CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

DVDs/Home Viewing

03 Aug 2020
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The new Disney+ series Muppets Now—the umpteenth incarnation of the Muppets on TV—proves to be a good one, with Kermit and pals assimilating into the world of Zoom and cooking-competition shows. The premise is simple: Kermit presides over a different kind of show, one in which he remains the emcee, and Scooter continues as a stage manager, of sorts. But this time, Kermit is hosting things on a Zoom-like platform, while Scooter labors away trying to upload show elements on time to the satisfaction of Miss Piggy, Gonzo, etc. It may sound trite and unoriginal, but the writing and flow turn out to be perfect fits for Muppet sensibilities. I’m four episodes in—the show is being released to the public in weekly installments, and the first of six first-season episodes was released July 31—and they get progressively funnier. Human guests such as Linda Cardellini and Taye Diggs are fun, but…
27 Jul 2020
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Dave Franco, brother of James, makes his directorial debut (and also co-wrote the screenplay) with The Rental, a serviceable slasher film that proves the newbie director can successfully create a creepy vibe. The film isn’t all that original, and you won’t feel any major sense of surprise when the story ends. You might, however, refrain from renting a vacation home on the Oregon coast anytime soon. Charlie and Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) are looking to get away for the weekend. They rent a fancy house and bring along Charlie’s brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend, Mina (Sheila Vand), for company. After an awkward meeting with the caretaker (Toby Huss, amassing a nice horror-film resume with this and the recent Halloween), the weekend gets off to a pleasant-enough start. Then the drugs come out … and bad things happen. When Mina discovers a camera in the shower,…
21 Jul 2020
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When Apple bought the distribution rights to Greyhound, the new Tom Hanks movie, and announced the film would be released via Apple TV+, my first thought was: “It must suck!” This knee-jerk reaction was due in part to the utter disaster that is Artemis Fowl, the big-budget shitshow that Disney+ “gifted” to us as a streaming choice during the pandemic. That happened because the film was clearly terrible, and sending it to the streaming service had the appearance of a grand gesture during “these unprecedented times.” (Ugh … I’m getting really tired of those three words.) Fortunately, Greyhound, with the screenplay penned by Hanks himself, is a solid World War II thriller that actually seems better-suited for home viewing: It’s not a grand-enough spectacle to cut it as a blockbuster, but it is a solid 91 minutes spent in close quarters with the most famous person yet to catch the…
14 Jul 2020
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The Outpost—based on a real-life battle that took place at an American base poorly placed in the middle of a mountainous Afghanistan—is a harrowing and frustrating experience. The frustration is not the result of bad filmmaking—quite the contrary, because the film is superbly directed by Rod Lurie. It’s frustrating because you know American soldiers were dropped into a situation in which they would surely be ambushed—a modern-day Little Bighorn. The battle they had to fight occurred under appalling circumstances that should’ve been avoided. Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint) and his fellow soldiers are hunkered down at Combat Outpost Keating, a base located at the bottom of mountains in Kamdesh, Afghanistan. In a frightening, foreshadowing moment, an American soldier looks at the camp through the sights of his rifle while on patrol in the mountains above, and accurately narrates the sort of attack Taliban soldiers will mount…
13 Jul 2020
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Will Ferrell used to be a sure-fire comedy guarantee: There was a stretch when it seemed he could do no wrong. Alas, that stretch is long behind him now, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga continues his recent streak of lousy-to-mediocre films. This one falls somewhere in the realm of mediocre. On the eve of the infamous Eurovision contest—the song competition that birthed the career of ABBA in real life—Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), lifelong friends and members of the rock-duo Fire Saga, are taking one last bid at fame. However, they are terrible, and are hated by most of the people in their Icelandic hometown, including Lars’ father (Pierce Brosnan). A tragic boating accident thrusts them into the competition in which they represent their country—and many unfunny musical sequences ensue. Ferrell’s wigged schtick grows tired early on—and since the film is two-plus hours long, we…
07 Jul 2020
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A confession: I didn’t like Hamilton the first time I watched it on Disney+. The music felt unoriginal; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s face and voice were annoying me; and I had problems following the plot. But … I loved the ending, and really liked the women in the show, especially Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton. I liked those so much that it made me ponder whether I had made some sort of mistake. So, I waited a couple of days and watched it again. During that second viewing, I loved Hamilton from start to finish—and Miranda grew on me to the point that I found him adorable. I am not sure what happened the first time; perhaps I was distracted, or perhaps I was just grouchy. (These are tough times, after all.) This sort of thing has happened to me only a couple of times over 25 years of film reviewing. (I…
29 Jun 2020
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after taking several years off from starring roles to become a new daddy, returns with the standard but sometimes tense airplane thriller 7500. Levitt does competent work as Tobias, a nebbish co-pilot on a night flight that includes his girlfriend (Aylin Tezel) on the crew. After a short time in the air, a band of hijackers takes hostages and demands entry into the cockpit, banging relentlessly on the cockpit door. Director and co-writer Patrick Vollrath does very well with the film’s first half. Actually, the film is quite good while the plane is in the air. Tobias communicates with the hijackers by banging on his door and via black-and-white video—and it’s scary to watch. The film recalls the tense final moments of Paul Greengrass’ United 93, about a similar, real-life situation on Sept. 11. Once the plane lands, Tobias ends up in the cockpit with one of the…
23 Jun 2020
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Spike Lee follows up BlacKkKlansman, one of his best movies, with another great one, Da 5 Bloods, now out on Netflix. Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman lead a strong cast as Lee examines the lives of five Black veterans before and after Vietnam. Lee and his co-writers send the five characters back to Vietnam to search for the remains of their former platoon leader (Boseman) and a bunch of gold bars they stashed during battle. Boseman appears via flashback; the older actors appear as the same age (with no de-aging makeup or technology) in both time periods—and it’s a style choice that works amazingly well. There’s something deep and moving about seeing these characters at their present age in the war they fought a half-century ago. Lindo does career-best work as Paul, a man who is fraying a bit at the edges and is looking for redemption in the jungle.…
15 Jun 2020
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It seemed as if we were getting a little gift when Disney announced it was sending Artemis Fowl directly to its streaming service: A big-budget, Kenneth Branagh-directed adventure was coming directly into living rooms, because most theaters are closed. What a treat, right? No. As it turns out, the film is awful. You’ll realize within five minutes of viewing that this thing stood zero chance of captivating folks in movie theaters. It would’ve just pissed them off and sent them home grouchy. So this was actually a blessing for Disney: It’s better to just let people be grouchy in the comfort of their own homes, saving them gas and concessions money. The movie, about the titular child protégé (Ferdia Shaw) trying to solve a mystery surrounding his dad (Colin Farrell), makes zero sense from beginning to end. You know Branagh has a mess on his hands when he employs the…
08 Jun 2020
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Pete Davidson—who barely registered on Saturday Night Live during the recently concluded season due to prior commitments and a resulting lack of screen time—comes roaring back with The King of Staten Island, another quality comedy from director and co-writer Judd Apatow. Davidson plays Scott Carlin, a thinly veiled version of himself. The film depicts a scenario of Davidson’s life in which he doesn’t get his big break on SNL and is, instead, an aspiring (and not very good) tattoo artist. As happened with Davidson, Scott’s firefighter father died on duty, and he lives with his mom, Margie (Marisa Tomei), and little sister, Claire (Maude Apatow). Davidson doesn’t have to stretch too much to deliver a convincing performance as a wisecracking, self-esteem-challenged, neurotic guy with a severe case of Crohn’s disease (from which he suffers in real life). He, in fact, nails the part, thanks to deft comic timing and solid…
02 Jun 2020
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Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, both major parts of the U.S. version of The Office, take a satirical stab at Donald Trump’s hankering for a space army in Space Force, a pretty good comedy that I suspect will get better if it gets a second season. The series starts slow, with an uninspired first episode. However, the end of that episode has a funny moment that launches into what counts as the best show of the season—one in which Steve Carell’s newly installed Space Force general must solve a satellite problem using a chimp. The episode is funny—and I found myself fully engaged with the series. The premise provides Carell with a good, goofy base for his comedic strengths, but also provides some realistic family drama involving his Gen. Naird and his justifiably despondent daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers). Lisa Kudrow has a good if small role as his convict wife.…
25 May 2020
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The Lovebirds—the latest Michael Showalter effort—caught my eye before it was originally scheduled to be released in theaters in April. The Wet Hot American Summer co-architect had made his best film as a director a couple years back, The Big Sick, and The Lovebirds has him re-teaming with that film’s star, Kumail Nanjiani. The film wound up being sold to Netflix, and Showalter has taken the romantic-comedy to new, deranged levels here, pairing Nanjiani with Issa Rae—and the two have crazy chemistry. The plot has them as a married couple hitting the skids before being thrust into a nightmarish night after they hit a dude on his bicycle and subsequently witness that dude’s murder. The plot mechanisms are fairly standard; what isn’t standard are the hilarious observations and dialogue that keep this consistently and undeniably funny. The two stars exude an anything-can-happen vibe, even when the script is following a…

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