A movie and TV review of George Carlin: American Dream; Downton Abbey: A New Era; Operation Mincemeat.
There are a few theatrical releases that I can write about (and will) but for my money, the most provocative and entertaining film now playing (and the best film I’ve seen this year) is the George Carlin: American Dream currently playing on HBO Max. If you’re familiar with Carlin’s work and legacy, you should find this to be an extremely satisfying look at the provocateur/comedian/actor’s career. And if you’re not familiar, you should find it thoroughly absorbing and perhaps even (sadly) a revelation, especially since many of his trenchant observations of the American social and political scene are still relevant today. The documentary (from Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio) covers the entirety of Carlin’s life and the variety of Carlin’s career, from the club dates to his early partnership with fellow comedian Jack Burns in the early 1960s to his emergence as an influential comic, counterculture voice for over forty years (his last HBO special was taped shortly before his death in 2008).
Carlin’s career took many different roads. You might have first seen his clean-cut act from the 1960s, but even that was mildly subversive (the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, for instance). As the times changed, so did Carlin’s act, as he shed his clean-shaven appearance to become the ragged, raging, relevant Carlin that most of us know today. There is so much to savor here, not only in the abundance of clips (some lengthy) of Carlin in top form, to recorded musings for a planned autobiography, and the reflections of several key people, including his daughter, his brother, and several comedians (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart) who felt an affinity with either the work or the man. The documentary doesn’t flinch from either his occasionally rocky professional life or his sometimes turbulent personal life, including his complex relationship with his first wife Brenda and daughter (with ambition, drugs and alcohol taking their toll on the marriage). In the end, you will be entertained by George Carlin: American Dream and maybe learn a little more about both this influential artist and his times. And as you’ll see in the well-conceived final montage, many of his observations and rants from years gone by are still pertinent today.
There are some theatrical entertainments out there that are worth a mention. I was a late convert to the Downton Abbey experience and have since watched (most of) the series and seen the first film. Although I was content to leave things with the first film, writer Julian Fellowes has returned with Downton Abbey: A New Era. This new installment (I’m guessing there will be others if the box office proves profitable) is directed by Simon Curtis, and if the stakes are not as high for everyone this time around (in the first film, it seemed as if every character was reaching a turning point), it is still most enjoyable, with a few “endings” supplied for some major characters. In this latest wallow with the upper classes (and their downstairs help), a film crew converges on Downton Abbey in the late 1920s to make a lush, silent melodrama, while some of the Downton contingent journeys to the south of France where Dame Maggie Smith has inherited a villa, causing Squire Hugh Bonneville to question his lineage and parentage. There is also a subplot straight out of Singin’ in the Rain and lots of footage of the idle rich enjoying being idle. And still, there are many amusing moments, some satisfactory plot developments, and you might shed a tear or two. It’s worth “giving it a go.”
Operation Mincemeat, directed by John Madden from a script by Michelle Ashford is another old-fashioned and highly entertaining drama; based on the non-fiction book by Tim McIntyre, the film is set during World War Two and based on a real-life plot to deceive the Nazis about invasion plans by planting some misleading “official” documentation on a corpse and hoping it finds its way into the hands of key Nazi officials. Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen are the key British stiff-upper-lip military men involved, Kelly Macdonald is a young woman who assists in various ways (which leads to a presumed love triangle that has more weight here than in the book), while Jason Isaacs is a British general who is skeptical of the mission in its entirety. There are some suspenseful moments and a few that hint at both the glory in war and the futility of it. Though there was some theatrical release, you can currently catch Operation: Mincemeat on Netflix and it’s a generally worthwhile way to spend part of a Memorial Day weekend.