STREAMING REVIEWS: About crime & mystery, and a best actress nomination

Natasha Lyonne in 'Poker Face'

The two shows reviewed are hot topics within the entertainment industry today. Poker Face is a series that comes from Rian Johnson of Knives Out fame, and his whodunits have become the rage, often copied. As for To Leslie, it earned an Oscar Best Actress nomination for lead star Andrea Riseborough, but it’s one mired in controversy.

Poker Face (Peacock) - Rian Johnson has been on a roll since his Knives Out came out in 2019. So much so that it’s rarely remembered that back in 2017, he helmed the Star Wars: The Last Jedi film. In fact, it was Looper (2012) that first had both critics and audiences raving about his cinematic vision. With Knives Out and it’s Glass Onion sequel, Johnson updated the locked room crime mystery genre, and it’s been copied and reinvented by directors and producers all over the world. So leave it to Johnson to come up with a new series on Peacock that’s retro in approach and pays tribute to the detective series of the past, such as Columbo, Murder She Wrote, and Matlock. It’s your loner gumshoe/sleuth, with the gift of ingenious deduction, asked to solve a case in each installment.

In Poker Face, we have Charlie Cale, played by Natasha Lyonne (who also serves as Executive Producer), a cocktail waitress in a sleazy Las Vegas casino; but has the uncanny gift of knowing if a person is lying or not. Unlike Knives Out, each episode of the series opens with us witnessing the crime and it’s perpetrator. What follows is Charlie figuring out what happened, and whether she can amass enough evidence so that the law can prosecute. Big difference here is that Charlie isn’t a law enforcement officer at all. In the first episode, she’s just a friend of the chambermaid at the casino who was murdered. What’s also cool about the series is that each episode features a guest star, and the story resolves within the one episode. It’s fast become a favorite, thanks to the offbeat, quirky character Lyonne creates. 

To Leslie (Amazon Prime) - This indie film quietly made the rounds last year and ‘died’ at the box office, then promptly found it’s way to Amazon Prime. It’s now a highly controversial film, thanks to Andrea Riseborough earning a surprise Oscar Best Actress nomination that’s been put under a dark cloud, of how the nomination came to be. Stars like Cate Blanchett, Edward Norton, and Kate Winslett all came out extolling the virtues of the film, and specifically the once in a lifetime performance of Riseborough. And now that the Academy Guild members voted and Riseborough made it to the Magic 5, some are claiming the nomination and voting process is flawed. We’re still to see if the nomination will stand.

As for the film itself, it chronicles a single mother who won a lottery prize of some $120,000 some years back, and thanks to addiction and mental health issues, has frittered away all the money, and is now living out of her pink suitcase and losing her grip on life. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, exploring addiction, recovery, lapsing, and whether there will be some form of redemption. It’s the acting of Riseborough that elevates the film to something special. She is nothing short of mercurial, unpredictable and yet convincing in this portrayal. A whole gamut of emotions and reactions are asked of her, and she takes this all in stride, teasing out a performance hat literally takes our breath away, regardless of whether we sympathize with the character or not.