Veteran French actress Isabelle Huppert shines as Patience Portefeux in Jean-Paul Salomé’s Parisian nail-biter. Patience wearies of her job translating statements and recordings made during drug arrests, “all to send kids to get radicalized for three grams of hash,” she tells her boss and confidante Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot). When the son of her mother’s caretaker is targeted in a drug investigation, Patience manages to redirect the 1.5-ton hash shipment and then collect the stash for herself. Thus, begins the cat-and-mouse game between Patience, who wears a hijab as a disguise, her hash clients – two dimwits named Scotch and Cocoa Puff – and Phillipe. Using her police and language training, she manages to sneak around town, earning the Mama Weed moniker. The comic side of the story paints Patience as a queen-pin like Tony Montana in Scarface, complete with hip-hop scoring. But she’s more like Super Woman, ducking away to make quick costume changes. At the end Patience finally takes a hit of what is likely a hash-tobacco joint, satisfied by a job well done.
It was a big year for the Beatles with this six-episode series directed by Zachary Heinzenling on Hulu and The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+. Legendary music producer Rick Rubin interviews Paul McCartney in a spare studio setting. It’s shot in black and white and features a lot of shop talk by two veterans of the recording studio. Rubin has access to the entire Beatles catalog and chooses the songs he wants to discuss wisely. They both slide levers on the board, adding and subtracting song parts. McCartney often plays piano and sings along (occasionally forgetting lyrics) as Rubin bobs his head in accompaniment. McCartney comes off as humble almost to a fault with lines like, “I specialize in bold mistakes” (referring to his guitar solo on “Another Girl”) and “I’d butt in and they'd hate me for it” (referring to “Something”). While Rubin may geek out a bit too much about McCartney’s underrated bass playing, he is an accommodating host. Even someone like Rubin, who's produced albums for everyone from the Beastie Boys to Black Crowes, can turn into a fanboy in the presence of one of the two living Beatles.
The final season of Narcos - both the entire series and the second segment on Mexico - is full of shoot-outs, raids and body counts. Season 3 of Narcos: Mexico is the bloodiest of all six, with the three Northern Mexican cartels vying for control. Arrested at the end of Season 2, Guadalajara jefe Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) does not appear in the last chapter. His lieutenant Amado Carrillo Fuentes (José María Yazpik) takes over. Fuentes controls Juarez, the Tijuana Cartel has the area close to San Diego and the Sinaloans want a piece of the border action too. When El Chapo (Alejandro Edda) orders hits on Félix Gallardo's family members all hell breaks loose. The shootout at the Guadalajara Airport that claims the life of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo sets the stage for swift government retaliation. Too bad Narcos has ended - El Chapo’s daring prison escapes would make a great next season.
Sean Baker’s third feature stars Simon Rex as fifty-something ex-porn star Mikey who returns to his dirt-poor Texas hometown to figure out what to do next. Arriving with just the shirt on his back, he moves in with his estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod), cantankerous mother-in-law Lil (Brenda Deiss) and their laconic dog. Mikey decides to become a pot dealer for the local family operation, run by Judy Hill’s shrewd Leondria with her tough daughter June (Brittney Rodriguez). He also falls hard for 17-year-old Strawberry (Suzanna Son), who works at the town donut shop. The American flag rolling paper joints Mikey shares with Strawberry are a throwback to the counterculture era. Being stoned may not help him overcome his inevitable fate, but it at least gets Mikey through the journey. (Review by Roy Trakin)
In Theaters, on Vudu 2/18
Liesl Tommy’s terrific Aretha Franklin tribute covers the singer’s first 30 years. Aretha was a child prodigy who sang in church at age 11. Her strict and controlling father Rev. C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) discouraged her from having a career in pop music, but that didn’t stop Aretha, who’s played convincingly by Jennifer Hudson. After a disappointing start with Columbia Records, Franklin began to direct her career, moving to Atlantic where she was allowed to merge gospel with R&B and pop. The film’s musical centerpiece is the title song, first heard on radio by Otis Redding, then worked up with Franklins' sisters at home and finally played with a full band as she belts out the No. 1 hit at Madison Square Garden in 1968. The other side of the story mirrors Billie Holiday, who was regularly roughed up by men. Franklin carries the secret of childhood sexual abuse, a trauma she never fully recovered from and led to alcoholism. Her first husband Ted (Marlon Wayans), who appears to smoke a joint in one scene, was another abuser. Hudson will likely receive Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her powerful portrayal of the Queen of Soul.
Ricky Powell: The Individualist
Photographer Ricky Powell died in February; he was 59. Josh Swade shot this doc when Powell was still alive and prowling New York’s streets looking for subjects. Best known for his work with the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Public Enemy and LL Cool J in the ’80s, “The Rickster” became one of the city’s hottest lensmen, shooting everyone from Madonna to Keith Richards to all the local rap stars. An avid pot smoker, Powell later transitioned to crack. The cast of talking heads – Fab 5 Freddy, Natasha Lyonne, Chuck D, DMC, Mike D, Laurence Fishburne, Debby Mazur, Max Perlich, Vin Diesel, David Hershkovits – speaks to how well known and loved The Rickster was. Powell's death was attributed to heart failure.