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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

'The Mindy Project' CS DVD & BD: More Girl Power From MCE

The Mill Creek Entertainment January 21, 2020 separate DVD and Blu-ray complete series sets of the Fox and Hulu sitcom "The Mindy Project" (2012-17) are perfect additions to both the MCE catalog  of both traditional and too-cool-for-TV Land sitcoms (e.g., "Community" and "Happy Endings") and the growing MCE collection of Girl Power series. The latter includes the recent (reviewed) "Charlie's Angels" BD CS set and upcoming BD CS sets of "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "30 Rock." "Rock" particularly  can be considered the older sister of "Project." 

IMDb perfectly describes "Project" by stating that the concept is that "a young Ob/Gyn balances her personal and professional life surrounded by quirky co-wokers in a small office." The rest of the story is that the series provides the relatable concept that someone whose personal life is a figurative and personal mess still can be a highly member of his or her profession. 

This concept shows that titular Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling of "The Office") is whom fellow New Yorker head-comedy writer Liz Lemon in "Rock" would have been had she gone to medical school. The numerous parallels between the women include being chain daters (ala smokers who light up the next cigarette before finishing with the current one) whose romantic partners either are out of their league or are not good enough for them.

These career women also run into their exes far more than is believable and almost inevitable are doomed to repeat their histories with them. "Office" mate/co "Project" producer B.J. Novak particularly shines as a beau with an unusually close friendship with his female best friend; this leads to a double date that is a series highlight.

Striking a balance between completeness and a timely review requires stopping watching "Project" near the end of an especially strong S3. The list of not-so-gentlemanly callers (almost always portrayed by cult faves that include Bill Hader and Anders Holm) include an oral surgeon, two attorneys, an arts-and-culture journalist, and a pastor/DJ/event planner/sneaker mogul. This is not to mention cases of fellow doctors dipping their pens in the company ink.

The supporting cast also is particularly strong. Beth Grant of the "Sordid Lives" franchise shines as raunchy middle-aged support staffer Beverly.

Although the plethora of perfectly delivered TMI comments by Beverly greatly contribute to the show, her arguably best line is "its not a kiss unless its below the belt." A close second for the best Beverly moment is her very first appearance in which she doubles down on losing blood samples in an especially hilarious way by labeling those vials with vile descriptions of the patients.

Ike Barinholtz (currently of "Bless the Harts") also deserves special mention for his portrayal of oversized manchild ex-con nurse Morgan Tookers; his "Rock" counterpart is bizarre naive NBC page Kenneth,

The highly enthusiastic leap-before-you look Morgan largely is there to goad the doctors into toxic behavior outside their comfort zones. His redeeming qualities include an obsessive love of dogs and a seemingly incurable optimism. He also neither realizes nor cares when he is not welcome. 

Although an S3 highlight is an episode in which the male doctors in the practice and Morgan have their good deed comically misinterpreted when they travel to Spanish Harlem to do free breast exams, an even better one follows a few later. Both Mindy and the current object of her affection are very anal about an expansion of their sexual activities. A joke about the clergy sex abuse scandal alone makes that outing memorable.

The appeal of "Project" is that it presents the taboo subjects referred to above, as well as MANY others that include race and religion, in an playfully inoffensive manner. The fact that this takes "Rock" to the next level reflects a positive evolution in television comedy.

A broader perspective is that both "Project" and "Rock" can be considered more realistic versions of their "grandmother" "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which centers around the mother of all career women who is one of the guys. Ala "Project," one can easily imagine not-so-pure Mary Richards having a Bob Crane style sex film of hers leaked to her colleagues or perhaps accidentally aired during the WJM News.

The DVD extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

'Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!' DVD: What the Cluck, Morgan Spurlock?!

Reasonable expectations regarding both the 2004 documentary "Super Size Me" and its auteur make the November 2019 DVD of "Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!" a major disappointment. One should be able to expect more of a guy who has proven that he so much better than this on EVERY level.

The solid asserted (but almost certainly pretextual) concept of "2" commences with a fast-food chain contacting Spurlock to appear in ads due to his documented "Super Size" attempt to only eat McDonald's food for a month.

This allegedly is what motivates Spurlock to start a new chicken restaurant from scratch (pun intended) and to document this effort. In other words, he profits from both the film itself and the publicity that it generates for new business venture Holy Chicken.

One not so-surprising spoiler is that the film prompts investors to approach Spurlock about creating a chain of Holy Chicken restaurants. Another spoiler is that your not-so-humble reviewer has adequate integrity to pledge to NEVER eat at any location regardless of how peckish (pun intended) he becomes. 

Spurlock commences this venture with the effort that is the primary focus of "2.." The search for a source for chickens and a place to raise them sets the stage for an "expose" of "Big Chicken" that does not reveal any information that has not been relatively well known for decades. These include that the big boys, such as Tyson and Perdue, use their strong grip on the industry to harm both competitors and chicken farmers who end up on their bad side. We also hear the same (but still highly distressing) stories about inhumane conditions at the big chicken facilities. 

Spurlock does deserve credit for some new information. We learn about the laughably low government standards for making assertions about chickens. For example, claiming that your birds are "free-range" essentially only requires giving the flock the option of going out on the front porch. A scene in which Spurlock fails to convince his fine-feathered friends to poke their beaks out the door is a "2" highlight. 

The parallel effort of Spurlock to develop a theme and a menu for his restaurant is more interesting and insightful. His product development consultants introduce us to terms such as "health halo." We also hear the "awful truth" about grill marks on fast-food chicken and learn why crunchy replaces the industry "f-word."

Subjectively, a scene in which checking out the competition shows the Burger King "crunchy" chicken sandwich is hollow is a "2" highlight. Having the perspective of having had the college roommate from Hell, whose many sins include watching while I gulped a large glass from a water container that he had filled with vodka, makes that scene even better. That former student is now a Greek tycoon that inherited every Burger King franchise in Rhode Island from his father. No, those places (and the other Janco locations) do not get my business.

The bigger picture is the sloppy manner in which our veteran documentarian makes "2." This begins with repetition in the form of "sandwiching" the beginning and the end of the film with the same footage of local news promoting the new restaurant. 

Spurlock further slides to the bottom by borrowing the old ambush the industry guy trick that fellow sadly diminished colleague Michael Moore puts in all his films.

An early scene has Spurlock "outed" as a guy with an agenda; this leads to a "leaked" memo much later in the film. This correspondence is from an executive with the chicken lobby warning chicken farmers (ranchers?) that the effort of Spurlock to acquire a flock as part of a nefarious scheme. 

Subsequently, Spurlock arrives unannounced at the office of the "suit" to delver an invitation to the grand opening of Holy Chicken!. Of course, he is left waiting in the hall for several hours and ultimately is politely asked to leave. An inadvertently amusing aspect of this is baseless speculation early on that the prey is in the restroom.

The relatable aspect of this is that very few of us even let unexpected visitors who lack any adversarial intent into our homes. 

Of course, the ultimate irony as to "2" is that it follows the Spurlock film "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" about product placement and similar forms of advertising. I literally am not buying it this time, Spurlock. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

'Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts' DVD: Asian-Style 'Kill Bill'

Icarus Films once more shows the immense value of world cinema as to the DVD release of the 2017 Indonesian feminist drama "Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts." This compelling movie with a strong live-stage vibe shows that Quentin Tarantino does not have the monopoly on Amazon warrior revenge films.

The 17 wins and 25 additional nominations for "Marlina" show that director Mouly Surya has all the right stuff; these accolades include numerous honors at the 2018 Film Festival Indonesia and Best Cinematography at the 2018 Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

The following Icarus trailer for "Marlina" clearly shows the Tarantino and classic Western influences on this must-see film.

The titular felon is a relatively recent widow living in relative isolation on her farm; as is typical for good storytelling, the extent of her woes is revealed throughout the film.

The nightmare begins within the first moments of "Marlina." Bad hombre Markus shows at her door and immediately plays cat-and-mouse. The horrible truth is soon shared when the interloper matter-of-factly tells his hostess that his gang is on their way to steal all of her livestock and to rape her if they have time after that theft. He adds insult to those imminent injuries by ordering her to start cooking dinner for the group.

As the film title indicates, things do not go as planned. This leads to the second act that centers around Marlina taking the long journey to the nearest town to report the crimes and her response with extreme prejudice. This trip involves both "persuading" a bus driver to co-operate and an overdue pregnant woman with her own man troubles to join the crusade. 

The response of the police is true to factual and fictional patterns; any viewer with a soul will want to smash the typewriter of the cop who takes the statement of Marlina over his head. 

The long arm of the law coming up short leads to showing that you sometimes must send a woman to do the job of a man. The even more sad truth as to this is that it demonstrates the limited extent to which the phrase "you've come a long way, Baby" applies. 

All of this leads to a climax that brings the action back full circle to the beginning of the film; the sad messages as to this are that things never change and that you often much take matters into your own hands.

The bonus features include behind-the-scenes coverage and an interview with Surya.

Friday, February 7, 2020

'Dear Walmart' DVD: Documentary on High Price of Low Wages

Esteemed indie-flick company Virgil Films shows excellent instincts as to releasing the documentary "Dear Walmart" on November 19, 2019 ahead of Black Friday. This movie tells the tale of righteously disgruntled wage slaves of the titular grandddady of big box stores forming an informal union. 

The following "Walmart" trailer nicely introduces the concept of the film and puts very human faces on the effort to earn an arguably reasonable wage for an honest day's work.

The "Our Walmart" stems from an arguably reasonable "we're mad as Hell, and we're not going to take it anymore" attitude. This relates to the typical pay-rate, wealth-gap, and corporate-policy issues that plague most workplaces. A comparison between the starting pay at Target and at Walmart is a prime (no pun intended) example of this. 

We hear the horror stories of employees across the county; these include empty promises and the  especially egregious experience of a woman who is denied relied-on leave for the most flimsy of reasons. A separate sad story of a woman whose properly documented physical work restriction is aggressively disregarded shows the need to level the playing field as to labor relations at the largest retailer in America. 

The rest of the story is the need of Walmart employees to act somewhat like the World War II era French underground regarding carefully identifying themselves to each other and covertly communicating at work. The predictable reports of retaliation support the theory that just because you are paranoid does not mean that no one is watching.

We also see the obstacles that organized labor encounters when it tries to get involved. Work stoppages at Walmart reflect that influence on Our Walmart.

The bigger picture is that America becoming a nation of "behemoth corporations" with callous cut-throat CEOs (I'm talkin' to you Corie Barry of Best Buy and Robert Iger of Disney) is resulting in abusing their "captive audience" of employees and customers; the sad truth is that both groups have little choice other than to bend over and take it like a man. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

'MacGyver' S3 DVD: Angus MacGyver and the Last Crusade

The Lionsgate January 14, 2019 DVD release of "MacGyver" (2016) S3 provides a good chance to catch up on the rebooted exploits of titular highly resourceful spy Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) ahead of the February 7, 2020 S4 premiere on CBS. As shown below, a primary S3 theme is out with the old and in with the new (sort of).

The season premiere finds MacGyver living in a small Nigerian village with a beard in the wake of resigning from The Phoenix Foundation, where his ability to rapidly think on his feet as to using available items to save both the day and his hide makes him a star. This lifestyle change is attributable to a rough S2 reunion with his estranged father. Ala the central relationship in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Jim MacGyver (aka "Oversight") has been rough (and secretive) with his boy for what he thought was best for his offspring.

The game-changer is Dad showing up in Africa to get MacGyver to come home to rescue best buddy/co-worker/protector/father figure Jack Dalton (George Eads) from a highly precarious situation involving gun-running with a one-who-got-away nemesis in Eastern Europe. This is ahead of a well-publicized mid-season exit of Eads from the series for "personal reasons." 

One of the more notable father-son adventures has them team up to hunt the hitman (Michael Des Barres, who plays Murdoc in the '80s "MacGyver") who is cleverly snuffing key witnesses in an upcoming trial. As our heroes do a couple of times in S3, our boys take a page from "Silence of the Lambs" by visiting  super-villain Murdoc at the deep black-ops facility where he is being held, The value of the this consultant is his knowledge that is very helpful as to capturing the predator of the week.

Things really get interesting when Team MacGyver learns the extent to which they expertly have been played. One lesson here is to never trust any psychopath.

MacGyver fully gets to do what he loves best in a couple of episodes that have him save innocents despite facing obstacles that involve extreme prejudice. One outing requires especially intense improvising when a mission to deliver crucially needed oxygen to critically ill hospitalized children.goes horribly awry. 

The similarities between the above episode and another in which a car accident diverts MacGyver from his original mission extends beyond an imminent life-or-death situation. He once again for the countless time learns that a seeming innocent may not be so innocent and that people often do the wrong thing for the right reason. 

A favorite moment for past and former student at all educational levels occurs in a "Back to School" episode that has the "kids" (sans "Dad") go undercover at a university to bust a terrorist who is radicalizing the best brains there. This highlight has Angus schooling a professor who tries to both shame him and make him look foolish. 

The rest of the 22 episodes are just as typically another workweek for a group that is tasked with putting right what once went horribly wrong. 

The appeal of this reboot extends beyond Till having the looks and the personality of a farmboy despite always being the smartest guy in the room. There never is a dull moment, and seeing how what is at hand always is enough to "git 'er done" is entertaining.