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The first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a huge success, garnering five Primetime Emmy Awards—including Outstanding Comedy Series honors—and giving Amazon Studios its biggest hit to date.

Given all the accolades and press, show runners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino had to be feeling a lot of pressure to deliver with the show’s second season—and deliver, they did, on Dec. 5 with 10 splendid episodes.

While the second season doesn’t cover any surprising ground—the plot lines all head pretty much where one would predict them to head—the writing remains sharp and delightful, and the acting is consistently stellar.

Season 2 takes us on a comedy tour with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Susie (cast MVP Alex Borstein); to Paris with Midge and parents Rose (Marin Hinkle) and Abe (Tony Shalhoub); and on a summer away in the Hamptons with the entire Masiel and Weissman families. New addition Zachary Levi is on hand as a potential love interest for Midge.

Side note: I can’t believe Miriam Maisel and House of Cards’ Rachel Posner—she’s the prostitute knocked off by an obsessed Doug Stamper—are played by the same actress. Rachel Brosnahan, you’re amazing!

The second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is now streaming on Amazon Video.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Writer-director Stanley Tucci asks the question, “When is a piece of art truly done?” with Final Portrait, an acting workshop for Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

The film is based upon the memoir A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, an American author who sat for a portrait by famed artist Alberto Giacometti in the 1960s, shortly before the artist died in 1966.

Lord is played by Hammer, hot off his acclaimed performance in Call Me by Your Name, with Rush embodying the craggy, difficult and just-a-little-bit-crazy Giacometti. Much of the movie simply consists of these two fine actors bantering back and forth as Rush fiddles with painting paraphernalia, and Hammer keeps still in a chair.

Does that sound boring? If the idea of watching an artist neurotically working through his painting process sounds horrifying, then yes, you will find this boring, and you should probably stay away. I found myself taken by the pic, but not completely; I admit to getting a little restless with it at times.

What makes it work is that Rush and Hammer work so well off of each other times. Hammer does good work as a Manhattanite in Paris swept away by the notion of having his likeness put on canvas—yet unaware of the semi-ordeal into which he’s getting himself. Giacometti woos Lord by telling him the whole thing should take a couple of hours, and it winds up taking weeks. Needless to say, patience is tested.

Rush’s Giacometti is a bit of a mess, openly carrying on with a local prostitute (Clémence Poésy) while his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), and brother, Diego (longtime Tucci collaborator Tony Shalhoub), try to keep him under control. His artistic genius is matched by a total scattershot way of conducting business, life and artistic endeavors. His process is lacking a certain organization and sense of purpose.

He seems like a nut, and yet anybody who has tried to do a serious painting or drawing can relate to Giacometti’s lament that a true work of art is never really done. I love to draw, but I have a hard time finishing my projects. Watching this film, I recalled an 11th-grade art class in which I constantly argued with my teacher about putting time limits on true works of art. I could never get my assignments done in time, and I knew I had spent more time on them than other kids in the class. I raged against my teacher, calling her standards unfair and completely against the notion of what true art is. “Should a young man be downgraded for his art because he did not meet a proper deadline?” I asked passionately, a query similar to the one posed by Giacometti.

Mysteriously, I got shitty grades.

OK, back on point: The film convincingly shows the struggles of an artist whose art doesn’t come easily to him. Rush’s Giacometti hilariously interrupts multiple painting sessions by exclaiming, “Oh Fuck-uh!” and slathering paint all over his canvas for the purpose of starting the whole thing over.

The film comes up with a way to end the portrait session that, while kind of cute, feels a little too tidy. That said, I guess the movie couldn’t go on for weeks and weeks. That would be brutal.

While we’ve come to know Tucci for his character-actor performances in films such as The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada, he made quite a splash back in 1996 with his directorial debut, Big Night. His directorial efforts since (The Impostors, Blind Date, Joe Gould’s Secret) weren’t bad, but he hadn’t really delivered on the promise of Big Night. Final Portrait is easily his best directorial effort since 1996, hinting that Tucci might yet have another big one in him. Final Portrait is not that big one—but it’s a good one.

Final Portrait is now showing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews

Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors.

Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns.

However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long.

I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders who take part in a kidnapping/extortion plot. This messed-up movie is actually based on a true story, and it’s remarkable how much of this insanity is accurate.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a fitness instructor who is one of recent American history’s greatest stupid assholes. Lugo feels like his life is in a rut, so he hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy gym member (Tony Shalhoub) and extort money from him. With two gym members (Anthony Mackie and Johnson) in tow, he goes through with the plan, and things quickly spiral out of control.

Bay uses the film to satirize the vapid 1990s, with his lecherous camera lingering on many bikini-clad asses and boobs. We get plenty of Bay slo-mo and, of course, the below-the-chin, looking-up, 360-degree tracking thing he loves so damned much. The edits are at breakneck speed, and get a little tedious. At 129 minutes, the movie is a bit too long, and yet somehow too fast at the same time.

Its saving grace is that much of it is quite funny in an over-the-top, outrageous kind of way. Just the sight of Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie, all swollen with extra muscle pounds put on for the shoot, is funny. At one point, Bay gets Wahlberg to strip down to his Calvin Klein white boxer briefs, a nice homage to the infamous advertising campaign.

As he did with Bad Boys II, Bay celebrates disgusting excess entertainingly. No, we don’t get a vehicle chase with corpses spilling out of a truck and getting run over (Darn!), but we do get Shalhoub sloppily eating a taco while blindfolded. (This somehow manages to be funny.) We also get dogs with severed toes in their mouths, Rebel Wilson using nunchucks during a sex scene, and a dude getting his head crushed by weights.

Wahlberg is fun when he does comedy, always playing it straight during the most outrageous of situations. Johnson is amazing as a big religious hulk who just wants to be a lover, although he can’t help but beat the crap out of every other person he meets. This may be my favorite Johnson performance yet.

Is Pain and Gain sloppy? Yes. Is it way too hyper at times? Yes. Does Michael Bay commit many of the usual cinematic affronts that have made him hated by those of us who sometimes like to watch a movie without having our eyes and ears violated? Oh, hell yes.

Pain and Gain is OK, which actually makes it some sort of movie miracle when considering the dumbass who made it.

Up next for Bay would be Transformers 4, of course. I’m thinking that film will once again remind us that Bay is a scourge on the land who only gets it right on the rarest of occasions. 

Pain and Gain is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews