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David Tennant (left) in “Staged,” streaming now on Hulu

“Midnight Sky” (Netflix)

George Clooney has undertaken a huge task in both starring in and directing this sci-fi film. In the near future, a space shuttle is returning from a two-year voyage, its occupants unaware that earth is no longer habitable (due to some mysterious element not explained). A dying scientist based in Antarctica is attempting to do the right thing, one last time, and keep them from landing. Clooney’s efforts have produced a not particularly successful piece of cinema. Here’s what I appreciated about the film: gorgeous special effects of outer space’s wonders; Clooney himself in a huge beard and a shuffling, defeated step; a little girl and her amazing eyes. Here’s what I didn’t appreciate: at over two hours, it’s way too long, many of the scenes could have and should have been cut in half; the origins of the little girl are not hard to figure out early on; and all of the themes have been done before and better. I don’t require rapid pacing in a film; in fact, I’m a fan of a tale well done that takes its time. But “Midnight Sky,” while well done, is simply ponderous.

 

“Staged” (Hulu)

Anyone else out there a huge Scottish actor David Tennant fan? He was not only one of the longer-running Doctors on “Dr. Who,” but the chillingly evil bad guy on “Jessica Jones,” the emotionally shut-down police detective on “Broadchurch” and the devil himself on “Good Omens.” In the latter, he starred with Michael Sheen (portrayer of David Frost and Tony Blair in films, not to mention Dr. William Masters in TV’s “Masters of Sex”). And now you get to see the two of them together in an utterly delightful, filmed-during-the-pandemic series that has all the free-wheeling spirit of the best improvisational showcases and which purports to also reveal the real human beings behind the parts they’ve played. It turns out that Tennant is funny, rueful, quick-witted, a bit of a slob and also just a bit insecure and self-centered—as are all great actors. Sheen is more guarded but equally garrulous and often outrageous. The banter between the two of them is so brilliant and so swift-moving, I suggest watching with the closed captioning setting so you don’t miss a thing. The conceit of the show (which basically consists of split-screen glorified Zoom sessions interspersed with long shots of England with no one on the roads and other more domestic scenes with each of the ladies in the lads’ lives) is that they are supposed to be rehearsing a play. This is under the direction of a character named Simon (Simon Evans, director and co-creator of the show) who is terrified by both of his stars and unable to confront anyone or anything that presents conflict. There are surprise visits from some pretty big names on the six episodes currently available. Go for it. You’ll be happy you did.

 

“Soul” (Disney+)

I am a huge fan of Pixar. Think of the animation studio’s amazing and varied output over the years, including such gems as “Up,” “Toy Story,” “Inside Out,” “Cars,” and “Wall E.” They present not just ground-breaking animation, but the diverse subject matters, the multi-layered themes—some suitable for kids only but most the whole family could appreciate. And now we have “Soul,” an odd mixture of profundity and buffoonery that attempts to tackle the big existential issues authors and philosophers have been wrestling forever: Is there an afterlife? How do we deal with disappointed dreams? How much do we owe to others in our lives? With a mixture of slapstick humor and gorgeous LSD-trip type images, the geniuses at Pixar pull it off. Aided greatly by the voice talent—Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton and others—there is almost too much going on to include it in the top tier of masterpieces, but it’s pretty darn good. I think it may go over the heads of the young ones, but hey, what do I know? It’s been a long time since I was one.

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