Beckett

"Beckett"

“Hit and Run" (Netflix) Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a song called “Things Are Seldom What They Seem” for one of their operettas, and so it is with this Israel/U.S. co-production, a nine-episode series. A happily married man, an Israeli tour guide, says goodbye to his wife who is on her way to New York to audition for a ballet company. Or is she? Did she ever get there? And what was she really doing there? We begin in Tel Aviv but events unfold that take us to the Big Apple and stay there. Everything we think we know is upended in this clever revenge scenario. We like our hero, we root for him, until we’re not sure we should or do like him; the happy marriage might not have been that happy… or even a marriage. There are secrets and espionage—we never know who to trust and it can get dizzying. Israeli actor Lior Raz (if you saw “Fauda,” another tension-filled Israeli import, you will remember him) does a fine job as a loving father who is also a violent hothead, driven to kill when his family is threatened. I do have one reservation about the series—there are too many sections that slow down and interrupt the fast pace. Its nine episodes could have been tightened to eight or even seven. But if dark and murky mystery series from other countries are a favorite of yours (as they are of mine), this one is worth watching.

 

“The Chair” (Netflix) has so much going for it: Not just a dream cast (Sandra Oh, Holland Taylor, Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban and a terrific child actor named Everly Carganilla), but it tackles all the serious issues of our day: gender and race discrimination; the negative effect of social media, which all too often produces a pandemic of ignorance; sexism, ageism, tokenism; the decline of higher education. It’s billed as a comedy but it can get pretty serious in a heartbeat. I sat there, watched all six episodes and wondered why I admired the hell out of what “The Chair” was trying to do but I didn’t particularly care for it. I love Sandra Oh, but her character spends 95 percent of the time in a stressful frenzy and it became wearing. Jay Duplass—so good in “Transparent”—plays her potential love interest, a popular professor who is irresponsible and self-destructive to such an extent that we lose patience with him. All the really serious issues are dealt with in short bursts, Aaron Sorkin-like diatribes, but then there’s a quick comedic scene that feels like it was added by a different writer, one who was brought in to “punch up” the comedy. There are too many plot threads, too many people to deal with, just too much. I finally realized what was interfering with my enjoyment of “The Chair:” It tackles way too much, especially in the time allotted. It’s an hour-long show that has been compressed into 30 minutes. It’s exhausting.

 

You know those exciting films where innocent, likeable people are thrust into dangerous situations and have to use their wits to survive? “Beckett” (Netflix) is of that genre but it’s not a very good example. If you’ve not been to Greece, you might enjoy the stunning scenes of mountain vistas and city streets, beautifully shot by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. But the lead, an American IT guy, is played by John David Washington (Denzel’s son) and both his character and his performance are bland. He does beat up a lot of bad guys, but he escapes death numerous times in scenes that too often strain credulity. The plot turns are ludicrous, and the gifted Alicia Vikander is wasted in her scenes as Washington’s girlfriend; there is zero chemistry between them. Shall I go on to talk about the fact that the music tries to supply the tension that’s not in the script? Or that we never do understand who the various bad guys represent? And that by the end we no longer care? No, I’ll stop now. Don’t waste your time.

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