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"Bye Bye Barry" Review

I frequently joke that I grew up in a city without a pro football team: Detroit. I also joke that the reason the terminally woeful Detroit Lions haven't won a championship since 1957 (predating the Super Bowl) and only ONE playoff game since then is because team owner William Clay Ford ran over an old Gypsy woman and thus the team was cursed for eternity.

Legions of great players have wasted their careers in Detroit; Heisman winners trapped here because the Lions have always had high draft picks thanks to their losing records. Occasionally some escape for greener pastures like Matthew Stafford who was traded to the L.A. Rams and won the Super Bowl the following year, but most play their pro careers here like Hall of Fame receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and the greatest running back ever, Barry Sanders, whose sudden retirement is explained somewhat by Bye Bye Barry, a documentary on Amazon Prime.

With interviews from teammates, family members, and celebrity fans like Eminem, Jeff Daniels, and Tim Allen, as well as Sanders himself, we're given an overview of his career from his surprise Heisman Trophy win to being drafted third overall in 1989 to his shock retirement on the eve of training camp in 1999. While this was always treated as some great mystery - Was he looking to get traded? Did he just get tired of losing? - the ultimate revelation (mostly the latter along with concerns about a debilitating injury) is both anti-climatic and a quarter-century later, irrelevant.

I'm not a big sportball fan (being in a city of mostly losing teams does that), so there were a few factoids about Sanders that I picked up from Bye Bye Barry. He is a modest man who wasn't motivated by fame or acclaim; he bypassed the opportunity to set the rushing record his rookie year by pulling himself from the game with five yards to go. Unlike the other Sanders drafted his same year, Deion, his quiet let-the-playing-do-the-talking demeanor earned respect from teammates and fans. A class act whose own sons reflect the example his strict father inculcated in Barry and his siblings.

Bye Bye Barry could've probably been trimmed down to an even hour like an ESPN special, but if you're a fan of the sportball and the greatest player stuck on the worst team, you'll probably get more from it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on Amazon Prime.

"The Killer" 4K Review

Something has gone wrong with David Fincher. Despite a career filled with seminal work like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network, the past decade has consisted of just two made-for-Netflix features - 2020's airless successful Oscar-bait Mank, which somehow made filmmaking, the production of Citizen Kane and Gary Oldman tedious (it took me three sittings to slog through its not excessive 2h 11m runtime) and now The Killer, an empty and meaningless waste of two hours which reunites Fincher with his Se7en screenwriter, Andrew Kevin Walker, adapting a graphic novel.

 Michael Fassbender stars as the titular Killer and we meet him as he's on a stakeout in Paris, camping in an under construction WeWork office across from his target's apartment. He's been waiting nearly a week for the mark to arrive and passes his time doing yoga and nattering on endlessly in voiceover. When the target finally arrives, he somehow manages to botch the hit and has to flee the scene as cops swoop in, disposing of his weaponry as he makes his way to the airport.

He arrives in the Dominican Republic and heads to his beach home, but immediately spots something is amiss. Arming himself, he infiltrates his abode finding signs of struggle, damage and blood. Turns out his girlfriend, Magdala (Sophie Charlotte), was home and brutally tortured by two assailants, but managed to survive and escape. Now that it's personal, the Killer proceeds to hunt down those responsible for this attack.

That's pretty much the whole story and while I'm normally a fan of the Unstoppable Killing Machine On A Vengeance Quest movies (hello, John Wick series), The Killer somehow manages to do everything wrong beginning with making the Killer a massive screwup. We learn of all the storage units filled with supplies and weapons he has across the country and watch him use various techniques and ruses to gain access to his targets, but the execution (no pun) is almost always haphazard and nearly fails repeatedly. He messes up an attempt to torture information out of one person causing them to die before they talk. He executes a cab driver who didn't do anything other than get the fare to take the goons to his house while allowing someone more culpable to survive.

There is one good scene between the Killer and Tilda Swinton's character though my enjoyment was tempered by the fact I have told the joke she tells and had to wait a minute for the punchline to arrive. The acting is good from her and Fassbender, but so what? The script thinks it's being deep when it's just self-impressed. 

Of course if The Killer hadn't botched the hit in the first place, none of this would've happened. That's what happens when you listen to The Smiths and use lamer aliases than Sam and Dean on Supernatural did.

 Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Quiz Lady" 4K Review

 So much of what is meant to be entertainment these days is so lackluster, formulaic, or just plain bad that it's more than a pleasant surprise when you get something unexpectedly good in spite of how it's being sold. Recently it was the weird "queer Fight Club" comedy with an all-time worst title, Bottoms, and now it's the Hulu Original Quiz Lady, which turned out to not only be better than expected, it was much better than it needed to be.

Awkwafina stars as Anne, a drab 30-something accountant who lives alone with her old dog, Mr. Linguini,  next door to a crabby old woman, Francine (Holland Taylor), who's always hectoring her for packages being left in front of her duplex door. The sole joy in Anne's life is a game show called Can't Stop The Quiz, a pseudo-Jeopardy type thing hosted by kindly Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell) that airs live and was her solace as a child of a broken home.

One day the nursing home caring for her mother calls to inform her that her mother was gone. Not dead, gone, as in took off with her boyfriend for Macau. Fed up with her rules-breaking, the home isn't going to let her come back and tells Anne to take mom's stuff with her. While handling this, her estranged older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) shows up at the nursing home and when it's realized she's been living in her car, Anne reluctantly allows her to stay with her. Jenny was always flighty and self-centered, so they're not close.

 One night, Jenny secretly tapes Anne playing along with Can't Stop The Quiz, capturing her answering everything faster than the current obnoxious champion, Ron (Jason Schwartzman), and posts it online causing her to become an overnight viral sensation, the "Quiz Lady." (Roll credits!) Unfortunately, the attention also puts Anne on the radar of mom's loan shark, Ken (Jon "Dumbfoundead" Park), who is owed $80,000 and he dognaps Mr. Linguini as collateral.

Since they don't have the money, Jenny suggests they road trip to Can't Stop The Quiz's open auditions in Philadelphia where all Anne needs to do is overcome her crippling shyness to win the game and earn the cash to ransom her dog. Road trip hijinks ensue with the odd couple sisters learning about each other and their secrets and all that heartwarming stuff. Any guesses as to how the game show goes?

 If the broad outline of the plot sounds a bit formulaic and predictable, it's because it's meant to be. By not wasting much effort on the skeleton of the plot, screenwriter Jen D'Angelo (Hocus Pocus 2, Totally Killer) goes berserk with so many little details & throwaway bits that a second viewing seems necessary to catch them all. Things like Anne's accounting employer being called "CPYay!", the headlines about her being a viral sensation and why not liking her is racist, but liking her may be more racist, and a preposterously extended runner involving a Ben Franklin-themed B&B and its employees. The only times the story lags is when it pulls over to hit the obligatory story beats of this genre, but those are brief.

Awkwafina seems to annoy a lot of people with her usual persona (I'm fine with her), but she's a much more restrained, repressed character here which leaves Oh as the surprise to those who only know her from Grey's Anatomy or Killing Eve as her Jenny is a brash hustler who refuses to dress or act her age. (Also, if you saw her hilarious turn as Tischy on this SNL sketch, you know she can do bonkers comedy.) Ferrell is also good channeling Alex Trebeck and Mr. Rogers for McTeer, deepening what initially seems to be a caricatured performance in a touching scene where he soothes Anne while discussing what various bowties represent to him.

 The only thing preventing a recommendation of Quiz Lady as a "fun for the family romp" is the preponderance of F-bombs which give it its R-rating. As a salty talker myself, it wasn't offensive, but it was unnecessary. Just be aware if you're sensitive to bad words. Otherwise, Quiz Lady is a sweet and unexpectedly funny film which doesn't get gross to deliver big laughs. Cherkitert!

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on Hulu.

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