Are you sad that Pixar’s “Onward” and “The Invisible Man” just hit the theaters and then the coronavirus hit so you missed them?
Well, don’t be!
Major studios decided to release those to paid streaming services faster than expected to take advantage of the marketing they already did for these films in hopes that everyone stuck at home will plunk down 20 bucks to help offset the box office disasters.
Already out: Pixar’s “Onward,” an urban fantasy film with mythical creatures; “The Invisible Man,” a modern-day twist on the classic monster (see review below); “Emma,” a British comedy drama based on Jane Austen’s classic; “The Hunt,” a black comedy action horror thriller about 12 conservative strangers who mysteriously wake up and find out they are being hunted by wealthy elitists; “Bloodshot,” a Vin Diesel action flick based on the Valiant comic; “The Way Back,” in which Ben Affleck plays an alcoholic construction work recruited to become head coach of a high school basketball team; “Birds of Prey,” the DC comic adaptation putting Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn front and center; “The Gentleman,” a Guy Ritchie-directed action flick with an awesome cast of Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant and more about an American marijuana kingpin in England looking to sell his business; “Sonic The Hedgehog” is a surprisingly critically acclaimed adaptation of the Sega videogame character with Jim Carrey; and “Bad Boys for Life,” where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence re-team for more witty nonsense.
Coming April 10: “Trolls World Tour,” an animated Dreamworks flick that will go straight to streaming instead of in theaters, unless they are back open April 10, which is a longshot.
The virus may change the way we all look at movies forever. DC and Warner Bros. is actually considering releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” straight to streaming. So stay tuned.
Today’s column will review one of the movies we just discussed, recommend three documentaries, catch up with two movies you may have missed and tell you of one Amazon Prime series you shouldn’t waste your time on.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2020, Season 10, 10 episodes) – The most likeable unlikeable man on television, Larry David, just wrapped up his 10th season – and 100th episode – with another zany, clever, annoying, hair-brained season of life in Los Angeles from his uniquely disturbed, obsessive-compulsive, rude and hilarious mind.
David is undoubtedly brilliant as witnessed in the previous nine seasons as well as his run as co-creator of “Seinfeld,” but he is also a terrific on-screen presence. While the character of George on “Seinfeld” was based on him, can you imagine how much better “Seinfeld” would have been if David actually played George? All due respect to Jason Alexander.
That said, Season 10 revolves around Larry building a spite coffee store to put Latte Larry out of business. But that’s just a small part of the insanity that also features Larry going on a group vacation with a former heavyset woman who can’t stop eating to his disapproval; Larry and the scene-stealing J.B. Smoove starting their own company to relieve people in jobs so they can go to the bathroom; Larry and his cohorts chipping their teeth on artificial fruit; an episode that revolves around rectal bleeding and Jon Hamm following Larry around so he can learn Larry’s mannerisms for a movie role he received; and a woman who transitions to a man whose new, big penis causes major issues.
It’s hard to believe that David and HBO have been turning out “Curb” episodes for 20 years … which is about 10 years long than “Seinfeld” aired but with about half the episodes. The question remains: which is better? “Seinfeld” or “Curb.” For me, it’s “Curb” by a longshot. David isn’t restrained by anyone here as he tells the jokes and stories he wants to tell with no network interference. The result is arguably the best comedy ever. HBO says as long as David wants to do more episodes, HBO will produce them. Here’s to hoping David has more issues with humanity that he needs to vent about.
Pay streaming services
The Invisible Man (Rated R, 2020, 130 minutes, available for paid streaming on any device) – What may go down as the surprise flick of 2020, “The Invisible Man” puts a modern-day spin on the classic monster that is thrilling, smart, sometimes predictable but generally enjoyable and, most importantly, sometimes scary … but not in a schlocky Michael Myers monster way.
The reason “The Invisible Man” works so well is because it’s generally well-acted in a cast led by Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”), who proves she can be a very unconventional leading lady. She plays Cecilia Kass, a woman trapped in an abusive and controlling relationship with her mad scientist husband, who escapes to briefly live her life in fear until she finds out her husband committed suicide. Although initially relieved, that’s where the fear really begins.
As creepy, disturbing things happen to her, the plot of the movie deals with the question whether Kass is just crazy – who would believe anyone who tells you that their husband is a stalking invisible man? – or is really being terrorized.
While never taking itself too seriously thanks to balanced direction by Leigh Whannell, who created the “Saw” franchise, “The Invisible Man” is worth getting wrapped up in for a night.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix, 2019, three episodes) – Netflix gets in the sports documentary game, showing that ESPN’s “30 for 30” isn’t the only place where you can find riveting sports features.
If you don’t know the whole story of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder, “Killer Inside” is a surprising, riveting, documentary that has twists and turns and shows what could happen when someone who comes from an abusive background with little or no money and all of a sudden is faced with fame and wealth beyond belief.
But there is much more to it than just that, as Hernandez’ sexuality, obsession with marijuana and concussion-filled life leads this soft-spoken, tortured man to the ultimate tragedy.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem & Madness (Netflix, 2020, seven episodes) – If you are going to watch one documentary this year, it should be “Tiger King,” the story of Joe Exotic, a gay, meth-smoking, gun-shooting, polygamous, mullet-stylin’, country singing, big cat selling egomaniac who owns a zoo in Oklahoma specializing in lions and tigers.
If that’s not enough to hook ya, Joe Exotic may or may not be involved in a murder-for-hire plot of a Florida woman who runs a rescue animal sanctuary who Joe Exotic accuses of feeding her husband to tigers so she can inherit all of his money.
Along the way, you meet Joe Exotic’s two husbands, other zoo owners, a former cocaine drug lord running a secret-conservation facility, a reality TV producer who hitches his wagon to Joe Exotic’s star and an array of sleazebags who may be even worse than Joe Exotic himself.
Sure, seven episodes seems like a long time to tell this story, but when the final chapter ends, you will want seven more.
Don’t F*&k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Netflix, 2019, three episodes) – Rule Zero on the Internet, supposedly, is the title of this flick. And after a young man posts a video of him killing two kittens by putting them in a vacuum seal bag and removing the air, some Internet geeks go crazy and start a manhunt around the world for the savage who posted the viral video.
But that’s just the beginning of the insanity as the Internet group devoted to his capture may have fueled the killer’s ego, resulting in more animals’ deaths and ultimately the murder of a Canadian college student that leads to an even bigger hunt for the sicko.
While not the most artistically produced or well-told documentary you will ever see, the subject matter will undoubtedly capture our attention … even if the story could have been told in one less episode.
Good Time (Rated R, 2017, 101 minutes, free with Netflix) – Before the Safdie Brothers captured the world’s attention this year by casting Adam Sandler in the disturbing “Uncut Gems,” the creative writers and directors made some waves with “Good Time,” an equally disturbing movie that made people pay attention to Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) as a serious actor.
“Good Time” is absolutely a companion piece for “Uncut Gems.” Also set in New York with a frenetic, techno soundtrack, gritty cinematography and a filmmaking style that makes you feel very anxious, “Good Time” is one of the most underrated movies of the last five years.
Pattinson stars as a small-time bank robber desperately trying to put together enough money to bail out his developmentally disabled brother, played by Benny Safdie while he is on the run from the law.
Along the way he enlists the help of Jennifer Jason Leigh, his insane girlfriend who tries to use her grandmother’s credit card to no avail, and even breaks his brother out of a hospital only to find he broke out the wrong dude. Before it all ends in thrilling fashion at an amusement park, people are tripping on LSD, jumping out of moving cabs and wreaking havoc in New York City.
Raw, gripping and certainly a wild ride, the low-budget “Good Time” may look like a student film at time, but it shows the Safdie Brothers as blossoming artists who can become greats in cinema.
Ex Machina (Rated R, 2014, 108 minutes, free with Netflix) – Somehow, this movie has eluded me for six years. Despite wanting to view it, it just never happened until the coronavirus self-quarantined me at home. So if there’s a silver lining to this whole mess, at least I got to watch “Ex Machina,” which is not what I was expecting at all.
By the posters and trailers, “Ex Machina” looks like another “Terminator” or piece of A.I. gone bad, but it’s so not that.
“Ex Machina” is more of a psychological thriller, using A.I. as the centerpiece to draw you in. But Alex Garland, writer of “28 Days Later,” made his directorial debut with a sharply written, nicely filmed, cerebral experience that shows how intelligence, ego and greed could be humanity’s downfall.
The story revolves around a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a competition to spend a week at the hidden estate of brilliant computer scientist Nathan Bateman, played wonderfully by an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac, to be the human component of a Turing Test, which tests whether a human can be fooled by an A.I.
Of course, in a “2001” moment, the subject, an A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander) proves more sophisticated and deceptive than the two could ever imagine.
A sci-fi gem that relies on good writing, science and intelligence rather than special effect – even though there’s some cool effects, too – “Ex Machina” is worth discovering … or re-discovering if you have the time.
Not Worth Your Time
Hunters (2020, 10 episodes, minutes, free with Amazon Prime subscription) – Such a shame that after all of these years the legendary Al Pacino chose this stereotypical mess to make his series debut on.
What’s even more sad is that “Hunters” has a great premise. Inspired by a number of real Nazi hunters through the decades, the Amazon Prime original series follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters – no superpowers here, just super personalities – who track down Nazi war criminals in New York City in 1977 conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S.
While there are some storylines that run throughout the 10-episode run, “Hunters” becomes a weekly catch-the-Nazi episode that is generally wrapped up tightly after ever installment instead of telling a truly fantastic, cohesive story that twists and turns brilliantly like HBO’s “The Watchmen.”
Pacino is fine if not pedestrian as the leader of the gang, and there are some memorable characters, particularly Josh Radnor as Lonny Flash, the show’s needed comic relief, but “Hunters” fails to connect with the viewer on an emotional level, which is pretty surprising. After all, who doesn’t want to see a Nazi get their ass kicked?
(If you have anything you want to recommend, please comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mini-review that we will possibly publish in the future! Also, you can listen to the Off The Press with Scott Cronick radio show 4 p.m. Wednesdays for Movie Wednesdays, where Cronick and Kevin Cronin from The Iron Room discuss movies and television on WOND Newstalk 1400-AM, WONDRadio.com and 92.5-FM.)