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It isn't getting a wide release, but Equity definitely is a film worth checking out. On the surface, it is a Wall Street drama about greed and backstabbing among the tiny percentage of the population that Tom Wolfe described as Masters of the Universe ... except in this case, the majority of the players are women, and Equity was written, directed and produced by women, as well as being largely underwritten by women who actually work on Wall Street.

There essentially are three major characters the film follows - Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), a an ambitious investment banker who is trying to rebound after an IPO she was running failed to live up to expectations; Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), a banker a little bit further down the food chain, who has ambitions that are complicated by a pregnancy, which only makes her more anxious to prove her mettle; and Sam (Alysia Reiner), an old friend of Naomi's now working for the US Attorney's office trying to root out insider trading on Wall Street. And the plot concerns a new IPO that Naomi and Erin are running, and the varying pressures and corruptions - big and small, professional and personal- that they face.

The film is well plotted and acted, but what makes it so interesting is how, while these women are seen as working in what remains largely a man's world, they are not seen as appendages. (Though to be fair, they seem to be held to different standards than the men in the film, which seems entirely familiar, topical and authentic.) They drive the narrative and, whatever decisions they make, they are not dupes. They make decisions and live with consequences, and seem fully formed. Equity shouldn't be an exception in this regard, but it is; unlike on television, where diversity of all kinds seems far more embraced, feature films simply don't highlight characters like these ... or at least not very often. So check out Equity. I liked it a lot.




One of the great things about the beginning of the traditional television season each September is that iTunes often features series pilots for free ... I get to download them, watch them, and decide if I have any interest in watching how they develop.

There are three that I've watched this week that seem worth further attention - one is a definite, and two a little less so.

The definite is "Designated Survivor," the new Kiefer Sutherland series about a former academic who becomes Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and isn't, to be honest, very successful because he isn't all that assertive and doesn't play the Washington power game. Then, on an evening when he is the only Cabinet member not to attend the President's State of the Union Address, the Capitol is attacked...and he ends up as President since he's the only survivor in the Constitutional line of succession. Sutherland is great, the pilot is terrific drama, and there seem to be tons of potential conspiracies to uncover as the series develops. Count me in.

"The Good Place" is a half-hour comedy that seems to have taken some inspiration from the Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life. It depicts a heaven where only a tony sliver of humanity's best gets to go after death .. except somehow, a disreputable young woman slips through the cracks and gets in, and the whole "heaven" thing starts to go to hell. Kristen Bell is a riot as the young woman, Ted Danson is charming as can be as a slightly clueless angel, and if they can keep up the standard set in the pilot, this could be interesting.

Finally, there's "This Is Us," an intriguing new series about a bunch of people who share a birthday. I'm not going to tell you any more about it because I don't want to give anything away ... but if I were you, I'd check out the pilot and see if it appeals. It did to me.

The problem with all such programs is that the economics of network television require that the producers come up with 22 new episodes a year. (For a one-hour series like "Designated Survivor," that's like 11 feature-length movies.) This is incredibly hard to do, and even harder to sustain a premise and maintain some level of quality. So one has to go into such things with realistic expectations, and hope that the series over-perform.




The fifth season of "Longmire" begins streaming on Netflix today, and I'm really looking forward to catching up with one of the best TV series out there - a modern western that is tonally different from the late, great "Justified," but no less ambitious in terms of its character-driven views of an evolving society in which certainty is crumbling, nobility is rare, and few things are precisely what they seem.

BTW ... because the Netflix economics are different from those of network TV, the new season of "Longmire" has just 10 new episodes.




Two wines to recommend to you this week, both from the Willamette Valley Vineyard in Oregon - the 2012 Willamette Valley Vineyard Dijon Clone Chardonnay, which is prefect foe the waning summer nights, and the 2010 Griffin Creek Merlot (from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon), which has a lot more complexity and interest than the standard Merlot.




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

Slàinte!
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