due to her race. Roy Fitzgerald, AKA Rock Hudson (Jake Picking), also tries to break into Hollywood with the help of agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons), who has an in with Ace Studios executives Dick Samuels (Joe Mantello) and Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor). Everyone’s trying to live their dreams, even though they’re fighting each other to get to the top.

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Samara Weaving plays Patti LuPone’s daughter and that’s… that’s not bad.

END SUMMARY

It would be great if this series was the kind of story that it seems like it was going to be at the beginning. People come to Hollywood, thinking they’re going to be a huge success, only for the reality to set in and everyone ends up having to compromise in order to make it. However, the show quickly, and I mean around episode 2, subverts this and instead starts to give all of these people happy endings and make their dreams come true. Moreover, it does it in a way that is completely unrealistic, usually having people just quickly sidestep racial, sexual, gender, or other social issues that would have been a major issue in 1946. This might not have been so bad if all of the characters were fictional and this was a fake version of Hollywood, but instead the series decides to incorporate various figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood and then completely ignore their actual stories. They say it’s supposed to be “rewriting” the story of Hollywood, but it doesn’t do that so much as depart entirely from the reality that the first half of the series creates. 

Hollywood - 2Hotel
Also, falling in love with your prostitute is already a movie.

What’s most annoying about this, to me, is that the series wants you to be sure that you know this is what they are doing. The focus of the plot is making a biopic film about Peg Entwhistle, an actress who gained some notoriety because she jumped to her death off of the Hollywoodland sign in 1932. However, as the series goes on, the story of what actually happened is changed until it has a completely different, happier ending than the tragic true story. The show tries to use this device to excuse its alteration of history, but ultimately, it just ends up making sure that nobody ever really has any kind of actual character development or pays any type of price for their actions. Every character is redeemed and gets a happy ending (except for the lawyer). Most of the things that would require some solid scenes to justify, like completely altering the relationship between two characters in a fundamental way, occurs almost entirely off-screen, something I’m told is common for shows made by Ryan Murphy. It feels like a cheat in all the small steps, so the big steps don’t feel earned.

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Everyone’s on top of the wo- sign. 

The thing that wrecks the series is not having an alternate history where people get over racism and sexism and homophobia more easily than they did in the real world, but the fact that the show starts off by saying that all of these things DO exist, then just ignores them in favor of a happy ending. There’s no mention of the violence that often opposed progressive social movements, beyond a few theaters getting some extra security. Also, the issues are limited almost exclusively to the South, which is kind of forgetting that there are a lot of racists North of the Mason-Dixon, particularly before the 1960s. Considering that armed people are, in 2020, protesting having to stay at home and doing so with guns, I somehow find it difficult to believe that 1950 was only going to offer a few short boos to an interracial gay couple, as happens in the film (for perspective, interracial marriage was illegal in all but 7 states in 1948, and gay marriage was illegal for most of my lifespan thus far in most states, including mine). Pretending that there weren’t a lot of people who would violently back up their bigotry is forgiving a lot of sins. I’m not saying you need to focus on them, but you can either A) tell a story that isn’t grounded in reality or B) at least acknowledge that decisions have consequences, many of which are going to be negative. Also, there’s something uncomfortable in a series where almost every characters’ success starts with them having sex with someone in power.

Hollywood - 4Parsons
Also, Henry Willson rapes his clients and his total punishment is to go to AA. Seriously.

I will say that all of the performances in the show are amazing. Everyone plays the part they were told to play and, honestly, it almost makes it worthwhile, but in the end the show just couldn’t live up to the premise. I’d say if there’s anything else on your watchlist, get that out of the way first. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

BlacKkKlansman: Some Anvils Need to be Dropped (Spoiler-Free)

By the Grouch on the Couch

SpoilerFree

Obvious fact: Spike Lee is not subtle about the state of America’s race relations. Whether you agree with him or don’t, the man has made his opinion on the treatment of black people within the US damn clear for about 30 years. Hell, he says people call him the “angry black filmmaker.” Ten minutes on Reddit will tell you that’s the nicer version of what some people call him. BlacKkKlansman will not change that, because he’s clearly still black and angry.

BlackkKlansman-1JordanPeele
I mean, not all the time. Nobody’s angry around Jordan Peele.

And the movie’s a strong case that he’s justified in being that way.

Now, add in the fact that he’s got a true story like this and Jordan Peele producing and you have a recipe for a film that’s gonna piss a lot of people off. However, they’re the people who deserve to be pissed off.

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Clayton Bigsby gave this movie a series of horrifying slurs, including “that’s my story!”

SYNOPSIS (SPOILER-FREE)

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s first sent to infiltrate a speech by Black Activist and creator of the “Black Power” movement, Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), where he meets anti-police Black Student Union President Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), who he begins to date. At the same time, he answers an ad in the newspaper conducting a recruitment drive for the Ku Klux Klan, talking to the members over the phone. With Jewish Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as his surrogate for in-person meetings, Stallworth works his way into the organization, eventually striking up a fake friendship with David Duke (Topher Grace).

BlackkKlansman-3DavidDuke
It takes place in 1979, who did you think would be in it?

END SYNOPSIS

So, the movie definitely plays up the fact that a lot of the slogans which have resurfaced recently like “America First” and “Make America Great Again” were previously used by groups that were less than subtle about their racism and xenophobia. By that, I obviously mean the f*cking Klan. Granted “Make (insert country) Great Again,” and “(insert country/empire) First” could be derived from translations of a ton of cultural movements throughout history, but generally they were movements that were based on some form of intense discrimination. I’m sure there’s a cave painting somewhere that translates to “Eagle and Goat Tribe First.”

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Notice: All the same color. 

They also point out that the real success of the Klan was that it tried to suppress its more violent members, instead replacing the leadership with images of respectable-appearing people such as David Duke. Kudos to Topher Grace, his version of Duke is actually kind of charming. It’s believable that he could convince a group of violent racists that the real success of racism would come from making it more acceptable to the common people, by framing it under things like “crime statistics,” “red-lining,” or “drug use.” While many of the Klansmen are portrayed as completely insane or degenerate racists, it’s the ones that aren’t that are more intimidating, because they seem relatively reasonable when they’re talking, even trying to keep the others in check. The more insane ones at times seem almost cartoonishly over-the-top in their racist crusade, but, well, I’ve known people who are like that, so… can’t say it goes too far.

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Oh, and David Duke exists, so, clearly, these people are actually that crazy.

In a moment of balance, the movie also calls out some of the problems with the Black Power movement, by having some of the members completely reject Ron’s attempts to be a police officer as “being part of the problem,” despite the fact that he saves their lives and prevents the KKK from committing atrocities. Oh, and is a good police officer, something that everyone should support. But, of course, their criticism of him for being a police officer kind of pales in comparison to all the stuff that the Klan does.

One of the scenes that’s most interesting in the film is that they show a Klan initiation intercut with a telling (by Harry Belafonte, no less) of the 1916 Lynching of Jesse Washington, one of the most brutal acts of mob violence in US history. Jesse Washington, a black man, was found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering a white woman, then was dragged outside, beaten, stabbed, dismembered, castrated, burned alive, and hung. A crowd of ~10,000 people watched, including the Mayor, Police Chief, and a professional photographer, making it a well-documented event. Even if he was guilty (which the physical evidence did suggest), HE WAS TORTURED AND BURNED TO DEATH PUBLICLY. There should never have been a time when that was okay, but the event was more condoned because of the recent release of Birth of a Nation (a movie that puts a nice, positive spin on white supremacy and the Klan). Like I said, it’s a solid scene, reminding us of exactly how much we try to erase from our nation’s history.

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A bunch of these people later said “we thought about stopping it.” Assholes.

The cinematography and soundtrack (with score by Terence Blanchard, who does many of Lee’s films) are amazing. The images of the cast looking directly into the audience are chilling, almost accusatory, and the effect is profound. The performances are all great, although special credit to Washington, who balances a lot of character traits within his portrayal.

Overall, it’s a solid film. It’s a little preachy, sometimes feeling like Lee’s dropping a moral anvil on your head, but, dammit, sometimes the anvil needs to be dropped. I recommend seeing it, but, *Spoiler alert* you do want to brace for the final shots of the film, because it moves from the movie to just news clips of the last 2 years, and… well, you will hear a f*cking pin drop from 3 theaters over as the credits start to roll.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews. If you want more from the Grouch on the Couch, maybe he’ll actually finish that piece he was supposed to publish 2 months ago.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.