Netflix Original: The Fundamentals of Caring

If Paul Rudd was discovered to have the (ahem) “Bill Cosby problem”, I’m pretty sure that America would fall into a depression and cry for days. Currently, Rudd is competing with Chris Pratt over (seemingly) the title of  NICEST GUY EVER. I pray that neither one of them gets caught banging the babysitter so much as jaywalks

Rudd’s character Ben has a secret in The Fundamentals of Caring and he spends an hour and a half running from it, but not in the way that people do in John Grisham movies. He’s suffered a trauma and tries to bury it by caring for Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is as bad as it sounds. At first, Ben and Trevor clash, but then an impromptu road trip bonds them and they deal with the awful stuff that’s making them miserable

Along the way, they pick up Dot (Selena Gomez) and Peaches (Megan Ferguson), the latter of whom is extremely pregnant. Our unhappy quartet attempt to mesh into a dysfunctional family as they seek out cheesy roadside attractions and, ultimately, seek out Trevor’s horrible, estranged father (Frederick Weller)

Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts
Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts

One hidden gem in the cast is Trevor’s mother, Elsa, played by Jennifer Ehle. Ehle plays Elsa as no-nonsense English woman, who has been worn down by her son’s disease and her husband’s desertion, but she also has an undeniable vulnerability. Elsa’s doesn’t coddle Trevor, but she shows great concern when Ben suggests taking him more than an hour from his house for the first time ever. The greatest compliment I can give Ehle is that I was left wanting more Elsa

I am loathe to pile on the late, lamented Vinyl (as I did here), but the five minutes of Bobby Cannavale that we get in The Fundamentals of Caring are better than everything he did in the (lamented) first only season of Vinyl

Fundamentals comes from the mind of Rob Burnett, who was David Letterman’s right-hand man for many years. Some will find tonal qualities similar to the Apatow Empire, but I also detected a little hint of We Need To Talk About Kevin and the slightest aroma of Little Miss Sunshine. Not entirely a comedy, but also not strictly a drama. Netflix has once again shown that it’s investment into original content makes for quality programming. While Fundamentals may not be in the same league as HBO’s excellent All the Way, it’s another “date night” winner for Netflix

The Fundamentals of Caring is now streaming on Netflix

Films: Three Hard-to-Find Gems

The Beast

The Beast (also known as The Beast of War) (1988)

This one is a little more accessible than the other two I will write about, as it is streaming on Amazon Prime right now. Most people will say that Rush is their favorite Jason Patric movie. This one is mine. If Speed 2 is yours, please stop reading, go outside, and stare directly at the sun for three minutes

If you think that all war movies are the same, The Beast could change your mind. Set in 1981, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Patric plays a tank driver (Konstantin Koverchenko) who is at the mercy of his maniacal commander. Eventually, Koverchenko is abandoned by his superior officer in the brutal terrain of Afghanistan, where he is captured by Mujahadeen guerillas. Then, Koverchenko plans his revenge against his former comrades and helps the Afghans in their plans to strike against the Soviets

At times, the action is brutal (the tank commander orders his crew to roll the tank over the legs of an Afghan to teach the village a lesson not to mess with the Soviets), but the story works as a specific examination of the Russian invasion, but also a broader look at war, in general. It’s unfortunate that this movie hasn’t gotten a wider audience over the years. In some jingoistic fever dream I may or may not have had, Putin is captured by American troops and forced to watch this film at least three times

This is probably not the best Stephen Baldwin movie. That honor, undoubtedly, goes to The Usual SuspectsDirector Kevin Reynolds would go on to direct Kevin Costner twice. In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, he scored a huge commercial success. In Waterworld…not so much. There has been some revisionist history on Waterworld in the past two decades. While it isn’t a great movie (or even a good one), it comes far from the title of “Biggest Bomb of All-Time”, as some people considered it back in the 90s. Let’s just say that when it comes to bombs, Kevin Reynolds has nothing on Renny Harlin

 

Scotland, Pa.

Scotland, Pa. (2001)

Speaking of Renny Harlin and the perils of directing your spouse (Harlin was married to Geena Davis for five long years, in which he attempted to destroy her career), allow me to introduce you to Billy Morrissette and Maura Tierney. Not only did they brave the rapids of husband-directing-wife, they also decided to do it with a Shakespeare update

When you’re putting a modern twist on ole Billy the Shakes, you’re spitting right in the devil’s eye. When it works, it’s fantastic. When it doesn’t, well, it can be pretty awful. Baz Luhrman‘s ambitious and stylish Romeo + Juliet scored. The hip hop/kung fu reboot of R&J, Romeo Must Die is vastly underrated. On the other hand, the 2000 Ethan Hawke take on Hamlet fell flat

Scotland, Pa. works because it embraces the wackiness of Shakespeare and it has a great cast. The amazing James Le Gros plays Joe “Mac” McBeth, a sad sack fast food employee, who, unwittingly invents the drive-thru window. His wife (Tierney) gets in his ear and we’re off. Want to see Andy Dick as one of the “toil and trouble” witches? Got it! How about Christopher Walken as the cantankerous Lieutenant McDuff? You bet! How about a steady supply of “rock blocks”? Oh, hell yeah! Washing blood from your hands has never been so much fun

This one is not streaming (currently), but you can get a pretty good deal on the used DVD

Mike's Murder

Mike’s Murder (1984)

The lack of availability on this one is surprising to me. Debra Winger was coming off back-to-back smashes in An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment (and Oscar™ nominations for both), so she decided to do a little film with the guy who directed Urban CowboyWhile Mike’s Murder wasn’t a commercial success, it was a refreshing break from the product being churned out by the Hollywood machine of the early 80s

Winger plays Betty, who has a thing for her tennis instructor, but she has no idea that Mike is dealing drugs on the side. Mike gets in over his head and eventually gets killed. Betty tries to piece together what happened to Mike. That’s it. A very simple plot, but great acting and no-frills direction make this film work. In tone, it reminds me a bit of The ConversationIt’s really a great vehicle for Winger, who was at her peak during this period. I’m not saying that she’s as good here as she was in Terms, but she gives a strong performance. Maybe a little dark for some, but a very good film

Not available for streaming, but, again, half.com is your friend here

 

Gibsonburg: The Best Movie You’ve Never Seen

In the summer of 2013, I was going through some difficult times. Not to get into any details, but it wasn’t such a great time to be me. So, what do you do when things are falling apart and you need to get to your happy place? Of course, you pack up your stuff, grab your dog and head for America’s vacationland

Cleveland, Ohio

Really

I’ve been a Cleveland Indians fan for more than thirty years and my first visit came in 2003 (ironically, when I was also going through some not-so-great times). Immediately, I connected with the city that everyone made fun of. Cleveland is the child who makes you work for it’s love. If you can appreciate the rust, the abandoned factories, and the sights of failed dreams (everywhere), you’ll find something in Cleveland that’s pretty rare: Authenticity. Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, L.A…all are full of fake people doing fake stuff for a fake high. Maybe there are a couple of poseurs in Cleveland, but I’m pretty sure once they’re spotted, they make them move to Columbus

So, it was that I was in one of the many fine bathrooms at Progressive Field, when I saw this flier for this little independent film called GibsonburgIt was playing at some tiny theatre like 2 hours away and it promised a great underdog story. At that time, I needed to see the underdog win, so I made the trip

 

I was blown away. No! I was blessed. I know that sounds ridiculous, but this little independent film about a team that carried a damaged town in northwest Ohio on it’s back became one of my favorite movies this whole century. If you need a lift, this movie (based on a true story) shows the power of cinema to inspire

OK. Maybe I’m overstating it just a hair

Here’s what you won’t see when you watch Gibsonburg: Professional actors. A bunch of college kids got together to make a truly independent film. You might spot Judy Tenuta (a loud comic who peaked in the 80s) for about 4 minutes total. Otherwise, these are all amateurs (although the young lady who plays Kathy had a couple credits before Gibsonburg). You also won’t see massive CGI explosions, men dressed in spandex fighting cosmic enemies bent on earth’s destruction, or product placement meant to make Microsoft’s™ second quarter bang. What you will get is heart. In fact, Gibsonburg has more heart than all the X-Men movies put together. Zack Snyder wishes he could be involved with something that has this much heart

OK. Maybe overstating again. My apologies to Mr. Snyder, who does great work

But, the movie is cheesy. You’ll see so much small-town Americana sappiness that you’ll think a Kenny Chesney song came to life and puked on your cowboy boots. Yes, there are cliches. TONS of them, in fact, but you’ll forgive them because there’s so damn much soul in this movie. If you grew up in a small town just about anywhere in America, you’ll recognize the characters. You know that Gibsonburg’s baseball team overcomes all the odds and wins it all, but you still get excited for the ending and get goosebumps when it happens because it feels so good to commit emotionally to something so…authentic

And you’ll root for Andy (team captain) and Kathy (his girl). Just like you rooted for Jack and Diane. The same way you rooted for Tony and Gina. Goliath wins a lot, but it’s always more fun to root for David

Gibsonburg is streaming on demand via Amazon Prime. You can also watch it on You Tube at this link 

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Next time, I say we swap Liam Neeson for Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and have someone snatch his daughter and let Batman chase down the kidnappers for a hundred and eight minutes. We’d probably end up with a better movie

Of course, I’m only joking

Maybe

Take a Baby Ruth™ bar. Take it out of it’s wrapper and put it on a plate. Put it in the microwave at full power for 75 seconds. What you have on that plate when the beeper goes off is Batman v Superman: A blob of good stuff that had a chance at being cohesive and delicious

I’ll try to summarize the plot as I remember it: A discovery of kryptonite is made at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) makes a play for taking it and turning it into weapons just in case old Supes (Henry Cavill) ever gets a little too out-of-control. Meanwhile, Superman goes a little nuts in the desert rescuing Lois (Amy Adams) and wipes out some people, drawing the ire of one Democratic Senator from Kentucky (Holly Hunter). Then Lex kidnaps Ma Kent (Diane Lane) and demands that Superman bring him the head of Batman (Ben Affleck) or he’ll kill the mother of Superman. The two titans fight, Wrestlemania III style and the whole thing is ended when Batman is reminded that both of them had mothers named Martha (really!). Then Lex creates this monster that looks like the Hulk mated with Darkseid (longtime Zack Snyder observers will be relieved that he didn’t give this creature a gigantic schlong) and Wonder Woman shows up and Superman dies

WHEW! Was that like your 7-year-old nephew telling you a joke he heard at lunch?

In between we are treated to flashback/fantasy sequences that show horrific things. Like a horrible creature emerging from Bruce Wayne’s mother’s tomb and attacking Bruce. And Clark Kent saying howdy to his deceased father (Kevin Costner). Snyder throws these in willy nilly. Also, we get various ruminations on Gods and Men, governmental limitations (Ayn Rand fans will get a kick out of Holly Hunter’s character implying that Superman shouldn’t act unless it’s with the consent of the United States government. That would be a hoot and a half, these days. First of all, Obama would have to pretend to hate Superman or Congress wouldn’t even consider using him at all)

There seemed a moment where it all could have crystalized: Lex Luthor is able to smuggle an explosive device into the United States Senate and detonates it. Suddenly, the once-vilified Man of Steel™ is being reached for by a fickle public to save them

I suppose the hatred directed at Superman and Batman in this film are the DC version of anti-Mutant sentiments in the Marvel Universe

I liked Eisenberg as Luthor. I liked Adams as Lois Lane. Henry Cavill was ok. What of our man, Affleck? I thought he acquitted himself well in the role, but this felt more like Clooney than Bale. I suspect he’ll get another crack at it, as we were introduced to the makings of a Justice League™. Here’s your murderer’s row: Bats, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash, and Cyborg. Someone explain to me how Cyborg became the breakout star of the Teen Titans™

And while you’re at it, explain to me why Wonder Woman even needed to be in this movie. I think it’s got something to do with some senior executive getting yelled at because the property is just sitting there doing nothing and, damnit Steve, we need a big third quarter and girls need something to scream at their mothers to buy them the next time they’re in Wal-Mart

(Hey! You ever see Dave Chappelle’s Wonder Woman bit? It’s great)

So, re-rack, re-gather, and re-think Mr. Snyder. And don’t you dare, for one second, think about working your anatomical magic on Wonder Woman’s naughty bits

B&B Podcast 02/29/16

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Your New Favorite Christmas Movie: Reindeer Games

I got into a fight with my mother over this film last year. Apparently, she didn’t appreciate the cursing, violence, and brief nudity (Charlize Theron’s breasts, ma). We’ve decided not to talk about this…you know…like that thing that happened when I was 14 and she came home early

I won’t pitch this as anything but the ANTI Christmas movie. It will never be the 1946 Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In fact, this could be subtitled “It’s a Crappy Life”. The selling point here is Gary Sinise as a BAD guy (I know, he was a bad guy in “Ransom”). You will probably always think of Sinise as the coarse, faithless Lieutenant Dan, who slowly allows Forrest to open his heart

The character Sinise plays in “Rendeer Games” is a heartless thug. If you feel any sympathy/empathy for Gabriel, please seek professional help. He’s the kind of guy you love to see bad things happen to

And now a word about Ben Affleck: Folks, the time has come to stop beating up on him. Now, look: I love taking a swing at “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl” as the next guy. But, that stuff was years ago and he’s acquitted himself nicely in the last half decade. So, let’s lay down our arms and admit that he might even make a decent Batman

Affleck plays a guy impersonating his dead cellmate so he can score with the lovely Millie (Theron). Then, we get a plot twist I won’t spoil for you and maybe one or two more, but the big payoff is a hellacious shootout in a casino that’s being robbed. Throw in a super supporting cast like Donal Logue, Danny Trejo, and Dennis Farina, and you’ve got a rootin’ tootin’ good time that will put the jingle in your bells (I can’t believe I wrote that)

This was the last theatrical longform film directed by John Frankenheimer, who also gave us “Birdman of Alcatraz” and the prescient “The Manchurian Candidate” (the latter of which was shelved for years because it was too similar to the actual assassination of President Kennedy). “Reindeer Games” may surprise you

But don’t force it on your mother

NOTE: When I began writing this, I thought “Reindeer Games” was still available on Netflix. It isn’t. You can rent it for $3.99 from Amazon

 

REVIEW: Netflix Original Film “The Ridiculous 6”

Sandler and co. ride the range
Sandler and co. ride the range

We need an intervention. Adam Sandler must be confronted about his disturbing relationship with Rob Schneider. I don’t know if Schneider has those proverbial pics of Sandler with a goat, but I just can’t understand why Sandler insists on giving this guy role after role, in which Schneider just CRUSHES it. And by it, I mean my soul

I kept waiting for Schneider’s appearance in “The Ridiculous 6” (23 minutes in, if you care) and my entire intestinal tract tightened when I saw him. He plays Sandler’s brother (they pick up four other previously unknown brothers along the way, totaling, yes, six). I have to admit Schneider wasn’t bad. But, that’s the problem with the whole movie: It’s not bad. It’s also not good

The story here is that Sandler was orphaned as a small child by an anonymous gunman and he’s blamed himself for his mom’s death his entire life. The Apache Indians raised him (a nod to Arthur Penn’s brilliant “Little Big Man”) and his father (played by Nick Nolte) comes into his life briefly before being kidnapped by bad guys, leaving our hero to make his epic journey and find his daddy

Do you like mid 90’s SNL cast members? Well, you’ll get a full complement in this movie. In addition to Schneider and Sandler, you get a brief appearance from Norm MacDonald and shenanigan with Jon Lovitz. Do you like current pop culture icons? Hello Blake Shelton. Do you like sex symbols acting like dumbasses? Voici Taylor Lautner

I was trying to think of who the audience was for this movie while I was watching it and all I could come up with was 14-year-old boys. If you’re a parent, you’d probably want your son watching this vs. Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. It’s not nearly as crude, but it does have the requisite number of fart jokes and sexual references. I guess the overwhelming word that describes this film to me is “silly”

The difficult part for the modern comedy western is that they will all be compared to the incomparable “Blazing Saddles”. Just as all modern campus comedies will be measured next to “Animal House”. They will all fall short, but, I suppose it doesn’t mean the genre should just be abandoned. Filmmakers should just be aware that they’re running up an incredibly steep hill

This is a solid 2-star movie (maybe 2 1/2 under the infamously generous “TV Guide” scale). I was a bit puzzled as to why Native Americans would be offended by this movie, as I saw nothing that was particularly offensive. Of course, I’m not a Native American. Maybe they were just upset that Native Americans would even be associated with any Sandler project

This is the first of four projects that Sandler will produce exclusively for Netflix. The marriage between Sandler and Netflix isn’t off to a bad start. It also isn’t off to a good one