Reviews & More: True to Life

“The Marijuana Conspiracy”

The Oscars are now history (and wasn’t that an interesting production and wasn’t it admirable for the range of non-white winners?), movie theaters are starting to open up in some areas, more and more Americans are vaccinated, but we’re not yet back to normal—whatever “normal” turns out to be. So here are a few shows you might be interested in streaming at home.

“The Nevers” (HBO Max) is dribbled out weekly and not available for bingeing. The first two of 12 episodes captured my attention because they were highly entertaining, outlandish, beautifully acted, amusing, violent, sad and hopeful, all at once. The premise is a fun one: in the late part of the 19th century, there is a group of people who have gathered together because each has a special gift that sets them apart from ordinary folk. One can see scenes from the future, another can make solid objects float, yet one more creates fire from her fingertips and so on. Most of them are women and they are both feared and admired in Victorian society. Led by an excellent cast (Laura Donnelly, Ann Skelly, James Norton, Ben Chaplin and many more), there are all kinds of interesting relationships and backstories. Production values are top notch, the dialogue crackles and I am looking forward to the next episodes with eagerness.

“The Marijuana Conspiracy” (On Demand and digital) has a terrific fact-based subject as its starting point but fails to deliver any kind of punch as a fictional film. In 1972 Canada, a governmental study of marijuana’s effect on young women—did it make them lazy, unproductive, prone to overeating and promiscuous as they suspected?—was undertaken. Two groups of young, unmarried women were set up in a communal living situation and observed for three months straight. One group got daily marijuana joints to smoke, the other didn’t. They were put to work on macrame products and were under constant observation, their every moment recorded. What writer/director Craig Pryce has done with this stellar subject matter is to create awkward dialogue and by-the-book character arcs for a fine young cast of characters who did the best they could. While there are some nice moments of interaction between the joint-smoking group members, the film itself is only mildly interesting; however, as a history lesson about how mores have changed in the past 50 years and yet have not changed at all, it’s worth watching.

“Murder Among the Mormons,” a three-part docuseries available on Netflix, is well done, fascinating and extremely watchable. The background: Over history, rare book and artifacts dealers were able to obtain previously unavailable or unknown documents and paraphernalia related to the original founders of Mormonism, now known as The Church of Latter Day Saints. As soon as church elders were made aware of an item, it was purchased and stored in private and highly secret files. Little was known about what was in these files and the church liked it that way. However, in 1985, three explosions set off a chain reaction that included murder, forgery, cover-ups, families broken apart and, ultimately, potential threats to the foundation of the church itself. The series covers all that, but its third episode is the most fascinating one. It’s a study of a total sociopath, an extremely clever and gifted one, who got away with getting his “discoveries” certified as authentic for years and years, and who remains lacking in remorse to this day.

“Above Suspicion” (available for rent on most streaming channels) is a film that’s been around for a couple of years but is just now being released. Another fact-based fictional offering, its milieu is the hardscrabble lives of those in the rural South and the dope dealers who are part of everyday existence. The story centers on a newly minted FBI agent, a young female drug addict/informer who has had a rough life and the attempt to break up a murderous ring of dope pushers. It’s not a particularly special film—the genre has been done and overdone—but it is anchored by a stellar performance by the always-riveting Emilia Clarke, a fine English actress (“Game of Thrones”) doing a passable Southern accent and making the most out of her role.