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"Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show" Review

How often have you seen sports teams stacked with talent fail to make the playoffs or movies made by talented people with proven track records just fall on their faces? Plenty, probably. Even with that in mind, in retrospect it seems impossible that the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show couldn't have been anything other than a smashing success though as the Hulu Original documentary Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show aptly shows, talent, verve, and boldness wasn't enough and everyone involved realizes that they pretty much did it to themselves.

In 1995 Dana Carvey was a hot property. Between a brilliant run during Saturday Night Live's 2nd Renaissance where he created iconic, still-quoted characters as the Church Lady, Hans & Franz, Grumpy Old Man, defining impressions of George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot and saw him alongside Phil Hartman, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Jan Hooks and Victoria Jackson, later pairing up with Mike Myers as Garth to Myer's Wayne which led to two Wayne's World movies, he was The Man.

So when he and SNL writer Robert Smigel (who also created/performs Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog) were shopping a prime-time comedy sketch show, it's easy to understand why ABC eagerly agreed to air it and gifted it a golden time slot after the #1 show Home Improvement. They then went out and gathered a Murderers' Row of performers and writers including Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis C.K, Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), Dino Stamatopoulos (Star-Burns on Community), and Robert Carlock (showrunner on 30 Rock co-creator of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) to bring the party to life with a bold and innovative sketch comedy show.

Or at least that was the plan which exploded within minutes of the first episode's opening sketch which featured Carvey as Bill Clinton breast-feeding a baby (fake), puppies and kittens (real) after having eight functioning breasts added to his body. ABC thought they were getting Church Lady; they got....something else. Panic struck and sponsors bailed. While they tried to right the self-torpedoed ship, they were doomed.

With interviews with the biggest names involved - oddly, Carvey gets less screen time than Carell and Colbert - and lots of brief clips from the show, Too Funny To Fail memorializes the trainwreck. While it would be tempting to blame a timid network or the show being too ahead of its time, the participants freely cop to not understanding the environment they were airing in. (Smigel hadn't even seen Home Improvement until they'd been on a month and when he finally watched the show he realized just how catastrophically they'd erred and created an audience-banishing mismatch.)

If it had been on late at night or on cable, it probably would've lasted longer. As it was, it was impressive enough to those who saw it - a teen-aged Bill Hader bought a VCR just to tape it - that it launched Carell's and Colbert's careers with The Daily Show because producers loved a sketch they'd performed. Carvey himself is sanguine about the experience as it freed him to go back to his first love of standup and raise his two sons.

Score: 8/10. Catch it on Hulu.

"Cop Car" Review

While he is pretty much the undisputed King of the Universe with his stewardship of the 23-film (and counting) Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the things Kevin Feige has struggled a bit with is working with left-of-the-dial directors. While Ant-Man suffered greatly from the loss of Edgar Wright, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy was a boundary-expanding entry in the MCU.

The art-house tag-team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck were a poor fit for Captain Marvel leading to a lackluster (and polarizing for it) movie, but somehow Feige spotted something about Jon Watts' second effort, Cop Car - which grossed about what Avengers: Endgame made on a single screen in an afternoon ($143K) - to hire him to helm the franchise-saving, Tom Holland-starring. Spider-Man: Homecoming re-reboot and its impending sequel, Spiderman: Far From Home.

While I've had the DVD for a while, I try to avoid DVDs like I avoid VHS tapes, but it popped up on Netflix in HD so it was time to catch up and after seeing it, I guess there's a reason why Kevin Feige has grossed over $2.5 BILLION and I'm not because I wouldn't have thought, "Hey, this guy should make Spider-Man movies."

While Kevin Bacon is the top-billed star, Cop Car is the story of two young boys, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, who we meet walking across the prairies of Colorado taking turns swearing as they're apparently running away from home. They come upon a vacant sheriff's cruiser in a glade and in poking around it discover the keys and decide to take it for a joyride. Many youthful hijinks ensue as they do donuts in the fields or wrap themselves in crime scene tape, but when they start messing with the guns it gets tense as you're sure they're about to shoot their eyes out, kids.

We then flashback to how the car came to be there as Bacon drives up and parks and then proceeds to drag a dead body from the truck off to dump down a well a distance away that must not have been accessible directly by the car lest the setup for the movie not occur. When he comes back to find it gone, he naturally panics because he's the Sheriff and losing your car is a bad look especially when you're a Very Bad Man who wouldn't want your deputies to know what you're up to.

The rest of the movie alternates between the boys being boys, so clueless at the risks they're taking, and Bacon's increasingly panicked Sheriff trying to catch up. A woman who spots the boys driving (Camryn Manheim) feels wedged in to allow Bacon to know what happened to his ride. Shea Whigham is another familiar face who enters late in the picture to up the stakes.

While the overall running time is under an hour-and-a-half, Cop Car feels a little too empty for the length. The boys are realistic, but not interesting; their haplessly veering into peril worries us, but you get that same concern when you see a squirrel on the curb and you wonder if the idiot is about to bolt in front of your car. Bacon is Bacon, awesome, and he deftly straddles the bumbling crook/serious threat line.

Ultimately, it's Jon Watts' thin script (co-written with Christopher Ford) which reduces Cop Car into a generally flat experience with occasional waves of excitement which mirrors the landscape it's set in.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" Review

Short Review: It's a John Wick movie. Liked the others? You'll like this one, too.

Longer Review: While the first John Wick movie was a magnificent example of ruthlessly efficient world-building and genre-redefining action - seriously, it's been five years and anyone still peddling shakycam and edit fu fight sequences is a hack - but I thought the attempt to broaden the scope in 2017's Chapter 2 left things feeling a tad flabby. It wasn't bad by any measure, but lacked the lean mean killing machine simplicity of the first.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum - the last word coming from the Latin adage "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (translated as "If you want peace, prepare for war"); also a type of bullet - begins immediately after the conclusion of Chapter 2 (though it's darker and rainier because movie needs atmosphere) with John on the run, trying to figure out how to handle his being excommunicated from the world of assassins for his killing of a High Table member who'd betrayed him, with less than an hour before a $14 million contract on his life begins with seemingly half of the population of New York City literally gunning for him. Sure, it's hardly a fair fight - for the people trying to get him, that is - but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

Despite the plot taking him to Morocco and back, it feels smoother and less shaggy than last outing. We get some more glimpses of his past life, where he came from, his connection to Halle Berry's character who owes him a favor, how the High Table deals with disruptions in the system via an Adjudicator (Asia ) who is tasked with punishing Lawrence Fishburne's and Ian McShane's characters, but the central focus is action, action, more ACTION, and MOAR ACKSHUNZ!!!

Holy cow, this movie has the action, all presented in series director Chad Stahelski's signature clarity. There haven't been fight sequences this elaborate and visceral in ages (since The Matrix perhaps, which gets several meta references) and I lost count of how many times the audience and I shared in a collective "Ooooooh!!!" at a particularly savage kill. (The digital enhancements to the practical action are seamless and only noticeable because it's simply impossible to shoot people in the head and throw blades into faces like this.) Sure, it's all ridiculous and the Cinema Sins refrain of "He survives this" rings in your head as glass walls alternate between being bulletproof and shattering depending on the needs of the fight choreography, but if you're watching these movies with that skeptical an eye, you must be fun at parties.

Keanu Reeves has always been an actor of.....let's go with "limited" range, but he's lucked into a middle-aged Renaissance with this series in which benefits from his taciturn mien which has a slight wry edge. He puts in the work and while he's no match for the sheer insanity Tom Cruise brings to his action flicks, he's a boss in this world.

It can be hoped that Berry gets a career boost as well; she was a Bond girl, yet other than the X-Men movies where she didn't do any hand-to-hand brawling or gunplay, she hasn't made an action movie since the disastrous Catwoman, but she's legit here and with Angelina Jolie effectively retired and Charlize Theron unable to make every action movie requiring a beautiful Oscar-winning badass, her phone should be ringing.

John Wick: Chapter 4 has already had a May 21, 2021 release date announced. Bring it on!

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee.

"Always Be My Maybe" Review

Hot on the heels of the girlfriend-recommended Netflix Original movie The Perfection comes yet another of her, "Don't read anything about it," suggestions, the Asian-American-fronted rom-com Always Be My Maybe. She was so hyped up about one particular section that she told me the time index in case I didn't want to watch a rom-com, me being a manly man and all. But I decided to watch it from the beginning and it's a perfectly pleasant rom-com.

Starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park, Always Be My Maybe is the story of two lifelong friends who grew up living next door to each other in San Francisco. Because Sasha's parents were always at their store, leaving her home alone, she'd frequently come over to Marcus' to hang out and she picked up cooking from his mother, who tragically passes away because it's like a Disney movie and mother's don't live long in those, do they?

Ultimately they end up impulsively having sex one night in 2003 in the backseat of his Toyota Corolla which makes things weird between them. She leaves to eventually become a glitzy celebrity chef while he stayed home to work for his father's HVAC company and play with his band, doing little with his life. 15 years later, she returns from Los Angeles to supervise the opening of a new restaurant and when she has to have the AC fixed in her posh rental (doesn't the landlord take care of this stuff?), Marcus reenters the picture and they have the usual rom-com foibles before the obligatory murder-suicide which ends all of these movies. (That's what happens in rom-coms, right? I never watch them so I'm just guessing.)

OK, they don't end up dead. They fall in love because they were always destined to because IT'S A FREAKING ROM-COM! Since the template is so rigid, the success and failure of one's enjoyment of a rom-com comes down to the execution and it does well enough. Wong and Park are appealing, albeit not deep enough for the more dramatic bits, but have a believable chemistry. Their script is also notable for the amount of laugh lines they dish out to bit players; the biggest LOLs are throwaway gags, sometimes from these near-extras.

But the secret sauce is the Very Special Guest Star whose participation has apparently been a big meme on the parts of the Internet I don't notice and is given away at the end of the trailer, which is why it's not included here. (Same as with The Perfection. Stop it, Netflix!) If you somehow have missed the surprise, DON'T LOOK AT ANYTHING ELSE IF YOU PLAN ON WATCHING ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE! Especially IMDB in iPad which lists them first! The surprise is worth it, especially with the performance they deliver. (If you've heard about it and wondered if it's all that, it is.)

Some are making a big deal about almost completely non-gringo cast, but ignore that divisive crap. Just as Crazy Rich Asians was only different because of its cast, setting and economic bracket, not its core story, same goes for Always Be My Maybe. With only the most superficial of changes, this could've been made with white, black or Martian casts.

Score: 7/10. Worth watching on Netflix.
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