By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow
Five years ago, theatergoers and critics were dazzled by the vivacious, culturally significant musical “Hamilton” about the nation’s first Treasury secretary, political mastermind Alexander Hamilton. Now you can see the thrilling, live-capture, the 161-minute film version with the original principal Broadway cast.
Utilizing a racially/ethnically diverse cast singing exhilarating R&B, jazz, pop and hip-hop music, writer/composer/performer Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of a poor immigrant kid who was born in 1775 on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis.
Cocky, energetic and verbally blessed, Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) became known as George Washington’s (Christopher Jackson) favorite strategist — until he was killed in a duel by his perennial frenemy, manipulative Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Based on Ron Chernow’s exhaustive, insightful biography (2004), it not only reveals Hamilton’s relentless ambition but also his romantic entanglements. Even after marrying Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), he maintains a relationship with her sister Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry), his intellectual soul mate, while indulging in an adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds, the nation’s first sex scandal.
Most of the humor emanates from England’s arrogant King George III (Jonathan Graff), who is clueless about why the rebellious colonists demanded their independence.
And Hamilton’s clever duet with France’s Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) delivers a timely tweak, slyly asserting: “Immigrants — we get the job done.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda reunited with his 2008 Tony-winning “In the Heights” collaborators: director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and music director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Using multiple cameras, cinematographer Declan Quinn filmed 13 key songs separately, enabling revelatory close-ups of the performers, deftly edited by Jonah Moran.
“So much of what ‘Hamilton’ is about is how history remembers and how that changes over time,” observes Miranda, noting it’s particularly relevant during our country’s coronavirus pandemic, along with Black Lives Matter, amid the bitterly divided political landscape.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hamilton” is an innovative 10, a cultural phenomenon now available anytime, ad-free on Disney Plus for $6.99 a month — cancelable at any time.
Recent revelations about Russians paying bounties to Taliban fighters for killing American soldiers makes the powerful war drama “The Outpost” as relevant as today’s headlines.
Based on the true story of Afghanistan’s bloodiest engagement, the 2009 Battle Kamdesh revolves around 53 brave U.S. soldiers in a remote Outpost, tucked deep in a valley at the base of three mountains near the Pakistani border.
In charge is First Lt. Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom), whose mission of ‘counterinsurgency’ involves bartering with local village elders for their cooperation since the vulnerable Outpost is surrounded by hundreds of Taliban militants.
The Army is actually planning to abandon the Outpost but no one has informed the troops. Instead, they’re ordered to move a huge truck up a narrow road with tight, treacherous switchbacks so it can be used elsewhere.
Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment includes Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son), Ty Carter (Celeb Landry Jones), Robert Yllescas (Milo Gibson, Mel’s son), Justin T. Gallegos (Jacob Scipio), Daniel Rodriguez (as himself), plus James Jagger (Mick’s son), Scott Alda Coffey (Alan Alda’s grandson) and Will Attenborough (Sir Richard’s grandson). This film is a tribute to their real-life heroism.
Based on CNN journalist Jake Tapper’s “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” (2012), the visceral action thriller was adapted by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson and adroitly helmed by former film critic-turned-director Rod Lurie (“The Contender,” “Nothing But the Truth”), a 1984 West Point alum.
Additional kudos to intrepid cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, production designer Erik Carlson and editor Michael Duthie for creating ferocious authenticity.
Scott Eastwood delivers a memorable performance. When he voices the line — “No, not today” — his vocal tone/delivery is exactly like Clint’s — and it’s eerie that his real-life character is named Clint.
NOTE: since theaters are closed, try to view this in a darkened room on as big a TV screen as possible. Do not try to watch on an iPhone or laptop because it’s not as effective.
On the Granger Gauge, “The Outpost” is an intense, indelible, immersive 8, commemorating courage at its highest level- streaming VOD.
Originally in Earle Stanley Gardner’s pulpy detective novels (1933-1973), “Perry Mason” was a Los Angeles-based lawyer. Burly actor Raymond Burr embodied Perry in a formulaic CBS-TV series (1957-1966), portraying him as a criminal defense attorney, with Barbara Hale as loyal Della Street.
This edgier, re-imagined HBO version is set during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, and Perry Mason has become a seedy, boozy, cynical private detective, played by wiry Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”).
“He lives and dies by: ‘There’s what’s legal and there’s what’s right,’” says Rhys. “The one thing that elevates him is his sense of justice. He was once dealt a huge blow by a betrayal of justice. It kind of becomes his North Star. So regardless of his means, ultimately, if what he does is right, it’s warranted.”
Created by Rolin Jones & Ron Fitzgerald, it’s directed by Tim Van Patten & Deniz Gamze Erguven. Unlike most episodic mysteries, they’ve latched onto a particularly violent murder case for the eight-episodes, evoking memories of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and revivalist preacher Aimee Semple McPherson.
Suspicions surround both parents (Nate Corddry, Gayle Rankin) and their ties to the Radiant Assembly of God, run by inscrutable Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) and her mother, Birdy (Lili Taylor).
Supporting characters include defense attorney E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow); conflicted Paul Drake (Chris Chalk), one of the few African American officers in the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department; Perry’s Latina lover, the aviator Lupe (Veronica Falcon); and diligent Della Street (Juliet Rylance), who yearns for more than just secretarial work.
What most impressive are John Goldsmith’s period-perfect settings and Emma Potter’s impeccable costumes. Disheveled Perry Mason has a perpetual five-o’clock-shadow and sports a signature fedora.
On the Granger Gauge, “Perry Mason” is a grim, gruesome, gritty 4. On HBO, take it or leave it.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)