Ana de Armas goes ghost, James Cordon goes out with a bang & Carol Burnett gets an all-star birthday party
FRIDAY, April 21 Ghosted Knives Out castmates Chris Evans (yes, he’s Captain America!) and Ana de Armas (she was Marilyn Monroe!) reunite for this rollicking romcom (above) about a guy who falls in love with a girl—and finds himself in a whirlwind international adventure to save the world after he finds out she’s really a secret agent (Apple TV+).
Dear Mama Docuseries explores the linked lives and Black-activism legacies of iconic rapper Tupac Shakur and his mother, Afeni, a proto-feminist leader in the Black Panther party of the 1970s (10 p.m., FX).
SATURDAY, April 22 Chasing the Rains Bridgerton’s Adjoa Andoh narrates this four-episode streaming series, timed to Earth Day, which takes viewers on a journey into one of Africa’s most majestic and rarely filmed areas, beyond the peaks of Mount Kenya where water is lifesblood (AMC+).
Otter Dynasty It’s like Dynasty, only with otters. This real-life “family drama” series centers on a group of smooth-coated otters all battling for turf on the island of Singapore (9 p.m., Animal Planet).
SUNDAY, April 23 Somebody Somewhere Bridget Everette returns to season two of this Duplass Brothers comedy series, about a young Kansas woman struggling to find a fit in her hometown—and gradually finding a community of her own (10:30 p.m., HBO).
Amityville: An Origin Story Learn the true story about America’s most infamously haunted house (above)—and about the heinous murders that launched its horrific reputation (MGM+).
MONDAY, April 24
Saturdays New series (above) follows Danielle Jalade as a young teen on a quest to take her roller-skate crew, the We-B-Girls, to the top (9 p.m., Disney Channel).
TUESDAY, April 25 Supermarket Stakeout New season of the on-location speed-shopping competition, in which host Alex Guarnaschelli gives contestants $$ to purchase the ingredients for what they’ll be making—by negotiating with customers in the store’s parking lot (9 p.m., Food Network).
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Author Claire Dederer dives into a serious—and seriously timely—subject in Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma (Knopf), which examines the contradictory impulses when people whose art we might admire (like filmmakers Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, superstar Michael Jackson, and super-macho writer Ernest Hemingway) give in to darker impulses we deplore. It’s not an easy question, and it doesn’t offer easy answers, but it’s certainly a probing read from a writer who’s covered our culture in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation and other publications.
If you were a country singer from Texas, what might your favorite foods be? In the new cookbook Ya’ll Eat Yet?(Dey Street), hitmaker Miranda Lambert takes us on a tour of the recipes that fed her when she was growing up in the Lone Star State, with a heartfelt look at the women whose kitchen expertise made lifelong impacts far beyond her tummy.
In Pilgrims, Pickers and Honky Tonk Heroes (Backbeat Books), veteran Nashville journalist Tim Ghianni relates fascinating accounts of his work during a bygone era covering Nashville and its music-makers, making many of them his friends. It’s a one-of-a-kind, personalized journeyman’s glimpse into a world where Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, Willie Nelson and Roy Clark all breathed the same rarefied Music City air, with richly detailed side trips about rock legend Jimi Hendrix (yes, also a Nashville resident at one time), the proto-country punk band Jason & the Scorchers, and much more.
TUESDAY, April 25 Family Legacy Does the musical apple fall far from the tree? Not in this new docuseries, which follows the children of famous musical artists and band members, including Van Halen, Melissa Etheridge, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC (Paramount+).
The Light We Carry: Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey Special presentation with the TV talk-show queen interviewing the former First Lady as she wraps up the tour for her 2022 book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times (Netflix).
WEDNESDAY, April 26
Saint X New streaming series (above), told through multiple timelines, follows a woman’s mysterious death during a Caribbean vacation and her sister’s dangerous pursuit of the truth. Starring Alycia Debnam-Carey, Josh Bronzie and Betsy Brandt (Hulu).
Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter and Love Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter, Jane Lynch, Katy Perry, Kristen Chenoweth and many others pay tribute with song and reflections to one of comedy’s leading ladies (above) on her 90th birthday in this two-hour special filmed live in Hollywood (8 p.m., NBC).
THURSDAY, Aprll 27 Love & Death Based on a true story, this new series tells the tale of a pair of churchgoing couples enjoying their smalltown Texas life…until extramarital dilly-dallying causes someone to pick up an axe. Yikes! Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons and Lily Rabe (HBO Max).
The Last Last Late Late Show Primetime special celebrates the show’s final night (right) on the air just ahead of its farewell episode, as host James Cordon welcomes a parade of guest stars—including superstar Tom Cruise—to commemorate 8 years of Karpool Karaoke and other antics (10 p.m., CBS)
Director Ari Aster’s latest explores monumentally monstrous mommy issues
Beau is Afraid Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan & Patti LuPone Directed by Ari Aster Rated R
In theaters Friday, April 21, 2023
An epic, surreal neurotic odyssey, director Ari Aster’s latest movie mind warp is a three-hour dive into some monumental mommy-dearest issues.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Beau, a deeply disturbed, woebegone sad sack preparing for a trip to visit his mother. But his trek is derailed by a colossally wild detour into the heart of crazytown as he confronts some of his greatest fears and anxieties before finally facing the twisted, tangled roots of his lifelong problems.
Aster is the horror-flick auteur who gave us Hereditary, about an ancient demonic force taking hold of a family, and Midsommer, in which a group of young Americans finds some shockingly extreme couples therapy at a creepy folk festival. Beau is Afraid doesn’t plunge as deep into the outright freak-show terrors of either of those films (at least not until its far-out finale), but it “feels” like a horror movie throughout, as Beau’s journey takes him into one terrifying situation after another. It’s like the ancient tale of Oedipus grafted onto the biblical story of Job, topped with a bracing, fatalistic slap of Coen Brothers oddness and a hyper-medicated kick of fear, dread and self-loathing.
(Watch closely and you’ll see some things—a headless body, a brown bear on a blanket and a particularly gruesome death “on the rocks”—that might remind you of touchstones from the director’s previous films.)
So, what is Beau afraid of? Well, he fears going outside, into the dystopic, dangerous swirl of derelicts, junkies and thieves lurking just beyond the locked door of his squalid apartment building. Can he get stomach cancer from accidentally swallowing mouthwash, or die by taking medication without water? Is that naked homicidal maniac going to stab him? What’s the deal with the peculiar altruistic couple (Kevin Lane and Amy Ryan) who take him into their home after striking him with their vehicle? Or their surly teenage daughter, who loathes him, and the enraged U.S. Army veteran trying to track him down and kill him? Practically paralyzed with guilt and bearing enough psychological baggage to sink a ship, Beau is afraid of just about anything and everything—especially his mother (Zoe Lister Jones in flashbacks, Patti LuPone in present-day).
Parker Posey plays Beau’s grownup childhood beau, who shows up just in time for a fateful reunion.
The movie throws a lot at you and asks a lot of you—that you go along with Beau on his torturous journey of self-discovery and wrap your head around what it all means. In the film’s most bewitching segment, Beau encounters a theatrical troupe of performers in the forest, a folklore-ish interlude during which he experiences an alternate, hallucinogenic overview of his life. It’s the most dazzling, mesmerizing moment in a movie overstuffed with wonders and puzzles and unsettling issues, about mothers and sons and pasts littered with regrets.
And it’s a movie that takes sexual performance anxiety to a whole new level, especially as it settles into its home stretch and skeletons (so to speak) come clattering out of the closet—and a grotesquely symbolic monster lurks in a corner of the attic. I guarantee it will out-monster anything you ever conjured up that might be hiding underneath your childhood bed.
Does life come down to a litany of all your transgressions, a messy pile-up of everything you’ve done, and all you didn’t do? Can anything save you, in the end, when your little boat is sinking into the murky abyss of eternity’s dark ocean? Are all the fibers of our being connected and interwoven in ways we can’t possibly fathom? And is someone—maybe your mother, who brought you into this world—really watching it all, forever judging, disapprovingly tabulating the many ways in which you never measured up?
You can see how all that would surely mess up someone, the way it’s certainly messed up Beau.
Beau is Afraid is challenging for its excessive length, its bold, sprawling vision and its unconventional, bizarro mix of inscrutable characters, improbable circumstances and sequences that blur the lines between reality and fantasy. It’s not a feel-good movie by any means, even though it has moments of wild wonder and fantastical beauty, and spatters of bleak humor—like the “menu” posted outside a sleazy peep show, a TV dinner with some comically unlikely ingredients, and the overall gonzo weirdness of it all. It’s like watching one man’s precipitous tumble into the murky deep end of his intensely troubled gene pool, and you’ll probably leave the theater wondering what, exactly, you just saw.
But it’s certainly arty, well-made, brazenly original and totally authentic—a big-screen panacea for anyone who needs a palate cleanser after a junk-food movie diet of superhero sequels, shoot-‘em-up action flicks and dopey romcoms.
“This is all very confusing,” Beau says at one point. Indeed, it is. But Beau is Afraid is a fearless exploration of one man’s anxiety unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a long-haul onscreen psychotherapy session that leaves you with more questions than answers and dares you to take one of the year’s wildest, most provocatively daring movie rides.
Jennifer Garner hunts for her husband, Betty Gilpin plays a streetwise nun & Kerri Russell stars as ‘The Diplomat’
Jennifer Garner searches for her missing husband in ‘The Last Thing He Told Me.’
FRIDAY, April 14 The Last Thing He Told Me Jennifer Garner stars in this gripping new drama series based on the New York Times No. 1 bestselling novel, about a woman who must form an alliance with her teenage stepdaughter (Angourie Rice) in order to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance (Apple TV+).
Jane New kids-focused series, inspired by the life of pioneering zoologist Jane Goodall, stars Ava Louise Murchison as young environmentalist (also named Jane) on a quest to save endangered animals (Apple TV+).
SUNDAY, April 16 The Phantom of the Opera It’s leaving Broadway after a run of more than 25 years. But now you can watch from your home with this performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical stage production filmed live at the Royal Albert Hall (BroadwayHD).
Ciao House Chow down on some fine Italian cuisine in this new cooking competition in Tuscany, the epicenter of Italian life, hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli and Gabriele Bertaccini (9 p.m., Food Network and Discovery+).
MONDAY, April 17 The Weakest Link Jane Lynch hosts the season three return of the quick-witted game show in which contestants must work together to bank prize money—and eliminate the “weakest” among them (8 p.m., NBC)
Live with Kelly and Mark Actor Mark Consuelos comes aboard officially to join his wife, Kelly Ripa, after the departure of long-time co-host Ryan Seacrest from daytime’s longest-running talk show (7 a.m., ABC).
BRING IT HOME
Channing Tatum returns to the role he created over a decade ago in Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment). He’s Mike Lane, a former male stripper now returning to the stage for a last hurrah with a new group of male exotic dancers. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who also directed the original MM, and Salma Hayek hops aboard as a wealthy patron who can afford a $60,000 lap dance. Right!
If a bear toots cocaine in the forest, and there’s no one around to see it… This isn’t a riddle, it’s Cocaine Bear (Universal Home Entertainment), a rip-roaring comedy—yes, a comedy—based on a true story. With Keri Russell and Margo Martindale, and marking one of the final film appearances of Ray Liotta. If you’re up for some offbeat, snarling fun, it’s grrrrrrrr-eat!
Author Raymond Chandler’s iconic noir detective gets an update in Marlowe (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment), as the classic gumshoe gets a new star, Liam Neeson, and a new mission. With femme fatale support from Jessica Lange and Diane Kruger.
TUESDAY, April 18 Longest Third Date Romantic sparks fly when a couple, Matt and Kahani, meet online. But when they fly on a wild whim to Costa Rica for date number three, they get stuck there as the world shuts down for the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 (Netflix).
Deadliest Catch Let’s go crabbin’! Tonight’s two-hour premiere kicks off a new season of this reality series about competing groups of net-casters hoping to cash in on Alaskan Crab (8 p.m., Discovery).
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Which President played so most golf, he had a putting green installed at the White House? Which one ran a horseshoe league from the Oval Office? What really went down when Barack O’Bama played a pickup game of hoops with the North Carolina Tarheels…and later won the state by .3 percent of the vote? Find out in Power Players (Twelve) by former CNN reporter Chris Zilla, which offers an enlightening looks at U.S. presidents and their sports passions, from the spectator sidelines to the playing field.
Most fans know the Three Stooges mostly by their “shorts,” the 190 short films they made for Columbia Pictures in the 1930s thru the ‘50s. Now A Tour de Farce: The Complete History of the Three Stooges on the Road, by Gary Lassin, is the first-ever compendium of the iconic trio’s five decades of taking their show on the road, with appearances in theaters and auditoriums, on military bases, at circuses and for hospital patients. With hundreds of never-before-published photos, tour documents and local reviews, it’s a delightfully detailed flashback to a “lost” chapter in the career of one of pop culture’s most enduring comedy teams.
WEDNESDAY, April 19 Niagara Falls Learn all about the world’s fastest-moving waterfall (and its second largest) and the wide variety of wildlife that call this geological wonder home. P.S., bring your own barrel! (8 p.m., PBS).
Let’s Make a Deal Grammy nominee Jordan Sparks helps celebrate the U.S. military in tonight’s first in a run of prime-time special editions of the popular daytime game show hosted by Wayne Brady (9 p.m., CBS).
Pretty Stoned New comedy series about, yes, attractive stoners who run afoul of a female drug lord (above). It’s got a mostly female cast, including Pretty Vee, Paris Berelc and Kandi Burruss-Tucker (8 p.m., MTV).
THURSDAY, April 20 Mrs. Davis Betty Gilpin (of GLOW) stars in new drama series as a streetwise nun who goes to battle with an all-powerful artificial intelligence known as “Mrs. Davis,” forcing the sister (and us) to re-examine the systems and institutions in which we put our faith (Peacock).
The Diplomat If you liked The West Wing and Homeland, you’ll love this new series (from the same creative team) starring Keri Russell as a U.S. foreign ambassador trying to hold her marriage together as her political world is threatening to fall apart (Netflix).
Dennis Quaid flies high, Katryn Hahn tries to keep it together & stars sing the Beach Boys
FRIDAY, April 7 On a Wing and a Prayer Dennis Quaid (above) and Heather Graham star in this gripping drama based on a true story, about an airplane passenger who takes over the controls after the unexpected death of the pilot (Prime Video).
The New York Times Presents: The Legacy of J. Dilla Documentary about the late James DeWitt Lancey, a Detroit kid who grew up to become a visionary rapper and music producer, working with such diverse artists as A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes and Erykah Badu (10 p.m., FX).
Tiny Beautiful Things Kathryn Hahn was terrific in Glass Onion, and in this new limited series (above), she stars as an advice columnist whose own life is falling apart. Based on the best-selling book series by Cheryl Strayed (Hulu).
On a Wing and a Prayer Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham star in this gripping drama based on a true story, about an airplane passenger who takes over the controls after the unexpected death of the pilot in mid-flight (Prime Video).
SATURDAY, April 8 Pride: A Seven Deadly Sins Story The popular anthology series continues with a story inspired by true events, about a successful bakery owner (Stephanie Mills) whose past secrets threaten everything she’s achieved. Executive produced by T.D. Jakes, it follows previous installments on Lust, Envy, Wrath and Greed (8 p.m., Lifetime).
The Portable Door In this streaming sci-fi flick, an eager young man (Patrick Gibson) lands an internship at a mysterious London firm where the CEO (Christoph Waltz) wants to disrupt the ancient magical realm with a bit of modern-day corporate meddling (MGM+).
SUNDAY, April 9 Catching Lightning He was a ferocious mixed martial arts fighter who played a role in one of the largest cash heists in history. How did that happen? Find out in this documentary about “Lightning” Lee Murray, and how he was convicted of masterminding a 2006 robbery of nearly $100 million in British bank notes (8 p.m., Showtime).
A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys New network television special honors the music and career of one of America’s most enduring vocal groups with performances of the Beach Boys’ classic hits by Beck, Brandi Carlile,John Legend, Hanson, Little Big Town and Weezer, alongside group members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnson (8 p.m., CBS).
MONDAY, April 10 American Idol Sure, they can sing. But can tonight’s finalists sing with a live band? That’s what we’ll find out as they try to impress the judges and pass to next week’s round (8 p.m., ABC).
The Neighborhood In tonight’s milestone 100th episode of the hit sitcom series, Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer) shops for a birthday gift, while Gemma (Beth Behrs) works a connection to Jerry O’Connell get VIP tickets to the Emmy-winning daytime talk show The Talk as a prize for her school’s fundraiser (8 p.m., CBS).
TUESDAY, April 11 My Grandparents’ War Explore the impact of war on the families of four international actors—Kit Harington, Kiera Knightly, Emeli Sande and Toby Jones (9 p.m., PBS).
Icons Unearthed Geek alert! Tonight, insiders and experts reveal things you didn’t know about Marvel’s Avengers, including a detailed look at building the franchise’s intricate superhero world (9 p.m., Vice).
BRING IT HOME
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, Living (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) stars Bill Nighy in an acclaimed, Oscar-nominated leading performance as a British civil servant searching for new meaning in the limited life he believes he has remaining.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12 Single Drunk Female Second season of the critically acclaimed comedy series begins tonight, starring Sofia Black-D-Elia, Ally Sheedy and Ian Gomez in the continuing tale of a woman trying to maintain her sobriety in a crazy world (Disney and Hulu).
Best Food Ever Take a tour of the “cheesiest” spots on America’s menu, from super cheesy cheeseburgers to a cheesy pizza pot pie (10 p.m., Cooking Channel).
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Lying has become somewhat de rigueur, especially in politics. Author Alexandra Petri takes truth-stretching to hilariously inventive extremes in her US History: Important Documents (I Made Up) (WW Norton), a fun, free-wheeling intermingling of fact, fiction, the past and today’s pop culture. If only real history, that we had to study in school, was as entertaining as reading about Emily Dickenson on Family Feud, the Sesame Street gang storming the beaches on D-Day, or Walt Whitman going all Village People and extolling the merits of the YMCA.
THURSDAY, April 13 From Black A young mother, paralyzed by guilt after the disappearance of her young child five years ago, is presented a bizarre offer to learn the truth and set things right. But how far is she willing to go? Starring Anna Camp, Jennifer Lafleur and John Ales (AMC+).
Celebrity Prank Wars Hosts Kevin Hart and Nick Cannon are the joke-masters of ceremony for this hilarious series fanning the funny flames of escalating prank wars between celebs, and tonight it’s Taraji P. Henson vs. the singer-actor known as Fantasia (10 p.m., E).
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck score big in their modern Cinderella story about one of the greatest underdog victories in sports marketing history
Air Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis & Jason Bateman Directed by Ben Affleck Rated PG-13
In theaters Wednesday, March 5
Move over, Cinderella, and make way for another shoe story. And this one’s no far-off fairy fable.
Director Ben Affleck’s earnestly crowd-pleasing Air tells the true tale of how a third-rate sneaker company signed a teenage college basketball phenom, Michael Jordan, and revolutionized everything that followed. One of the most groundbreaking deals in the annals of sports marketing, Nike’s affiliation with Jordan sparked quantum changes in pro sports as well as the realms of fashion, celebrity endorsements and lifestyle.
It catapulted Nike to the top of the sports-shoe pyramid and eventually made Jordan—today widely recognized as pro basketball’s GOAT, its greatest player of all time—an ever-growing multi-million mountain of moola, dwarfing what he ever earned in his entire NBA career as a superstar for the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards.
Air is a rah-rah, rousing feel-good story about taking risks, following gut instincts, sweating bullets and scoring big. It’s like sports in that regard, but it’s not really a “sports drama.” It spends very little time courtside. Most of the plays we see are as business execs watch grainy scouting tapes. The central figure of the story, Jordan, appears only briefly, a silent sentinental seen almost always from behind. We never get a good look at his face, and we hear him speak only one word, “Hello,” over a telephone.
He’s a looming presence without really being present. It’s a bold, completely effective choice from director Affleck, who knows that dwelling too much on Jordan as a character would take us away from the “sole” of the story and the people who made it happen.
So Jordan, and the game of basketball itself, are sidelined as movie focuses, instead, on the human drama—fathers, sons, workaholic businessmen and one super-savvy mom who connected all the dots, against all the odds. It’s like Moneyball crossed with Jerry Maguire and a dash of David and Goliath.
It opens in the heart of the go-go, greed-is-good 1980s as we learn how Nike is on the financial ropes, floundering far behind its competitors, Adidas and Converse. The board of directors is pressuring CEO and founder Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) to cut corners and slash budgets. Advertising honcho Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) bemoans that “George Orwell was right: 1984 is a terrible year—sales are down, growth is down.”
And Nike is down. But Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), in the company’s basketball scouting division, has a bold brainstorm to turn things around…maybe. He wants to use the company’s entire marketing budget to lure Michael Jordan, then only 18, into an endorsement deal, custom designing a shoe that “fits” him in more ways than one, footwear that will become his emblem, his lifestyle, his legacy.
Sonny knows that if his gamble doesn’t roll out a winner, he’ll be out of a job. But he’s all-in. “We build a shoe line just around him. He doesn’t wear the shoe, he is the shoe,” he says. “I’m willing to bet my career on one guy.”
The shoe, of course, would be the Air Jordan, so named for Jordan’s jaw-dropping leaping abilities as a prolific scorer.
Viola Davis plays Jordan’s mother, a shrewd negotiator who innately understands the longterm value her supremely gifted son brings to the table. Marlon Wayans is George Raveling, a superstar basketball coach who only appears briefly but offers some enduring words of inspiration from his past. Comedian Chris Tucker steals his scenes as a Nike marketer with some valuable insights for Vaccaro, especially in dealing with Black athletes. “Always go the mamas,” he tells him. “The mamas run stuff.”
Chris Messina has some spicy comedic bite as a Jordan’s hard-driving agent, David Falk. Matthew Maher is the shoe designer who comes up with the iconic, inspired design for a product that would ultimately travel far, far above and beyond the basketball court.
It’s a juicy, Oscar-bait ensemble, but Damon’s Vaccaro is the heart and soul of the story, the bedraggled underdog who rallies his Nike cohorts—his teammates—behind his big, high-stakes push to land a legend…and help create another one in the process.
Air is Affleck’s fifth project as a director, and it brims with the confidence and slam-dunk sure-footedness he’s developed in The Town, the Oscar-nominated Argo, Gone Baby Gone and Live by Night. The film is rich with ‘80s period-piece touches (handheld video games, Trivial Pursuit, VCRs, running suits) and a soundtrack of expertly curated MTV-era hits (“Blister in the Sun,” “Money for Nothing,” “Born in the USA,” “Time After Time”). It marks the first project of the production company, Artists Infinity, Affleck formed with Damon, his childhood bestie from the ‘hood in Massachusetts.
This is the ninth film in which Damon and Affleck have appeared together, beginning with uncredited appearances as Fenway Park extras in another sports-related human drama, Field of Dreams. They have a natural, unforced ease onscreen together, a natural stride that feels like, well, two old friends who’ve marched along the same path together for years, often as collaborators, doing what they always dreamed of doing, now getting to do it in Hollywood’s big leagues.
And in Air, they’ve found a shoe—and a shoe story—that feels like it fits them perfectly, a cinematic Cinderella’s slipper accented with the Nike swoosh.
Marty Stuart’s lanky, cool-cat singing drummer on his Nashville roots, making a movie with Bette Midler, kickstarting the Americana movement and avoiding a fume-y future
Harry Stinson (right) with Marty Stuart (top) and fellow Fabulous Superlatives Chris Scruggs (left) and Kenny Vaughn
Harry Stinson is a unicorn.
No, not the mythical horse-like creature with a long, spiraled horn spouting out of the middle of his head. But something almost as rare.
He’s a singing drummer. And for further cred as a rarity, he’s a musician who didn’t have to uproot and leave home to get to Music City.
Stinson, the longtime drummer—and harmony vocalist—for Marty Stuart’s rhinestone-spangled Fabulous Superlatives band, is a Nashville native who found his life’s true calling in the basement of Dottie West, the late singing, songwriting hitmaker who, among other things, was the first country female to win a Grammy, became a pre-Dolly duet partner with Kenny Rogers and wrote and recorded a smash 1970s jingle—“Country Sunshine”—for Coca-Cola.
“I was really good friends in high school with Dottie’s oldest son, Morris,” says Stinson. “And we put a little rock band together—original music, about the time of Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615,” two popular Nashville-based breakout country-rock bands of the early 1970s.
West had a small recording space in her basement, and Stinson’s band would woodshed down there—where he became a singing drummer, or a drumming singer.
“Since I was the only guy in our group who could sing, I was kind of chosen by default,” he says, adding that West’s basement was the crucible where his musical abilities all came together. “That was my school, my college for being a singing drummer; I’ll always be grateful because that’s been my biggest tool in the toolbox. The lucky thing was, I could sing well, and I could sing high, so I was able to cover a lot of ground. That really increases your worth as a band member or a player.”
You can hear him singing, and drumming, on the new album from five-time Grammy winner Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Altitude, set for release May 19.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Stinson opens up about music, his stint as a record-company executive, making a movie with Bette Midler and tapping into the Tao of Ringo Starr.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I listened to a mixture of everything after the Beatles came along. I wasn’t really attracted to music before the British Invasion; I wasn’t into “Peppermint Twist.” I started listening when the Beatles came out, and stations began playing everything; you could hear soul and pop and novelty songs, all that stuff. I also listened to WSM and the Grand Ole Opry; my dad would have it on in the house. And I liked bluegrass but listened more to pop growing up.
How did you get into drumming?
When I was in the third grade, my parents bought a piano. I took piano lessons and liked it, but not as much as drums. I loved the drums; I loved rhythm. I begged them for a set, and they gave me something that resembled a drum set. And then I got another set—my first real, brand-new drum kit. But it didn’t have everything; it didn’t have a high hat or a floor tom. It was just the basic minimum. But I played the heck out of it, and I worked cutting grass all that summer to buy a floor tom. And that’s the set I used on our TV show, The Marty Stuart Show [on RFD-TV], because it’s a smaller-size kit and perfect for that setup. They were practically brand new; I had kept them in good shape, in my parents’ house, in their boxes.
Do you remember your first gig, playing in front of people?
Over at [elementary] school, I was the drummer who would play a drum roll when the flag would come up the aisle for school assemblies. Then, in 8th grade, we had a little three-piece band called the Goldbugs, and we all basically played out of one amp. I had a makeshift set of drums. But we won the talent show and went on to the citywide talent show, and I think we won that, too, or came close, second or third maybe. One of the DJs was Noble Blackwell from WVOL; he hosted the TV show Night Train on Channel 5, on Fridays or Saturday nights.
Most people can’t play drums, and a lot of people can’t sing. How did you fare when you started out doing both?
Well, it was difficult to line up the lyrics with the beat, because sometimes you sing behind the beat and sometimes in front of it, but you have to keep the beat on the beat.
Were your parents supportive of your career path—to become a professional musician?
They were. My mom the one that insisted we have a piano. My dad drove for Greyhound; that’s what brought them to Nashville in the late ‘40s. I think they were skeptical, as far as me being a professional drummer, because it was uncharted territory for them; their idea of a career would have been for me to go to college, learn a trade and get a job, and that makes perfect sense. My mom said, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work out, you can always get a job at the Esso station.’ But I never doubted myself, and that’s the thing. They never said I shouldn’t do it, ever.
Well, things worked out and you avoided that fume-y future pumping gas! What other jobs, beyond drumming, have you had along the way?
Luckily, I haven’t had any other jobs. I was a waiter for TGI Friday’s just before I went to college. But I’ve been lucky enough to just make my living playing music.
You’ve kept the beat, and kept singing, through gigs with the band America, with country singer-songwriter Steve Earle, with many other acts in the studio. And then you became, about 20 years ago, one of the founding members of the Superlatives. What’s one of the coolest places you’ve played?
[The Superlatives] played with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman on the Sweetheart of the Rodeo tour [the 2019 concert events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Byrds’ seminal country-rock album]. That was a blast for me, going back to my living room in Nashville trying to learn to play the drums, listening to “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” That was part of my musical DNA from the beginning. What a thrill to have Chris [Hillman] over there playing bass, and Roger [McGuinn] up there singing.”
You spent a decade in California, until the mid 1980s, when you came back to Nashville. You were playing in a band, singing on sessions and then writing songs. What drew you to songwriting?
You live in Los Angeles, you’ll do anything to make a buck. I was in a video; I was on American Bandstand one time. As a background singer, you do whatever you can do. Then, that singer-songwriter kind of country rock, which I was really in love with, was falling out of favor on the radio, and those kinds of gigs were drying up. Toward the end of my stay in L.A., I started playing demo sessions for songwriters, and I kept thinking, ‘They’re paying me to play on them, but I can write better songs than this.’ I’m not as much in touch with the songwriting as other people are [now]. But I do still write. Marty and I have collaborated on quite a few things, and [guitarist] Kenny [Vaughn] and I have as well. But it’s not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Marty’s got that channel really well-oiled, but for me, it’s always a little squeaky.
During your California days, you also co-starred with Bette Midler!
Oh, God, that was a fun experience. [He played a drummer in the 1979 film The Rose, for a scene in a nightclub where Midler’s character, Rose, reconnects with her musical roots.] She blows off a big concert and goes back to a local bar. That was the scene. I was asked by a friend of mine, who was putting together a country band for the film. We spent two days filming in some little sailors’ bar down in Long Beach. We played with a click system using spotlights; there were four of them, different colors, and they were timed as cues for the musical track; we used the lights to keep in sync. I’d never experienced anything like that before.
And then, you became a label executive, starting Dead Reckoning Records in the mid-1990s in Nashville with singer-songwriters Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Tammy Rogers and Mike Henderson.
We were all buddies. We had our own little crew. We decided to form a collective, like John Prine had done with Oh Boy. We knew we weren’t going to be able to make a deal where we could make any money with anyone else, and we were trying to get out stuff on the radio. So we decided to learn the record business—distribution, marketing—on a real roots level. It was the beginning of the Americana movement. We put a band together and went on the road, kind of like a revue. We made enough money to make the next record, and that was about it. I was so busy with the company, everybody thought I was a big record exec and I’d be too busy to play their sessions. So, all my work dried up. It was kind of a disaster, financially. But I learned a lot and I’m really glad I did it. It’s helped me with my perspective in the music business.
How did you get hooked up with Marty Stuart?
I was working with Steve [Earle] on Guitar Town [his debut album], and he had also been signed to MCA; he was under [label exec and producer] Tony Brown’s umbrella. He was aware of me when we were cutting Guitar Town, and when it came time for Marty to start making records [for MCA], my name must have come up with Tony, and somebody said, ‘Let’s get him in to sing on some stuff.’ So, I sang on a few things for Marty’s first MCA album [Hillbilly Rock, 1989]. Then I ended up playing, as well as singing, on some of his later records, “Burn Me Down,” “This One’s Gonna Hurt You.” We clicked; I really liked his sensibility—Southern and cool and rocking, all at the same time. He has that acoustic side very well developed, too, with his mandolin playing and bluegrass knowledge, which I also love.
Playing with Marty lets you showcase both your drumming and your singing, especially when he brings all the Superlatives “up front” for a vocal spotlight.
He brings everybody up for a couple of songs because he was a fan of how Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs would let Uncle Josh and Cousin Jake come up, and Paul Warren would do a solo. I mean, they were the Foggy Mountain Boys! They were a force. It wasn’t just Lester and Earl the whole time. [Marty] likes that comradery and the spark and the spontaneity.
Do you see the career path you chose, all those years ago, as leading you where you always wanted to go?
It’s more like following a creative spirit than a career. I think I’ve always wanted to be in creative situations, because the creative part is what fuels everything. Being able to come up with a drum part or a vocal part or write a song or make a record—it’s all about creating, and I love that part of it.
OK, a final drumming question. Which of these choices describes your drumming ethos: A.) More bang, more buck, B.) Less is more, or C.) What would Ringo do?
It’s a combination between A and B, because less is more, and Ringo was so amazing. He still is amazing, and amazing as a human being. I was attracted to Ringo’s style of playing from the get-go. It’s about joy, about love, about swing, all those things he had. And he wasn’t a “chops” guy, not like a Neal Peart, which is also fine. But I prefer somebody that supports a creative way, rather than just playing every lick they know.
Sandler’s new ‘Murder Mystery,’ a return to ‘Schimagdoon!’ & Jim Belushi goes to pot
FRIDAY, March 31 Murder Mystery 2 Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston return for more adventures as a clue-sniffing couple hoping trying start their own private-eye agency—and finding themselves in the middle of an international abduction when one of their friends goes missing (Netflix).
The Power Toni Collette, John Leguizamo, Eddie Marsan and Auli’i Cravalho star in this new series a sci-fi thriller about what happens when teenage girls suddenly develop a superpower—to electrocute people at will. Yikes! (Prime Video)
Rye Lane In this streaming movie, two 20-somethings (Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson) both reeling from bad break-ups connect on one eventual day in South London, where they help each other in dealing with their nightmare exes (Hulu).
SATURDAY, April 1 The Ten Commandments It must be Easter! This 1956 classic, starring Charlton Heston (above) as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharoah, gets trotted out this time every year. Spoiler alert: The Red Sea parts (7 p.m., ABC).
Very Scary People Donnie Walhberg hosts the new season of this investigative true-crime series, which dives into diabolical acts and the twisted individuals who commit them (9 p.m., Investigation Discovery).
SUNDAY, April 2 Beat Bobby Flay Natalie Morales, co-host of TV’s The Talk, heads to kitchen with Eddie Jackson, sending a pair of chefs on a mission to beat Bobby Flay in a whipped-up battle of Scotch eggs (9 p.m., Food Network).
CMT Music Awards Live from Austin, Texas: Hitmakers Kane Brown and Kelsi Ballerini (left) host this annual event honoring country music videos and performers, including Laney Wilson, who leads with four nominations (8 p.m., CMT).
MONDAY, April 3 Race to Survive Alaska Think you’ve got what it takes to endure the harsh extremes of our northernmost state? Well, you might think again when you watch this cherry-picked group of adventure racers and survival experts trying to endure more 100 miles of inhospitable terrain—equipped with only what they can carry—in this high-stakes competition for half a million dollars (11 p.m., USA Network).
TUESDAY, April 4 FBI TV worlds from FBI, FBI: International and FBI: Most Wanted collide—and collaborate—in this crossover event, which features Dylan McDermott, Missy Peregrym and Luke Kleintank (8 p.m., CBS and Paramount+).
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Sports fans will flip for Got Your Number (Hyperion Avenue), by ESPN’s Mike Greenburg and Paul Hembekides, a stats-saturated dive into 100 sports legends, creatively woven into a “countdown” of the numbers they became famous for wearing. So put on your favorite jersey and let the games begin!
WEDNESDAY, April 5 Schmigadoon! The acclaimed, Emmy-winning musical comedy series starring Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong returns for a much-anticipated second season, with all-new songs, hilarious supporting roles by Martin Short, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Debose, Alan Cumming and more, and a bright new parade of special guests (Apple TV+).
Growing Belushi New season continues the adventures of actor Jim Belushi (yes, the brother of the late John Belushi) as he works toward expanding his cannabis brand in Oregon (9 p.m., Discovery Channel).
Dave New sitcom starring comedian and rapper Dave Burd, who stars as a comedian who discovers much about America on a country-crisscrossing tour—and also a bit about the pressures that fame can put on love and friendship (10 p.m., FX).
THURSDAY, April 6 Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies New streaming series (above) takes place in the mid-1950s, before the events of the movie Grease, and follows four female outcasts determined to have big fun on their own terms (Paramount+)
Slasher: Ripper Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack stars in this fifth-season edition of the horror anthology series as a ruthless tycoon in the late 19 century while a bloodthirsty killer stalks the streets, looking to mete out justice to the rich and powerful (AMC+).
The roots-rockin’ sibs of Larkin Poe talk about their Southern roots, a Nashville homecoming and a certain iconic Boston ancestor
They’ve crisscrossed Europe, played Japan and barnstormed America in support of their seven studio albums. The most recent, Blood Harmony, was released in November.
Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell have been in musical harmony since they were youngsters, first as classically trained violinists, then in a bluegrass band before discovering the crunch and punch of electric instruments.
As Larkin Poe, they’re now bona fide “rock chicks” with roots in the deep, wide and rich musical culture of the South, where boogie and blues, soulful gospel harmonies, gothic storytelling, folklore and other fertile elements formed the firmament of rock and roll.
“Our childhood was full of different kinds of music,” says Megan, 33, whose electric Rickenbacker lap steel dobro has become integral to Larkin Poe’s sound and stage presence. “Our parents were real music lovers, so we grew up in a diverse musical household. In the past few years, we’ve really delved into blues music and have been going back to learn the history of Southern rock, like the Allman Brothers, and who they were inspired by.”
“We like to describe it as roots rock ‘n’ roll,” says Rebecca, 32, who occasionally swaps her Fender Stratocaster or Jazzmaster for a mandolin.
They write the bulk of their own songs, but on record and on stage, they’ve been known to cover tunes from blues legends Son House, Robert Johnson, Elmore James and Leadbelly, plus Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, The Band, Cher, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and the Fisk Jubilee Singers—and yes, the Allman Brothers. Their version of the Blind Willie Johnson call-and-response gospel classic “John the Revelator” was used in the hit Fox TV show Lucifer. They’ve performed with Elvis Costello and toured with Bob Seger.
They acknowledged many of their influences in their 2020 album Kindred Spirits, an eclectic collection of music that had shaped them, from Eric Clapton’s “Bell Bottom Blues” to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.”
“There’s such a kinship in music with roots that have grown out of the same place,” says Rebecca.
Their own roots are in East Tennessee, where Megan and Rebecca were born, later relocating with their parents near Atlanta. They released their first album, Kin, in 2014, then resettled in Nashville. Their 2017 album Peach was a nod to growing up in Calhoun, Ga.
This week, on Friday, March 31, Larkin Poe will play downtown’s Brooklyn Bowl, making a special appearance in their adopted hometown. “The very first show that] Brooklyn Bowl did [in 2019] was a Larkin Poe show,” says Megan. “It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, and we did a livestream for Self Made Man,” their fifth album.
“There’s something special about getting to play a show, then drive a couple of miles and sleep in your own bed,” says Rebecca, excited about the Nashville date on their Blood Kin tour. “It’s very sweet to be [back] in our hometown. We were born over in Knoxville and our grandparents live in Morristown, just a hip, hop and a wobble from Nashville. Being close to the Smoky Mountains is one of my absolute favorite things about Nashville—that in just a few hours, we can get back to the land we grew up on as kids. It’s good family vibes all around.”
Those family vibes extend back through multiple generations, to a famous relative—the poet and short story writer Edgar Allen Poe. The literary master of mystery and the macabre was a distant cousin of Megan and Rebecca’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Larkin Poe, whose moniker the sisters took as their musical namesake.
Their parents had collections of Edgar Allen Poe in their extensive home library, so the sisters read up on their Boston-based ancestor, best known for his gloomy tales of dread and death. “The darkness and Southern Gothic-ness of his writing appealed to us,” says Megan. But they missed—or avoided—most of the horror movies based on his classics, like “The Raven,” “The Black Cat,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death” and most recently, “The Lighthouse.”
“I’m definitely a purist when it comes to books I cherish,” says Rebecca. “I don’t want my mental image to be bullied to someone else’s representation, to be honest.”
Megan has another explanation for why her sister stays away from movie adaptations of their ancestor’s frightening tales. “Rebecca is very scared by horror movies,” she says.
Quoth the raven, or at least paraphrase: Rock on, Larkin Poe, evermore! And welcome home.
Looking for the next big country star, investigating space aliens & celebrating a ‘Young & Restless’ milestone
Reese Witherspoon & Kacey Musgraves are looking for new country stars in “My Kind of Country.”
FRIDAY, March 24 Up Here Romcom musical series (from Steven Levenson, who wrote Dear Evan Hansen and tick, tick…BOOM!) stars Mae (Good Girls) Whitman and Carlos (Gaslit) Valdes as young couple reevaluating their relationship, along with their hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies (Hulu).
My Kind of Country Talent-scout country artists Mickey Guyton, Jimmie Allen and Orville Peck hunt for the next big country star in this new unscripted competition series from executive-producer big shots Reese Witherspoon (a Nashville native!) and Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves (Apple TV+).
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Can you believe it’s been half a century since Pink Floyd’s iconic album first hit the charts? Now a lavish coffee-table book, Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (Thames & Hudson) celebrates the musical milestone with rare and previously unseen photos of the British band on tour, documentation of tour dates, and a visual chronicle of the enigmatic artwork that would become the emblem for one of the most celebrated rock albums of all time.
SATURDAY, March 25 Unexplained: Caught on Camera Experts attempt to explain unexplainable events, including twin brothers who swear they were abducted by visitors from another world, and an hunter who gets more than any eyeful when he sets up a camera in the Montana wilderness (9 a.m., Travel Channel).
SUNDAY, March 26 Great Expectations My sixth-grade reading assignment lives on! This new adaptation stars Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham, plus a wide cast of others playing characters first presented on the page in Charles Dickens’ coming-of-age classic, which first appeared in 1860 as a serialized magazine story (Hulu).
Rabbit Hole Nothing is what it seems to be in this new thriller streaming series, in which a master of corporate espionage (24‘s Kiefer Sutherland) is framed for murder by powerful forces with the ability to influence entire populations (Paramount+).
Searching for Mexico And gee, I thought I already knew where it was… In this six-episode series, actress/producer/director Eva Longoria (right) retraces her cultural and culinary roots south of the border. Produced by Stanley Tucci (10 p.m., CNN).
Succession The Emmy-winning drama-dark comedy series returns tonight to begin its fourth season, further exploring the power struggle between media magnate Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his four grown children. Alexander Skarsgård returns as a tech visionary (9 p.m., HBO).
Yellowjackets The hit drama—about a young soccer team that splinters into brutal clans of survivalists after an airplane crash—kicks off season two tonight. Hang on: It’s gonna be another wild ride! (9 p.m., Showtime).
MONDAY, March 27 Like a Girl New six-part streaming series profiles championship women in sports—females who turn the derogatory phrase “Like a girl” inside out, including swimmers, volleyball players, soccer stars and basketballers (Fuse).
The Young and the Restless 50th Anniversary Celebration Has it really been half a century since this iconic daytime soap started stirring up the suds? Yep, and this primetime special commemorates the TV milestone with cast interviews, highlights and a deep dive into the show’s storylines of romance, feuds, rivalries, weddings and wardrobe (8 p.m., CBS).
TUESDAY, March 28 The Movement and The Madman Find out about this little-remembered chapter of the 1960s, when President Richard Nixon and the antiwar movement came to a tense showdown (9 p.m., PBS).
FBI True There are certainly a lot of “true crime” shows on TV. But this one is different, taking a gritty look at the real-life pressures faced by agents, in their own words, after events like the Waco standoff and a Manhattan bombing (Paramount+).
BRING IT HOME
A stylish remake of one of the classic anti-war films of all time from 1930, the Oscar-winning All Quiet on theWestern Frontdepicts the horrors of World War I from the perspective of young German soldiers who endure the hellishness of battle (Capelight/Netflix).
WEDNESDAY, March 29 The Big Door Prize Chris O’Dowd stars in this new comedy series about a small town forever changed with the arrival of a mysterious machine that appears to reveal everyone’s true potential, causing people to re-evaluate their life choices (Apple TV+).
THURSDAY, March 30 Rapcaviar Presents It’s kind of a weird name, but this new documentary series looks at some of today’s most provocative issues through hip-hop artists and newcomers exploring current events and other topics with their music (Hulu).
Unstable Rob Lowe stars in this new eight-episode series comedy as a biotech entrepreneur working to make the world a better place while trying to reconcile with his estranged son (Netflix).
Keanu Reeves let the action do the talking in the wildest, Wick-iest John Wick movie yet
John Wick: Chapter 4 Starring Keanu Reeves, Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen & Ian McShane Directed by Chad Stahelski Rated R
In theaters Friday, March 24, 2023
He loves dogs, dresses like a scruffy stud and doesn’t say much—except exactly what he thinks.
Oh, and he kills people. Lots of people.
“I’m going to kill them all,” the aggrieved assassin John Wick informs someone in the latest chapter of the action-packed neo-noir franchise, with Keanu Reeves returning to the rock-‘em, sock-em role he originated in 2014.
John Wick: Chapter Four is a ram-jammed, nearly three-hour mega-blast of John Wick doing his John Wick thing. It may be the John Wick-iest John Wick yet.
Wick is, indeed, a killing machine, the world’s most feared—and hunted—hitman, as lethally skilled in ancient martial arts as with all kinds of modern munitions. He’s tried to get out of the dirty-work business before, but he’s mired in the muddy, bloody pull of his past. There’s always an old score to settle, a crooked wrong to make straight, something unconscionable to be avenged. So, he fights, he shoots, he stabs. And despite his constant brushes with death, he’s become seemingly indestructible, a killer immune to being killed, an anti-hero demigod of destruction. At the end of his previous flick, he was plugged (three times!) at close range and sent hurtling off the tiptop of a hotel building.
And somehow—improbably, impossibly—he survived.
Now Wick’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and every other hired killer on the planet is hot on his trail.
Actions once again speak louder than words in John Wick: Chapter Four, which ups its own ante for explosively entertaining, hyper-stylish slugfests and ridiculously elevated battle royale body counts. Reeves reportedly trained for months to perform much of his own stunt work for the slam-bang sequences and extended fight scenes, in which brutal jiu-jitsu, judo and old-fashioned hand-to-hand grappling are punctuated by guns, axes, knives, bows and arrows and whatever else might be handy, such as a pencil. It’s a masterfully choreographed, expertly orchestrated symphony of ridiculously vicious international mayhem as he blasts, booms and bashes his through endless waves of attackers in lush, elegant locations across the globe.
And as always, he’s a man of few words. He enters the movie with one, “Yeah,” and leaves with another, “Heaven.” He’s a tortured soul with little use for pontification as he continues to grieve over the loss of his beloved wife and his dog and long for release, somehow, from all the bad karma he’s kicked up over the years.
“Everything he touches dies,” says one character, after Wick has mowed down three Middle Eastern dudes on horseback, galloping ahead of him across a desert, to finally come face-to-face with some kind of gangster sheik. And it doesn’t end well for the sultan—or anyone else who gets in Wick’s way.
So, is he a good guy killing bad guys? A bad guy killing even worse guys? Or a guy who used to be bad, but finding it impossible to be good in a world upside-down and inside-out with evil?
He’s on a violent quest for his freedom from an organization called the High Table, a council of Illuminati-like crime overlords who run the criminal underworld—and much of the rest of the world, too. Now Wick finds himself on the High Table’s hit list, excommunicated and mostly on his own. How far will he have to go, and how many casualties will be left in his wake before he can be free of his past? Can he ever be free?
It’s a beefcake-y man’s world, for sure, with very little room for women. The few females that pass briefly through are also skilled combatants (the Japanese-British pop sensation Reyna Sawayama makes an impressive movie debut, and we’ll likely see her again) or sideline observers (a pair of glossy lips purring into a microphone for a podcast giving Wick’s whereabouts to assassins).
It’s a wild, Wick-ed ride around the planet, a world tour of outrageously complex fight scenes that begins in Japan, makes a stopover in Germany and finally sets down in France. There’s a magnificient mosh-pit melee inside a packed Berlin disco, a crazy confrontation amidst traffic zipping around the Arc de Triomphe, and a life-or-death scuffle on an outdoor stairway. Everything leads to a climactic single-pistol duel at sunrise, spaghetti-Western style, in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Bill Skarsgård, so good at being bad (he was the creepy killer clown in It), is the Marquis, a High Table official who’ll go to any lengths to eliminate Wick. Ian McShane returns as Wick’s mentor, Winston; he’s the manager of The Continental, an exclusive hotel for the underworld. Laurence Fishburne reprises his role as the Bowery King, who runs a hideout disguised as a homeless shelter. Scott Adkins is a fat-cat, gold-toothed Russian mobster who challenges Wick to a fateful game of five-card draw. A former hitman, the blinded Caine (Donnie Yen), is blackmailed into the unsavory assignment of killing his former friend. We meet a mysterious new foe, the bounty hunter known only as the Tracker (Shamier Anderson), who’s also on a global Wick-finding trip, lured by a reward that eventually notches up to $40 million. But neither Caine nor Tracker really wants to kill Wick; it’s strictly business, the way John Wick’s world turns on its twisted axis.
Speaking of strictly business, the John Wick franchise has pulled in more than $300 million, and Reeves says there will be more movies to come. Next up, reportedly, he’ll return in a couple of spinoffs and prequels, one starring Ana de Armas as a ballerina assassin, and the other telling the backstory of The Continental. And there’s supposedly a John Wick: Chapter 5 ready to rumble, waiting in the wings.
“Have you given any thought,” Winston asks Wick at one point, “to where this ends?”
A valid question for a franchise that seems impervious to winding down, about a character with a track record of not dying. The movie raises other questions too, as it catches it breath between beatdowns, in softer musings about family, fathers and daughters and husbands and wives, brotherhood, religion, spirituality, mortality, how anyone becomes who they are—and if it’s possible to change.
You may have some questions of your own, like where can you, too, can find a customized bulletproof Kevlar suit, or at least one resistant to wrinkles and stains? Is nearly three hours too long for almost any movie? (Answer: Yes, it is.) Is a movie riddled with bullets and bullies the right entertainment for our times, with gun violence at epidemic levels and more than 80 mass shootings in the United States so far this year? (Answer: Perhaps no—but John Wick’s super-stylized violence is so wildly over-the-top, it seems to exist in a wholly impractical netherworld untethered from our own.)
But my burning question, and a practical one for hitmen everywhere in this tax season: If you were successful in killing John Wick, where would you enter that $40 million on your 1099?