Being the Ricardos

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Amazon Prime Video;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for language.
Stars Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Christopher Denham, John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox.

Leave it to Aaron Sorkin to chronicle the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz while making “I Love Lucy” from the perspective of the show’s writers.

The entertaining docudrama Being the Ricardos provides a thorough look at the challenges of television production, focusing on a week behind the scenes of the iconic sitcom while Ball tries to save her marriage while dealing with the potential fallout of being accused of being a communist in the 1950s.

Writer-director Sorkin uses a number of narrative tricks at his disposal, beginning with a framing device involving older versions of the show’s three primary writers — Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll — played by John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin and Ronny Cox, respectively as if being interviewed for a documentary (Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy play the younger versions).

The trio end up telling the story of how Lucy (Nicole Kidman) met Desi (Javier Bardem), navigated the tricky waters of show business, got married and created an iconic show that changed the course of TV history.

During the week in question, tensions run a bit higher than usual. As Ball wonders if her career is about to end over HUAC, she argues with the writers over jokes in the show and deals with rumors of Desi’s womanizing. Meanwhile, the couple also wants to turn her impending pregnancy into a storyline, much to the chagrin of network executives at CBS, as Desi appeals to the show’s sponsor to force the issue.

It’s a lot to process in two hours, but Sorkin keeps it pithy with his trademark crisp dialogue, and the performances are terrific throughout. One clever conceit involves peering into Ball’s comedy mind as she imagines a scene coming to fruition, allowing Sorkin to re-create moments from the sitcom in black-and-white.

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Unlike with his previous film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was dripping in political commentary, Sorkin manages to keep any overt politicization of the subject matter at bay, hinting at the debate between the theories and realities of communism without delving too deeply into the particulars (though in interviews he likens the hysteria to modern cancel culture). He also isn’t so uncouth as to point out how “I Love Lucy” was sponsored by the Philip Morris tobacco company, and both Lucy and Desi would eventually die of illnesses known to be exacerbated by smoking.

The particulars of the story are mostly accurate in the aggregate, though in typical Hollywood fashion Sorkin has changed some details and rearranged the timeline for dramatic effect. For instance, the episode shown being produced, “Fred and Ethel Fight,” was the 22nd episode of the series, not the 37th as stated in the movie. And the communist controversy came about a year later, apparently around episode 68, months after Little Ricky was born. The episode in particular was likely chosen because its topic paralleled Lucy and Desi’s own marital troubles in the film, and provided a nice insight into Lucy’s penchant for physical comedy.

On another note, the casting as Lavin to play the older Pugh is a nice touch, as Pugh and Carroll were among the executive producers of the sitcom “Alice” that starred Lavin.

 

 

IMDb TV Expands Distribution With App Bow on PlayStation 5

IMDb TV, Amazon’s free streaming service, Dec. 14 announced that its app is now available on Sony PlayStation 5 consoles in the U.S.

IMDb TV features originals from Amazon Studios, including the recently launched second season of the spy series “Alex Rider,” and the upcoming second season premiere of the sports docuseries “Uninterrupted’s Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers,” premiering Dec. 17. The streaming service also features an extensive library of movies and television shows, including “Chicago Fire,” “All in the Family,” Die Hard and Angel Falls Christmas.

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The expanded distribution follows IMDb TV app launches this year on Roku, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, LG Smart TVs (2018-21 models), Comcast’s Xfinity Flex, Xfinity X1 and PlayStation 4 consoles, as well as Chromecast with Google TV, Nvidia Shield, and other Android TV devices. The app is also available on iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices in the U.S.

IMDb TV is also available as an app on Fire TV, Fire Tablets, and a free Channel within the Prime Video app across hundreds of devices.

Amazon Inks Deal With Eddie Murphy

Amazon Studios has announced a three-picture and first-look film deal with Academy Award-nominee and Emmy Award winner Eddie Murphy.

Under the pact, Murphy will star in three films for Amazon Studios and develop original film projects for Prime Video and Studios with the potential to star.

The deal formalizes Murphy’s relationship with Amazon Studios on the heels of the success of Coming 2 America, according to Amazon. Following its March 5 release on Prime Video, the comedy was the No. 1 streamed movie of the weekend, with the No. 1 opening weekend of any other streaming movie in 2021 to date, and No. 1 opening weekend of any streaming movie in the past 12 months (post-COVID theater closures),  per third-party Screen Engine/ASI’s weekly PostVODTM ranking, Amazon noted. The film also topped Nielsen’s weekly streaming rankings among all streamed SVOD content.

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“Eddie is a legend both in front of and behind the camera,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “With undeniable comedic and dramatic genius, he consistently delivers entertaining, original stories and characters to audiences around the world. We could not be more excited to help carry on the tradition and to officially welcome Eddie into the Amazon family.”

Murphy will next produce and star in Netflix’s Beverly Hills Cop 4 and star opposite Jonah Hill in a Kenya Barris-directed comedy for Netflix.

Sony Pictures, Amazon Studios Negotiating ‘Hotel Transylvania 4’ Exclusive Prime Video Deal

Amazon Studios may have bought MGM for $8 billion, but until that mega deal passes regulatory muster, the company is looking for content. Enter Sony Pictures Entertainment, which reportedly is negotiating a $100 million distribution deal for Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, which would bring the fourth installment in the $1.3 billion franchise exclusively to Prime Video, skipping theaters.

Hotel Transylvania 4 had been scheduled to bow in theaters Oct. 1. The original movie bowed in 2012. Sony would retain all home entertainment rights, including linear-TV and Chinese theatrical distribution.

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The deal, first reported by Variety, underscores Sony’s ongoing strategy licensing select theatrical content to third parties while awaiting rosier box office days for other tentpole titles.

But “Hotel Transylvania” is just the type of blockbuster franchise Sony would normally shelve for another distribution day such as it has for Uncharted, Marvel’s Morbius and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, among others.

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But Sony has been busy licensing movies during the pandemic, including Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks, to Apple TV+; Happiest Season to Hulu; The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Fatherhood and Vivo to Netflix; and Cinderella to Amazon.

Amazon Studios’ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Original Series to Bow Sept. 2, 2022, on Prime Video

The highly anticipated, yet-to-be titled Amazon Original “The Lord of the Rings” television series will premiere Sept. 2, 2022, on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide, with new episodes available weekly. Filming of the first season completed Aug. 2 in New Zealand.

The new drama brings to TV screens for the very first time J.R.R. Tolkien’s fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. The series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth.

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“I can’t express enough just how excited we all are to take our global audience on a new and epic journey through Middle-earth,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “Our talented producers, cast, creative, and production teams have worked tirelessly in New Zealand to bring this untold and awe-inspiring vision to life.”

A world-renowned literary work, and winner of the International Fantasy Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, The Lord of the Rings was named Amazon customers’ favorite book of the millennium in 1999 and Britain’s best-loved novel of all time in BBC’s The Big Read in 2003. The Lord of the Rings books have been translated into around 40 languages and has sold more than 150 million copies.

Amazon Studios to Aid Efforts to Boost Vaccinations in L.A. County

Amazon Studios and healthtech provider Carbon Health are teaming up to bring pop-up mobile vaccination sites to communities across Los Angeles. On Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18, and continuing across the summer, multiple vaccination sites will offer first and second dose vaccinations. This collaboration is designed to help make vaccines more accessible to underserved populations during a pivotal moment in the pandemic.

The first pop-up opened July 8 at Brooklyn’s Bread & Life. This initiative will continue in Los Angeles on July 17 at Maywood Riverfront Park Health and Wellness Fair and at American Family Funding and on July 18 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. Second doses will be administered four weeks later. It is estimated Amazon Studios and Carbon Health will administer up to 150 COVID-19 vaccinations per day.

Data: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Tomorrow War’ Streamed Strongest Through July 4 Weekend

Among new streaming movie releases made available through the July 4 weekend, Amazon Studios’ The Tomorrow War dominated viewership with 2.41 million U.S. households watching the sci-fi actioner starring Chris Pratt live and on-demand over the three-day weekend, according to new data from Samba TV.

The data research company’s addressable footprint exceeds more than 46 million connected households globally, including 28 million in the U.S.

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The U.S. audience skewed middle class with household incomes ranging from $75,000 to $100,000 (8.9%) and Black (+10%), and of the 25 largest designated market areas (DMAs), Portland over-indexed at 50%.

HBO Max original movie No Sudden Move generated 567,000 households over a four-day period. The audience skewed wealthy ($150,000 to $200,000), up +11%, male (+5.9%), young (ages 20-24 +14%) and Black (+46%). Of the top 25 largest DMA’s, Detroit over-indexed, up 116%.

Separately, Samba said the six games of the “NBA Western Conference Finals” between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers had 3.3 million, 3.7 million, 3.9 million, 3.4 million, 4 million and 4.1 million U.S. households tune in, respectively. The audience for the games skewed wealthy ($125,000+ income), male (+2.6% to 4.6%), and Black (+36% to 48%). Of the top 25 largest DMAs, not surprisingly Phoenix over-indexed the most (+235% to +259%) followed by Los Angeles (+82% to +92%).

Finally, 779,000 to 1.5 million U.S. households streamed the “2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals,” with households skewing wealthier ($75,000+), male, older (45+ years old) and white.

Amazon Studios Releases Inclusion Policy and Playbook for Original Content Production

Amazon Studios June 16 released a comprehensive inclusion policy that it says extends its commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity for its content and productions, as well as guidelines for its collaborators in the creative community.

The recommendations come as Amazon Studios says it continues to seek out stories and storytelling that amplify voices across race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability (including mental health), body size, gender, gender identity, and gender expression for the global Prime Video audience.

“We wanted to move beyond good intentions to creating mechanisms that hold us accountable to a high bar,” Latasha Gillespie, executive head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “This playbook adds additional depth and guidance for our internal teams and external partners to ensure we continue to advance our shared mission of amplifying the best creatives and content around the world.”

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The studio in 2017 got caught up in the #MeToo movement when its boss, Ray Price, was forced to resign following allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Price was replaced by Jennifer Salke.

Salke says the studio’s new playbook on diversity and inclusion underscores its commitment to being a “thought and action” leader in the transformation of Hollywood.

“We know how much work there is to be done to improve representation both on camera and behind the scenes, and it starts at home, with us,” Salke said. “With clear directives and a commitment to accountability, these guides provide a path toward a more equitable future, both on- and off-camera.”

Specifically, the playbook outlines production goals for each film or series with a creative team of three or more people in above-the-line roles (directors, writers, producers) should ideally include a minimum 30% women and 30% members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. This aspirational goal will increase to 50% by 2024.

Casting actors whose identity (gender, gender identity, nationality, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability) aligns with the character they will be playing.

Aiming to include one character from each of the following categories in speaking roles, with minimum 50% of these to be women: LGBTQIA+, person with a disability, and three regionally underrepresented race/ethnic/cultural groups. A single character can fulfill one or more of these identities.

Seeking at least three bids from vendors or suppliers on productions, one of which must be from a woman-owned business and one from a minority-owned business.

Pay equity across casting, behind the camera staff and crew, and for vendors and suppliers.

Amazon Studios said it shared the playbook with creators, including Gloria Calderón Kellett, creator and executive producer of the upcoming Amazon Original series “With Love.”

“Inclusive hiring is what makes change,” said Kellett. “Opportunity and an eye towards changing things through action is what makes change. Thrilled that Amazon has put together this playbook to start important conversations with their other creatives.”

The studio said it would provide a report template for each production to indicate whether these expectations were met, that would be submitted within one month of the completion of principal photography. This reporting exceeds the minimum standards set by the Academy of Motion Pictures, but ensures Amazon is poised to report on the diversity of their films for Academy Award contention.

The playbook puts in place intentional practices to minimize and disrupt biases, providing specific guidance that will help everyone within and working with Amazon Studios to meet expectations.

It also provides direction on how to make inclusive decisions, while telling authentic stories and hiring the best people for the job; knowledge of where to go for help, including tools to make inclusive decisions; tools to identify criteria for making creative choices, leading to balanced, consistent and informed decisions; and ways to foster curiosity and ask questions to disrupt the status quo about “how things are done.”

Amazon Studios worked with Dr. Stacy Smith and Dr. Katherine Pieper of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and with Brenda Robinson of the International Documentary Association and Gamechanger Films on the creation of the playbook. The studio also consulted with organizations devoted to advancing the visibility and responsible depictions of underrepresented or marginalized people, including GLAAD, Illuminative, Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity, and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Smith says current outcomes of DEI work within the entertainment industry have been disingenuous, underscoring the systemic barriers to entry that have long plagued Hollywood.

“But now, Amazon Studios has created a comprehensive new blueprint that will change Hollywood by elevating those who have historically lacked access,” she said. “I’m immensely proud of this new policy and I know it will be a gamechanger throughout an industry often resistant to real change.”

Amazon Acquires Documentary ‘Val’

Amazon Studios has acquired U.S. and Latin American rights to the documentary Val, about actor Val Kilmer.

From directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo, this is the first feature in the slate of documentaries and doc-series being produced by A24, which has a nonfiction arm led by Ben Cotner.

Amazon Studios will release the documentary later this year in the United States and Latin America. A24 controls all remaining worldwide rights.

For more than 40 years Kilmer, one of Hollywood’s most mercurial and/or misunderstood actors has been documenting his own life and craft through film and video. He has amassed thousands of hours of footage, from 16mm home movies made with his brothers, to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster movies such as Top GunThe DoorsTombstone and Batman Forever. The documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a look at what it means to be an artist and a complex man.

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“At least once a day for years I looked around and got this bittersweet feeling that there are a thousand reasons that this project could’ve been shipwrecked,” Kilmer said in a statement. “I mean, what could a film look like of a man filming himself, sometimes daily, years at a time? It is unimaginable that this movie actually could’ve ever come to light without the partnership of my dear friends, Leo and Ting, and my producing partners. Tireless hours of editing and endless emotions with each new cut. I couldn’t be more proud to share this with the world.”

“Filmmakers Leo Scott and Ting Poo have a unique, cutting-edge style and artistry, weaving together never-before-seen footage into a beautiful, raw story about this renowned and celebrated actor, artist and man,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “We’re excited to work with Val and the A24 team on their first produced documentary feature and to share this unprecedented film with audiences.”

Director Charlotte Brändström Joins Amazon Studios’ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ TV Series

Amazon Studios announced today that Swedish-French director Charlotte Brändström has joined the creative team of its forthcoming Amazon Original “The Lord of the Rings” television series.

Continuing on the work of Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona and British Chinese director Wayne Che Yip, Brändström joins the international ensemble cast, currently filming the $500 million budget series in New Zealand, to direct two episodes.

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Brändström is an International Emmy Award-nominee for “Julie, chevalier de Maupin.” She has also directed more than 30 feature films, miniseries, and movies-of-the-week, including episodes of “The Man in the High Castle,” “Outlander,” “The Witcher” and the upcoming series “Jupiter’s Legacy.”

Charlotte Brändström

“I’m very excited to be guided through Middle-Earth by J.D.’s and Patrick’s vision and immerse myself in the iconic world of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a great privilege to be in New Zealand to work with Amazon Studios’ outstanding ensemble of creative talents,” Brändström said in a statement.

Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to small screens the legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. The drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As previously announced, the series is led by showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne  and Patrick McKay. They are joined by executive producers Lindsey Weber, Callum Greene, J.A. Bayona, Belén Atienza, Justin Doble, Jason Cahill, Gennifer Hutchison, Bruce Richmond and Sharon Tal Yguado, co-executive producer Wayne Che Yip, and producer Christopher Newman.