Extraction

Netflix

We are starved for new movies right now, so a Netflix action movie starring Chris Hemsworth would seem like the perfect medicine for a world that’s stuck at home. The problem is, while it does kill the boredom, it might also kill something else, deep in your soul. I’m not saying Extraction, a new action movie from director Sam Hargrave and based on the graphic novel “Ciudad,” is needlessly violent, but the body count feels higher than a war video game. Of course, if you are looking for a movie that looks like a video game, then you’ve come to the right place.

Hargrave, a former Marvel movie stunt coordinator, is making his directorial debut with Extraction, which was written by Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed Avengers: Endgame. Although the Marvel/Avengers connections are everywhere, Extraction doesn’t feel like a superhero movie, thank goodness. Hargrave utilizes every bit of his stunt coordinator experience to craft a movie that is a back-to-basics stuntman’s paradise, an earth-bound party mix of car chases, fight scenes and more gunshots than Scorsese could ever dream of.

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Binge Essentials

Unbelievable – Netflix

Looking for some good, binge-worthy series to fill the time while you are quarantined? Here are some of my heartfelt recommendations to get you through.

COMEDIES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY TO BE STUCK AT HOME:

Fleabag (Amazon Prime)
One of the best comedy series I’ve ever seen. Phoebe Waller Bridge is sensational as a sex-crazed, emotionally-stunted woman who is trying to figure out her life. Watch it slowly, because the 12 precious episodes go way too fast. (2 seasons)

Barry (HBO)
Bill Hader has surprised everyone with his dramatic chops in this dramedy about a hitman who decides to take up acting. Henry Winkler is the MVP in this sharply written show that is a roller-coaster ride that you’ll never want to get off of. (2 seasons; Season 3 TBA)

Silicon Valley (HBO)
From the mind of Mike Judge, who brought us Beavis and Butt-head and Office Space comes a satirical look at the creators and techies in the dot.com industry. I dare you to not laugh out loud. (6 seasons)

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Corona Comfort Movies

Looking for some movies to watch while you are stuck at home, away from friends and family? Well, fear not, I’ve got the ultimate list of movies that are guaranteed to NOT get you down. These are the movies I turn to when I want to escape from any negativity or sadness, along with where you can find them streaming or on demand now.

What you won’t get in any of these movies: death, violence, sorrow, tragedy or anything depressing.

What you WILL get in each of these movies: sheer joy.

I promise.

All of these can be rented or purchased for as little as $2.99 from many streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and VUDU. I’ve noted by each movie if it is available anywhere for free (or included for free in a streaming subscription).

In alphabetical order (even though we all know Tootsie is #1):

Airplane! (1980) Showtime
Almost Famous (2000) DIRECTV
Arthur (1981) HBO, DIRECTV
Back to School (1986) Starz
Best in Show (2000)
Big (1988) HBO, DIRECTV
The Birdcage (1996) Prime, DIRECTV
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) Prime, Hulu, Showtime, DIRECTV
Broadcast News (1987) DIRECTV, Starz
Bull Durham (1988) IMDB TV, DIRECTV, Starz
Defending Your Life (1991) HBO, DIRECTV
Father of the Bride (1991) DIRECTV
La La Land (2016) DIRECTV
L.A. Story (1991)
Nine to Five (1980) Starz
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Paddington (2014)
The Princess Bride (1987) Cinemax
Runaway Bride (1999)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) HBO, Cinemax
Tootsie (1982) Netflix
The Wedding Singer (1998)
Working Girl (1988) HBO, DIRECTV

Happy streaming!!

The Banker

Apple

Apple had a lot riding on the success of The Banker, an historical race-based drama starring Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicholas Hoult, directed by George Nolfi. Slated for its world premiere in the coveted closing night slot at the AFI Film Festival last November, The Banker was set for a strong awards push, bolstered by the success the previous year of Green Book, a film similar in style and content. It was not to be, however, as the producers were forced to pull out of the festival at the last minute because of sexual abuse allegations that arose within the family of one of the real-life characters portrayed in the film. Not only were its awards hopes scrapped, but The Banker was pushed from November to March, and it has only just now become available to stream on the Apple TV+ service. Although Green Book managed to overcome its myriad controversies during awards season last year, The Banker seemed to irrevocably suffer and looked destined for the dust heap of history, a devastating blow to Apple, who were looking to compete with Netflix and Amazon, who both have already jumped way ahead in the feature film race.

But Apple and The Banker could reap some unexpected rewards as millions of Americans are now homebound due to the Corona virus and are thirsting for new things to watch on their streaming services. Unfortunately, it may not prove to be the critical or commercial boon that Apple was hoping for, as its old-fashioned and bland style stifles an interesting story, despite a thoroughly delightful performance from Samuel L. Jackson.

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The Whistlers

Magnolia Pictures

The Whistlers, a crime drama from Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu, is very familiar in a lot of ways. Our hero, Cristi, played by Vlad Ivanov, is a crooked policeman who is caught up with drug-running gangsters who need him to keep them one step ahead of the law. There are double-crosses, betrayals, murders and shoot-outs, all the ingredients of a juicy gangster thriller, but this movie works itself into so many contortions, it can’t even breathe. It plays like a hollowed-out The Departed, but without the setup or satisfaction.

And that’s the biggest problem with The Whistlers. The film feels like episode 5 of a series on Netflix, only you missed episodes 1 through 4. You skipped all the setup, so as all the plots and stories come together, not only are you lost as to who anyone is in relation to each other, you have no vested interest in what happens or why. I will say I loved the idea of jumping right in, skipping all that boring exposition that sometimes bogs a movie down, but it turns out all that exposition actually serves a purpose.

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Wendy

Searchlight Pictures

The words “re-interpretation” or “re-imagining” are often overused in Hollywood. They usually signal that a film is devoid of original ideas and is simply dressing up an existing story to look or sound different, but, in the end, has nothing new to say. In the case of Benh Zeitlin’s new film, Wendy, however, the approach is quite a different one. Instead of focusing on story, Zeitlin focuses on spirit, something we saw profoundly in his staggering debut in 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and we see again in Wendy, a re-imagining of Peter Pan. J. M. Barrie’s famous character and novel have been on screen in many different forms, but Zeitlin still finds a way to approach the famous story in an interesting way, even if the high concept eventually does falter.

Zeitlin came out of nowhere to take the movie world by storm with his bold and breathtaking debut about a young girl living in the bayou. Beasts of the Southern Wild was an examination of place and of the emotional life of a child and Wendy is similar in all the right ways. The emotional heart of this film is also a young girl, Wendy (Devin France), who dreams of far off places and wild adventures while living with her mother and twin brothers above the family-owned small-town diner which they run. The restaurant sits right next to railroad tracks and Wendy daydreams about the excitement the train represents. One night, Wendy sees a mysterious figure riding the top of the train, beckoning to her. Bewildered but excited, she wakes her brothers, and, in a moment of childhood abandon, they jump onto the train, giving themselves over to their daydreams.

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Birds of Prey

Warner Bros

Who knew that there was such a need for a sequel to Suicide Squad. The film that became a punchline and seemed to symbolize the lack of focus and decline of the DC Comics film universe now deserves credit for introducing us to the character who just may breathe new life into that once-floundering DC brand. In Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie, is the hero we didn’t know we needed at the exact time we need her and the film dedicated to her is a colorful and fun antidote to all the dreariness that has come before.

Coming off the massive success of Joker last year, Warner Bros and DC are smart to release Birds of Prey now, as we are still simmering in that gritty and dark world of a crime-ravaged and cruel Gotham, where compassion and kindness are non-existent. Propelling us light years ahead but still deep in the mire, Birds of Prey focuses on Harley Quinn the character, quickly separating her from the Joker, her raison d’etre, and moving her into her own space. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, Birds of Prey is a film wholly about identity and it succeeds in finding the exact right tone not just for the DC universe, but for the real universe in which we live now. There is no better time than now for Harley Quinn.

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The Rhythm Section

Paramount

Revenge has largely been a male domain in Hollywood, but, lately, there have been plenty of movies featuring female characters seeking to right some very bad wrongs, from Widows to In the Fade to Peppermint. And now there is The Rhythm Section, a new revenge thriller starring Blake Lively, directed by Reed Morano. Unfortunately, this film ultimately provides neither catharsis nor satisfaction.

Lively, who first found fame on the television show Gossip Girl, showed the world that she had a serious side when she turned in a scene-stealing dramatic performance in Ben Affleck’s gritty The Town in 2010. She gets serious and dramatic again in The Rhythm Section, playing Stephanie, a woman who is on a harrowing self-destructive path in the wake of tragedy. We first meet her as a bruised and drug-addicted prostitute on the streets of London, suffering mightily from the emotional trauma of having lost her parents and brother in a plane crash. Into her life comes a journalist (Raza Jaffrey), who tells her the plane didn’t crash by accident, it was actually blown up by a terrorist and he knows who it is. This sets Stephanie on an odyssey to become a full-blown assassin, set on tracking down and eliminating every person involved in the bombing, all by herself.

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My 2020 Oscar Nominations Reactions

The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced yesterday morning. While they didn’t hold too many surprises, there were some things that jumped out at me.

1. My “no guts, no glory” prediction that Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) would sneak into that fifth Best Actor slot came true! It was a tough prediction, considering Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) and Taron Egerton (Rocketman) were favored to get in, but my heart and my gut said Pryce would snag his first career nom and I was right. He’s so well deserving, not just for this film, but for an entire career. So that’s what made me the happiest.

2. What made me the least happy was seeing Todd Phillips get the fifth slot for Best Director. It’s no secret that I despised Joker as a film, feeling it was not only massively depressing with no character arc, but it also felt, to me, like a total rip-off of other movies. While Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (more on that later) was truly phenomenal, the movie left me quite cold. To see that it led the field with the most nominations (11) was disturbing enough, but when I saw that Phillips got the coveted final Best Director slot over the likes of Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Celine Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) or Lulu Wang (The Farewell) was hard to swallow.

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