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Barry is the second film released in 2016 to depict a young Barack Obama—and it’s not nearly as good as the first (Southside With You).

Devon Terrell makes his screen debut as Barry (Barack) Obama, a young man introducing himself to New York City and Columbia University back in 1981. Director Vikram Gandhi shows the young Barry smoking a lot, drinking bad beer and sharing his weed. (We don’t actually see him smoking weed, although a friend takes one of his joints out of an ashtray.) The movie establishes Barry as a normal college kid trying to fit in.

One of the film’s main subplots is his romance with a fellow student named Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy). All this subplot does is make young Barry look like a total douchebag, as he leads on a perfectly nice girl who loved him, and leaves her stranded at a family wedding. It would be one thing if this girl actually existed, but she didn’t, so it seems a bit odd to make Obama the center of a complicated young-romance story that plays out in the most stereotypical of ways. Despite a good performance from Taylor-Joy, it’s also boring.

Blame Gandhi, who gives the movie a sleepy pace and no true sense of direction, for this film’s failure.

Barry is currently streaming on Netflix. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Director Christopher Guest, who hadn’t made a movie in nearly a decade, returns with Mascots, which is easily his worst. His usual acting corps (minus Eugene Levy) takes a crack at the world of mascots—and I can’t think of a dumber subject for a comedy. Much of the movie involves performers in full mascot suits doing competition routines that have nothing to them—other than eating up the running time.

There’s a laugh every now and then, but there are far more groans; the subject matter just doesn’t call for a full movie. Parker Posey has the film’s biggest laugh after eating bad sushi. It’s not a very big laugh, so that’s not saying much.

In a truly desperate move, Guest makes a cameo as his Waiting for Guffman character, Corky. That persona simply reminds us that this once very funny guy is now straining for laughs, Mel Brooks-style.

His improvisatory style has worked with better subjects (community theater, pet shows, folk music), but this one suggests that he may have run out of ideas. In many ways, Mascots rips off Best in Show, his pet-competition movie. This is just a less funny version of Best in Show with people dressed as pets rather than having real animals running around.

This is a tremendous waste of everybody’s time and should be removed from Netflix to make room for more shitty Adam Sandler movies.

Mascots is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In Netflix documentary Amanda Knox, directors Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn investigate the horror show that was the Meredith Kercher murder and the many injustices that rained down upon American exchange student Knox and her boyfriend of one week, Raffaele Sollecito, in Perugia, Italy.

Both were convicted by an Italian court, as was a third suspect, of stabbing Knox’s roommate Kercher to death, and both served time as their cases went through a series of appeals. The two, now free, sit down for interviews and speak of the confusion that was their interrogation, their whereabouts on the night of the murder, and the hell they endured in prison.

The film mostly skips over the trials, concentrating more on Knox and Sollecito’s recollections about the night of the murder and the aftermath. The subject probably requires an entire series, and not one 90-minute documentary, but the story is covered pretty well, given the time constraints.

Others interviewed include an idiotic journalist who admits much of what was reported on Knox was rushed, inconclusive or even made up. The head prosecutor on the case also sits down, and insists upon Knox’s guilt, even though there was a lack of evidence.

This story probably had many families pull the plug on plans for teenagers to attend school overseas.

Amanda Knox is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In his latest comedy special, Making America Great Again! on Netflix, David Cross takes a little more than 10 minutes to really get going.

When he gets going … holy shit!

This guy isn’t afraid of anything. He takes on Donald Trump, the pope and the Catholic Church, terrorists, etc., with a fearlessness that is actually kind of scary. I seriously worry about him getting his ass kicked in the parking lot.

Cross has long been one of my favorite standup comedians. I’d call this one of his weaker sets, but that’s just because his previous ones are so great. Cross on a mediocre night is much better than most standups on their best night, so be prepared to laugh. Also, be prepared to moan and cringe, because this guy goes to some pretty unthinkable places with his bits. His theory on why God allows children to die is, shall we say, a little on the controversial side.

Last year, Cross got back together with Bob Odenkirk for a sketch show that also aired on Netflix. It’s official: Netflix is a kickass source for a variety of consistently excellent original programming.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Netflix original movies are popping up more and more—some with big stars in them. For example, The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd.

It’s not a bad movie at all. It’s actually almost good—but not quite.

Rudd plays Ben, a distraught, grieving novelist mourning the loss of his son and going through a divorce. In order to get himself out of a rut, and perhaps start writing again, he takes a course to become a caregiver. He gets a job caring for Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man suffering from muscular dystrophy who doesn’t have long to live.

Trevor is a bit caustic, and the two men develop a strange sort of antagonistic friendship. They wind up on a road trip during which they pick up Selena Gomez, who curses a lot. Road-trip wackiness ensues.

The Fundamentals of Caring uses all of the familiar road-trip tropes; unfortunately, Gomez takes the movie down a notch. Rudd and Roberts are pretty good together onscreen—almost good enough to make the movie worthwhile. But in the end, The Fundamentals of Caring is an uneven venture—which is surprising, considering Rudd’s involvement.

Published in Reviews

The second of four films in the Adam Sandler Netflix era after the horrible The Ridiculous 6 is still pretty bad moviemaking, but The Do-Over is a step in the right direction. 

Director Steven Brill made two of the better Sandler vehicles in Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, and their third pairing has its moments. That’s thanks in large part to the pairing of Sandler and an effective David Spade, who is cast against type as Charlie, a nebbish nerd looking for new start on life. Sandler plays Max, who shows up at their high school reunion, takes pity on Charlie and fakes both of their deaths so they can smoke joints and drink for the rest of their lives.

The plot isn’t that simple; the two wind up being pursued by a killer in a fairly funny homage to Die Hard. The film is put together better than most of the later Sandler comedies, and it packs quite a few good laughs. Unfortunately, it also veers into overkill way too many times, and the gross stuff feels discordant and just wrong.

Still, I liked the characters, and the film classes up a bit at the halfway mark when Paula Patton enters the picture. She has a fight with Kathryn Hahn that is one of the better smack-downs you will see in a movie this summer.

The movie doesn’t work as a whole, but it does show that Sandler and Spade could be a good screen duo in the hands of a semi-capable director. Also, it has Natasha Leggero in it, and that’s always a good thing.

Had everybody just declined a few of the extreme sight gags, and perhaps edited a solid 15 minutes from the movie, I might’ve been able to recommend the film. As it stands, it’s a near-miss. Hey, a near-miss for Sandler these days is a major triumph! 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It’s been 28 years since Pee-wee Herman last had his own movie (1988’s Big Top Pee-wee)—and the world’s happiest man child has not lost a step. In Netflix’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, Paul Reubens effortlessly becomes his alter ego Pee-wee, even though he’s getting deep into his 60s.

That’s right: Pee Wee Herman is almost 64 years old. Nonetheless, he’s as nimble, joyous and fun as he was when he made his big-screen headliner debut in Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure 31 years ago.

The new film, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by John Lee, doesn’t quite have the visual exuberance to match Pee-wee’s bravado, but the story (written by Reubens and Paul Rust) breezes right along. Pee-wee meets a big screen movie star (Joe Manganiello of True Blood, playing himself) while working in a diner in his all-American town. The two hit it off, and Joe invites him to his big birthday bash in New York City.

This means a road trip for Pee-wee, during which he meets up with a crazy guy in the woods and a crazy lady with a flying car. He winds up at the bottom of a well, too.

While the dull production values are disappointing, Reubens elevates things so that it really isn’t that much of a problem. Plus, Pee-wee’s car is badass.

Hopefully, this will be the start of some more adventures for Pee-wee. He’s clearly still got it.

Also: Look for Lynne Marie Stewart, Simone from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in a small but pivotal role.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I binge-watched Netflix’s new series Love—the latest by producer Judd Apatow—and it stands as further proof that Netflix is becoming the king of TV comedy.

Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs are terrific as Gus and Mickey, two people who meet by chance at a convenience store and become friends. Friendship progresses into other things—and that progression happens in a crazy, unpredictable, very R-rated way.

Rust is a revelation as the nerdy Gus, a tutor at a TV studio where they are filming one of those dopey witch shows. Jacobs, so good on Community, proves she has much to offer with her wild turn as a radio-station employee with a shitty boss (Brett Gelman) and just a few addictions.

As their courtship begins, Gus sort of pines for Mickey, but things change over the course of 10 episodes, as he gets a little more confidence in himself—and notices she’s a bit of a jerk. The first season ends in a satisfying way—and since Netflix has already ordered a second season, you know you’ll be getting more good stuff.

Other performers include a hilarious Claudia O’Doherty as Bertie, Mickey’s polite and slightly deranged roommate. Iris Apatow is proof that nepotism can be awesome as Arya, a child actress prone to tantrums, yet somehow more intelligent than anybody else on the set. Briga Heelan is sweet and funny as Heidi, an actress who is complicating things between Gus and Mickey.

The show’s episodes flow into one another, so it feels like one long movie. Apatow’s work tends to be on the long side—and I’ve never had a problem with that. Maybe this was supposed to be a movie at first, and Apatow realized it was going to be lengthy. If so, it was a good call to make this a series, because every one of the 10 episodes is a gem. 

Published in Reviews

I suspect that a lot of the critics who are raving about Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s new original series, failed to watch past the first few episodes.

This drama about women behind bars starts off gangbusters, with touches of brilliance and great humor. But by the time I was watching the 13th episode, I was a few hours past over it. This one loses steam fast and becomes quite a letdown.

The show degenerates from an introspective look at a woman’s stint in prison to a parade of clichés. At first, the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)—who goes up the river for a felony she committed 10 years before—is nothing short of awesome. The show also boasts the best performance from Jason Biggs in a long time, as her beleaguered boyfriend. (There’s even a great American Pie joke.)

However, as Piper settles in to prison life, we get everybody we’ve come to expect in a normal prison drama: crazy guards, the tough Russian woman in charge of the kitchen, and an ex-lover (Laura Prepon) who happens to be incarcerated with Piper. God forbid, there’s a Christmas-pageant episode.

It’s too bad. For a while there, I thought I was watching the next best thing on TV since, well, Netflix gave us a new season of Arrested Development. Then the show downgraded into comical sex scenes and, worst of all, too much time devoted to a religious fanatic meth-head character played by Taryn Manning.

The show, which ends with quite a cliffhanger, has already been renewed for another season. I hope they can recapture some of the magic displayed in the first couple of episodes. Schilling’s performance endures, even when the scripts do not.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing