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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

DVDs/Home Viewing

04 Sep 2018
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Over Labor Day weekend, I binge-watched Ozark, a show about a Chicago family whose financial-expert patriarch, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), made the unfortunate decision to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. He eventually winds up in the Ozarks with his family, where he finds ways to launder more money through the lakeside businesses he gobbles up. The first season worked just fine. Bateman himself directed a couple of episodes that I found to be generally gripping, and Laura Linney had some great moments as Wendy Byrde, mother and wife. Julia Garner was very good as Ruth, a local looking to ride Marty’s fake wealth into a better life. As for the just-released second season … I am four episodes in so far, and it stinks. It’s all about the Byrdes being stuck in the Ozarks and trying to manipulate their various schemes, with the first few episodes trying too…
27 Aug 2018
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Moll (Jessie Buckley), a loner, meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), another loner, and they seem to hit it off as the film Beast gets under way. He’s mysterious and he has kind eyes. However, he also poaches animals and has a controversial past—which is brought to her attention by authorities after they have gotten romantic. Local girls are disappearing and winding up dead, and Pascal, who has a criminal past and fits the profile of a serial killer, is now a prime suspect. That puts a damper on the romance, obviously, as Moll struggles to find out who she is really in love with—and whether or not he’s capable of such heinous acts. Michael Pearce has made a chilling, effective thriller, thanks to a cool, stylish and quiet directorial style that works beautifully with the stellar lead performances. The effectiveness of a movie like this relies upon the director’s ability to…
20 Aug 2018
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Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, sets his sights on The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones with Disenchantment, his latest animated series. While the finished product looks a little rushed on the visual side, there are enough good laughs to make the series a success. Bean (the voice of Abbi Jacobson) is the restless daughter of King Zog (John DiMaggio). With her assigned demon, Luci (Eric André), at her side, and Elfo the elf (Nat Faxon) as her sidekick, she sets off on a series of adventures. The humor is part The Simpsons, and part Monty Python (there are actually a lot of “not quite dead” jokes), with more hits than misses. André is a constant laugh-getter as the wisecracking demon, while DiMaggio is very funny as the unorthodox king. Hopefully, Netflix will straighten out the visuals in future seasons and make this look more…
07 Aug 2018
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Ethan Hawke is on fire in First Reformed, a return to form for writer-director Paul Schrader, the man who penned Taxi Driver and Raging Bull—and directed American Gigolo 38 years ago. Hawke plays the Rev. Ernst Toller, a priest in an historical church located in upstate New York. Toller holds up well in front of his congregation, but behind the scenes, he’s a mess: He’s an alcoholic; he is haunted by the loss of his son; he’s stricken with self-imposed loneliness; and he may have cancer. When a congregation member (Amanda Seyfried) requests he speak to her husband (Philip Ettinger), a manically depressed environmentalist, it sparks something within Toller. He starts to doubt his place in the world, the hypocrisy of his religious organization, and his own ability to lead. His chief religious adviser, the Rev. Joel Jeffers (an excellent Cedric the Entertainer, aka Cedric Antonio Kyles), tells him he’s…
31 Jul 2018
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After being banished from her Orthodox Jewish community due to a small scandal with a local girl, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to her London home years later upon hearing her father, a prestigious rabbi, has passed away. With that, the stage is set for Disobedience, a stunner from Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) and a showcase for Weisz and Rachel McAdams as Esti, the woman with whom Ronit had the affair. Esti is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), and has been repressing her true sexuality for years in Ronit’s absence. When Ronit returns … well, things happen. Lelio explores not just repressed sexuality, but the influence (both good and bad) of religion in the small community. Weisz and McAdams are mighty convincing as lovers, while Nivola offers up a few big surprises as the husband who shouldn’t really be Esti’s husband. The three have moments together that count as…
16 Jul 2018
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Holy hell, does Sacha Baron Cohen have balls. His latest TV show, Who Is America?—in which he disguises himself in heavy makeup and tricks people (including well known politicians) into sitting for interviews—is jaw-droppingly funny. In the first episode on Showtime, he disguises himself as a right-wing activist on a scooter, even though he has no handicap. (“This here scooter is to preserve my body’s finite energy!”) He tries to persuade a very patient and confused Bernie Sanders into believing the 99 percenters can be moved into the top 1 percent, so we will all be 1 percenters. Bernie was not amused. Other Cohen victims include a Trump delegate who suffers from white privilege (Cohen disguises himself as a left-wing, sensitive ponytail guy) and an art-gallery owner. (Cohen disguises himself as an ex con who makes art with his own feces and ejaculate.) It’s amazing to see just how tolerant…
10 Jul 2018
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Perhaps you noticed that the Jerry Seinfeld program featuring the man interviewing comic guests has moved from Crackle to Netflix—and all of the old episodes are available on Netflix for you to peruse. What you might not have noticed is Jerry’s deal wasn’t just to run the old shows: A new season of interviews just went up on Netflix, and it’s a healthy bunch. As of July 6, there are 12 new episodes, including one with Jerry Lewis that was probably the comic legend’s last TV appearance. Others include Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Tracy Morgan, Dana Carvey and Kate McKinnon. The winner in the new bunch would have to be the episode with Alec Baldwin, who does a hilarious re-enactment of a Broadway role that leaves Seinfeld in stitches. McKinnon is a close second, with her sad impersonation of a dog pooping and her winning rendition of Jessica Lange in…
03 Jul 2018
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Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a fighting gay couple forced to take in the Coogan character’s grandson in Ideal Home, a film that’s ultimately enjoyable because Rudd and Coogan take it above its silly sitcom tropes—and provide genuine laughs and real emotion. Paul (Rudd) and Erasmus (Coogan) work on a cooking show together and live an upscale life. However, the two need to become parents overnight when Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door after his dad gets busted. There are moments in this movie—registering the kid for school, visiting dad in jail, etc.—that feel like a thousand movies before it, and director Andrew Fleming throws in too many plugs for Taco Bell. These problems aside, Rudd and Coogan had me laughing consistently, and loudly, throughout the movie. This really is a movie that could’ve been awful, but Rudd and Coogan don’t just salvage it; they actually make…
26 Jun 2018
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I missed The Death of Stalin in theaters. Shame, shame, shame on me: It’s one of this year’s funniest—and strangest—movies. Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci puts together an incredible cast to tell the story of the last days of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), and the chaos that ensued when he died. Ingeniously, Iannucci opts to have his British and American cast members keep their regular accents, giving the movie a sort of crazy, Monty Python-like vibe (It reminded me of the Pythons talking with their British accents in Life of Brian.) Having Michael Palin in the cast as Vyacheslav Molotov certainly helps that vibe. Steve Buscemi deserves to be a legitimate Oscar contender as Nikita Khrushchev, depicting the soon-to-be Soviet leader as a chest-bumping nut fond of dirty jokes and saying “fuck” a lot. It comes off as if Khrushchev is the son of Buscemi’s Boardwalk Empire character, Nucky Thompson, or…
11 Jun 2018
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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…
04 Jun 2018
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Howard Stern, sporting a silly gray beard in order to give his pal David Letterman a hard time, sits for a terrific interview in the latest installment of Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Stern, who got his big television break on Letterman’s show many years ago, is shown in footage from their first meeting together on TV—sporting a terrible mustache and somehow looking older than he does now. The action then skips to present-day, with Letterman sporting that crazy beard and Howard with shades—but without upper-lip hair. The two talk about broadcasting in general, Howard’s upbringing, and the hazards of celebrity. Stern is his usual self-conscious self, complaining about his looks and worrying he’s ruining Dave’s show. He looks fine, and he’s a great guest. Of course, they touch upon Donald Trump and his many visits to each of their shows, including Trump’s gross bragging about his own…
30 May 2018
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Two comic legends come together for Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a variety special that has its shining moments … but gets by on the general good feeling of seeing the two sharing a stage. It’s not remarkably funny. Actually, it really isn’t that funny at all; a lot of the attempts at humor fall flat. It does have a couple of gigglers, including Short’s nasty talk-show-host Jiminy Glick transformed into a puppet that Martin works; the two also enjoy making fun of each other. But a musical number by Short that winds up with him in a very low-grade naked suit is lame. The show really shines when Martin simply sits down and plays his banjo. Honestly, I could’ve watched an hour of Martin playing his banjo by himself on the stage. I didn’t even need the moment…