CVIndependent

Tue08042020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Bob Grimm

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.

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.

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.

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney are terrific in Bad Education, a dark comedy based on the true story of Frank Tassone and the Long Island school-district embezzlement scheme that brought him down.

Jackman plays Tassone, a vain superintendent who gnashes his teeth when Pam Gluckin (Janney), one of his co-workers, is accused of embezzlement; he throws her under the bus, so to speak. As the drama plays out, it is slowly revealed that Tassone not only participated in some wrongdoing—but might, in fact, be the ringleader of an even bigger theft.

Jackman gives one of his very best performances as Tassone, a consummate sociopath who seriously has no idea what a boldfaced criminal he is. Janney is his equal as Gluckin, who possesses about half of his sociopathic tendencies, but is equally clueless. Supporting-performance greatness abounds from Ray Romano, Stephanie Kurtzuba and Alex Wolff.

Director Cory Finley strikes a nice balance of dark humor and bleak sadness. (It really is quite awful to see these dummies screwing up.) Some lazily written back-story involving Tassone’s sexuality is not enough to kill the effectiveness of the film.

Bad Education is currently airing on HBO and is available on HBO’s streaming services.

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.

I was in college when the Beastie Boys released Licensed to Ill, and I can say with great confidence that I absolutely hated “Fight for Your Right.” As a result, I hated the Beastie Boys—and I wanted them to disappear.

I was still in college not quite three years later when follow-up album Paul’s Boutique was released. I realized that “Fight for Your Right” was a joke I hadn’t previously gotten—and that these nuts were actually supremely talented. Every release from Paul’s Boutique on floored me.

Losing Adam Yauch (MCA) in 2012 was a blow as brutal as losing Cobain or Lennon. This guy wasn’t just a talented musician; he was a great man.

Spike Jonze’s new documentary took me by surprise in that it is a taped show performed by remaining Beasties Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) and Michael Diamond (Mike D), with much love going out to Yauch. It was beyond admirable that Horovitz and Mike D chose not to go on after Yauch passed away, and it’s beyond great to see these guys on stage reminiscing about their glory days and their awesome friend.

Yauch is a big presence in the film, which features Horovitz and Mike D running around a stage, reading cue cards (sometimes clumsily) and goofing with Jonze. If you miss the Beasties, this is a nice salve on that wound.

Beastie Boys Story is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Perhaps the only good thing about this pandemic so far is the fact that I got to watch The Invisible Man so soon at home with my dog.

Yeah, I paid $19.99, and that looks steep at first. That’s about what it cost me to see three movies per week, for a whole month, with my AMC club plan, one of the 21st century’s greatest inventions so far. But since movie theaters have gone bye-bye, $19.99 is about what it would cost for a ticket, popcorn and a drink during movie-going prime time for non-club patrons. (Actually, it’s less!) In words, it’s not a bad deal, especially if you have multiple people mulling around the TV set eating starchy foods while waiting to go outside again.

Originally, Universal Pictures had big plans for an interconnected Dark Universe, featuring the studio’s various iconic monsters. Johnny Depp, in what would’ve been his 123rd franchise film, was lined up to play a new Invisible Man; Tom Cruise was supposed to keep playing Tom Cruise in The Mummy; Javier Bardem was slated to be Frankenstein’s monster; and Russell Crowe was going to get an undeserved steady gig playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Then people saw The Mummy. It flopped in every way, and some exec said, “What the hell? Fuck that; no more money for this bullshit!” Instead, Universal started thinking on a smaller scale. The Invisible Man proves you don’t need $250 million to make a monster movie. All you really need is Elisabeth Moss and, like, $50.

Moss is great as a somebody trying to escape an abusive relationship, only to be (maybe) followed around by her invisible dead ex. Is she crazy? Did her boyfriend actually figure out a way to disappear? It’s all pretty well done, and, yes, it’s worth the $19.95 for a night at the movies without actually going out.

The Invisible Man is now streaming on various platforms including iTunes and Amazon.com.

First-time homebuyers get hung up in a prospective house in Vivarium, a weird thriller from director Lorcan Finnegan.

Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) have a pleasant relationship and happy jobs—she’s a schoolteacher, and he’s a gardener. They decide to look for a house, and stop in at a small office manned by an extremely earnest salesman named Martin (Jonathan Aris). Martin invites the couple to immediately visit a model home in a nearby development; although they are slightly creeped out by his mannerisms, Gemma and Tom agree to accompany him.

Big mistake.

The model home turns out to be one house in a sea of identical, unoccupied houses—inside some sort of phantom, inescapable zone. After Martin unexpectedly leaves, the couple can’t find their way out; their path always leads back to the model home. With no choice, they eventually relent and inhabit the home. Regular food supplies show up as the couple makes futile attempts to escape.

One other thing: A baby boy is also delivered in a box. They are told they must raise the boy if they ever want to be free. They comply … and the kid is a little freak. Parenthood proves to be a tough task for the two.

The film is a decent piece of dark satire that winds up being a goof on the housing market, suburban life and general salesmanship, with Eisenberg and Poots delivering great work.

Vivarium is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

So I was sitting at home on Sunday night. I had been talking to Independent editor Jimmy Boegle the last couple of weeks about whether or not I was going to keep writing stupid movie reviews after all this shit went down. My reviews ran in two other newspapers; one ceased publication, and the other said, “Hey, we ain’t got no dough for your verbal spew at the moment; hang tight!” So I’ve just sort of been taking a break and considering the retirement of my critic’s pen.

Then I saw Louis C.K. had a new comedy special streaming on his website, and I said, “Ahh … fuck it. I’ll keep writing this bullshit if Jimmy is willing to publish it. It gives me something to do besides staring at the dog in my apartment and continuing to wonder when I will be able to go to a gas station again without risking death.”

The special, available for $7.99 at LouisCK.com, is called Sincerely, Louis C.K.—and if you think he is all worried about watching his choice of topics because of that trouble he got into, then you don’t know Louis C.K.

The man holds nothing back, and I mean nothing: dead babies, pedophilia, rescue dogs, Auschwitz, the mentally handicapped as portrayed by Shaun Cassidy, and, yes, his tendency to wank in front of people are all topics on display here. Somehow, this psycho nut of a human being makes it all not just funny, but funnier than anything you’ve heard in, certainly, the last couple of months.

Let’s face it: We can all use a good laugh, and this provides laughs with that same, sicko edge that all of Louis C.K.’s comedy has—that little, “Oh, you shouldn’t say that!” twist that you either love or hate.

Yes, what he did was inexcusable, and if you’re not comfortable watching him, that’s understandable. But if you need laughs, and are OK with having the shit shocked out of you via a comedian’s talking face, go ahead and partake. If you are easily offended, go ahead and partake anyway.

Sincerely, Louis C.K. is currently streaming via LouisCK.com.

The Hunt, the little B movie that can’t seem to catch a break, finally got released to theaters … in the midst of a national emergency.

The results: Not surprisingly, very few people risked COVID-19 in an effort to see it sitting next to people!

Originally set for release last year, the film was postponed until 2020 due to its violent nature—and the fact that a cluster of mass shootings had occurred at the time. So the studio picked the safe haven of March for a release, only to have those plans foiled by Mr. Beer Virus.

Straight up, this is a fun B movie, but it certainly would’ve benefited from a limited release or Netflix opening. It’s got its virtues, but you probably made the right choice by staying home and watching Disney+. It’s good, but not great.

Now, when Tenet comes out, I don’t care if this emergency is still going on: I need to watch that one on IMAX.

The film starts with group of hardcore liberals on instant messaging, goofing around about the idea of hunting deplorables for sport, à la The Most Dangerous Game. Was it a joke? Will they actually hunt? What is the name of the movie?

As things turn out, those who voted for Trump will soon be in the cross-hairs: A group of non-liberals wake up in a field, find a case of weapons, and are immediately met with gunfire and arrows.

Oh my god … sounds pretty controversial, right? Nah, not really. The point of this movie is that too many people are acting like total assholes when it comes to political ideology. (Hey, I count myself as one of those assholes from time to time.) So just about every character in this film behaves badly, regardless of political affiliation. The movie is a satiric take on our current political attitudes, and how things are getting a little out of hand on social media. It’s also at times funny, bloody and suspenseful—and it contains a great kitchen fight in its closing minutes.

There are moments in the script when the movie is almost saying, “Hey, we were just ragging on Republicans, but now we will rag on Democrats! So, don’t get too mad at us!” Those obvious “balancing act” moments drag the movie down a little bit.

The hunt is masterminded by Athena (Hilary Swank). You don’t see her for a large swath of the film, but she shows up eventually and is one of the folks engaged in the above-mentioned kitchen fight. The movie primarily belongs to Betty Gilpin (Glow) as Crystal, who winds up on the hunted side—and that’s not good for the hunters. Betty can throw down, and there’s little that scares her. Gilpin has all the makings of becoming the next great cinematic action hero. She’s got a great deadpan delivery to punctuate her smack-downs, she comes up with some facial expressions that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before: She’s a sympathetic hero with depth behind her eyes. I’d say at least 80 percent of the reason I like this movie is because of Gilpin.

Some familiar faces do show up in the movie, including Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee (looking good, Ethan!), Emma Roberts and Amy Madigan. Granted, don’t get too attached to anybody, because the cast thins out fast. Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, shows that she can bring the funk whether she’s working for Clint Eastwood or Craig Zobel, the director of this one. She creates a memorable, sinister villain in Athena. In other words: This film, despite its shlock factor and obviousness, is a good time thanks to Gilpin and Swank. They embrace the nonsense and take it to fun levels.

The Hunt probably deserved a debut on a streaming service rather than the big screen—and streaming, it will be, in the near future. When it hits the TV screen, watch it if you are in the mood for a good B movie.