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Tue03192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Over Labor Day weekend, I binge-watched Ozark, a show about a Chicago family whose financial-expert patriarch, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), made the unfortunate decision to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. He eventually winds up in the Ozarks with his family, where he finds ways to launder more money through the lakeside businesses he gobbles up.

The first season worked just fine. Bateman himself directed a couple of episodes that I found to be generally gripping, and Laura Linney had some great moments as Wendy Byrde, mother and wife. Julia Garner was very good as Ruth, a local looking to ride Marty’s fake wealth into a better life.

As for the just-released second season … I am four episodes in so far, and it stinks.

It’s all about the Byrdes being stuck in the Ozarks and trying to manipulate their various schemes, with the first few episodes trying too hard to explain what happened in Season 1. It’s a show in which it seems like the writers are desperately worried about reminding viewers about all the past details. Hey, let it fly; we’ll figure it out.

The first season focused on criminal activity in the small territory. The second goes into state government and political intrigue as the Byrdes try to build a casino. The dialogue gets dumber and dumber as the show wears on, and it becomes a slog.

I don’t like what I’m seeing. Ruth has become nothing but annoying; Marty and Wendy are just running around over-explaining why they are bad; and Trevor Long’s increased screen time as Ruth’s disgusting dad is unwelcome.

I hope things get better in the final six episodes of Season 2, If they do not, Ozark will have been better off as a limited series rather than a continuing entity. It’s stretching its premise to extremes that are not at all entertaining.

Ozark is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Bluths are back together again—with more simultaneous screen time than in Season 4—in the latest Arrested Development reunion on Netflix.

The plotting of this season involves a little too much crazy stuff regarding Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) and the shared girlfriend (Isla Fisher) of Michael (Jason Bateman) and George Michael (Michael Cera), making things a bit haphazard. That doesn’t stop it from being very funny.

There’s a lot of weirdness at play. Buster (Tony Hale) does jail time (during which he touches a mouse!), while Tobias (David Cross) obsesses with impersonating everybody in the family. Cross remains the funniest guy on this show; he goes full-blown insane this season. Gob (Will Arnett) is dealing with feelings for fellow magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller), so he makes a visit to a Closet Conversion facility (which is not what he thinks). Maeby (Alia Shawkat), for reasons I won’t explain, winds up brilliantly impersonating an old Jewish woman in a retirement community.

Even it is a bit frantic, Arrested Development remains one of the funniest shows on TV. (Who knew Henry Winkler was going to be so funny when he grew up?) When it slows down for stuff like a barbecue at Ron Howard’s house (including cameos by Bryce Dallas Howard and the rest of the Howard family), it’s as funny as it ever was.

Netflix currently has eight episodes streaming now, with eight more coming later this year.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Give co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein a lot of credit for making a movie about friends gathering for a game night—a premise that sounds kind of stupid—and turning Game Night into one of the funnier dark comedies in recent memory.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple with a love of board games and arcades. They host weekly game nights with their friends, but the latest one could be a bit annoying for Max, because it involves his highly successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks asks to take over game night; Max concedes; and what follows is a great and funny series of surprising, twisted and often super-bloody events. I don’t want to give away the big twists; I’ll just say the film managed to trick me on numerous occasions—while making me laugh hard.

Bateman and McAdams turn in some of the funniest work in their careers, while Billy Magnussen is a scream as the group dunderhead; Lamorne Morris does a very good Denzel Washington; and Jesse Plemons steals scenes with a dog as Max and Annie’s weird cop neighbor. And by weird, I mean super, mega weird.

The movie actually plays out like a great round of Clue, in which you guess the contents of the envelope and get it totally wrong, because the filmmakers are constantly fooling you in hilarious ways.

Daley and Goldstein constantly prove that there is nothing they wouldn’t do for a good laugh. They take a lot of risks—and they pay off.

Game Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jason Bateman follows up his strong directorial debut, Bad Words, with The Family Fang, a loopy tale about a quirky, dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, the movie never really finds its way.

The film gets off to a good start as Bateman plays Baxter Fang, a down-and-out writer trying to put together his next novel who is taking odd writing jobs in the meantime. He winds up doing a feature on potato guns, and eventually gets shot in the head by one.

Enter Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman), his actress sister; she used to be an indie-film queen, but she’s reached that stage in her career where taking off her clothes is mandatory. She comes home to assist Baxter, which gets them ruminating on their childhoods.

Their parents, Caleb and Camille (played in their older versions by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), were infamous pranksters. They would stage bank robberies and other public occurrences, film them—and call it art. This resulted in a rather screwy childhood for Annie and Baxter, with parents who got famous by basically being horribly irresponsible.

Oddly enough, the film loses steam when Walken enters the picture. The premise involving his character feels a little too contrived, and it actually puts a strange restriction, of sorts, on the weirdo actor. When Walken is off-screen, the movie has a whimsical, funny vibe. When Walken is present, the film feels phony, even though his performance is OK.

Bateman has the potential to be an interesting director, but the subject matter doesn’t suit his style this time out. While The Family Fang feels uneven, Bateman and Kidman are good together, so it isn’t a complete waste of time.

The Family Fang is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It will be available on DVD July 5.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Disney has delivered another animated winner with Zootopia, a cute, uplifting story with a surprising dark side. It’s the sort of movie that’ll have kids asking parents questions about some tough topics—while entertaining anyone who sits down to watch it.

Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin, in a performance worthy of the Voice Acting Hall of Fame) is a little bunny determined to be the first bunny cop on the force in Zootopia, a metropolis populated by animals. However, she faces a lot of opposition—both because she’s a bunny and a girl. Judy beats insurmountable odds, and winds up on the force, much to the chagrin Chief Bogo (Idris Elba).

The chief assigns her to traffic, of course, where she meets up with shifty fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is running an ingenious Popsicle scam. When some mammals come up missing, Judy finds herself on the case. She eventually enlists the help of Nick, and they seek out a missing otter.

The film is co-directed by three guys: Byron Howard (Tangled), Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Jared Bush (making his feature debut!). Directing by committee certainly works in this case, as the film has a nice, unified feel while sustaining a surprising depth. Among the themes successfully tackled are sexism, racism and bunnyism.

When discussing these aspects of the film, go ahead and get bunnyism out of the way first with the kids. Here’s a potential hypothetical dinnertime conversation regarding Zootopia when a child asks if a bunny can be a cop:

“No, my dear child, a bunny can’t be on the police force,” the parent answers.

“But Mom and Dad, dogs are allowed on the police force. Why not bunnies, too?”

“Because dogs are big and strong and have heightened senses of smell that help us to find drugs and things.”

“Actually, rabbits not only have a very keen sense of smell, dear parent, but they also have those big ears which makes them really good listeners and potentially awesome detectives! Their presence on the force could provide a new level of insight and outreach for a branch of civilization often roundly criticized for its lack of empathy and compassion.”

“Shut up and eat your broccoli!”

To give away how the film approaches the topic of racism would be to give away too many aspects of the plot. There’s a good mystery at play, and it’s done in an intelligent way that will keep parents and kids guessing and engaged.

Other members of the voice cast include J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Tommy Chong as the fly-infested Yax, Jenny Slate as Assistant Mayor Bellwether, and Shakira as Gazelle the pop star. Let it be said that Shakira’s performance of “Try Everything” is better than any movie music 2015 had to offer. Man, last year truly sucked for movie soundtracks, didn’t it?

The animation is top-notch and inventive, with cute little touches throughout. Judy’s hometown is farmland, distinguished by an Easter-pastels palette. At one point, Judy chases a thief through a rodent community, sending a bunch of mice running for cover in their little buildings as if she were Godzilla. I especially liked a moment when a train arrived in a station, and a little door opened up besides bigger doors to let out a stream of chipmunks. Freaking adorable!

Disney now has another great bunny to add to the souvenir rack at Disneyland alongside Thumper, Roger Rabbit and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. (I feel Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.) Judy is a true winner, as is Zootopia, already a solid contender for Best Animated Film of 2016.

Take the kids knowing you might actually enjoy yourself, and appreciate the film—even if it does act as a shred grenade on your wallet, especially if you spring for 3-D. Jeez, movie-going is expensive.

Zootopia is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Joel Edgerton writes, directs and stars in The Gift, a capable thriller about the perils of bullying and moving back home.

Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a married couple returning to California, where Simon has a new job. While shopping for throw pillows, they run into Gordo (Edgerton), a high school pal who Simon doesn’t seem to remember at first. Gordo goes out of his way to welcome the new couple, dropping by the house uninvited, stocking their pond with fish—and basically creeping Simon out.

As the film progresses, more is revealed about Simon, his past with Gordo, and his dishonesty. Bateman, who usually opts for more comedic roles, is very good as a man who thinks he is in control and can get away with habitual fibbing. Hall is terrific as the wife who can’t help but feel a little sorry for Gordo. Edgerton is creepy and, somehow, sympathetic as the strange man from the past who wants Simon to remember him in the worst of ways.

Edgerton shows that he can write a screenplay with some good twists, direct so there are plenty of surprises, and act so well that it’s good and scary. He’s a true triple threat.

The Gift is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

While the first Horrible Bosses got by on the charms of its three main stars, the second one falls a bit short.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided to go into business for themselves after the events of the first film. They wind up on TV pitching a stupid idea called the Shower Buddy, where they are seen by Rex (Chris Pine), the son of billionaire businessman Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). This leads to that, and the boys wind up in a kidnapping scheme involving Rex trying to double-cross his dad.

The screenplay strains to bring back Jennifer Aniston as the naughty dentist and Kevin Spacey as the embittered ex-boss. It also doesn’t help that Day and Sudeikis are a bit overwrought this time out; their acts are getting a little tired.

Bateman is easily the funniest thing about this movie—effortlessly smarmy, as always. I laughed a fair amount of times, but these characters would be better-served with all-new material and a new premise. I like seeing them together, but they need a new place to play.

Horrible Bosses 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jason Bateman makes a decent directorial debut with Bad Words, a nasty little movie about a man on a vengeful path to win a spelling bee for reasons unknown.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a man with amazing spelling capabilities who enters a children’s spelling bee upon noticing an eligibility loophole. Guy is super-pissed for some reason, and he refuses to step aside when parents and organizers beg him to be mature and let the kids spell.

The film takes on a bit of a Bad Santa vibe when the vulgar Guy winds up palling around with one of the kids (Rohan Chand). Shenanigans ensue involving hookers and booze; and Bateman does a decent job pushing the boundaries of bad taste while keeping things entertaining and relatively good-natured.

The big reveal—the motive behind Guy’s mission—isn’t all that surprising, and is even a bit anticlimactic. No matter; Bateman and Chand provide enough laughs to overcome any plot contrivances.

Special Features: Bateman provides a commentary, and there are deleted and extended scenes. There’s also a brief behind-the-scenes look. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Netflix subscribers who find the entertainment selection a little weak at times currently have access to one of the year’s greatest television surprises: An new 15-episode season of Arrested Development is currently available on the streaming service, and it’s as if one of TV history’s funniest and oddest families never left.

Each episode generally focuses on one character, like Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, with the other family members playing supporting roles. The episodes’ chronologies overlap, but the character focus changes. This amounts to a lot of fun.

If you are a fan, you will not be disappointed. Will Arnett’s Gob still performs magic to the refrain of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” David Cross’ Tobias is still a “never nude.” Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay is still shopping-obsessed, and so on.

The new shows also feature great cameos, including Ron Howard providing more than his voice, and a blessed reunion of Henry Winkler and Scott Baio.

There’s been some talk of an Arrested Development movie. As far as I see it, this is a 7 1/2 hour movie, since you can currently watch them all in a row.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gets a headlining role alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief. While both performers are talented and make the best of the crap heap of a script they were handed, it’s not enough to make this anything more than a desperate misfire.

McCarthy has a lot of talent. One only needs to see her in The Nines to understand her dramatic capabilities. Yet, here she is, being smashed in the face with guitars and asked to lip-sync that stupid milkshake song while sitting in the passenger’s seat for yet another riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

This is the sort of junk Chris Farley would have been handed back in the days before his heart exploded. McCarthy is a big woman, so she is cast in the role of sloppy clown to Bateman’s dapper straight man. Well, McCarthy is also a beautiful and talented woman, and she’s deserving of a classier showcase. Watching this garbage, I was surprised director Seth Gordon never forced her to put on a few-sizes-too-small windbreaker and have her sing “Fat Girl in a Little Jacket.”

Bateman’s Sandy Patterson gets his identity stolen by McCarthy’s Diana, and he faces legal and job troubles as a result. So he leaves Colorado for Florida in search of “Bilbo,” or so he calls her, because the cops won’t help him. When the two meet up, it turns out Diana has a mean throat punch and will not go quietly. 

The two have a couple of good fights, with Diana getting smashed in the head with a guitar and struck with a waffle iron. Identity Thief actually does OK in the physical-comic-violence category. I chortled a bit at the hits these two were taking. This probably would’ve been a better movie had it been just 90 minutes of Diana and Sandy throwing stuff at each other and getting hit by vehicles.

Sandy eventually gets Diana into a car, and in the tradition of road comedies, the journey starts off with the two hating each other. Sandy must endure a night of Diana having sex with a stranger, various roadside disasters and Diana singing to the radio.

Of course, Sandy and his family will eventually see that Diana, even though she has robbed them blind, is a great lady deep down inside. She actually spends the night at their house, holding hands with the kids as they sleep. I don’t know; I think it would take more than Diana putting mashed potatoes on her face for a couple of laughs at the dinner table to be forgiven for destroying their financial lives.

Sandy’s family consists of everybody’s go-to movie wife, Amanda Peet. Peet is asked to perform the film’s most impossible task—playing a wife and mother who would even allow Diana in the house. My mom is a relatively meek lady, but if anybody like Diana would have tried to come in through the front door, she would’ve faced the wrath of her wooden spoon. God dammit, I hated that stupid wooden spoon.

Gordon, who put together the much-better Horrible Bosses, is basically working with one joke—Diana is a mess, and Sandy will be tortured while dealing with her. Gordon tries to redeem Diana by the end of the film, even giving her a makeover that results in some cringe-worthy dialogue.

It’s hard to have a lot of fun watching a man’s life getting wrecked by identity theft. Hell, somebody tried to steal my identity and go shopping with my debit card just a couple of months ago. I wasn’t laughing then, and I wasn’t laughing all that much at Identity Thief.

Hollywood … please don’t squander McCarthy’s talent. Give her the dramatic, respectable roles she deserves.

Identity Thief is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews