Friday, 21 June 2024

‘Upgraded’ finds humor in a charade; crime stories on Peacock TV



‘UPGRADED’ Rated R

An original movie on Amazon Prime, “Upgraded” is billed as a romantic comedy, and yet, thematically it also has much in common with “The Devil Wears Prada” as parallels exist where young assistants labor for diabolical bosses.

Beyond Meryl Streep’s despotic fashion editor Miranda Priestly’s treatment of Anne Hathaway’s beleaguered assistant, Melanie Griffith’s struggling secretary taking advantage of her boss in 1988’s “Working Girl” would appear to offer thematic inspiration as well.

“Upgraded” benefits enormously from the very likable central character of Ana Santos (Camila Mendes), an auction house assistant with a master’s degree in art history who dreams of opening up an art gallery.

Meanwhile, Ana is up to her neck in credit card debt and is bunking at her sister Vivian’s (Aimee Carrero) cramped studio apartment that is shared with Vivian’s fiancé Ronnie (Andrew Schulz), a stereotypical Brooklynite who wishes Ana would go back to Florida.

Anxious to climb the corporate ladder at the upscale Erwin auction house, Ana must contend with autocratic boss Claire (Marisa Tomei) who treats underlings with unbelievably callous disdain.

Even worse for Ana is the condescension from Claire’s malicious personal assistants, Suzette (Rachel Matthews) and Renee (Fola Evans-Akingbola), both of whom have the haughty attitude of runway models.

Stepping up to save her boss from embarrassment at an auction, Ana is invited to join Claire and the assistants on a spontaneous business trip to London. With no thanks to her employer, Ana scores a first-class upgrade.

While hanging out in the airline’s private lounge, Ana encounters a handsome Brit traveler, Will (Archie Renaux), and in meet-cute fashion they flirt during the flight after ending up as seatmates.

During the course of the flight, Ana gives the impression that she holds an executive position at the auction house, which obviously leads to complications. It’s bad enough she’s relegated to staying at a seedy hotel.

Ana’s fortunes rise when she meets Will’s actress mother Catherine (Lena Olin), who is planning to have her collection of exquisite art put up for auction and wants Ana to handle the details.

“Upgraded” finds its humor in the challenges for Ana as the lowly assistant gamely tries to keep up a very tenuous charade. A few twists and turns add to the charm of this film.

TRUE CRIME STORIES ON PEACOCK

During the pandemic lockdown, Australian author Liane Moriarty listened to true-crime podcasts which inspired her latest best-selling novel “Apples Never Fall,” leading to an adaptation for a limited series to premiere in March on Peacock.

The native of Sydney, Australia found her New York Times best sellers “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” adapted into successful series for HBO and Hulu, respectively.

“Apples Never Fall” centers on the seemingly picture-perfect Delaney family. Former tennis coaches Stan (Sam Neill) and Joy (Annette Bening) have sold their successful tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives.

While they look forward to spending time with their four adult children (Jake Lacy, Alison Brie, Conor Merrigan-Turner and Essie Randles), everything changes when a wounded young woman knocks on Joy and Stan’s door, bringing the excitement they have been missing.

According to the novel, the four grown children, who all endured paternal discipline of being coached to professional tennis glory, have settled into lives far removed from sports, where they found either their own successes or failures.

Tension aside from an apparent dysfunctional household, when Joy suddenly disappears, the children are forced to re-examine their parents’ so-called perfect marriage as their family’s darkest secrets begin to surface.

Naturally, in such cases of disappearance, suspicion falls upon the spouse. An interesting statistic out of Australia, is that on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. How things turn out in “Apples Never Fall” will be left to be revealed in the series.

True crime manifests itself in the Peacock documentary “Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot,” a story told through rare interviews with victims’ family members, eyewitnesses and experts on the criminal mind.

The documentary reveals new insights into how Joran van der Sloot’s lifelong pattern of violence and pathological lying leads to the deaths of two young women that attracted pervasive media attention.

Few killers have ever murdered again after they became famous for another killing, but on the fifth anniversary of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance, Joran murders 21-year-old Stephany Flores in Peru.

Hauntingly, Joran’s trip to Peru is financed by money he extorted from Natalee Holloway’s mother, Beth, after falsely promising to reveal where to locate Natalee’s body for a price.

In 2023, 18 years after Natalee’s vanishing, Beth Holloway finally gets her day in court with Joran, who admits for the first time that he murdered her daughter.

The Dutch native’s admission brings some long-sought comfort to Natalee’s family, but Joran’s history of deceit and manipulation leads some to question the details in his latest story. The documentary looks to unpack some of the details.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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