This week brings us a cornucopia of entertainment to choose from, all of which is high-quality entertainment and all just PG or PG-13 rated. From the life story of Aretha Franklin to a rousing family adventure based on a popular Disney ride, theaters are back with fun fare while Apple + TV and Amazon Prime offer some terrific TV shows.
First up is the new movie “Respect” starring Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) as the legendary Queen of Soul music Aretha Franklin in a movie that covers from her childhood in 1955 through her turbulent teen and 20-something years before climaxing with an amazing gospel-music concert in 1974 that became her biggest-selling album. The movie is surprisingly unflinching in showing Aretha’s battles with teen pregnancy, an abusive marriage and devastating alcoholism along the way – but at every turn it finds a classy way to show these wrongdoings so that it stays tastefully within a PG-13 rating.
Hudson delivers the performance of a lifetime…
Hudson delivers the performance of a lifetime as Franklin, but just as stunning is the movie’s depiction of her battles with the Christian faith. As the daughter of a domineering and famous Detroit preacher who was abusive to the mother she lost at a young age, Aretha keeps pushing God and the church aside throughout her younger years. But when she hits bottom the movie becomes to my mind the most powerful Christian film ever made aside from obvious Biblical epics. ‘
Rarely has Christian faith and the redemption ever been so beautifully portrayed, and all Catholics and Christians should support this movie (which is also spectacularly entertaining thanks to its many musical numbers). While it’s not for young children, this would be a great movie to either enjoy yourselves or share with your teen grandkids or adult children. It’s only in theatres.
“Jungle Cruise” is great fun for people of all ages
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” (available in theatres and for a $30 extra charge for Disney + subscribers) came out a couple weeks ago and proved that its muscleman hero Dwayne Johnson could knock over people’s fear of Covid to achieve a huge opening weekend. He teams with Emily Blunt, who previously worked wonders for Disney with 2018’s “Mary Poppins Returns” (available on Netflix and Disney +), as she hires his jungle ferry skipper to follow a map through the Amazon in search of a tree whose mystical qualities could lead to untold riches.
I’ll leave the plot at that, but while the banter between the two stars is loads of fun and their performances are great,
I have minor quibbles with the fact that the movie’s extensive use of CGI special effects takes some of the fun out of it. Movies like the Indiana Jones trilogy (which this emulates) are partly fun because the filmmakers found ways to make dangerous things really happen. When everything dangerous is obviously a safe visual effect, some of the excitement is lost.
Nonetheless, it’s still great fun for people of all ages.
Meanwhile, Apple + has two terrific TV series to spotlight. First up is “Ted Lasso,” which just launched its second season after a debut year in which it scored 20 Emmy nominations (the biggest total ever for a first-year series) and a coveted Peabody Award.
So far Season Two is just as great as season one…
“Lasso” stars former “Saturday Night Live” star Jason Sudeikis as the title character, an American football coach who takes a job as an English-football, or soccer, coach for a team of ragtag losers. Ted often seems clueless yet is unflappably optimistic as he takes the reins in a country and culture that’s utterly foreign to him. What he doesn’t know is that the team’s owner has purposely hired him with the hopes of destroying the team.
Season One blended hilarious one-liners brilliantly with some surprisingly dramatic moments both on and off the field. Over the course of the season, Ted learned that his wife wants a divorce, leaving him stranded without his young son on the other side of the globe. The series managed to follow the richly drawn lives of an enormous array of characters that included the team’s arrogant hotshot star, a veteran facing the sad prospect of retirement from the team and a young actress torn between both those men.
At every turn, “Lasso” proved to be unpredictable in how every episode turned out, while displaying an incredibly humane tone unlike almost nothing in the history of television. If you think I’m exaggerating, remember this had more Emmy nominations than any first-year show in TV history, and it deserves every one of them.
I’ve seen the first two episodes of Season Two and can attest that they are just as great as season one’s were. I don’t want to give away anything else about the show because you really need to see it yourselves. Be warned that the show uses a lot of casual profanity, but there’s something about the way it’s used amid its overall incredibly kind and moral nature that makes it fit the scenario of pro athletes and not come across offensive at all.. It’s not for kids, but teens on up will enjoy it greatly. It’s rated TV-MA, the equivalent of an R, due to its language.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to “”Modern Love,” an Amazon Prime series I gave a full review to when it debuted its first 8 episodes in fall 2019. Based on New York Times columns depicting unpredictable love stories among New Yorkers, the show features an amazing array of guest stars (Oscar winner Anne Hathaway did one episode in the first season, along with TV stars like Tina Fey) and wonderfully warm stories that will just make you feel good about life and hopeful about love. Season 1 had several episodes that were clean enough for anyone to watch and one episode with a lot of foul language between a bickering couple, and that level of class is likely to be carried into these new episodes. Enjoy on Amazon Prime.