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Happy Hour and Ellery Queen series provide entertainment off the beaten path

Audrey inspects a film

Cruella, The Power of the Dog, No Time to Die…. There are so many good recent films on streaming services and disc. Many viewers enjoy the popular new releases but a good many also take time to screen less trendy titles.

Sometimes a new TV show leads us back to older gold. With the latest season of the engrossing detective series Baptiste on PBS Masterpiece Mysteries a couple months ago, Turkish-born French star Tcheky Karyo became a person of interest. Soon, I had seen all of that series and its predecessor The Missing. Where to go next? To imdb.com for his filmography. Luc Besson’s stylish French thriller La Femme Nikita, also known as Nikita, from 1990 popped up.

Anne Parillaud plays a street-tough drug addict and convicted criminal taken into custody and given a hard choice: be convicted and punished accordingly by a French court or become a secret assassin for the government. Karyo plays the ruthless agent who reshapes the rough-edged felon to become a useful weapon. And then love enters the plot. La Femme Nikita is remarkably fast-paced, sophisticated, and entertaining. And there is a featured performance by legendary Jeanne Moreau!

A couple months ago, a friend turned me on to Happy Hour, a 2016 film from Ryusuke Hamaguchi. At 317 minutes, it’s the longest feature film ever made in Japan. The loosely-told story follows four women who are in their thirties. Together or apart, they work, have domestic complications, travel to a spa, disco, and more than anything else, they converse. The charisma of the women and surrounding characters, combined with the naturalistic dialog goes far to hold viewers’ interest. Happy Hour was inspired by the exercises of a course on improvisation. It’s a treat for cinephiles.

Yorkshire-born actor Patrick Stewart is best-known to American audiences as Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek, but he has a long list of stage and screen credits from classic plays to voice-overs on animated films. In 2014, he starred in a feature film called Match, a low-budget, competent film written and directed by Stephen Belber, based on Belber’s stage play of the same name.

Stewart plays an aging, noted dance instructor at the Julliard School in Manhattan who agrees to be interviewed by a woman for her dissertation. On the day of the interview, she appears with her husband. As the interview moves from polite beginnings to more gritty questions, Match takes on an air of mystery and an ether of discomfort. Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard play the couple.

The three talk and talk, drink and drink, and Match soon becomes a prickly drama. The film at times does not rise above a recorded stage play, but it certainly is fascinating. Stewart is convincing as the accomplished dancer. His body movements are supple, graceful. While he isn’t dancing throughout, he is living convincingly within a dancer’s body. He’s a superb actor.

A friend recently recommended the mid-1970s TV series Ellery Queen as a possible alternative to obsessively re-screening Inspector Morse. It’s clever and makes for great light-weight entertainment. The late Jim Hutton plays the title role, with David Wayne as his father, Inspector Queen. Each episode features Hollywood movie stars who have transitioned into TV. The series only lasted one season, a pilot plus 22 episodes. The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario from February 1976 features Troy Donahue as a movie star who is shot to death by live ammo in a prop gun as the cast and crew look on. A sad and incredibly realistic piece of fiction!

Audrey Kupferberg is a retired film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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