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Taylor Swift goes the Beyoncé route with her own Netflix special—and it’s a winner.

While Taylor Swift: Miss Americana covers her whole life, it focuses mostly on the making of her last two albums and her recent decision to become more politically active. If you are looking for a lot of her music, this is not the movie for you. If you are looking for insight into how she writes her songs—and how she feels about a certain Tennessee senator and current U.S. president—you will certainly enjoy this.

I like Taylor Swift. I like her melodious music and the fact that she allows her cat to eat at the dinner table with the humans (seated in a regular dinner chair, no less). She can be a little self-important and a tad whiny at times, but great talents have their eccentricities.

In the end, Taylor Swift is a great entertainer, and this movie is greatly entertaining.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Adam Driver busts out a spontaneous piano-bar rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” in Marriage Story. That alone justifies taking the time to watch the film, now streaming on Netflix.

Fortunately, there are other reasons besides Driver’s surprisingly amazing voice to see the movie … actually, a lot more. Driver and Scarlett Johansson are incredible in writer/director Noah Baumbach’s best movie yet—an alternately searing, touching and hilarious look at a marriage’s end times.

Nicole and Charlie Barber work together in a theater company; she’s a performer, while he’s the director. The movie starts with them deciding to go through a divorce; they promise each other things will remain amicable, and lawyers won’t get involved. Nicole will go to Los Angeles and pursue film acting, while Charlie stays in New York to work on his latest play getting to Broadway. They are determined to share custody of their young son. This will be a pleasant divorce.

Then … well, the lawyers get involved.

Early in the film, you may wonder why these two are getting divorced. They’re both fairly calm about it; heck, you might even think there’s a chance they can pull out of the nosedive and reconcile.

Nope. This director will not be trafficking in easy endings. Baumbach knows two people can really love each other, yet put themselves through a progressive, scorching hell. Nicole tries to remain civil, but Charlie has done stuff that’s going to result in rougher proceedings. Nicole gets herself a lawyer in Nora (Laura Dern, being the best Laura Dern ever); Charlie eventually caves in and gets one, too, in Bert Spitz (a funny Alan Alda) and, later, Jay (an even funnier Ray Liotta).

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this film includes the most realistic, earth-shattering, devastatingly honest marital fight I’ve ever seen in a movie. The participants in this scene must have needed some sort of assistance when it was all over. Driver and Johansson do things in this film you will not soon forget. It’s not just the moments when they tear into each other; they do a credible job of letting you know this isn’t simply a case of two people falling out of love: They still love each other, and that’s what makes the vitriol so hard to watch. While Baumbach and his cast definitely show the reasons for the marriage’s failure, the movie allows for you to wish things will get better—even as they are getting far worse. It’s so well written that it’s scary.

Randy Newman puts forth a score that is playful, hopeful and bright, even when the movie goes bleak. It’s almost like the music is there to soften the blows. It’s one of the year’s best scores, and one of the best of Newman’s storied career.

Adding to the amazing supporting cast alongside Dern and Alda is the legendary Julie Hagerty, she of Airplane!, Lost in America, What About Bob? and the vastly underrated Freddy Got Fingered. She plays Nicole’s mom, also an actress, and she’s the funniest part of the movie. Her participation makes the hard stuff go down easier.

I expect there will be a cavalcade of Oscar nominations for this one—and there damned well should be. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best and most honest films about relationships ever made. Baumbach has gone next-level with Marriage Story—and you won’t soon forget the ballad of Nicole and Charlie.

Marriage Story is now streaming on Netflix. It’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, played a second sold-out night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in support of his third solo album, Anima.

Yorke’s solo work goes beyond experimental. Envision the best of Radiohead, mixed with electronic goodness and then darkly weaved into a styling that would please EDM fans—and perhaps make New Order jealous.

Yorke’s bottomless rhythms make one want to rave. He bounded from keyboards to guitar to electronic doodads, turning switches and knobs to summon beats and bass—and wow his followers. Yorke was clearly enjoying himself, interacting with the audience via eye contact and the gleeful grin of a musician clearly having a ball.

The set list included “Two Feet off the Ground,” “Runwayaway,” “Has Ended,” “Impossible Knots” and the dance-y “Black Swan.” Fans expecting Radiohead tunes left disappointed—but frankly, his new material is a fantastic example of how artists evolve and grow.

The lighting and visuals projected on the giant screen made for a striking abstract complement to Yorke’s frenzied dance moves, which I suspect were not learned at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

Except for an occasional “thank you” here and there, Yorke said little and instead focused on the music. I had seen Yorke perform before, at Coachella, but this solo concert was a more a refined effort that would make any music fan get up and feel life.

On a side note, I highly recommend the short film Anima, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with Yorke’s score, now streaming on Netflix. It’s a must see—and a great introduction to Yorke’s solo material.

Published in Reviews

The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between 1982 and 1988, with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

Since then, he’s had some great moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor)—but he’s had plenty more duds. His forays into “family entertainment” included his enjoyable voice work in the Shrek films, but also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.

And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m still recovering from that one.

It was as if Eddie, the amazing movie comedian, went into hiding for more than three decades. That’s a long time.

Well, Eddie Murphy is back: Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. It’s a consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, and it’s clear Murphy’s heart is in this project full-force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie. Period.

The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg (who appears in this film as a record-store DJ) saying they wouldn’t have careers if it weren’t for the F-word maestro. Clearly, Moore also helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness. This makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie Murphy headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself in a movie like those from his early days—a movie that is consistently funny, powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten that Murphy could command a film so completely. Whether he’s re-creating terrible kung fu antics or reacting uncomfortably as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents alive. I must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.

Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the 1970s and blaxploitation with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The re-creations of the actual Dolemite movie (currently available for streaming on Amazon—and it’s glorious on all fronts) are hilariously accurate. Brewer helps Murphy—an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface—capture the essence of Moore. Murphy doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land—and an undying desire to be famous.

Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes, in the scene-stealing role of the original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and that’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades. This film marks his grand return to form; he’s a total crack-up in the role.

As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start: He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America (also directed by Brewer) and Beverly Hills Cop, and is preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as a host. (He’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!) Most incredibly, he’s reportedly making a return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could be looking at a second Golden Age of Murphy.

Dolemite Is My Name is now streaming on Netflix; it’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Netflix’s The Laundromat, from normally reliable director Steven Soderbergh, is a mess of a movie despite being filled with Oscar-caliber talent—because it lacks a focused purpose.

The film deals with a real scandal that included insurance fraud in the aftermath of a terrible boating accident in Lake George, N.Y. A cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas is squandered as the movie goes through one discordant tonal shift after another.

Soderbergh starts off well—the boating accident is chillingly filmed—but then he makes some odd choices, including Oldman and Banderas playing a couple of lawyers who break the fourth wall and narrate the film. The movie strives to be clever, but ultimately lacks a focus on its subject matter. The result is confusing rather than compelling.

Props to Streep, who is excellent as a passenger on the ill-fated boat trying to receive insurance compensation. Streep has more than one surprise up her sleeve here.

Ever since Adam McKay made The Big Short a few years ago, films have been trying to capture a darkly comic, real-life vibe like that Oscar-winning film did. They’ve been failing—and The Laundromat fails badly.

The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Breaking Bad, one of the greatest TV series of all time, ended six years ago. Since then, creator Vince Gilligan has been serving up Better Call Saul, a nice extension of the Breaking Bad universe that will go into its fifth season next year.

However, Better Call Saul is a prequel, meaning the Breaking Bad timeline came to a stop six years ago. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but intend to, you may want to stop reading, as spoilers follow.) So, what happened to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after Walter White (Bryan Cranston) liberated him from captivity at that American Nazi compound? When last we saw Jesse, he was speeding off into the night, laugh-crying hysterically.

Knowing full well that the fan base is itching for more, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie has made its way to Netflix (and a select few big screens). The film picks up where Breaking Bad left off, with Jesse in a pinch as “a person of interest” after the White assault—and still very much in need of a shave and shower.

It’s a great thing to see Paul back in his wheelhouse as Pinkman, even if the character has become a bit dour after being held prisoner in a hole in the ground. Jesse’s screen time during his captivity on the TV show was limited, as the story, logically, focused primarily on Walter White’s last days. We only really saw Jesse eating ice cream and failing in an escape attempt—he became a background character.

El Camino gives Gilligan and Paul a chance to, via flashback, explore some strange adventures Jesse had with his captor, the quietly evil Todd (Jesse Plemons). Plemons actually plays a big part in this movie—thankfully so, because he’s a badass as Todd. Todd is a seemingly sensitive, low-volume man—with a psycho streak that poses all kinds of threats to Jesse’s well-being.

Other characters we see again include Mike (Jonathan Banks), who makes an appearance in flashback (his character having been eliminated by White in the show). Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) show up early and haven’t lost a step in providing comic relief. Most notably, the late Robert Forster, who passed away on the very day El Camino was released, returns as Ed, the vacuum salesman who does something a little extra on the side.

For those who loved the show, El Camino is a must-see. It fits right in, like two episodes that were hidden in a secret vault for six years. I won’t reveal all of the other cameos, but trust me: Breaking Bad fans, you won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t seen the show and have read on anyway, stay away from the movie until you have watched the series. This is a movie that reveals virtually everything that happened during Breaking Bad’s run. Watch something else on Netflix until you have seen all 62 episodes of the series.

The movie gives Jesse Pinkman a more poetic sendoff than him screaming like a banshee. While this might be the end for future Jesse, chances are good that past Jesse will appear somewhere within the Better Call Saul timeline, which is taking place before the events of Breaking Bad. I’m sure Gilligan has a few more Jesse stories up his sleeve.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Between Two Ferns: The Movie gives a backstory to the terrific online acerbic talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis—and while the whole thing is, frankly, unnecessary, the outtakes during the closing credits alone are enough to warrant a watch.

When Zach, doing his show in North Carolina, almost kills Matthew McConaughey due to a ceiling leak, Will Ferrell, his boss, sends him on a mission to tape a bunch of shows … or else. So Zach and his crew go on a road trip.

Yes, it’s a dumb premise, and not all of the jokes land, but the interviews with the likes of Paul Rudd and Tessa Thompson are a riot, and some non-show-related gags work. (I loved the moment when Zach checked his e mail on his laptop while driving at night.)

Ninety minutes of back-to-back Ferns interviews would’ve been better than this, but then we wouldn’t have the scene in which Zach and his crew steal Peter Dinklage’s Faberge eggs, so I guess I’m happy this exists.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The first season of Netflix’s Mindhunter—released back in October 2017—failed to grab me. But the just-released second season, with its first three episodes directed by executive producer David Fincher, kept me watching.

The show plays as sort of a “greatest hits” for serial killers, as an FBI division investigates the motivations of some of history’s most notorious real-life killers in the late 1970s. The main investigative plot has the team searching for the Atlanta child murderer(s), which occurred between 1979 and 1981, but it also involves the BTK serial killer. The team interviews David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) and Charles Manson. Of note: Manson is played by Damon Herriman, who also played Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, albeit it only for a few seconds.

The show stumbles a bit when it comes to Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) dealing with family drama. It’s one subplot too much for a show that has a lot of subplots. Jonathan Groff, who annoyed me during the first season, gets a little more interesting as the angst-ridden agent who is champing at the bit to sit across from Charlie Manson.

Mindhunter: Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld allegedly launched their professional comedy careers during the same exact week in the 1970s. Now we get to watch two of the funniest people on the planet go out for a cup of coffee—and it’s totally hysterical.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is really growing on me, and its 11th season might be its best yet. Murphy, Martin Short, Seth Rogen and Matthew Broderick are among the guests, and every episode is highly watchable.

The indisputable highlight is Murphy, who, once again, teases that he will do standup comedy again someday. If he doesn’t, taking a seat in a car next to Seinfeld is an adequate substitute—because he kills on this show. He does enough routines for a good Murphy special, including a remembrance of a visit to Michael Jackson’s house—including an encounter with a progressively unruly Bubbles the Chimp. He also uncorks his already-infamous Tracy Morgan impersonation. The man is still hilarious.

Second place goes to Broderick, who not only goes out for coffee, but stops by Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) for a baseball fantasy sequence. Both of these guys look like naturals in caps and jerseys.

As for Murphy doing standup … there’s some buzz that he’s wrapping up a megadeal with Netflix to do just that. Oh please, please, please let it be true.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The third season is the best yet for Netflix’s Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers’ 1980s throwback series.

Much of the action, including a showdown with the Mind Flayer monster from the Upside Down, takes place in the Starcourt Mall, a mighty authentic wonder of art direction. (Sam Goody and Ground Round make notable appearances.)

Of course, the Russians now play a prominent part as Hopper (David Harbour) tries to protect his adopted daughter, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), from the Reds, demons—and, most notoriously, her new boyfriend, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), who likes to kiss way too much. Steve (Joe Keery) has his best season yet, working in an ice cream store with new cast member and major standout Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as his co-scooper.

The special effects this time around are top-notch, with more nice nods to John Carpenter, Stephen King and The Blob. Harbour gets a little goofier in this season, and it’s a lot of fun watching his Hopper trying to date Joyce (Winona Ryder).

The finale provides some major cliffhangers for the inevitable Season 4, which could actually wind up in a completely different series. It’s good to see the show make a comeback after a middling Season 2. It’s a total blast, and it features a nice ode to The Neverending Story.

The third season of Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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