retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Since the death of author Robert B. Parker - MNB readers know how much I respected him and his work, and I wrote about my friendship with his widow, Joan Parker, here - the protagonists of his novels have found new and, I think, enduring life. Spenser, the Boston PI, has been the subject of seven excellent novels by Ace Atkins, while Jesse Stone, the alcoholic police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, has been written about by Reed Farrel Coleman in five new novels. As a fan and devotee,I’ve been thrilled.

For me, a lesser series of novels by Parker were about Sunny Randall, another Boston-based private detective who was created by the author when actress Helen Hunt was looking for a character to play; the film never got produced, but Parker never wasted anything, so he wrote a half-dozen novels featuring the character. I read them, thought they were okay but derivative, and kept thinking of the Tony Kornheiser book titled, “I’m Back For More Cash.”

Now, sportswriter Mike Lupica has revived the character and, presumably, the series, with “Blood Feud,” out this week. I’m a Lupica fan - I’ve liked his sports columns and the four or five adult mystery novels he;’s written over the years - and I think he acquits himself well here. He’s as big a fan of Parker as I am, and he gets the lingo, the beats and the vibe right. Like Parker, he writes Sunny in the first person, but he does so without venturing into the occasionally queasy moments that Parker had. (Because his first person narration sounded a lot like his first person narration for Spenser, there were moments in the Randall books that just felt wrong.)

As much as I liked Lupica’s effort, I must admit that I kept wondering why - since the publisher had the choice of anyone to pick up the series - a woman had not been chosen. If I’d been the publisher, I’d have looked for an accomplished woman writer who understood the genre but was deserving of a larger audience and recognition, and asked her to give Sunny a fresh and authentic perspective.

Just a thought.

On the face of it, “The Kominsky Method,” on Netflix, shouldn’t be anything special. It has been created and written by Chuck Lorre, whose snappy dialogue and easily identifiable characters have been getting great ratings for years in shows like “Two and A Half Men,” “Mom,” and “The Big Bang Theory.” It stars Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, two stars with plenty of mileage on them. And its main characters on the face of it are fictional stereotypes - Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) is a failed actor with commitment issues turned acting coach (Henry Winkler is playing a version of this same character on “Barry”); his longtime agent, Norman Newlander (Arkin) is cut from the some of the same cloth as the agent played by Jeff Garlin on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

But somehow - perhaps it is as simple as chemistry - “The Kominsky Method” works. At least for me. I found it to be compelling and entertaining in its portrayal of two aging men trying to figure out their place in a changing world, wondering if and how they fit in as their circumstances change. It is about the small but annoying physical infirmities that come along with age, poking fun at them and yet being sympathetic. (I’ve had two conversations with different friends in which we’ve said that this is going to be us in 10 years. I just want to have Douglas’s hair.)

One of the best things about “The Kominsky Method” is that it is only eight episodes, each one about 30 minutes long. It’s not that I’m glad that they’re short; rather,, I’m glad that there’s no padding, no digressions. The first season’s episodes are just right, and I’m looking forward to another season.

I just have one suggestion. Maybe they ought to change the name of the series. I’m thinking, “The Big Prostate Theory.”

Just a thought.

An admission here. I cried at the end of Creed II. My sons were a little bit appalled, but not surprised - I have a long history with the Rocky movies - when I was in college, in 1976, I was in the audience for the first public screening of the original Rocky. (I wrote about the experience here.)

The thing is, there aren’t a ton of surprises in Creed Ii. Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, ends up facing off in the ring against Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, who killed his father in an exhibition match (in Rocky IV) and ended up battling against Rocky Balboa in a grudge match replete with anti-Russia propaganda. It was a brutal match; as Rocky says in , “He broke things in me that have never been fixed.”

Creed II hits all the beats you expect - exciting boxing matches, enthralling training montages, and heartfelt emotional relationships, all given even more heft by the fact that we know the history and the characters.

But here’s where Creed II excels. The performances - Michael B. Jordan as Adonis, Tessa Thompson as his girlfriend, Phylicia Rashad as his mother, and, of course, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky - are terrific … the actors are totally invested in their characters. Go figure, even Dolph Lundgren is amazing as Ivan Drago - whereas he basically was a caricature in Rocky IV, in the new movie he gives a deeply felt performance as a man who lost everything when (spoiler alert!) when he lost to Rocky - his wife, his status, his career. He is sad and bitter and clinging to the hope that his son can rescue his shattered dreams, and Florian Munteanu, as Viktor, is an even more bitter reflection of his father.

It is just a terrific movie, less about boxing than it is about the emotional battles that take place between fathers and sons, even when they’re gone (but hardly forgotten). I heartily recommend it.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I just couldn’t warm up to the newest A Star Is Born, which seems to me to be less than the sum of its parts. Lady Gaga is amazing, and Sam Elliott is extraordinary … but in watching Bradley Cooper (an actor I like a lot), I kept feeling like I was watching an imitation of Jeff Bridges’ performance in Crazy Heart which was a better movie.

A Star Is Born is the fourth version of the story to be produced; I’ve now seen three. (I liked the James Mason-Judy Garland version, but not so much the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson edition.) The thing is, it is a familiar construct - famous but alcoholic star falls in love with the talent of a younger female, then falls in love with her, but as her career ascends his declines, which leads to an unfortunate conclusion.

I kept hoping for a movie that would take a fresh direction, change things up a bit. Instead, it was pretty much what I expected it to be, and I just couldn’t get with the program.

I’m pretty much alone in this opinion. Most people love the movie, it is a big success, and expected to be a major player at award time. But in this case, I’m afraid, at least for me the star was stillborn.

A wine to recommend this week … the 2015 Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay from California’s Sonoma Valley. I’m not the world’s biggest chardonnay fan, but this has just enough citrus going for it to make me a happy drinker.

That’s it for this week.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: