retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Lily Tomlin, while never an enormous star, has always been one of the culture's distinctive comic treasures. Her persona has been an odd combination of flighty and grounded; it is like she sees things the rest of us can't, but at the end of the day remains a little cynical about it all. She's managed to infuse even the smallest of characters she's played - like the secretary to Martin Sheen's President Bartlet in "The West Wing" - with what seems to be a full emotional life, and when she's had big roles - like in Robert Benton's excellent film noir, The Late Show (1977), in which she starred with the greatArt Carney - she's been fantastic.

Now, at age 76, Tomlin has a wonderful showcase for her unique talents. Grandma, written and directed by Paul Weitz, is an independent comedy about Elle Reid, a marginally successful poet and college professor with a less-than-thriving personal life. A lesbian, her longtime partner has died, and she's just broken up with the younger woman with whom she's had a romantic fling. Her relationship with her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) is in tatters, and her pregnant teenaged granddaughter (Julia Garner) has just come to her looking for money so she can terminate the pregnancy.

Just 79 minutes long, Grandma is smart enough not to overplay any of its hands. The movie doesn't hammer home political or cultural points, but rather focuses on the characters and their personal responses to the situation ... Grandma is about acknowledging mistakes and taking responsibility, and also about how the yearnings of the young and the old are not all that different. The performances are uniformly excellent - watch for Sam Elliot in a small but enormously touching role as Tomlin's former lover - and is very much in the vein of About A Boy, which Weitz co-directed.

Grandma is worth watching. It may get lost in the rush of big, expensive films, and it deserves better than that.



Amazon is in "pilot season" right now, which means that it has posted numerous programs on its site for free streaming and viewing; the ones that get the best response from viewers will go to series. One of the best of these is "Good Girls Revolt," which sort of picks up where "Mad Men" left off, and is so good that I really want to see where it goes from here.

"Good Girls Revolt" is based on documentary of the same name, and takes place in the newsroom of a weekly magazine called News of the Week. (It's Newsweek, just slightly fictionalized.) It is the early seventies, and a longtime cultural structure still is in place - men write and edit the articles and get the bylines, and women do all the research, occasionally write first and second drafts, and never get any sort of acknowledgement.

But, as the show begins, cracks are beginning to form. Women are less likely to accept so-called traditional roles, and most men don't know how to deal with the shifting landscape. "Good Girls Revolt" is very smart and very savvy, and it'll be very interesting to watch how the writers navigate the politically and personally turbulent period.

Most of the actors are not well-known, but there are two exceptions. Jim Belushi plays an old-time editor who simply does not "get" what the seventies are all about, and he's excellent; and Mamie Gummer plays the only "real" person in the piece, a lightly fictionalized Nora Ephron, who, in fact, refused to accept her role as "researcher" back in the seventies because she was a much better writer than most of the men, and knew it.

I'm not sure "Good Girls Revolt" would find a home on the traditional networks ... which makes me glad for streaming services like Amazon. Give it a look.



Which reminds me ... the series adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle becomes available for viewing on Amazon today. The pilot - about an alternative reality in which Japan and Germany won World War II - was terrific, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.




My wine of the week - the 2013 Vicchia Cantina Chianti, which is cheap (under $10) and terrific with pasta and a nice, spicy sauce.




Finally ... Happy Birthday to the girl of my dreams.




That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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