by Julian Spivey
Hamilton – Disney+ - July 3
The moment that many of us who aren’t wealthy enough to have had the luxury of seeing “Hamilton” with the original cast on Broadway a few years back has come with the filmed version of that original show premiering on Disney+ on Friday, July 3. “Hamilton” took pop culture by storm in 2015 and 2016 and now half a decade later you can expect for it to do so yet again with so many more of us finally having the time to see it from start-to-finish. I would be willing to bet the “Hamilton” premiere will lead to the highest number of new Disney+ subscribers since the service debuted last year; I know my family will be joining for the first time.
Palm Springs – Hulu – July 10
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing movie theaters to shut down all across the country many films have taken to premiering on streaming services instead of going the traditional theater route and one of those films is “Palm Springs,” a romantic-comedy directed by Max Barbakow, premiering on Hulu on Friday, July 10. The film, that has been compared to the classic “Groundhog Day,” follows characters played by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti who are wedding guests who develop a relationship as they’re trapped in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again.
Harriet – HBO Max – July 18
“Harriet,” a biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, that debuted last fall and went on to garner Academy Award nominations for Cynthia Erivo for Best Actress for her title performance and also for Best Original Song for “Stand Up,” which was written by Erivo herself with Joshuah Brian Campbell. If there was one major critique of “Harriet” it’s that it was a by-the-numbers biopic that didn’t take too many chances, but it seems like an important watch right about now with racial strife still a major topic within out country. The film makes its streaming debut on HBO Max on Saturday, July 18 and wasn’t Harriet Tubman supposed to be on the $20 by now … let’s get back on that!
Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist – July 24
Jim Gaffigan is one of the hardest-working and most prolific stand-up comedians of our time and seems to have a stand-up special out on one of the streaming services every year or so, and every time it’s among the funniest you’ll ever see. His latest “The Pale Tourist” premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, July 24 is a two-part (divided over two hour-long episodes) special that followed Gaffigan on his most recent world tour where he traveled the world meeting new people and most importantly trying new foods.
The Way Back
by Philip Price
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal & Janina Gavankar
Runtime: 1 hour & 48 minutes
What’s striking about “The Way Back” is the expectations versus reality aspect of the film. When set-up for a sports drama where it’s almost a certainty that the sports will serve as a backdrop for the redemptive character piece there are a few things one expects from the screenplay; chief among them being the redemption of our hero. This isn’t to give anything away about “The Way Back” necessarily, but it is to caution the casual viewer that if you’re going into the latest Ben Affleck-led drama with certain, archetypal expectations you maybe shouldn’t expect all the warm feelings typically associated with said genre. This isn’t even to say that what those dramas deliver isn’t good or entertaining as I can appreciate more standard fare like “The Accountant” well enough, but I do so with more enthusiasm when I know Affleck is going to balance it with something like “Gone Girl.” This isn’t an evaluation of Affleck’s career choices though, and while the parallels between Affleck’s character in “The Way Back” and his real life are impossible to ignore it would seem these potential similarities in a state of mind if not necessarily lifestyle served not only to inform his acting choices, but function as something of a catharsis.
In director Gavin O’Connor’s (“Warrior”) film Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a man who is openly suffering if not in the most “woe is me” fashion, but certainly in the most trainwreck-like of ways that would give way to anyone recognizing the signs of depression, grief and an overwhelming amount of regret. And yes, Affleck is great in it. Sure, “The Way Back” gets points for being a compelling story about a guy who has essentially lost it all and finds some purpose in a ragtag bunch of basketball players at his alma mater while including an adequate number of sports sequences and additional character arcs in some of the key players both Jack and the audience become invested in, but this is Jack’s story. It is in Brad Ingelsby’s (“Out of the Furnace”) screenplay and O’Connor’s direction that we gauge Jack’s journey is not one of complete redemption nor is it one where he reaches a point where he gets to wipe the slate clean and start anew; he doesn’t really want to “start anew”.
“The Way Back” doesn’t tie as nice a bow on this story as most might hope it would, but instead presents the unwelcome truth that we can’t recover from some things in life. We’re reminded again and again that we need to cherish the time we have rather than focus on how long something will or won’t last, but the presence of something life-changing, no matter how grateful we are for the time given, is something that-when lost-is the type of change that can’t simply be healed by time and variation. Some pain never goes away, some pain one simply has to learn to live with and so, “The Way Back” is Jack discovering how he’s going to live with this indelible pain and how he’s both going to and not going to cope with it. This allows for “The Way Back” to be a story of adaptation more than it is transition and one that is an equally insightful and impactful dissection of this moment in time exactly because it restrains itself from tying a nice bow on Affleck’s difficult, but admirable performance.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae & Paul Sparks
Runtime: 1 hour & 27 minutes
“The Lovebirds,” a new romantic-comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, is a fun and breezy way to spend an evening at home while perusing through your Netflix library.
The film, directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in 2017’s “The Big Sick”) and written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, was original supposed to receive a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures on April 3, but was one of the first Hollywood releases to be shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing theaters and instead found a home on Netflix, where it premiered on May 22.
The movie follows a couple Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae), who have been together for four years but are fighting a lot as the film begins as the two are getting ready for a party. Despite the fact that the fight is comical to us viewers as they are arguing over whether or not they’d succeed on the reality-travel series “The Amazing Race,” which shows up in a funny scene at the film’s end, it’s proof that these two will literally bicker over anything and everything.
On the way to the party the two, who have just broken up on the ride over, accidentally hit a cyclist. The injured cyclist refuses their help and rides off and the two almost immediately have their car commandeered by a mustachioed man (Paul Sparks) who claims to be an undercover cop and is after the cyclist. After an exciting car chase through New Orleans the undercover cop drives the car into the cyclist and then backs over him and drives over him again killing him. The man is about to murder Jibran and Leilani when police sirens appear and he runs off. Jibran and Leilani fearing the police will think they’ve killed the cyclist run away themselves and begin a long night of many trials and tribulations that result in many laughs along the way.
Despite the fact that their characters are breaking up at the beginning of the film, Nanjiani and Rae have a terrific chemistry and it’s obvious these two characters still care about each other, even if they spend much of their time together bickering. It’s an absolute blast taking this ride with them and truly a testament to how good these two are together in that essentially the entire 87-minute runtime of the film is just the two of them (I don’t believe there was a single moment they weren’t on the screen the entire film).
“The Lovebirds” isn’t the type of movie that’s going to win any awards, it’s not going to go down as an all-time great comedy and may not even be the kind of movie you feel like watching multiple times. But it makes for a funny viewing and definitely the kind of romantic-comedy you could cuddle up on the couch or in bed with your significant other and forget about the real world for an hour and a half.
by Julian Spivey
HBO Max – Now
On May 27 HBO Max debuted with a large library of movies and television shows (including HBO’s entire library) and a better classic film library than all of the other streaming services combined. When the streamer debuted a few days ago we published THIS preview giving viewers an idea of all it has to offer.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Hulu – Now
One of my favorite films of 2019 was Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a fictionalized version of journalist Tom Junod’s 1998 profile of Mister Rogers for Esquire. Tom Hanks received an Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Fred Rogers that is just a complete joy to watch. Matthew Rhys’ lead performance as journalist Lloyd Vogel, who’s struggling in his career and as a new father with father issues of his own, is also very strong. If you’re looking for something heartwarming right now, this is it.
Hannibal – Netflix – June 5
One of the most underrated and greatest network television series of the last decade was Bryan Fuller’s version of “Hannibal” that aired for three seasons on NBC from 2013-2015. This version of “Hannibal” is a prequel to “Silence of the Lambs” and features Hannibal Lecter (an amazing Mads Mikkelsen) as a forensic psychiatrist and part-time cannibalistic serial killer who helps FBI profiler Will Graham (an equally amazing Hugh Dancy) solve crimes of psychopathic murderers. I felt the first two seasons of the series were quite a bit better than its final season, which wasn’t really intended to be its final but did get a decently wrapped up ending), but definitely recommend this little seen when it was on television drama now that it’s available on Netflix.
Knives Out – Amazon Prime – June 12
Another of my favorite movie releases of 2019 was the superb whodunnit “Knives Out” from writer-director Rian Johnson. “Knives Out” put a nice new spin on the whodunnit mystery genre after the patriarch of a snobbish family mysteriously dies and a master detective is brought in to solve the case. Daniel Craig plays the master detective Benoit Blanc, a Southern gentleman, and he should’ve received an Oscar nomination for his wonderful performance. Craig may be best known for James Bond (and with good reason – he might be the best Bond ever), but my two favorite performances from his are as unique Southerners in this and as the aptly named explosives expert Joe Bang in Steven Soderbergh’s excellent 2017 film “Logan Lucky” (also on Amazon Prime and also recommended). The supporting cast of “Knives Out” is incredibly strong, especially Ana de Armas as the family patriarch’s nurse and confidant.
Da 5 Bloods – Netflix – June 12
It feels like this country could really use a new Spike Lee joint right about now … lucky for us there’s one coming out next week. Lee has bypassed the American cinema to bring his newest film “Da 5 Bloods” to Netflix. The film premieres Friday, June 12 and sees four African-American Vietnam veterans (played by Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis and Clark Peters) return to Vietnam decades later in search of the remains of their fallen leader (played by Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure. The trailer was released last month and this one looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
by Preston Tolliver
It’s hard to find an action series with a winning record. They have a way of coming out guns blazing only to shoot blanks at the end; in other words, sequels have a way of running a perfect action film into the ground.
Take “Rambo” for instance. The story of an embattled, grizzly war vet living with PTSD in an America that had no place for him made for captivating cinema. The sequels that transformed John Rambo into a jacked up killing machine were a hard left turn from what the original set out to do, which was bring awareness to the psychological effects of war and the need to care for those who experience the horrors we pretend don’t exist. Instead, ‘Rambos 2-80’ glorified the war that the original took such a hard stand against.
The point is ... you can’t judge an action series by the pretty face in the front. Think “Die Hard” is the greatest action movie ever? That’s fine - but ‘Die Hard 2,’ ‘4’ and ‘5’ were garbage (‘3’ is sneakily the best movie in the series). “Predator” is an all-time classic (and a personal favorite), but it’s the only really solid movie of the entire franchise. And if you think “Star Wars” is the best series (as it was in The Word’s recent Greatest Action Series Tournament), well, meesa thinks you should think again (the argument could definitely be made that it’s the best science fiction series; however, if we’re going for win percentage of movies, the “Alien” franchise is a close second).
Shot, meet chaser.
Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ series is certainly a contender, despite a couple of stinkers, especially with the resurgence of the series in recent years with Michael B. Jordan stepping in as Apollo Creed’s boxer son to carry on his father’s and his honorary uncles’ legacies. “Lethal Weapon” is oddly really solid (even if you throw in the spoof “Lethal Weapon 5” on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).
But none of those are deserving of the title of the best action series. To be named such, a series should be near-perfect, from end to end (or end so far - action series have a way of never really ending; just ask Rambo). And while there’s still time for them to screw it up, there’s currently only one series that, three movies in (the minimum to be considered a series), is absolutely perfect.
And that’s the Baba Yaga: “John Wick.”
Here’s a few of the things the “John Wick” series has:
“John Wick,” the one where we meet John Wick and the Continental, is perfect. “John Wick 2,” the one where he kills some guys with a pencil, is perfect. “John Wick 3,” the one where he fights alongside horses and dogs and Halle Berry, is perfect.
“John Wick,” the series, is perfect. There’s nothing better.