“Honey Boy” (in theaters)
Shia LeBeouf was a child actor before he grew up and became one of Hollywood’s bad boys—talented but angry, trouble to work with and not a big enough star to put up with his shenanigans. He has written and stars in a fictionalized film about his childhood acting days, focusing on his difficult relationship with his father. He was a sober though raging alcoholic, a deeply frustrated human being who basically served as his son’s chaperone and chafed under the yoke of that responsibility. Noah Jupe plays the 12-year-old child and Lucas Hedges plays him as a young man in and out of addiction and rehabs, and they are both terrific. LeBeouf has assigned himself the role of the father and it’s one of those larger-than life, rant-filled parts that actors love to get their teeth into. Although he does it well, the father’s repeated rages become not only repetitive but wearing on the audience. Dad is intent upon dispensing life lessons, most of which are based on cynicism, victimhood and nonsense, and the child responds with both worship and disdain. The script is not grounded in any kind of measurable timeline or backstory—is the kid already famous (he is recognized in a drug store), and if so, why are they living in a dump? I had some trouble wondering how the mother could let her volatile ex-husband have custody—it was not really explained at all. The direction by Alma Har’el is fluid but even with a short-ish running time (1 hour 34 minutes), “Honey Boy” is exhausting to watch.
“Catherine the Great” (HBO)
Yet one more historical saga about royalty, this one set in the Russia of the mid-18th century. There are the usual lavish production elements—gorgeous costumes, magnificent castles with breath-taking ceilings and furniture, plus the typical behind-the throne chicanery found in all royal regimes. The series has one great element and her name is Helen Mirren. As always, she glows with intelligence, wit, grace. I’ve always been fascinated by Mirren; while not a pretty woman, but she carries herself as though she were. Charisma to spare, she possesses an inner radiance that makes it impossible to take your eyes off her. Alas, the series itself, although it covers a fascinating period, is not a must-see.
There is a cult around the “Watchmen” characters made up of those who treasure the graphic novel that introduced them and the 2009 film adaptation. I am personally not familiar with either so I came to this series cold, with no expectations except that I think the lead, Regina King, is one of the finest of American actors. The opening of the first episode is a chilling recreation of the 1921 massacre of blacks in Tulsa as seen through the eyes of a little boy. Then it shifts to years later and we find ourselves in an alternate universe, where there are masked soldiers/police officers on both sides of the law. King plays a kick-ass fighter known as Sister Knight when in mask and cloak, but is a normal-appearing baker, wife, and mom when not called to duty. In this “Watchmen,” Richard Nixon is worshipped by white supremacists, Robert Redford is president. There are role reversals and a whole bunch of odd, off-the wall plot elements, including Samuel L. Jackson as a 105-year-old man and Jeremy Irons as an eccentric—not to mention amoral and vicious—English lord. Don Johnson (whose acting chops were never too impressive) guest stars in the pilot episode, enacting a strong, sweet man to perfection. Age looks good on him.
“Modern Love” (Amazon Prime)
Based on a series of stories from the New York Times, each of the eight episodes does just as the title suggests: tells a love story set in modern times in New York. Each segment presents an interesting thesis (such as a first date that ends in the hospital, when and if to tell someone you’re dating you’re bipolar, letting your first love get away, etc.). A stellar cast of actors and well-known writers work hard, but only a couple of the episodes are exceptional. Still, at 31 minutes long, it can be a nice break from the world’s insanity.