“Fighting for your life makes every other thing you ever did before seem extremely dull.”

This line is spoken by Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) in the penultimate episode of Ozark’s third season, which hit Netflix on Friday. It’s a line that cuts to the core of what makes Wendy, her husband Marty (Jason Bateman), and the show around them tick. In its first season, Ozark plunged viewers into the world of the Byrdes and their Missouri money-laundering operation. From the moment a Mexican drug lord knelt Marty down and put a gun to his head in the pilot episode, we’ve been watching him talk and scheme his way out of certain death.

Subsequent episodes and seasons have seen Wendy take on an increasingly prominent role within the criminal enterprise that is keeping her and Marty and their two kids alive (for now). Ozark lost some momentum in its second season as its pace slowed, but the show is back with a vengeance now, doing what it does best: namely, putting the Byrdes at the center of a volatile situation where things keep spiraling further out of control. This season, the dark drama pops with bigger emotional fireworks, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Wendy’s bipolar brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey), who adds an unexpectedly moving human element to a show where characters regularly display an inhuman lack of empathy. Ben is the Fredo Corleone in this equation, ready to break his sibling’s heart and that of the viewer.

If you’re all caught up with your weekend Ozark binge, then let’s dive into the Lake of the Ozarks with spoilers.

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Once Upon a Time in Uganda Review

In Hollywood, independent cinema is mostly made up of auteur filmmakers, producers, financiers, and up-and-coming talent who want to take a chance on a movie becoming a surprise hit or sparking a career that will bring them into the big leagues of Tinseltown. But in Wakaliwood, a makeshift production studio in Uganda, independent cinema is purely a passion driven by determined filmmaker Isaac Nabwana (or Nabwana I.G.G.), who continually rounds up volunteer actors, homemade props, crudely constructed camera equipment, and self-made computers, all so he can make blockbuster action movies.

Once Upon a Time in Uganda (formerly known as Lights, Camera, Uganda) is a new documentary that follows American actor and festival programmer Alan Hofmanis as he abandons his life in New York City to help the man known as “Africa’s Tarantino” get on Hollywood’s radar with his unique, bombastic brand of action comedy movies made possible by a passionate community in the slums of Uganda. Read More »

For Madmen Only Review

You may not know the name Del Close, but you are undoubtedly familiar with the comedians he taught. Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Dratch, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner, Bob Odenkirk, Amy Sedaris, Chris Farley and many more all received improvisational comedy training from Del Close, but in a rather unconventional way.

For Madmen Only is a new documentary that chronicles the life of Del Close as he goes through the process of creating a DC Comics title called Wasteland, a horror anthology series that took cues from Close’s life, but exaggerated them into gnarly, surreal tales of terror. But perhaps more importantly, it follows his never-ending ambition to turn long-form improv into an art form that was not only accessible to audiences, but could also be taught to generations of comedians. Oh, and you should probably know that Del Close is absolutely insane, and everyone who knew him confirms that here. Read More »

Critical Thinking Review

There are plenty of movies where inner-city kids with troubled lives get inspired by their teachers. But you’ve never seen one like Critical Thinking, which takes that formula and puts a different kind of intellectual twist on it by focusing on a group of Black and Latinx kids in 1998 who were determined to become national chess champions. In the face of underwhelming support by school administrators, troubled family dynamics, and a world that never gives them the opportunities they deserve, these kids were driven to be better than the criminals or underachievers everyone expected them to be. And it’s all thanks to a teacher who never gave up on them. Read More »

We Don't Deserve Dogs Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

Dogs have already been given the designation of man’s best friend, and while that seems a little unfair to cat-lovers out there, it’s hard to argue with the idea that dogs are generally more loyal and loving than their feline counterparts. If you don’t believe that now, you might after you see Matthew Salleh‘s new documentary We Don’t Deserve Dogs.

The title cashes in on the popularity of the phrase that is constantly used on the internet whenever people’s dogs do wonderful, touching and lovely things for their humans, implying that dogs are too good to us. In reality, the film makes a strong case for why humans not only deserve dogs, but in many cases, desperately need their affection, loyalty and companionship to get through the hardships of life, recover from trauma, make a living, or just enjoy life to its full potential. It’s a compassionate chronicle of dogs from all around the world, but it’s also a portrait of their humans who have been through the wringer, and it will make you shed enough tears to fill your dog’s water bowl. Read More »

Insert Coin Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

Today, most video games are played from the comfort of our own homes. But there was a time when adults, teens, and kids flocked to arcades to play the latest video games. The late 1970s and early 1980s is considered the golden age of arcade games, but it all came crashing down suddenly and hard in the late 1980s. However, there was a renaissance of coin-operated gaming in the 1990s, even in the face of Nintendo and SEGA bringing more and more advanced video games into the home. At the heart of this resurgence was Midway Games, a group of tech-savvy geeks who would create some of the most influential and popular video games of all time.

The new documentary Insert Coin, which was meant to play the SXSW film festival, tells their story, and it’s an excellent look back at this exciting period in gaming history. Read More »

Drunk Bus Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke’s Drunk Bus is an anti-road-trip comedy with plenty of mileage. Where Seann William Scott and DJ Qualls once learned salacious lessons while crossing state borders, this is a story about retracing the same college-town loop day after month after year. Steering the wheel but electing to venture nowhere. Yes, metaphors run heavy in this public transit dramedy about dulling innermost pains with “safe” routines – but that doesn’t make (supposed) “real 2006 shit” any less resonant. Annoying dispatch operators, bean burrito firing squads and all.

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Stargirl Trailer

Before there was a manic pixie dream girl, there was Stargirl, at least for the young-adult set. The 2000 novel by Jerry Spinelli has finally spawned a live-action adaptation, this time courtesy of Disney+ (and what incredibly perfect timing for them to have a new original film right now). 20 years isn’t that much time in terms of how drastically culture can shift, but when Spinelli wrote the story of a shy teenager who’s brought out of his shell by a mysterious, quirky, charming young woman with plenty of tricks up her sleeve seemingly intended to make him a better person, it felt fresher than such a story can feel after the introduction of the MPDG into pop culture. Stargirl has plenty of charms, and if you’re (like this reviewer) cooped up in your house for a few weeks, you can do a lot worse. But this film had the potential to be a lot more.

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She Dies Tomorrow Review

(The SXSW Film Festival may have been cancelled, but our coverage will go on with reviews of films and TV shows made available to our critics.)

When writer and director Amy Seimetz conceptualized She Dies Tomorrow, I doubt anyone channeled Coronavirus premonitions – and yet, current events prevail. Life imitating art, art imitating life as the prophecies foretell. Her unconventional outbreak thriller absorbs urgency amidst 2020’s ongoing worldwide pandemic, spotlighting an all-too-relevant viral subplot. No, don’t expect some indie rehash of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Instead, bear the weight of humanity’s numbing disease as Seimetz challenges our mortal value by weaponizing its historical antithesis: death. Freeing, paralyzing, and most of all, inescapable.

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Dick Johnson is Dead Review

Kirsten Johnson’s film Dick Johnson is Dead isn’t dissimilar from Mucho Mucho Amor, which premiered at the True/False film festival just the night before Johnon’s film had its T/F opening, in the same exact venue. Where Mucho Mucho Amor is a more unexpected tale of closure at the end of a life, however, Dick Johnson is Dead is about preparing for a very expected end–the eventual death of Johnson’s father, the eponymous Dick Johnson, from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Kirsten Johnson (who also directed the masterful Cameraperson) and her father conspire on an artistic experiment meant to take some of the sting out of Dick’s expected passing. Johnson creates a series of short scenes in which Dick is killed, shockingly and accidentally. He falls down a set of stairs. He’s crushed by an air conditioner, and killed in a car accident. Johnson even buys him a small coffin to test out which, hilariously, cost exactly $666. She also films a few scenes that are her approximation of heaven, in which Dick is reunited with his wife, Johnson’s mother, and enjoys copious amounts of chocolate cake.

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