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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Bluths are back together again—with more simultaneous screen time than in Season 4—in the latest Arrested Development reunion on Netflix.

The plotting of this season involves a little too much crazy stuff regarding Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) and the shared girlfriend (Isla Fisher) of Michael (Jason Bateman) and George Michael (Michael Cera), making things a bit haphazard. That doesn’t stop it from being very funny.

There’s a lot of weirdness at play. Buster (Tony Hale) does jail time (during which he touches a mouse!), while Tobias (David Cross) obsesses with impersonating everybody in the family. Cross remains the funniest guy on this show; he goes full-blown insane this season. Gob (Will Arnett) is dealing with feelings for fellow magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller), so he makes a visit to a Closet Conversion facility (which is not what he thinks). Maeby (Alia Shawkat), for reasons I won’t explain, winds up brilliantly impersonating an old Jewish woman in a retirement community.

Even it is a bit frantic, Arrested Development remains one of the funniest shows on TV. (Who knew Henry Winkler was going to be so funny when he grew up?) When it slows down for stuff like a barbecue at Ron Howard’s house (including cameos by Bryce Dallas Howard and the rest of the Howard family), it’s as funny as it ever was.

Netflix currently has eight episodes streaming now, with eight more coming later this year.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Jessica Chastain takes the role of Molly Bloom—a real poker-game organizer and former championship skier—and nails it: Molly’s Game takes a true story that seems too crazy to be real and turns it into a great movie about a woman’s struggle against the justice system, as well as the perils of gambling outside the already-dangerous realm of a casino.

This is a great actress firing on all cylinders. Making the experience all the more enjoyable is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), whose stylish, snappy directorial debut here shows he has a big future beyond the keyboard.

Bloom was a top-notch athlete, shepherded by her domineering father (an excellent Kevin Costner), who had all of her plans laid out before her. She was going to medal at the Olympics, go to law school and become an entrepreneur. Her plans started to hit a snag when it was discovered that she had spinal issues. Major surgeries later, she managed to get back on the slopes—only to be done in by a pine branch, followed by a colossal crash.

Post-slope disaster, Bloom found herself working high-stakes poker games populated by big gamblers and celebrities. Michael Cera shows up in the movie as one of the players (a character allegedly based upon notorious card player Tobey Maguire). Cera is great in the role, but it would’ve been very interesting if they could’ve gotten Maguire to play himself. That would’ve been fantastically weird.

Bloom graduates from working the games to organizing them. She works up to having the game in New York with the highest stakes before things go awry, eventually leading to massive legal problems.

That’s where Idris Elba, as Bloom’s lawyer, enters into the fray and scorches the screen alongside Chastain. Both benefit from precisely written, fiery dialogue, courtesy of Sorkin. The screenplay and direction are so good that the courtroom scenes in this film are actually some of the movie’s greater moments. (That statement comes from a guy whose eyes often glaze over during courtroom dramas.)

The film also manages to take the usual crutch of a narrator (in this case, Chastain) and make it exemplary, too. Narrators often signify a storytelling weakness, but in this case, the narration takes the excitement of the story to another level. Given the complexity of Bloom’s story and its intricacies, some notes from the narrator along the way don’t hurt. The whole movie has a snap reminiscent of the great Ray Liotta narration in Goodfellas. It feels slightly unoriginal in some ways, but who cares? The thing is fun to watch.

Cera, whose official role name is Player X, gets a chance to go darker and more dramatic here, and it pays off. Cera is one of the most underrated comedic actors in play right now, and his work shows he’s capable of so much more. If you need to cast a major prick, go ahead and put Cera on your list.

Costner’s resurgence continues in this film, after his triumph last year in Hidden Figures. He’s making his name for himself playing elder statesmen who seem like bastards, but who actually have hearts of gold. The cast is rounded out by strong, colorful characters around the poker tables and inhabiting the courtroom.

In Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s dialogue (adapted from Bloom’s autobiography) has the kinetic energy of the best David Mamet scripts. While there are quiet moments, the movie generally fires along at a high energy level that never becomes overbearing. This is also where Sorkin gets big kudos for his directing chops: He keeps a heavily worded, constantly moving movie tremendously entertaining and remarkably coherent.

In the end, this is another shining moment for Chastain. There were many great awards-worthy performances by actresses this year, and this among the best.

Molly’s Game is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Eccentric comedic actor Brett Gelman gets a much-deserved starring vehicle in Lemon as Isaac, a theater teacher going through some troubles with his blind girlfriend (Judy Greer).

She starts getting antsy, and his behavior gets weirder and weirder, especially when it comes to student Alex (a very funny Michael Cera). Let’s just say things don’t go well when Alex comes over to hang out … yet that occurrence is one of the more normal ones in Isaac’s life. As his relationship and acting career crumble—he’s the spokesman for Hep C!—he tries to date others. That ends with him escaping a party with his date’s grandmother. (To repeat: Isaac is weird.)

The film meanders a bit, and never has a true sense of purpose, yet somehow, it all works just fine. Director Janicza Bravo, who co-wrote the script with Gelman, makes an impressively strange directorial debut, thanks in large part to Gelman being her star.

Gelman is one of those character actors who basically shows up in everything and cracks you up—yet you never remember his name. Maybe now we will start to remember him, because he’s been kicking mortal comedy ass for years.

The supporting cast includes Jeff Garlin, Megan Mullally and Gillian Jacobs, who co-starred with Gelman on Netflix’s Love.

Lemon is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight has been really living up to the word “dark” since Tim Burton’s Batman came out 28 years ago. He can certainly be a morose sourpuss.

Wait a minute … has it really been 28 years since Burton’s Batman came out? Holy crap! I just totally freaked myself out. Hang on … I need to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. It’s been nearly three freaking decades since Nicholson played The Joker? I need to drink five beers.

All right … OK, I am back. As I was saying, Batman has been a downer at the cinemas. Even when he wasn’t being quite so dour, he was just plain sucking in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies that started coming out 22 years ago.

Wait a minute … did Kilmer really do Batman more than two decades ago? I think I’m having a panic attack. I have to do the breathing-into-a-brown-bag trick … I’ll be right back.

OK, back. Granted, Batman is inherently dark by nature, being all orphaned and inspired by bats and dispatching vigilante justice at night and whatnot. But, hey, sometimes it’s good to have a laugh or two while watching the Caped Crusader do his thing, if only because some of us have a sweet spot for the time when Adam West played the character for laughs in the original Batman TV series, which went off the air 49 years ago. Wait … 49 years ago?

OK … seriously. I have to take a long break and contemplate my life before finishing this review. I’ll be back in the morning after a good cry and extended sleep.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Batman. Batman’s a trooper all right, having survived the debacle that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Ben Affleck is a good Batman; his cinematic vehicle was not.) Thankfully, The LEGO Batman Movie is the great Batman story that Batman v Superman failed to be.

Even better, it has Will Arnett voicing Batman in a new, super-amped, yet dark incarnation that is surprisingly well-rounded. After all of these years watching dark (and sometimes brilliant) Batman movies, it’s nice to have a vehicle where we can just have fun with the character.

Director Chris McKay, along with a long list of writers, has come up with a story that will please adult Batman fans as much as kids. Arnett’s Batman not only faces off against the Joker (a very funny Zach Galifianakis), but he finds himself in a scenario in which he’s battling a smorgasbord of movie villains including King Kong, the Gremlins, Dracula, evil British robots and Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), to name just a few. It’s a nutty plot element that also allows for Batman mainstays like Bane, Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams, who voiced Harvey Dent in Burton’s Batman) and the Riddler (Conan O’Brien!) to get in on the act.

It’s a geek-fest—a movie-lover’s delight that has funny little trivia at nearly every turn, and an emotional center (Batman has family issues; the Joker longs to be hated) that gives the movie a surprising depth among the chaos.

Michael Cera and Ralph Fiennes bring good humor as Robin and Alfred, although Fiennes doesn’t voice Voldemort, which seems like a wasted opportunity: You had the real Voldemort on hand! It just seems like some money could’ve been saved. Oh, wait, maybe Fiennes actually costs more than Eddie Izzard, and Fiennes would’ve demanded full scale for two characters rather than one. OK … I’m distracted again.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a Batman tale that is a little brighter than those brooding Nolan films, and way better than last year’s Zack Snyder atrocity. It’s loaded with funny nods to the entire history of Batman, and fully functions as a standalone Bat story. May sequels abound!

(Writer’s addendum: After mentioning Adam West above, I was reminded that West and Burt Ward revisited Batman and Robin last year, voicing the characters in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I watched it, and it’s not as good as LEGO Batman, but still pretty cool!)

The LEGO Batman Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There’s been too much “more of the same” at theaters this summer. Flat big-budget blockbusters and sequels without an ounce of creativity or originality keep being churned out of the Hollywood industrial complex, delivering an astounding amount of expensive, vapid horse shit.

Sausage Party, the animated hellcat from writer-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is the first big studio film in a long time that is screaming with originality. It’s a profanity-laden, blasphemous middle finger to the movie-making establishment that thinks it’s OK to turn out sequels and comic-book movies that suck—because the studios know people will shell out for them anyway. Sausage Party couldn’t be more fun, and it’s a film like nothing you’ve seen before.

In a sunny supermarket, a bunch of vegetables, hot dogs and buns wake up and sing a happy song, convinced that today will be the day they are chosen by humans to enter the Great Beyond—the world on the other side of those automatic sliding doors.

Frank (the voice of Rogen), an optimistic hot dog with teeth like Seth Rogen, longs for the moment he can leave his packaging and “fill” his sweetheart, a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). That moment seems to be imminent when they are selected and placed in a cart—but things quickly go awry: Frank and Brenda are left behind on the supermarket floor, while their friends soon find out that things in the Great Beyond are far from great.

On top of being super-profane, Sausage Party is incredibly violent, with various food things and condiments suffering unthinkable, heinous fates. (What happens to heads of lettuce and baby carrots is particularly nightmarish.) Rogen and Goldberg have found themselves a little loophole: The main characters aren’t humans or animals, allowing for nonstop carnage within the confines of an R rating.

That loophole also allows for a food orgy that would be too much for your average porno, yet there it is—a bunch of characters openly fornicating in just about every way possible on a big screen playing next door to Finding Dory.

If you’re a parent out there who takes kids to the movies simply based on the poster, you are in for the shock of your life. However, the first word in this movie is actually “shit,” so you should know early on that the wrong entertainment has been chosen for the day.  (Unless, of course, you and your kids are truly twisted, in which case … have at it!)

Other exquisite touches include a main villain that is a total douche … and by total douche, I mean he’s actually a douche, voiced by Nick Kroll. He’s also a leaky douche, so his thing is to suck replenishing juices out of his prey—sometimes in a way that is most provocative.

James Franco is on hand as the voice of a druggie experimenting with bath salts, while Edward Norton voices Sammy Bagel Jr., a bagel who plays a pivotal, perverted part in that food orgy. Rogen/Goldberg mainstays like Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz and Danny McBride all have roles, and they all contribute to make this the most outrageously insane Hollywood comedy since, well, their own This Is the End (2013).

What makes Sausage Party a cut above your average stoner-movie-full-of-food-items-screwing-and-being-murdered is that it also takes some smart swipes at organized religion and politics. Yes, this movie makes you think—a lot more than you would expect from a movie that features a taco going down on a hotdog bun.

I heard Rogen on The Howard Stern Show saying he thinks Sausage Party could be a franchise ripe for sequels. Just how he thinks he can top this madness is beyond comprehension … but I will certainly be in line to find out when he tries.

Sausage Party is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Michael Cera stars in Crystal Fairy as Jamie, an American in Chile who is obsessed with the notion of drinking the juice of a hallucinogenic cactus. Along the way, he meets the strange title character (Gaby Hoffman), who joins Jamie and his group (which includes writer-director Sebastián Silva and his brothers).

Cera is very good here, playing a selfish, misguided man whose streak of humor sometimes ranges toward the cruel. Former child star Hoffman literally lets it all hang out as a star-child type who is hiding some decidedly less-esoteric traits from the group.

The movie is spacey, funny and a nice vehicle for Cera, who wound up having a great summer with this and his turns in This Is the End and the rebooted Arrested Development. The film gets him out of his comfort zone while playing up his fun quirks as an actor.

As for Hoffman—so good in an episode of Louie last year—she’s experiencing a legitimate career revival.

The film is now available for rental via sources including iTunes and Amazon.com; it will be out on DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 19.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and especially Danny McBride and Michael Cera are going to get crossed off a lot of Christmas-party guest lists this year. After what happens at their party in This Is the End, nobody’s going to want them anywhere near the Chex mix.

Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, make a co-directorial debut for the ages with this caustically funny, blood-drenched satire of Hollywood vanity and biblical end times. Nobody is safe in this movie, in which Rogen and a bunch of his film cronies play themselves. They behave rather poorly as apocalyptic hellfire burns the Hollywood Hills, and the devil comes knocking with his huge junk hanging out.

When Baruchel comes to Hollywood to visit Rogen, he is dragged against his will to James Franco’s incredible new house—which Franco has, of course, designed himself—for a blowout party, where Cera is jacked up on coke and slapping Rihanna’s ass. Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and an uninvited Danny McBride are also in attendance, along with nearly everybody else of comedic relevance in today’s movie world.

Baruchel and Rogen go out for smokes and watch helplessly as blue beams of light suck convenience-store patrons into the sky. When they return to the house, the ground opens up, and most of the partygoers meet their demise in gruesome ways. (Poor, perverted Michael Cera gets the nastiest exit.)

Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Baruchel survive and take inventory of their food and beverages. Matters get worse when an oblivious McBride awakens and eats most of their stuff. Constant infighting and masturbatory practices ensue while the stage is set for Satan’s earthly return.

Not surprisingly, McBride is the biggest jerk of the bunch, echoing his usual movie persona. Hill gets ribbed for thinking he’s too good for everyone else after Moneyball, and Franco is the Renaissance Man who decorates his house with his own, self-created art.

An anarchic spirit is at play with this project. Rogen and Goldberg get their stars to do mighty unsavory things (Cera’s three-way in the bathroom, for instance). Major props go to Emma Watson for taking part in something that has her behaving in a way that would make Hermione puke.

On top of the ample humor, Rogen and Goldberg manage a pretty decent horror show, with decapitations, impalings, burnings and Satan with the aforementioned huge privates. In the future, when you are planning a horror/comedy night at home, this one will go along nicely with Evil Dead 11 and Dead Alive.

The enterprise reminded me of Ghostbusters, a movie that successfully mixed big comedic-star elements with sci-fi and horror. Oh, this is a stoner comedy, too. Hey, Rogen and Franco are in it, so what did you expect?

Some of these guys have been screwing up a bit as of late. Rogen made the wasteful The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand; Franco bored me with Oz: The Great and Powerful and Spring Breakers; and both McBride and Franco stunk up movie theaters with Your Highness, a mixed-genre failure to the highest degree.

This Is the End gets them all back on track and re-establishes them as the reigning kings of Hollywood comedy.

This Is the End is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews