‘Long Promised Road’ Celebrates Brian Wilson’s Musical Legacy

“Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road” hits theaters and On Demand platforms Nov. 19, celebrating the life and work of the iconic titular Beach Boy. More a conversation between friends than a formal interview, Wilson and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine drive the streets of Wilson’s old neighborhood, chatting less about life and more about music – which, in their case, is undoubtedly intertwined.

There are artists who know it’s part of their job to discuss their work at length, to sit on panels and Q&As and attend press junkets and speak extensively about what they’ve made. Wilson isn’t one of them – he says from the start that being on camera makes him nervous.

Even in television clips of interviews with Wilson, the style of media coverage has changed. The questions were more about success than the art, and in present day he struggles to put words to the process. Speaking about it is hard, maybe because it speaks for itself. 

Fine puts him at ease, though, and director Brent Wilson (no relation) welcomes viewers along for the ride through the singer-songwriter’s life and work.

The most compelling aspect of “Long Promised Road” is hearing what other talented musicians, producers and writers have to say about the complexity of Wilson’s work at such a young age. Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Nick Jonas all praise not only his melodic genius, but the trail he blazed for younger musicians who wanted to do something different. It is a joy to hear their stories. 

Watching Wilson in the studio is especially fun – a glimpse of how his work is put together and comes to life before it reaches listeners. (“Long Promised Road” also features a new song, “Right Where I Belong,” written and performed by Wilson and Jim James.)

This documentary does for Wilson what “I’ll Be Me” did for Glen Campbell in 2014 – it allows us to celebrate the work and artistry and success of a man, rather than his personal life. Though the film doesn’t shy away from his personal struggles with mental illness and abuse from his father, it doesn’t make them the center either. 

To have this kind of tactful tribute and examination while an artist is still here – still touring – is rare, and should happen more often. As Wilson said about his later years: “It became more about the music again.” And “Long Promised Road” is as much about the music as the man, making it a must-watch for music fans of any age.

Wilson’s story about completing the album “Smile” 30 years after he started it is especially inspiring. A musical reminder that it’s never too late, and we shouldn’t be afraid.

“When I hear his music, it makes me smile,” John says in the film. “It makes me realize that there’s a lot of songs still left in me.”

It will do the same for you. Or at the very least, when the movie is over, you’ll stream the Beach Boys, or get out your dad’s old records which are tattered at the edges and skip in places from being played so many times. 

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A Newspaperman Reflects On ‘Storm Lake’

Guest Article by Bill Presecky

John and Art Cullen are what some of us old-timers call newspaper men.  

“Storm Lake,” a recently-released documentary directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison chronicles the story of the trials and triumphs, the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the Storm Lake Times, a  locally-owned and locally-operated community newspaper published twice weekly by the brothers Cullen.

Both the Cullens and their family-run operation – about half of the Iowa newspaper’s 10-person staff are Cullens – exemplify a vanishing breed. Despite being buffeted by the same technological and societal headwinds that have decimated hometown newspapers by the score in rural and suburban communities both smaller and larger than Storm Lake, the Cullen family perseveres – for now, at least.

“Storm Lake” graphically illustrates the how and why of the Cullens’ and the town’s perseverance.

Day-in and day-out the Times delivers local news and biting editorials on a break-even (if all goes well) budget for their 3,000 readers. And this is not some rum-dum gossip rag.

Art unearthed a conspiracy between Big Agriculture and local county officials that won him a Pulitzer. Now, his liberal voice reverberates in this conservative district in a critical swing state. While he has the power to change minds and rally votes, his pugnacious voice makes waves; disgruntled residents don’t always agree with his point of view and have been known to write him and his paper off. 

As good a yarn as “Storm Lake” is, telling us about the goings-on at a struggling biweekly newspaper, this well-done documentary also serves as a valuable primer and object lesson for why local journalism of the purest kind is so important and why, when it is lost to time, as it has been in nearly 2,000 newsrooms nationwide over the last 20 years, we all lose.

“Storm Lake” opens Friday at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center.

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Cathartic ‘Together’ Makes The Pandemic Personal

I was nervous about watching “Together.” 

I didn’t think I was ready to relive the early stages of the pandemic on film, or to go through that panic and pain again.

As if it isn’t still happening, as if it hasn’t been a daily reality for more than 18 months. 

I was afraid this story of a UK couple enduring lock down would treat the pandemic as a lot of network television programs have: something to work around, an inconvenience in which characters come home wearing masks and awkwardly keep their distance, but otherwise treat the threat of COVID-19 as background drama for a more personal fiction.

I was wrong. As wrong as the main characters at the heart of Stephen Daldry’s new film are, but maybe a little less reluctant to admit it.

Written by Dennis Kelly, “Together” is about an unnamed couple in a fraught relationship. We meet them as they endure the idea of indefinite lockdown in March 2020, and travel with them through the devastating pandemic, all the way up to the present-day vaccine era.

James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan’s characters proceed to experience the plethora of emotions we’ve all felt the past 18 months. They go through the same moments of confusion, weary humor, deep loss and uncertainty so many of us have felt in this historic, horrendous period of history – all while managing their rocky relationship.

Kelly showcases brilliant writing at its finest, with the characters giving lengthy monologues about everything from harvesting asparagus to caring for elderly loved ones. McAvoy and Horgan are remarkable actors, addressing only the camera and each other for 91 minutes and yet never wavering. 

But it’s the universal emotions at the heart of “Together” that make it essential viewing. While mental health has been a buzzed-about topic this year, Daldry’s film is the first time since early 2020 where I felt like someone really understood and captured the frustration most families are still facing – and remembered how much art can help us deal with painful realities.

Of course, we’re all tired. Of course, we’re all still unsure. But somewhere along the way, the crisis stopped being about we and started to be about me. The way this fictional couple’s relationship mirrors that progression – and gives us hope that maybe there’s a way out of it – is absolute perfection, and about as necessary and timely as a film can get.

The disbelief and confusion still plagues us as the virus surges around the world. But the characters in “Together” made me feel less alone in that than anyone in real life has. It is timely, and necessary, in addition to being beautifully-made. More than any news story or social media post ever could, it took watching a work of art to finally feel just a little bit better about a huge tragedy.

The film did not make me feel anxious or sad, the way I expected. It did not make me relive the trauma of the past year and a half. It did what the best kind of art does: reminded me what matters, and that I’m not alone, and neither are you.

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Kunis and Close Spend ‘Four Good Days’ Fighting for Sobriety

Glenn Close and Mila Kunis play characters inspired by a real-life mother and daughter in “Four Good Days.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eli Saslow co-wrote the screenplay with director Rodrigo Garcia, who reunites for the fourth time with lead actress Close in this tense, tightly-structured drama about a longtime heroin addict and a determined but exhausted mother’s fight to keep her clean.

Based on Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article, “Four Good Days” begins its sharp narrative with a sharp knock. Molly (Kunis) has returned to her mother’s house after what we later learn is an 18-month bender. She is ready to get sober, she swears, but it’s nothing Deb (Close) hasn’t heard before. The audience grows familiar with their decade-long plight on the drive to the detox center, where they repeat a familiar cycle of lies, frustration and pain. Until a doctor offers the desperate pair a new lifeline – a treatment that could finally help Molly’s addiction after years of self-destruction. 

All she has to do is stay clean for four days. If drugs are in her system when she receives the shot, she could die.

Saslow and Garcia don’t tell us about Molly and Deb’s shared history – they show us, with real conversations that slowly and organically reveal what they’ve been through. They give us only part of the picture, not unlike the unfinished jigsaw puzzle in Deb’s garage that Molly left 18 months ago, before disappearing again. 

Rodrigo and Saslow give the film structure, but the actors give it substance. Close and Kunis feel not only like a real mother and daughter, but like they’ve truly been through this saga before – and they do justice to real-life article subjects Libby Alexander and Amanda Wendler. This is clearly not a new struggle, but it could be a new chance at something better if they get through it together. 

That doesn’t mean “Four Good Days” is saccharine or falsely hopeful – their struggles are clear without being gory and gruesome. We see the effect on not just Molly’s health in her body and appearance, but in her life decisions as we learn more about her past and what her life could have been if drugs hadn’t interfered. But it’s the emotional trauma played out with her mother that shows viewers what this kind of situation does to families. Not in an overarching intrapersonal sense, but with each painful day. It is exhausting, and perfectly executed. It will make you think about this affliction in a new way.

It also offers an empathetic take on the addict’s perspective – the psychology of someone who doesn’t want to be this way, rather than just the other side of it – statistics, science, therapies. Kunis is perfect at portraying a woman whose true personality is slowly coming through the haze of substance abuse, withdrawal and the desperate desire to stay sober.

Close said she took the role because she wanted to put a face to a statistic. While recent offerings like “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” have tackled true stories of drug abuse and the emotionally raw aspects of the opioid epidemic, “Four Good Days” feels the most real of any of them. While the energy runs low and grating, the stakes feel incredibly high because of the four-day time frame. We wonder if Molly is going to get through it, and how Deb will cope if she can’t. It is the perfect boiling-down of an overwhelming, nationwide problem into two people, sitting in a dingy garage, waiting. 

Waiting to see how the rest of their lives will be, if they can make it through four good days. 

“Four Good Days” opens in theaters April 30.

Photos courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
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Familiar Faces Anchor Offbeat ‘Eat Wheaties!’

Tony Hale anchors the cast of Eat Wheaties!, an offbeat new comedy from Scott Abramovitch. Based on Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters, Hale plays an overeager marketing manager who attempts to prove he knew the actress Elizabeth Banks in college.

While this premise drives the plot, it’s the singular bits and oddball cast of characters who bring this funny farce to life. The cast is stacked with familiar faces from your favorite television comedies: character actors from Schitt’s Creek, New Girl, Mom, Barry, Orange is the New Black and Scrubs are just a few who populate the earnest world of Sid Straw, a nice if overly enthusiastic guy who simply tries too hard to fit in.

Hale’s endearingly strange lead character gives embarrassing unprompted speeches at family events and writes accidentally-public letters to Banks on Facebook for the world to see. His cringe-inducing jokes and attempts to bond with co-workers and first dates are hilariously awkward, but when he tries to get in touch with Banks ahead of their college reunion, a few misunderstandings spiral into a viral narrative he can’t work his way out of. 

Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films

The silliness of the story is surprisingly grounded in human emotion, which makes us root for Sid despite his quirks. The supporting cast is especially funny in their reactions to him – often annoyed, mostly baffled, actors like Lamorne Morris, Paul Walter Hauser, Sarah Goldberg and David Walton are great at playing it straight to Sid’s eccentricities. Though his humor is that signature subtlety Hale brought to Veep and Arrested Development, this character is entirely new – and the stigma surrounding him somehow manages to be equally funny and heartbreaking.

Eat Wheaties! often feels like a string of recurring character sketches strung together – and that’s a good thing. Sid feels like someone we’ve known for a very long time, stuck in several situations that put him out of his element. One bit where his name is misspelled to “Sad Striw” (“who would name their kid ‘Sad?’) just shows how there is still humor to be found in characters who feel stuck or unseen. In a time when it feels like well-intentioned humor is hard to come by, especially on social media where this story begins, Abramovitch doesn’t overanalyze his protagonist – he makes us laugh instead.

Peppered with funny references (“Jesse James robbed Sandra Bullock of five years of her life”), Eat Wheaties! is a sweet and lighthearted film as offbeat and sincere as its main character. With the resurgence of well-meaning doofs in modern comedy thanks to the success of Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso (though maybe it dates back as far as The Office), a character like Sid Straw is worth rooting for. And he just might cause us to look a little closer at the people in our own lives who might have more to offer than it seems on the surface – that’s a worthy 90 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films
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In Era of Isolation, ‘Together Together’ Says We’re Not Alone

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison play a single expectant father and his pregnant surrogate in “Together Together,” a Bleecker Street film that hits theaters April 23. Writer-director Nicole Beckwith’s refreshingly real feature tackles the stigma of singlehood – and the unlikely places we find family.

App developer Matt (Helms) meets Anna (Harrison) while interviewing potential candidates to carry his child. It is immediately clear that Matt is unique, telling the rarely-depicted story of a single dad who chooses parenthood, rather than having it thrust upon him by tragic or comic circumstances.

Their awkward and unconventional exchanges begin from the opening scene, and never really waiver throughout nine months and 90 minutes.

Beckwith covers the ground of exposition effortlessly, allowing the audience to simply watch an unlikely friendship unfold organically – if somewhat awkwardly, considering the circumstances. As we travel with these two people throughout the pregnancy, their reliance on each other evolves into a solid and surprising friendship. But as Anna’s very funny coffee shop co-worker Jules (Julio Torres) expresses, their relationship has an end date, which leads both of them to question what this moment in time means – and whether it’s even ethical.

Both actors have experience in the art of dry comedy: Helms on “The Office” and Harrison in two seasons of Hulu’s “Shrill.” Their onscreen friendship never feels artificial or saccharine, thanks to quippy, smart dialogue that feels authentic.

But it’s more than their chemistry and delivery that make “Together Together” special – it’s the simple fact that they sound like real people having real conversations, about life, career, dating and the choices that have defined who they are. The real love that grows between them is refreshingly free of melodrama, and their genuine characters are never sacrificed for plot.

In addition to its uniquely platonic protagonists, “Together Together” is better than most expectant-parent films because it focuses more on the people than the process of pregnancy. It portrays two people of different generations and genders, who refuse to be bogged down by the stigma of singlehood at the various stages of their lives. While Anna’s family shut her out in her teen years and she seeks the chance to start fresh, Matt’s friends and family question his decision to pursue single fatherhood. What others see as “being alone,” they see as the path that makes sense to them. And God, is it good to see that portrayed onscreen in a new way.

Matt’s expression of confidence feels like a beacon to Anna, and the audience: “It’s weird to be perceived as hopeless in this moment, when I’m actually incredibly hopeful.” 

Beckwith’s second theatrical feature film brings Matt’s hope and Anna’s humor to people who might have to take an unconventional route to finding family – biological or otherwise.

“Together Together” will be available to watch on VOD and digital platforms May 11.

Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker Street
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An Author Returns To His Craft In ‘The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien’

There is a moment early in “The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” in which the titular author mailgns being known as a “war writer.” He doesn’t want to be remembered only for the moment in his life he most despises – the Vietnam War, the focus of his many books, including “The Things They Carried” and National Book Award winner “Going After Cacciato.” Aaron Matthews’ new documentary focuses far more on the writer than the war, as he attempts to craft his final book after nearly two decades away from his writing desk. 

The father of two teenage boys, an underlying theme of “The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” is that time is running out – and there are still words to be written and questions to be answered. There are still far too many wars being fought. In a particularly telling home video captured by his wife Meredith, the author is cleaning the kitchen floor at three o’clock in the morning – the writing is going badly, and he is thinking out loud about the idea that combat should not even be sanitized by the word “war,” but instead what it is: “killing people.” 

“The Things They Carried” is a modern classic, selling six million copies and named by the Library of Congress as one of the most influential books in American history. Too often with biographies of the men and women who create classics, we get stodgy facts and speculation about their processes, their inspirations, their lives. Matthews gives us a modern telling of a writer’s life – the struggle, the detail and the questions that fuel a writer to pick up a pen again after 20 years. 

“It’s never about what happened, but about what could’ve happened,” O’Brien says of fiction writing. Matthews presents us with what’s happening in the present: a blend of home life, the lecture circuit and the clacking keys in an office. He and O’Brien paint the portrait of a life, and a growing awareness of mortality – and morality.

It is quickly clear why Matthews thought he would make a compelling and worthy documentary subject. He wants to be remembered as “a preacher for peace,” smoking cigarettes and wearing college caps and t-shirts with photos or phrases like “Make Coffee Not War.”

“Witnessing an artist and father at home, I saw that he is a dogged truth teller, an inveterate scab picker, an eloquent confessor,” Matthews said. “I saw how his rigorous soul searching prodded me to examine my own self. And I saw how O’Brien could shed light on the wars we all fight.” O’Brien shows this in his work with veterans, writing students, his sons and wife. But he is especially honest about his own inner war, from combat to creating. He admits feeling misunderstood as an author – his writing was always meant to deter war, not to advocate for it.

My dad is around O’Brien’s age; he spent more than 40 years as a reporter – a retired “newspaperman,” he calls himself, a staunch opponent of the word “journalist.” He also had children later in life, and I try to imagine myself in the shoes of Tad and Timmy O’Brien – if a camera came into my house to observe my dad and his life in his natural habitat, I would feel proud. Not just of what my dad wrote, but who he is. And as much as O’Brien’s latest book “Dad’s Maybe Book” is a letter to his sons, so too is this film.

“The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” is available on VOD beginning March 2.

Photos courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
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Empathy Is A Main Character In Heartfelt ‘Palmer’

Apple TV+ adds to its slate of original films with “Palmer,” a heartfelt story of unlikely guardianship and mutual understanding. Justin Timberlake stars as the film’s namesake, who gets a job as an elementary school janitor after serving 12 years in prison.

Now seen as a faded football star-turned-felon, his fresh start is upended by a seven-year-old neighbor whose mom takes off, leaving no one to care for him. Palmer, who is treated like an outcast in his small Louisiana hometown, feels a certain responsibility to Sam (Ryder Allen), who is also judged for a very different reason: Sam loves princesses, dolls, dancing and makeup. It often makes him the target of ridicule from both kids and narrow-minded adults. From the start, he and Palmer share a feeling of being treated differently, and often unfairly.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

The two grow together in this sweet story from director Fisher Stevens and writer Cheryl Guerriero, who said it took 10 years for the film to get made.

Stevens is an Oscar winner for Best Documentary, which could explain why the film seems to hold such simple truths that in real life we make too complicated. The drama is rarely contrived, and Guerriero has already shared stories of grandmothers and kids who are comforted by this portrayal of difference – and the film hasn’t even been released yet.  Timberlake shows understated strength in the role, and his performance feels as solid to the viewer as his character’s presence does to young Sam, who has never had a parental figure. Young Allen musters great depth and elicits empathy completely unique to Sam – he is not merely playing a child who is different, he is that child, and Timberlake mirrors (I had to, I’m sorry) the audience’s desire to see him loved.

A timely message of love, acceptance and forgiveness is only the surface of this special, well-paced drama. It also gets to the heart of how we label people: by the sport they play, the clothes they wear or the mistakes they make. People are often more than just one thing, and performances by Timberlake and Allen show that characters should be, too. “Palmer” is a reminder to look past your expectations for other people. Maybe the project was meant to take 10 years, so it could reach us today, when the need to look deeper is more necessary than ever. 

The simple story is a testament to the power of letting a story do its work without telling the audience how to think, and instead allowing them to observe and feel. The difference that can be made in someone’s life when you put aside judgement is not a new theme, but it feels fresh and needed in this feature – a triumph for Timberlake, a charming debut for Allen, and the launchpad for more well-crafted dramas from Guerriero.

“Palmer” begins streaming on Apple TV+ Jan. 29.

Courtesy of Apple TV+
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Superheroes Drop Into Sitcom Suburbia in Immensely Clever ‘WandaVision’

It’s only fitting that Marvel Studios’ first foray into television is a tribute to the medium itself.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) and Vision, first seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and throughout subsequent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For reasons unknown, these heroes are dropped into the world of old-school multi-camera sitcoms in the sharp new TV series, streaming its first two chapters Jan. 15 on Disney+.  

Studio President Kevin Feige told Variety that Wanda and Vision “are great characters in the comics that we don’t scratch the surface of in the movies.” So when he read the 2016 comic miniseries “The Vision,” by writer Tom King and artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Mike Del Mundo, he knew he had to bring to life the image of the Android coming home to a wife and a white picket fence.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

And the first three episodes brilliantly capture the oddball imagination of the idea, taking viewers through the evolution of the sitcom with its cheesy humor, live audience laughter and signature screwball mishaps. Marvel Easter eggs are plentiful, but it’s an especially fun viewing experience for fans of classic television – in addition to being an incredibly smart strategy to make the transition from the movie theater to the living room.

With theaters closed and some straight-to-streaming options making us long for the big screen, “WandaVision” is perfectly suited to the small one – by design. It was brilliant to ease the record-breaking, action-packed film franchise off the big screen into a tightly-written, clever watch-at-home format, leaning away from cinematic, crash-bang superhero expectations to something slower and smaller.

“It felt great to do something that could only be done for television,” Feige said. “I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child watching TV and syndicated repeats of lots of sitcoms.”

The detailed images of sitcoms past are enough to garner their own re-watch, with subtle and silly nods to sitcoms of old. Detailed set designs and nuanced humor will make avid, keen-eyed sitcom watchers happy. But the writers also have you wondering what’s lurking underneath  – and with Marvel, you know it’s usually something big. Even as you shake your head at its cleverness, you understand it is simply a unique medium to tell a deeper, darker story – and it’s fun to feel in on the joke.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

From showrunner Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman, this show wasn’t meant to be viewed on a 20-foot-tall screen with hundreds of people, but on your couch. And you need not worry if nostalgia isn’t your thing – “WandaVision” seems to be as much about searingly mocking the genre as it does about perfecting it. Clearly these characters are in this world for a reason, and it will be undoubtedly compelling to know why, as nine 30-minute installments unfold over the next few months.

With empty theaters and darkened screens, it’s comforting that “WandaVision” was meant to be watched at home, on television – a word that’s ever changing in the Internet age. The medium it pays tribute to was originally built to entertain millions of families – to make them laugh, if not always wonder what was going to happen next. This series offers both.

And the show itself is smart, aptly-titled and written by a mostly female staff. Because it is written by women, it hilariously mocks the uneven gender roles of classic sitcoms when wives – always wives, never just women – were often the butt of the joke. Kathryn Hahn is ridiculously funny as quirky neighbor Agnes, who cracks jokes about her useless husband Ralph (but who some fans believe is not what she seems).

Olsen is effortless, and Bettany is genuinely funny, nailing the kind of quirky faux-happiness of those suburban shows – but the pure joy of them too, in the days when millions of families would laugh at the same Rob Petry line or the famous scrapes of Samantha Stevens. This is the way we used to watch television together, and the pandemic has made that even clearer with the widespread success of “Ozark,” “The Mandalorian,” and “The Queen’s Gambit.” This is appointment television, and “WandaVision” is no exception, even as we have no water coolers around which to gather.

The uncanny sitcom details in “WandaVision” are exceptional, down to Rob and Laura Petry’s separate beds. Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

The “Avengers” offered us a shared cinematic experience, when everyone was on the same side for a night at the movies. Maybe in 2021, this is as close as we’ll get to that. A throwback to a time when there were just a few channels, and no fast forward. A time we miss, especially now, as Thanos-shaped villains stomp through our universe, along with a rampantly-spreading silent killer that robs people of breath and has devastated millions worldwide. Mobs and riots are forming, except in this world, the good guys wear masks and superheroes work in hospitals.

It sometimes feels like the world blipped – like we’re in the third act of an “Avengers” film, and no one knows what’s coming. It’s felt like that for almost a year now. We need heroes, but we need humor, too. And we need to be entertained in this new way – while poking tremendous fun at the old.

Maybe I’m being far too sentimental – the underlying mysterious plot of “WandaVision” will no doubt be what most people remember about it. But for now I’m just thankful to laugh – to remember a time when we would bond over characters, and know that no matter how bad things get, there will always be heroes.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
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‘Sylvie’s Love’ Takes New Approach To Soulmate Story

Set in Harlem in the 1950s, Eugene Ashe’s story of young summer love plants a sprout in its first act that grows into a wise old tree by the end of its 110 minutes. Starring Tessa Thompson as the titular character, the charming love story follows two people who have dreams beyond romantic love – which makes their own love story that much more beautiful.

The story follows Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a saxophonist who gets a day job working at a record store simply because he has a crush on the girl behind the counter, Sylvie (Thompson). She whiles away the summer afternoons at the shop, watching every television program she can find, laughing at “I Love Lucy” and dancing around the empty store to Billy Haley and the Comets. 

Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios

Their easy way with each other is a joy to watch, and the serene first act of the film finds their mutual love of music and art transforming effortlessly into love for each other. But they’re soon reminded of reality: Sylvie is already engaged to a man serving in Korea, and soon Robert and his jazz quartet are offered a high-powered gig in Paris.

Though its early love story is endearing, the narrative is only stronger when it picks up five years later and finds Sylvie as a wife and mother, trying to achieve her dream of working in television when a chance encounter with Robert reminds her who she always wanted to be. It is this element of “Sylvie’s Love” that is exceptional – the idea that its two main characters are grounded in something other than each other, but still want to be together. 

The love between Sylvie and Robert feels real – the kind of deep and real love that is not mere infatuation – what writer Kevin Williamson said “goes beyond friendship, beyond lovers.” This is a film about deep and abiding love, which sometimes means sacrifice and separation. It’s especially enjoyable to see Thompson playing a woman of that time period with hopes beyond her husband and house. 

Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios

“Tessa brought her passion for women’s rights, shown in her character’s transformation from someone who is in an arranged marriage to someone who takes control of her life and makes decisions on her own,” Ashe said of the Gotham Award-winning actor and producer.

The characters are different from typical portrayals of the time period, which in other works can get bogged down in either saddle shoes and jukeboxes or social revolution. Something in between, “Sylvie’s Love” quietly and tastefully gets to the heart of our humanity with charming background characters played by Eva Longoria, Wendi McLendon Covey and Aja Naomi King. Relationships outside the central love story feel real and so much like life: Sylvie’s love for her parents and cousin, Robert’s love for his bandmates and their passions that lie outside a traditional life all make for complex, beautifully-realized people that feel far from fictional.

The story, time period and music only add to the comfort and familiarity these characters find in each other. And it’s a warm place to be – warm as Harlem in the summer of 1957.

Amazon Studios will release “Sylvie’s Love” on Prime Video Dec. 23.

Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios
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