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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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. Fred Willard, in his final role before his passing, is a total crack-up as Naird’s sickly father, who tries to conduct phone conversations while his wife is experiencing all kinds of difficulties next to him in bed.

John Malkovich provides levity as the nerdy scientist guy, and Ben Schwartz gets some of the show’s bigger laughs as Naird’s marketing man.

The cast finds its groove more and more with each episode, leading up to a cliffhanger finale that will leave a lot of folks hanging if the show’s second season doesn’t get green-lit.

Space Force is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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 typical rom-com road map. It’s actually fun to watch a talented team like this take a standard formula and own it.

Showalter’s deft touch is all over the place; the man is one of the planet’s funniest people, and that always shines through in his directorial efforts. (The Baxter, his 2005 film, is an egregiously underrated film.) The Lovebirds represents his ability to take a typical plot line, turn it inside out—and weave magic.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you are looking for some good, empty-headed, Adam Sandler-branded fun while coping with the nuttiness in the world right now, please don’t watch The Wrong Missy: It will just depress you.

Sandler produced this one on his Netflix deal for buddies David Spade, Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider. Alas, Spade has never looked so bored, and the talented Lauren Lapkus is wasted.

Spade plays a business exec who meets a crazy girl (Lapkus) named Missy on a terrible blind date. He also meets Melissa (Molly Sims), his dream girl. When a big business trip comes up, and he’s allowed to take somebody along, he texts the wrong Missy—who shows up on his plane and starts raising hell. Of course, more hijinks ensue.

The movie starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into desperate humor with few successful jokes. Instead, there’s lots of barfing, falling down and predictable plot turns. The result: a Sandler product closer to Grown Ups 2 than Happy Gilmore.

The Wrong Missy is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

New Netflix action blockbuster Extraction is heavy on decent pyrotechnics—but light on the dramatic fuel.

Chris Hemsworth stars as a mercenary with a dark past, which means he sulks a lot. I don’t think he cracks a smile in the entire film. He finds himself trying to rescue a kidnapped boy overseas. Will his cold heart be melted by the sweet kid, making him less of a mercenary and more of a guardian angel? Take a wild guess.

The action scenes as orchestrated by director Sam Hargrave are first-rate. Many things go boom—in ways that are inventive and even exciting. That often makes up for the film’s dull and more-predictable patches. If you personally prioritize action over underlying emotional implications and crying scenes, you will probably enjoy this film. Either way, it’s a pretty vacuous affair.

Hemsworth does OK in a film that basically requires him to look both fierce and morally defeated. His character lacks dimensions. Hemsworth has decent comedic abilities—and this film calls upon none of that. It’s also a dark movie, so don’t count on it for an uplifting experience.

Extraction is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Man, you know it’s been a crappy week when you’re quoted not once, but twice in national stories about the sudden demise of your industry.

Bleh.

But you know what … screw the negativity. There’s enough of that going around. Let’s focus on the positive elements—or at least the potentially positive elements—of the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking worldwide.

Positives? you may reply. There are positives in all this awfulness?!

While I don’t want to diminish how bad things are for many people—and how truly awful they may get in the weeks ahead—yes, there are some small, tiny, slivers of silver linings here.

For starters:

• The pandemic is finally forcing the state to take immediate, drastic action on the homelessness problem. What if, just maybe, we come out of this having made some progress on the huge issue?

• The worldwide shutdown has already drastically lowered the amount of pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions on the planet. Maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity?

• The efforts being made to fight the virus and adjust to our shelter-in-place reality may lead to scientific advancements, a decline in individualism, a return to a faith in true experts, and all sorts of other good things. Politico Magazine asked more than 30 brainy folks on how COVID-19 will change the world, and what they came up with was mostly positive.

• On clear nights, we can go outside and enjoy the universe. Yes, we’re allowed to go outside and look up at the heavens, and Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor has some advice.

“In the southeast, about an hour and 15 minutes before sunrise on clear mornings, you’re sure to notice bright Jupiter with two companions nearby. The rest of March will be excellent for following Mars, as it passes Jupiter and Saturn. (You can really notice the reddish color of Mars, from oxidation of its iron-containing surface material!) From March 20 to 31, all three planets will fit within the field of view of low-power binoculars. After that, next chance to see all three in the same binocular field together won’t be until 2040!”

So … yeah. It’s not ALL bad. While we prepare for more horrible things, let’s all hold on to the hope that better times—truly better times—will follow.

Here are today’s updates … almost all of which are positive in some way or another:

• Around the time I hit send on yesterday’s Daily Digest, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was extending the shelter-in-place order—already in place in Palm Springs, but not the rest of the Coachella Valley—to the rest of the state. And therefore the rest of the valley.

• I like this idea: The city of Rancho Mirage is giving some help to the city’s restaurants that stay open and offer delivery and takeout during the shelter-in-place order. 

• In a similar vein, the state is making it easier for those restaurants to sell liquor, too. Key quote: “Bona fide eating places (i.e., restaurants) selling beer, wine, and pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for consumption off the licensed premises may do so when sold in conjunction with meals prepared for pick-up or delivery.” Yes!

• First the feds moved the tax-payment date. Now the tax-filing deadline has been extended three months, too.

Netflix is setting up a $100 million fund to help the people who work on Hollywood productions. Awesome move.

• Computer owners: Your machine can help contribute to the fight against the coronavirus.

• Local drag star Anita Rose is doing online drag shows—and promoting others’ online drag shows, too!

• Late-night star Conan O’Brien—who should have never been fired from The Tonight Show—will resume doing full shows the week after next … using Skype and an iPhone.

• Finally … since I started off with the bad news about the continent’s alternative newspapers, I’ll end with the good: These papers are doing amazing work, even as the future looks dire. My friend Chris Faraone of Dig Boston did a roundup of how we’re covering this shit show.

That’s all for today. Just a heads-up: In order to save my sanity, and make my work better moving forward, we’ll probably take tomorrow off from the Daily Digest. But if we do, never fear: We’ll be back Sunday. Now, I have to go finish the April print edition and send it off to press. I’ll have more details on that later—but above is a sneak peak of the cover. I asked my amazing cover designer, Beth Allen, to find an image that sums up these … interesting times, and even though that was pretty much an impossible ask, I think she pulled it off.

Published in Daily Digest

Sophia Lillis stars as Sydney Novak, a character who comes off as a distant cousin of Stephen King’s Carrie in I Am Not Okay With This, a seven-episode series on Netflix.

Sydney is going through some growing pains at her high school—most notably the newly discovered ability to physically wreck things with her mind when she gets a little too worked up. As she tries to figure out who she likes best in her class, she also tries to figure out what’s going on with the superpowers that seem to be emerging from within. Once she gets that all explained, she can then concentrate on the big dance.

Lillis is her typical good self as Sydney, while Wyatt Oleff is hilarious as the geeky, pot-smoking Stanley, who has eyes for Sydney—but not to the extent where it will keep him being a good friend. Instead, the two work together to figure out Sydney’s superpowers, and whether or not it’s a good idea for them to go on dates.

Co-developed by Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the Fucking World) and Christy Hall, the show is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a good showcase for the leads.

I Am Not Okay With This is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Holy hell, The Last Thing He Wanted is a bad movie. I mean, it’s bad. Like, really, really, really, really, really bad.

Anne Hathaway trudges through this adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel, a movie that casts her as an ’80s reporter who MUST KNOW THE TRUTH. Fed up with boring stories involving Reagan’s re-election campaign, she winds up going all over the world, simultaneously trying to help her crazy daddy (Willem Dafoe, whose character is supposed to be sickly … but, man, he’s never looked better in a movie) and, I think, trying to blow the lid of the Contra scandal. I say “I think,” because, honestly, I have no fucking idea what was going on in this stupid movie.

Ben Affleck shows up as a creepy diplomat who eats pie and eventually goes to bed with Hathaway’s character, because, well, I don’t know why that happens, either.

Hathaway is reduced to extensive phone-acting scenes, during which she is really concerned or very upset or totally angry and, gosh darn it, she’s on the phone when it’s happening.

If you can figure out what’s going on in this movie, you have my respect. Wait … actually, if you can follow this movie, you might be as messed up as this movie is. Yeah … if you like this movie, don’t talk to me. We won’t connect on any social or intellectual level. We are from different worlds, you and me.

The Last Thing He Wanted is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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

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