Movies at a Glance & New DVDs



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6 UNDERGROUND  (2hrs 8min)  **  Director Michael Bay is best known for his big budget, high concept, excessive special effects action films but is held in low esteem by. His latest effort wont change that.  An unnamed do-gooder American miniature magnets billionaire the critics (Ryan Reynolds) faked his own death so he could resurrect himself as a Ghost leader known as One to form a vigilante squad to liquidate terrorist leaders that governments would avoid antagonizing. He then approached five others to copy his lead by faking their deaths, Ghost Two being French spy Camille (Melanie Laurent), Three is hitman Javier (Manuel Garcia-Ruffo), Four is thief Billy (Ben Hardy), Five is doctor Amelia (Adria Ardona), and Six is parkour expert Dave Franco. their first target is the lawyer of four generals of the brutal fictitious middle-Eastern regime of Turgistan and his location is Florence in Italy. They plan to topple Turgistan's government and replace the ruthless General with his imprisoned brother Murat. Then follows indiscriminate ludicrous gory violence with killings, explosions and chases around the world. Visually stunning, if you turn your brain off, you might enjoy this. (Netflix)
AFTER LIFE  Season 2  limited series *** ½  Multi Award winning English writer, director, actor and producer Ricky Gervais became successful by co-creating, the BBC mock-documentary 2001 sitcom The Office.  He is now the creator, executive producer, director, and writer for the British black comedy-drama series After Life, where he plays Tony Johnson, the dour, depressed, suicidal head of “Feature Stories” at the failing local newspaper The Tambury Gazette. In the two seasons of 6 half-hour episodes, mourning Tony tries to adapt to a normal life on the death from breast cancer of his beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman). Tony doesn’t care whether he lives or dies and so he says and does anything he wants while everyone around him accepts that and attempts to make him a happier person. A variety of strange characters intermingle in his daily life and they are brilliant. It’s a funny oh-so-British dramady with entertaining oddball characters and sharp, clever, controversial dialogue which is typically Gervais (he hosted last year’s Oscars). It’s a must-see. Give it a try. (Netflix)  Confirmation: There will be a 3rd Season.
BECOMING (1hr 29min) ** ½ The well-meaning documentary is partially based on the bestselling memoir of former First Lady of the United States, Michelle LaVaughn Obama, by director Nadira Hallgren who followed her on the 36-city book tour and includes footage from her talk shows and behind the scenes life before and after the White House. Over photos and video clips, Michelle introduces her family and her early days on the south side of Chicago including high school where her guidance counsellor didn’t think she was smart enough to go to Princeton U, which she did and then on to Harvard Law School and as a lawyer for the law firm of Sidley Austin. Quizzed on her meeting Barack, she describes the amusing account of their first date (“he was late!”), and I wish there had been similar revealing stories.  That led on to their time in the White House with their two daughters, and now to her passion on talking with young people and women of colour “This is totally me, unplugged for the first time.” These are the weakest sequences in an otherwise vastly entertaining mini-biography of “the most popular woman in the world.”  (Netflix)
NEW: BEN PLATT: LIVE FROM RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL (1hr 25 min) ***  OK so you’re asking who is Ben Platt and I must confess that I only know his name as a musical theatre performer like Josh Groban.  I find out he’s an American actor, singer, songwriter who started his theatrical career when a child, appearing on Broadway in The Music Man (2002), the Book of Mormon (2012-13) and Dear Evan Hansen (2015-17) – that’s another who? and what? – for which Platt, as the titular character, won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.  Previous winners include Rex Harrison, Robert Preston, Jackie Gleeson, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, and more recently Hugh Jackman, Martin Short and Neil Patrick Harris. So yes, it is a big deal. Last year his debut soul-baring album Sing to Me Instead was released with 20 tracks on the deluxe edition. The Radio City event, the last on his tour, sold out and included 15 songs. You might think the audience would be on the older side but not so. Platt obviously has captured a 20-something enthusiastic fan base, and from the loud, energetic singalongs, numerous standing ovations and tumultuous applause you would think this was an Elton John concert. In fact all are original songs except for two, one being a scorching cover of Elton’s Take Me to the Pilot. Another similarly powerful song is Rain ( when Platt leaves the stage, allowing the singers to complete the song with the audience going bonkers. He has three superb black backup singers and a seven piece band. The Special is a must see for anyone with an ear for mainly slower contemporary ballads. In addition to the music, charismatic Platt is extraordinarily forth-coming and candid with very personal heartfelt stories starting with his Jewish childhood and the anxiety he had when coming out to his parents at 12, and being rejected by a boy in Tel Aviv and, since then, other men. “This year is the first time I’ve gotten to come up on stage as myself, and be myself.” He returns to Netflix next month as Payton Hobart in the second season of the black satirical comedy The Politician. Only 26, Ben Platt, obviously enjoying what he is doing, is very definitely a name to watch. (Netflix)
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (1hr 58min) *** Essentially for, by and with blacks, the motherf***** word is in every sentence. Production values are high, including performances, direction, camerawork, set design and score, with a strong comeback performance by Eddie Murphy as filmmaker/comedian Rudy Ray Moore portraying outrageous flamboyant character Dolemite on stage and in blaxploitation films as from 1975, utilizing sex, violence and drugs to shock and provoke audiences. In 1973 Los Angeles, Moore was a struggling singer in a record store, having problems getting his music played. At night as MC at an African-American club he created an alter-ego the “baddest motherf***** ever” called Dolemite, decked out in gaudy pimp outfits, and he was a hit. Crude, foul-mouthed records of his stage act led to him creating his own cheap, bawdy film which in turn became hugely successful blaxploitation films. He persuaded lonely, downcast, ex-back up singer Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) to join him on stage and then recruited writer (Keegan-Michael Keya), a former actor D’Urville Martin  (Wesley Snipes) as director and inexperienced UCLA students as technicians for his chaotic raunchy films. (Netflix)
EXTRACTION (1hr 57min) ** If you’re bored being isolated at home contemplating the quiet, this may be your fix…a brutally violent, well choreographed action packed thriller in exotic locations featuring action star Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake, a haunted black market veteran mercenary, hired at an enormous fee for a suicide mission to rescue the kidnapped teenage son Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of a Mumbai imprisoned Indian drug kingpin. Ovi is held for ransom by Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), Bangladesh’s most affluent, powerful drug lord.  Rake frees Ovi but every road and bridge out of Dhaka is blocked and the chase is on. In just two days, we witness a never ending loud, bloody carnage, hundreds die and our battle scarred wounded hero miraculously escapes extermination, or does he? The humour is non-existent, which is where Hemsworth excels. The gory violence is repetitive and unoriginal and the pacing uneven. Visually it’s stunning, the photography excellent and the action well staged  It’s not a bad film and if you want mindless action, you’ll enjoy this ride. (Netflix)
A FALL FROM GRACE (2hrs) ** ½ Producer/director/actor Tyler Perry’s fans will be deliriously happy he has made his debut on Netflix. The story is pedestrian and predictable but the twist at the end is actually thrilling.  Jasmine (Bresha Webb), living with police officer husband Jordan (Matthew Law), works in a Virginia public defenders office under manager Rory (Tyler Perry). She is assigned a case in which the accused, Grace Waters (Crystal Fox), has pleaded guilty to murdering her husband, art photographer Shannon (Mehcad Brooks), but the body was never found. Rory insists it’s open-and-shut but Jasmine wants to try the case although it would be costly if she loses. She coaxes Grace to tell her story. Following her divorce, Grace’s best friend Sarah (Phylicia Rashad) introduced her to Shannon and the courtship led to marriage. Eventually Shannon’s behavior became erratic and when money went missing from her accounts she was fired. Then her identity and social security were stolen and her home had been mortgaged. When Shannon admitted to the theft and flaunted a new girlfriend, Grace beat him with a bat and dragged the body down into the basement. Doubtless, Tyler has a winner for his followers! (Netflix)
HOLLYWOOD  Limited Series (7 episodes, each 45 minutes) ***  What an interesting concept on 1940s Golden Age of Hollywood, blending fact and fiction and spotlighting specific personalities in each episode. Most characters are fictional while others are real-life, such as Rock Hudson, Chinese star Anna May Wong, renowned agent Henry Willson, director George Cukor, GWTW star Vivien Leigh, Production Head Dick Samuels, and first black Oscar winner, Hattie McDaniel. A group of non-professionals dream to make it big in their chosen fields of performing, screenwriting and direction,  At the Golden Tip Gas Service Station, the congenial owner hired attractive young men to work for him, using his business also as a high end brothel especially for wealthy straights and gays, the latter including Rock Hudson. Main fictional characters are handsome Jack (David Corenswwet) and black Camille (laura Harrier), wannabe movie stars, black gay writer Archie (Jeremy Pope), and half-Asian budding director Chris (Raymond Ainsley). Predatory gay agent Willson (superb Jim Parsons) is naïve Rock Hudson’s (Jake Picking) cruel Svengali. Fascinating especially for those who remember the 40s!. (Netflix)
NEW: INHERITANCE (1hr 51min) *** What a nifty and engrossing little thriller this is and it builds and builds towards a justified and totally satisfactory ending.  Opening in NYC in 2008, the ultra wealthy Monroe family lived in a luxurious mansion and had powerful political clout. Patriarch Archer Monroe (Patrick Warburton) clashed regularly with his crusading district attorney daughter Lauren (Lily Collins) – she has a need to help victims - but he had full support from his congressman son William (Chase Crawford), currently in a dubious 2nd term election campaign.  Within the first few minutes we see flashbacks of the family entertaining at large scale house parties which included wife Catherine (Connie Neilson). In an apparent sudden heart attack, Archer dies in a car accident, and in his will Archer bequeaths Catherine sole control of the family estate, to William $20 million and to Lauren $1 million. Separately presented to Lauren by Archer’s loyal personal lawyer for 31 years, Harold (Michael Beach), is an addition to her inheritance, a thumb drive, which contains directions to a secret, concealed close to her old fort in the woods, and a key. She explores and discovers a hidden backyard bunker which includes a dark room containing a mysterious disheveled, manacled and chained prisoner who has been there for 30 years!  Horrified she runs off but returns to ask him his name and why he is here. He tells her he is Morgan Warner (unrecognizable Simon Pegg) and adding “Give me what I ask for and I will tell you everything.”  When he gives her specific details of her family’s secrets, she is even more curious. Then he convincingly explains why Archer, while driving with him, had an accident, panicked and dragged him unconscious into the bunker. He reveals one of her father’s extramarital affairs, a "Spphia Fiore." Doubtful but determined to uncover the truth, she checks on Sophia (Christine DeRosa) and is given the shocking facts. The psychological game builds with every new proved revelation, and to say any more would be a spoiler. “You will know the truth and you will set me free.”  Both Collins and Pegg give riveting performances but it’s difficult to believe that at Collins’ age she could be a DA. Disapproved by Archer is Lauren’s marriage to African-American Scott (Marque Richardson) and hence she is step-mom to his young son but that adds nothing. Verdict: Ignore the critics and see for yourself: it’s a bit long but definitely worth viewing. (NOTE: From May 26: EST and VOD (English Version), July 7 - DVD and Blu-ray) 
THE IRISHMAN (3hrs 19min) ****  Recommended. Director Martin Scorsese can count on numerous award nominations with his epic crime drama based on I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Cancer-ridden, wheel-chair bound, War vet Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Nero) in a Philadelphia nursing home reminisces about his career as a Labour leader and a Mafia hitman. In the 1950s, Sheeran, driving meat delivery trucks, made deals with Befalino crime family’s Felix (Bobby Cannavale). When arrested, family lawyer Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano) got him off and he started working for boss Russell Bofalino (Joe Pesci) as mob enforcer. Russell introduced him to popular Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), wife Maryanne (Jennifer Mudge) and daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin) who disapproved of dad’s criminal life. He became bodyguard for Hoffa who eventually got arrested and jailed for jury tampering. His Teamsters replacement was Frank Fitzsimmons (Gary Basaraba) who squandered the union’s resources, aggravating Hoffa. On release, Hoffa was forbidden to participate in Teamsters activities but openly planned to regain Teamsters control where he was no longer accepted. The crime families’ heads were not happy and Hoffa’s death was sanctioned.  Powerful and totally engrossing unfortunately with a drawn out unnecessary ending! (Netflix)
JERRY SEINFELD: 23 HOURS TO KILL (1hr) *** (Stand Up Special) This is the show every Seinfeld fan has been waiting for and from the reaction of his audience to every single word of his observational stand-up comedy special and his take on everyday life, it is perfect … and without the use of profanity and Trump jokes!  Opening with a James Bond plunge from a helicopter into the Hudson River to get to the theatre, for an hour he effortlessly covers a multitude of subjects starting with this ”Hyped up not necessary special event put together so we could kill some time,” and our addiction to texting; our reliance on cell phones; “sucks” and “great” are closely related (e.g. ice cream falls off a cone onto the ground and that sucks, but you say “Great!”); gluttony in buffets, especially from those struggling with “portion control;” gaps under toilet cubicle doors; hotdogs at baseball games; ending with relationships between husbands and wives and arguments about “the tone of my voice, I thought it was a marriage, apparently it’s a musical!” and  “What else is annoying in the world except everything?” For all Seinfeld fans, this is a must see. (Netflix)
THE KING (2 hrs 20min) ** ½  Based on several plays of William Shakespeare’s Henraid, it was re-written by Australians director David Michod and filmmaker Joel Edgerton. The meticulous production is sumptuous early 15th century, but the dialogue is ponderously dull.  Slight, delicate Timothee Chalamet as King Henry V was not the right choice, while Sir John Falstaff (Edgerton) is serious and silent here in comparison to his comic Shakespeare creation. When brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman) and estranged dad Henry 1V (Ben Mendelsohn) died, rebellious, drinking and carousing son Prince Hal on his ascension to the throne changed his ways, becoming responsible but surely. The arrogant Dauphin of France (Robert Pattinson) sent an assassin to kill him, failed and taunted him into war. Vastly outnumbered by the French, the Duke of Dorset (Steven Elder) recommended retreat but Falstaff forecasts heavy overnight rain which would cause the French in heavy metal armor and on horseback to be bogged down in mud, trying to avoid English lethal long-bowman’s accuracy. The battle of Agincourt is well directed and choreographed in this otherwise overrated bland screenplay. (Netflix)
NEW: THE LOVEBIRDS (1hr 28min) ** It’s hard to believe this lame, poorly written, disposable romcom was destined for a big theatrical release when the coronavirus pandemic hit, theatres closed and so Netflix added another forgettable film to its mediocre collection. On the plus side are the performances from attractive, charismatic comedic duo Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as aspiring documentarian Jibran and advertising rep Leilani who, when first seen, are madly in love with each other. But four years later, the couple’s passion has simmered down and incessant petty bickering has taken over. They trade barbs throughout the 90 minutes, some are genuinely funny but the majority fall annoyingly flat.  While driving to a party in New Orleans, a bike messenger smashes into their windshield but when they check, he, though bleeding profusely, takes off in a panic. Moments later a stranger, stating he is the “police” (Paul Sparks), commandeers their car to chase the cyclist. Once more he is hit and then the “policeman” runs over him time and time again before he gets out, leaving the shell-shocked couple to check on the body as others gather, calling them murderers. The couple feel guilty and flee, having picked up the dead cyclist’s cell phone which contains a contact, and while trying to clear their names, they land themselves in deep water regularly. They get involved in a sex cult scene right out of Eyes Wide Shut and through the cell phone they contact Edie (anna Camp), who ties them up while offering a choice of sizzling bacon grease in their face or a horse kick to the chest. Funny? If you think that’s funny, you’ve come to the right place (Netflix) . 
MARRIAGE STORY (2hrs 16min) **** Recommended. Netflix’s witty, smart, heartbreaking family drama written, directed and produced by Noah Baumbach was nominated for numerous Awards.  Theatrical director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) live in New York where they adore 8 year old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Nicole accepts a lead role in a, L.A. TV pilot, and, with Henry, moves in with mother (Julie Hagerty).  Surprisingly the couple is discussing separation but want to split amicably, avoiding lawyers. Nicole hires a high-powered divorce lawyer (Laura Dern) to whom she admits to being mentally swamped by egotistical Charlie. In L.A. to visit, Charlie is served with divorce papers. Lawyer Jay (Ray Liotta) advises playing dirty which Charlie refuses. He rents an apartment to be near Henry and hires family lawyer  Bert (Alan Alda). In court there’s a ferocious battle between the lawyers. The couple decides to talk but that ends in devastating, bitter accusations. They’re essentially good, imperfect, loving people, but can they reconcile for Henry’s sake?  (Netflix)
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS. (1hr 35min) *** ½ What an absolute gem from screenwriter, producer and director Eliza Hittman this is!  It’s the simple uncomplicated story of two teenage close cousins, journeying from Pennsylvania to New York City for an abortion. The dialogue is sparse but the outstanding debut performances of Sidney Flanagan as moody loner Autumn and Talia Ryder as supportive Skylar, speak volumes. At a small town high school’s talent show, teenager Autumn is singing when a boy yells out “slut!” In her bedroom she checks out the bump on her stomach and is distraught. Being in Pennsylvania, Autumn would require parental permission for an abortion, so she has to book an operation secretly in New York City. They steal enough money to cover the abortion and transportation and catch a bus where friendly Jasper (Theodore Pellerin) chats them up, giving Skylar his phone number. At the Brooklyn clinic, their planned brief stay is lengthened by the pregnancy being further along than anticipated, which meant staying two days without money for accommodation and food.  Although bleak, this is an extraordinarily honest and emotional film with wonderfully natural performances. (AT HOME ON DEMAND)
THE OCCUPANT (1hr 43min) Spanish. ** ½ Middle aged Javier Munoz (Javier Gutierrez) was once a popular, successful advertising executive but now, out of work for a year, he is applying for a job and being interviewed by two younger managers who are unimpressed by his “new” ideas, really rehashed from his past, and he is rejected. In their luxurious apartment, wife Marga (Ruth Diaz) is concerned they can’t afford their present lifestyle and must downsize to cheaper accommodation. Their teen son Dani (Cristian Munoz) is distressed he will be ridiculed at the new school.  Javier, finding spare home keys in the car, lets himself into their old apartment while owners Tomás (Mario Casas) and Lara (Bruna Casí) are at work and daughter Monica (Iris Valles) at school. He goes through their belongings, hacking into their computer.  His suspicious former gardener notices Javier’s regular visits to the building. When Javier discovers Tomas is a member of the AA, he joins and gradually befriends Tomas. He forms a plan to infiltrate and destroy the family and get back into the apartment. The ending is convoluted and flawed. Still, it’s reasonably entertaining. (Netflix)
NEW: THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF (1hr 42min) *** Documentary. On April 20th 2015, two of struggling Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova’s large canvasses were stolen off their wooden frames from a group show at Galeri Nobel in Oslo, Norway. The oil on canvas works were “Swan Song” and "Chloe & Emma." Two thieves were caught on surveillance cameras and identified, and one of them, heavily tattooed career criminal and heroin addict Karl-Bertil Nordland, with a passion for art, appeared in the court in November. “I stole it because it was beautiful.” We know nothing of the accomplice. Desperate for answers about the theft of her two paintings, Barbora sought out and befriended the thief who stole them. He had been so drugged up, he genuinely didn’t know what became of the paintings!  At the court house she oddly requested him to sit for a portrait to which he agreed and the two gradually formed an improbable intricate relationship and an inextricable bond that would forever link these two lonely souls. The forgiving victim had reached out to the remorseful perpetrator!  Both already had partners so this was platonic. She had had a physically abusive relationship with her former German boyfriend. He had a rough childhood, had worked with special need kids, and was an accomplished carpenter before descending into addition and petty crime. Bertil would come over to her studio for a talk, and the more they talked, the more she wanted to know. The more she got to know him, the more she needed to paint him. She turned him as model into a painting titled at his suggestion “Snitchers are a Dying Breed” which was inked across his chest. On seeing the finished product, he broke down and cried. Her insatiable curiosity had led her to finding a friend and a Muse. After the fourth time they met, Norwegian documentary film maker Benjamin Ree started to follow Bertil’s and Barbora’s lives and their story with a camera. Bertil was involved in a horrific stolen vehicle accident which almost killed him but landed him in prison. The filming went on for three years and, when completed, was accepted in the World Documentary Competition at Sundance 2020 Film Festival where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Creative Storytelling. In normal times this intriguing documentary would have been a winner in Art Houses and on Festival circuits, but there won’t be much appeal for mainstream audiences. (Available to rent or own across all digital and on-demand platforms)
SELF MADE: INSPIRED BY THE LIFE OF MADAM C.J.WALKER  (Limited mini-series) ** ½  Based on the biography On Her Own Ground by A’Leila Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of Madam C J Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, political and social activist. She is the first female self-made millionaire in America, making her fortune by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair-care products for black women. In Louisiana, Sarah (Octavia Spencer) was a washerwoman who earned a pittance doing laundry. Traumatized, she was losing her hair when an acquaintance, wealthy light-skinned antithesis Addie (Carmen Ejogo) used her magical hair-grower formula and miraculously restored her hair, but didn’t want Sarah’s help in selling the product. “Even in your Sunday best you still look like you just stepped off the plantation.” Married tentatively happily to Charles James.Walker (Blair Underwood), ambitious Sarah with her own formula goes into competition, moves into heavily black populated Indianapolis and, even with back-stabbing Adele in competition, her rags to riches story sees her eventually opening salons and even a factory, but not without heartbreaks and political upsets along the way. Spenser’s feisty performance makes this soapy melodrama worth seeing, but for ladies only. (Netflix)
SERGIO (1hr 58min)  ** ½  Based on the true story of Brazilian Sergio Vieilo de Mello, the United Nations Special Representative in Iraq in 2003 who had worked on United Nations humanitarian and political programs for over 35 years,. In 2003, terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of the al-Qaeda jihadists, ordered the bombing of the U.M. headquarters in Bagdad which wounded over 100 people and killed 22, with wounded de Mello (Wagner Moura), trapped under rubble in the basement of the Canal Hotel alongside associate Gil Loescher (Brian F. O’Byrne),. Interspersed copious times are sequences from action in Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia and finally Iraq.  Separated from his first wife with whom he had two sons, the emphasis is on Sergio’s relationship with Argentinian co-worker Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas), In his 4 month assignment, accomplished De Melo, with his personal assistant Gil Loescher (Brian F. O’Byrne), was insistent that his mission was to facilitate new elections leading to Iraqi sovereignty, and negotiate an American troop withdrawal, much to the irritation and opposition of U.S. envoy Paul Bremer (Bradley Whitford). The pacing is slow, making it a far from compelling film with no real story. (Netflix)
SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL (!hr 51min) ** Mark Wahlberg has come a long way from being popular singer/rapper of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch in the early 90s. Then came the movies and in 2017 Mark was the world’s highest paid actor!  Mark, 48, is a charismatic, successful musician, actor, TV executive producer and a savvy businessman. Why would he jeopardize his career with this mediocre action-comedy ... perhaps delusions of a franchise?  Former Boston detective Spenser (Wahlberg) has completed 5 years in prison for the brutal assault of his Captain, John Boylan (Michael Gaston). On release, he is met and taken to the home of his buddy, boxing MMA coach Henry Cimoli (Alan Arkin), and finds he is sharing a room with Henry’s massively intimidating MMA protégé, Hawk (Winston Duke). When Boylan and another officer are killed execution-style, and then a respected cop is also murdered, Spenser’s suspicions are aroused. He turns freelance investigator with Hawk as his partner, and on their list are corrupt cops, equally dirty business investors and machete wielding Dominican street gangs, in a convoluted conspiracy at the casino construction project called Wonderland, naturally involving drugs. There’s nothing original here, including the endless fist fights, but Wahlberg is always watchable. Disappointing! (Netflix)
TAYLOR SWIFT: MISS AMERICANA (1hr 26min) *** ½ This is documentary filmmaker Lana Wilson’s look at the career of the 30 year old award winning singer / songwriter.  At 13 she started to write and sing her own songs and at 15 she signed a Country Music record deal, the youngest person to write and perform a #1 single on the Country Charts.  Her second album won her 4 Grammy awards and youngest Album of the Year winner. She had extraordinary pop chart success and endless sold out shows and awards. “A nice girl smiles and waves and says thank you. I became the person everyone wanted me to be.”  At 2009 VMAs accepting Best Female Video Award, she was interrupted by rapper Kanye West and the conflict escalated on social media. A backlash led to her disappearing from the spotlight. It was then she broke her silence on politics, having always been told,  “Don’t force your politics on people,”  “I feel good about not being muzzled anymore.” .She’s beautiful, genuine, intelligent and articulate and it’s easy to like her. The special is uneven but a must see for her fans. (Netflix))
TIGER KING: MURDER, MAYHEM AND MADNESS (True-crime mini-series of 7 – each approx 45min: Season 1 plus an additional #8 The Tiger King and I)  *** What a bizarre but strangely compelling documentary!  It’s a fascinating look at wild animals like tigers and lions being petted like household animals by their volatile “colourful” owners. The owners are gay, polygamist Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage) of the private Greater Wynnewood Animal Park, Oklahoma, and his deadly rival, animal activist Carol Baskin of the Big Cat Rescue in Florida, whose millionaire husband “disappeared” under mysterious circumstances. Joe is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for 17 counts of animal cruelty and for conspiring to murder Baskin. Other eccentric characters include former cocaine drug lord Jeff Lowe; animal trainer for films Tim Stark with the Wildlife in Need zoo; and “Doc” Antle, booking young women as tiger trainers in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin took 5 years to create this riveting, weird and complex docu-series which is far more than just breeding wild animals from birth. Each of these outlandish eccentric characters has been involved and continues to be in illegal, bad, messy things. Curious?  Try binge viewing. (Netflix)
NEW: THE TRIP TO GREECE (1hr 52min) ** ½ We followed popular British comic performers and co-writers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as fictionalized versions of themselves in the past ten years through the Lake District in England (2010), Italy (2014) and Spain (2017) on their culinary tours, stopping at luxurious hotels for fancy meals while arguing about democracy and history, movies and personalities, tragedy and comedy, bickering and mocking each other while continually interspersing their conversation with impressions of celebrities, and, yes, it has become excessively repetitive. Each of the four locations was initially a series of six half hour programs, edited down to one feature film of each country. Above all, the scenery and photography are breathtakingly beautiful and in this episode the locations are Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the Island of Hydra, the Caves of Diros, Nestor's Palace, Niokastro Fortress in Pylos, and Ancient Stagira. Between the driving and locations are the incredibly exquisite meals we see being prepared and served in hotels and countryside restaurants in Athens, Hydra, Lesvos, Chalkidiki, Pelion, Kavala, and at the Peloponnese. This 6 day trip, starting in Turkey and taking us through modern Macedonia and Greece, has been supposedly commissioned by the Observer for an article in which they retrace the steps of Odysseus, and frankly that will be double-Dutch to most North Americans. Eloquent trickster and speaker Odysseus was a legendary hero in Greek mythology, king of the island of Ithaca and the main protagonist of Homer's epic, the “Odyssey,” so now you know. The couple’s imitations, repeated from the previous shows, include Laurel and Hardy, Marlon Brando, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, Brits Ronnie Corbett, Ray Winstone and a slew of other British personalities mostly unknown to us across the pond. Both are on the phone to their family members and assistants in the UK and two of them join the guys, as they did in the past, for a couple of days. It starts when they land in Lesbos and Coogan recognizes actor Kareem Alkabbani and they give him a ride to a crowded refugee camp. It ends with Coogan receiving a call requiring him to fly back home immediately. In between, all that arguing is pretty exhausting for us viewers. However Brits will understand the one-upmanship game being played non-stop by these two blokes. (Available to rent or own across all digital and on-demand platforms)
THE TWO POPES (2hrs 5min) **** ½  Recommended.  My choice for 2019’s best film was director Fernando Meirelles’ biographical, vastly humorous and entertaining drama written by Anthony McCarerten. Bavaria’s Pope Benedict XV1 (Anthony Hopkins), born Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Catholic Church from 2005 till his unexpected resignation in 2013. He was succeeded by Argentine’s Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce), born Jorge Bergoglio.  On John Paul 11’s death, the conclave elected Ratzinger as new Pope while Bergoglio was runner-up. In the ensuing seven years, Catholicism suffered a succession of scandals and cover-ups (pedophile priests). A flashback covers Bergoglio’s youth leading to his conversation with a priest, prompting his decision to join the Jesuit priesthood. When his letters of resignation were ignored, he flew to Rome, not realizing Benedict had invited him to visit. Their first meeting is an intelligent sharply written sequence with the two men debating heatedly over the rule of God and the church’s current role. The next day there’s another superbly written conversation, more personal and relaxed, with Benedict playing piano and watching his TV show “Inspector Rex” Both are Beatles fans!  The following day both men confess their past serious failings (“All humans make mistakes’). The final scene years later shows the two Popes enjoying pizza while watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentine! Multi-Award nominations!  Bellissimo!  (Netflix)
UNCUT GEMS (2hrs 15min)  ** ½  Adam Sandler gives the performance of his career as he yells his way throughout two hours, with the f word in virtually every sentence.. In 2012 New York City, Howard Ratner (Sandler), a jeweler and a sporting events gambling addict, struggles to pay massive debts, including $100,000 owed his loan shark brother-in-law Amo (Eric Bogosian), always accompanied by henchman Phil (Keith Williams Richards)  Howard owns a Gems and Jewelry store that includes his young mistress Julie (Julia Fox) who he intends to marry after Passover following a divorce from Dinah (Idina Menzel).  Howard receives an uncut black opal embalmed in a rock from Ethiopia, and wants to sell it for a million to solve his debt problems. Basketball superstar Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics wants to borrow it for luck to that night’s game and in return leaves Howard his Celtics championship ring as collateral. Howard sneakily pawns the ring and places a bet on Garnett to win. He does, and the gang comes after Ratner for the money owed. Frankly I found it monotonous and overly long. (Netflix)
THE WILLOUGHBYS (1hr 32min) *** Animation. A sarcastic talking stray blue tabby Cat (voice Ricky Gervais) is the narrator of this inventive computer animated comedy about the family of selfish spindly Father and heartless Mother Willoughby (Martin Short, Jane Krakowski) who are so obsessed and engrossed with each other that they resent their four clever children, Tim (Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and the creepy twin boys Barnaby A and B (Sean Cullen) who stay out of their neglectful parents’ way. An abandoned baby is left outside their home and the parents refuse the children’s re-entry till they find a home for her. They leave her with a kindly candy factory’s owner, Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews) and scheme to orphan themselves, presenting enticing world-wide travel brochure of perilous exotic locations for the parents. They succeed but first hire an eccentric, unconventional Nanny (Maya Rudolph). When the travel money runs out, the house is sold and demolished and the kids sent to foster homes. What can Nanny do? It would be a spoiler for me to go any further.(Netflix)
THE WRONG MISSY (1hr 30 min) ** Following a break-up, bland likeable banking exec Tim Morris (David Spade) his a blind date with plain Jane Missy (comedienne Lauren Lapkus), and he soon realizes that this Missy is not for him. She is obnoxious, loud, vulgar and crude, and in an effort to escape, he gets stuck climbing out of a toilet window. Three months later at the Airport he meets former beauty pageant winner Melissa, also called Missy (Molly Sims). They mistakenly switch identical bags, and discover they have everything in common. His loan company office is headed for a luxurious corporate retreat in Hawaii and he texts Missy suggesting she joins him on the flight for fun in the sun. Problem is he texts the wrong Missy and has to spend the week with aggressive party-animal Missy botching up everything, embarrassing Tim in front of his boss and office staff. It’s tediously annoying and the sequences are endless, but Lapkus shows promise. (Netflix)

                                                              NEW DVDs....

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday May 26
THE INVISIBLE MAN  Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
CRUEL PETER: THE BOY  Henry Douthwaite. Rosie Feilner, Antonio Alveario, Aran Bevan, Alessio Bonaffini

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday June 2

ROBERT THE BRUCE Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Gabriel Bateman, Jared Harris
ROGUE WARFARE: THE HUNT  Will Yun Lee, Jermaine Love, Rory Markham, Bertrand-Xavier Corbi, Katie Keene
WATCHMAN (HBO) Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Lou Gossett Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Don Johnso,  Frances Fisher

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday June 9
CORPUS CHRISTIE; Playing with Redemption Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomasz Zietek
THE HUNT  Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Wayne Duvall, Justin Hartley
THE OUTSIDER  Ben Mendelsohn,  Jason Bateman, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine
WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS  Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Johnny Knoxville

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday June 16
IMPRACTICAL JOKERS  Paula Abdul, Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn. known as The Tenderloin.
THE QUARRY. Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Bobby Soto, Bruno Bichir
THE LODGE Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage, Daniel Keough

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday June 23
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE  Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino
THE POSTCARD KILLINGS Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Famke Janssen, Cush Jumbo, Joachim Król, Denis O'Hare

NEW DVDS... starting Tuesday June 30
BUFFALOED  Bannor Michael MacGregor, Brian Sacca, Jeffrey Katz, John Finemore, Mason Novick, Zoey Deutch
FORCE OF NATURE  George Furla, Luillo Ruiz, Mark Stewart, Randall Emmett, Shaun Sanghani
LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY  Samara Weaving, Carly Chaikin, Zach Avery, Brian Cox, Udo Kier

NEW DVDs ... starting Tuesday July 7
BLOOD AND MONEY  Tom Berenger, Kristen Hager, Mark Sivertsen, Paul Ben-Victor, Erica McDermott
INHERITANCE Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Connie Nielsen, Chace Crawford, Patrick Warburton, Mike Beach
THE TROLLS WORLD TOUR  Animation  Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, Ozzy Osbourne