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Tue10272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees paints a bleak picture of post-World War II Mississippi in Mudbound, a performance powerhouse that showcases the talents of Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and, most notably, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton).

After the war, a traumatized Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home to stay on a farm with his brother, Henry (Clarke), and Henry’s wife, Laura (Mulligan). Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) also returns to the farm, but while both men were regarded as heroes overseas, their return is fraught with alcohol abuse for Jamie—and rampant racism toward African-American Ronsel.

Henry and Laura have problems of their own as they deal with the troubled Jamie and Henry’s hateful father, Pappy (a sinister Jonathan Banks). This is one of those movies you know won’t end well, and while Rees allows for occasional moments of relief, it is a mostly somber affair with a devastating finish.

Mitchell continues to emerge as one of his generation’s best actors, while Hedlund does perhaps his best work to date. Both actors put full body and soul into their roles and create characters that leave a mark. The always-reliable Mulligan is great as the wife forced to live out her life on a muddy, flooded farm in order to appease her dopey husband. Clarke paints Henry as a man of few commitments and quiet reserve—the kind of guy you can’t depend upon in a fight.

The movie is packed with stellar acting, and Rees does a solid job with the technical elements.

Mudbound is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Stranger Things gang is back—just one year later—for another round of 1980s horror and sci-fi nostalgia, but maybe the producers should’ve taken a little more time to let things settle in. The new season is intermittently enjoyable, but it feels a little stretched out and undercooked at times, with a lot of silly subplots mucking up the works.

Will (Noah Schnapp) is still seeing visions of the Upside Down universe, the place in which he spent a good part of Season 1 languishing while his pals searched for him. It turns out Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), after her huge Season 1 sacrifice, came back to our universe almost immediately after she left, and is hiding out with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) in a storyline that makes little sense. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), in a shameless nod to E.T., has captured a creature in his garbage can, although he feeds it Three Musketeers bars instead of Reese’s Pieces. Winona Ryder overacts, while Paul Reiser basically replaces Matthew Modine as the scientist guy.

Notable movie references beyond E.T. include Jaws, Pretty in Pink, The Goonies (Sean Astin joins the cast!) Lost Boys and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Season 2 maintains the charm that made the first season so watchable, so fans won’t be disappointed. However, there’s no denying that the proceedings seem a little strained this time out, and the Duffer brothers are going to have to work overtime to make future installments worthwhile.

Stranger Things 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

For the second time in just a month, Netflix has scored again on the Stephen King front (after Gerald’s Game) with 1922, a horrific ghost story starring Thomas Jane—someone who is no stranger to King territory, having starred in Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

Jane plays Wilfred James, a farmer who kills his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), with the help of his lovestruck son, Henry (Dylan Schmid). Of course, Arlette has been murdered in a Stephen King movie—so it goes without saying that her soul will not rest peacefully, and her corpse will be riddled with rather spirited and determined rats.

Jane delivers a chilling, complicated character with Wilfred; he’s a terrible man, yet we can watch him for an entire movie and feel some concern for the welfare of him and misguided kid. Wilfred is one of those men who speaks through clenched teeth, and Jane simply disappears into the character.

Parker doesn’t have a lot of scenes before becoming a scary specter, but she does both the pre- and post-murder scenes well. Schmid is somewhat heartbreaking as the dumb son who goes along with his dad’s dumb ideas and winds up paying the price.

Director Zak Hilditch gives the movie strong atmospherics and creates something that feels faithful to the words and world of King.

1922 is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Now Netflix is chipping in on the effort to make us all forget that filmed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with this adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game, a powerhouse acting job for both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

They play Jessie and Gerald, a married couple who have hit tough times. They attempt to rekindle their relationship on a holiday excursion which includes her getting handcuffed to the bed. Things go bad—like, really bad—and Jessie winds up in a truly precarious situation that involves starving, dehydrating and hallucinating.

The original King novel, of course, finds a way for Gerald to stick around for the whole movie, even after a fatal heart attack, while flashbacks show us additional traumas involving Jessie’s dad (Henry Thomas).

The movie is, appropriately, hard to watch at times, as a hungry dog comes by for a visit, and Jessie searches for ways to get her hands out of those cuffs. (Hint: Things get bloody.)

This is a career-best performance from Gugino, who carries most of the movie on her back. Greenwood is allowed to get deranged in the role, and he does just that. Visits from a ghostly giant give the movie a supernatural twist, and it gets legitimately scary.

This wasn’t one of King’s best novels (he basically ripped himself off with elements of Dolores Claiborne and Misery), but Gerald’s Game does wind up being one of the better filmed King adaptations.

Gerald’s Game is currently streaming on Netflix. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Angelina Jolie directs First They Killed My Father, the memoir of Loung Ung (who also co-wrote the screenplay), a Cambodian woman who, as a child, survived the genocide brought upon her country by the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s.

The result is a triumph for Jolie and Ung, who succeed in telling the story through Ung’s eyes as a child. Sareum Srey Moch is a movie miracle as Ung; she is a happy child—until the day the Khmer Rouge arrive in her town. They decide her dad must die and cause her family to flee into the jungle.

Jolie keeps the vantage point through the eyes of this child, ingeniously filming the landscape around her as a child would see it—something beautiful being invaded by monsters. Moch is required to deliver every emotion in the role, and she delivers in a way that should be impossible for a child actress.

The movie is terrifying—and it should be. It stands alongside 1984’s The Killing Fields as a fierce, unyielding depiction of this terrible time in human history. Jolie filmed the movie in Khmer (the Cambodian language), and the film is Cambodia’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It’s definitely a contender.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Joon-ho Bong, the purveyor of spectacularly wacky cinematic things (The Host, Snowpiercer), has delivered to Netflix Okja, perhaps his wackiest film yet: It’s a tale about a future world in which meat is scarce, so huge pigs are biogenetically engineered for slaughter.

The title character is a prized, giant animal raised in the mountains by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn), a young girl who thinks Okja is her pet. She’s oblivious to the fact that Okja’s days are numbered, so when an envoy for a large corporation (Jake Gyllenhaal, going completely nuts here) shows up and takes Okja away, Mija flies into action—and the bizarre adventure begins.

Paul Dano, one of the kings of movie weirdness, chips in as the leader of an animal-rescue corps that includes Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) and Lily Collins. Following up her collaboration with Bong on Snowpiercer is Tilda Swinton, playing twins (as she did in Hail, Caesar!)—two evil sisters running the corporation that produced Okja.

The movie mixes absurd laughs with mayhem, and the cast is great. Like films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Babe before it, this movie tries to shine a light on the cruel treatment of animals—and perhaps get you to pass on the bacon the next time you are at Denny’s.

Okja is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Netflix’s original film War Machine is all screwy. Brad Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon (clearly based on real-life General Stanley McChrystal), put in charge of the war in Afghanistan during the Obama administration.

McMahon is just Pitt’s Inglourious Basterds character without a mustache—but this time, Pitt never seems relaxed in the part. Instead, he seems lost in a movie that doesn’t really know where it’s going. It’s military satire, and then it’s a serious depiction of men at war, and then it’s a straight-up comedy, and then it’s a political intrigue movie, and so on.

Writer/director David Michod tries to wrangle this mess with the ultimate movie crutch—the voiceover, provided by a character based on the real journalist who wrote the article and later the book on which the film is based. The late Michael Hastings (depicted here as a character called Sean Cullen and played by Scoot McNairy) wrote the Rolling Stone article that eventually inspired the book, The Operators. It also brought down McChrystal, depicted here as a bit of a nut—but a lovely, friendly nut who cared about his men, but wanted to win, win, win.

While trying to win, he leaked classified info and messed with the president. The film also tries to be a condemnation of American activity overseas, with a not-so-nice depiction of Obama, played here by a mediocre Obama impersonator (Reggie Brown).

A strong cast including Anthony Michael Hall, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly can’t save this schizoid film.

War Machine is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in Reviews

I had the pleasure of seeing Norm Macdonald’s standup routine live sometime in the 1990s, if I remember right. He played the local college in Reno, Nev., and the crowd wasn’t all that impressed with him.

Meanwhile, my brother and I laughed our asses off.

He was rambling quite a bit, and seemed to be making everything up on the fly. Bro and I thought it was brilliant, but we were in the minority: He got mildly heckled that night. (I will never forget his line: “Never dance with a girl who has a belly full of chowder!”)

For this Netflix special, Norm is all buttoned up in a suit, and his routine is fine-tuned. It’s also hilarious, shocking and nothing short of comedic brilliance. He’s funny as hell in this thing.

This special from Macdonald is just the latest in a string of great Netflix comedy offerings, from the likes of Dave Chappelle, Louis CK and, soon, Chris Rock. The streaming service is definitely stealing HBO’s thunder.

Terrific routines include his ruminations on the teaching profession, aging, hearing aids and playing with sticks. His droll line delivery is a thing to behold, for sure, and he kills every joke.

If you found yourself laughing hard at his Saturday Night Live news routine, prepare to laugh even harder. This is a classic.

Norm Macdonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip and Trickery is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Some things should never go away. While RiffTrax (headed by Michael J. Nelson) and Cinematic Titanic (headed by Joel Hodgson) kept the Mystery Science Theater 3000 dream alive a little bit over the years, the entertainment world has been severely lacking robots and humans riffing insults during crap movies. Yes, it’s been 18 years since it ended with season 11!

Thanks to Netflix and a successful crowd-funding campaign, that has all changed with the return of MST3K. Hodgson, the true father of this enterprise, has stepped back in as creator, writer and a small character named Ardy, and the results are pretty good.

New host Jonah Ray is no Joel, but he gives Nelson a run for his money. The bots have new voices, and that’s a bit jarring at first, but they eventually own it. It’s nice to have Patton Oswalt on hand as TV’s Son of TV’s Frank.

The riffing is a little too fast for my taste, and it takes a few episodes to get accustomed to the pace. I didn’t really start enjoying it until the Avalanche episode; Avalanche is that awful disaster movie starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow. This episode is definitely the standout, with solid riffs like: “Here comes the fire department to put out the avalanche!”

It’ll only get better, and it’s good to have this riff machine rolling again.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing