Archive for the ‘entertainment’ Category

By John Ruberry

After a long day at work earlier this month I clicked on the “Surprise Me” feature on Netflix. What popped up was Mike Myers’ new vehicle, The Pentaverate.

“Well,” I said to myself, “this might be pretty good.” 

In fact, The Pentaverate doesn’t even measure up to “pretty bad.” The six episode limited series is one of the worst shows I’ve suffered through. Oh, somehow I managed to view a couple episodes of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. I know about awful.

Warning: There are numerous spoilers and some rather disgusting things that I will mention in my review of this Netflix series.

The origin of The Pentaverate dates back to a throwaway line from Myers’ second film, So I Married an Axe Murderer, where the father of Myers’ lead character, also played by Myers, claims that a secret society, the Pentaverate, a five-man cabal, which at one time included Colonel Sanders as a member, rules the world. In this series narrator Jeremy Irons tells us, the original members of the Pentaverate discovered in 1347, contrary to the belief of the Catholic Church, it was fleas that spread the bubonic plague. 

As the first episode begins, the newest member of the group of five, Dr. Hobart Clark (Keegan-Michael Key), a scientist, is accepted into the Pentaverate after he is kidnapped. Apparently, he is the first non-white fellow of the all-male group, replacing a member who mysteriously died. The other members are played by Myers. Lord Lordington, an elderly Englishman, Bruce Baldwin, an Australian media mogul, who of course is based on Rupert Murdoch, Shep Gordon, a manager of various rock acts, a real person who is the subject of a documentary directed by Myers, and Mishu Ivanov, a Russian oligarch and Vladimir Putin crony.

Warning! Not-safe-for-work language in the trailer.

But Myers isn’t done with his roles. The lead character of The Pentaverate is Ken Scarborough, a television reporter who wears plaid sportscoats; he is a quirky throwback from the 1970s who does man-on-the-street interviews of other oddballs, while overshadowing them. Scarborough works for, wait for it, Toronto-based CACA news. Yep, caca. 

The other four Pentaverate members manufacture a story that Dr. Clark, who was invited into the secret society because they believe he can reverse climate change, is dead. Clark’s phony passing occurs while attempting to mimic an internet video fad–kissing your own anus. Clark’s room at Pentaverate headquarters is guarded by a sasquatch, who immediately defecates outside the scientist’s door. 

In addition to a Shrek cameo, Myers plays two other characters, internet personality Rex Smith, a stand-in for Alex Jones, and Anthony Lansdowne, a conspiracy theorist from New Hampshire. 

Besides being an assault on good taste, The Pentaverate is an attack on right-wingers, with the implied message that all conservatives are conspiracy whackos like Lansdowne. He is a believer, or has been a believer, in QAnon, Pizzagate, and the Illuminati. His last words as he falls to his death is, “But what about her emails?” 

Lansdowne, in his bumper-sticker laden van, which not surprisingly has a malfunctioning portable toilet, drives Scarborough and his pre-woke Doctor Who-like young female companion, Reilly Clayton (Lydia West) to New York City, which looks nothing like today’s NYC, but more like your standard Doctor Who “future metropolis.” Scarborough, recently fired by CACA, is convinced by Clayton and Lansdowne to infiltrate Pentaverate headquarters, and he does so after a painful penis tug initiation. 

Clark, following an intimate evening with the Pentaverate’s executive assistant Patty Davis (Debi Mazar) in the Moon Room studio–did the Pentaverate fake the moon landings?–suddenly dies, this time for real. He is promptly replaced by casino billionaire Skip Cho (Ken Jeong). Oh, I have never thought Jeong was funny. Jeong recently showed his true political colors after childishly storming off the set of The Masked Singer after Rudy Giuliani was revealed as a contestant.

Myers seemingly hasn’t emotionally moved on from being an 11-year-old. Flatulence jokes are among the things that ruined his cinema take on Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, a children’s film, by the way. Scatological so-called humor also undermined another Myers movie bomb, The Love Guru

Outside of Myers’ fading fame, why did Netflix greenlight this debacle? Could it be that woke Netflix executives fell in love with The Pentaverate’s snide attacks on conservatives, who they probably believe are personified by Smith and Lansdowne? I have liberal friends. Really, I do. And many of them insist that I take marching orders from Alex Jones.

Here’s a tip for Netflix and Myers: the first rule of comedy is that comedies need to be funny.

Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022. Its stock value plummeted 35-percent last month. Yes, when you go woke you go broke. And I can’t think of a single Netflix dramatic series that is aimed at conservatives. Longmire was the closest show I can think of, but production of it ended in 2017, and Longmire was originally an A&E offering. And as I wrote in last week’s review of Ozark, that otherwise quite enjoyable show contorted itself to find ways to attack Republicans.

Over 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020. That’s a lot of viewers, Netflix. We don’t live in vans with clogged toilets. We own televisions. 

Cloying use of easter eggs, that is, references to other works that do nothing to advance the story or add laughs–assuming of course there is even one laugh in The Pentaverate–is also another problem here. Winks to other Myers’ works, along with yet another tired replay of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as Game of Thrones, are simply annoying. Rob Lowe, a veteran of several Myers movies, makes an unnecessary appearance.

Myers’ acting, outside of his sympathetic portrayal of Scarborough, is subpar. In his review of The Cat in the Hat, Roger Ebert noticed that at times Myers sounded a bit like his Linda Richman “Coffee Talk” character from SNL. The use of convincing accents is supposed to be one of Myers’ strengths, but his Lansdowne character’s accent, rather than sounding like what you’ll hear from a rustic New Englander, varies from a Canadian to a New Yorker style of speech–that is, when Lansdowne isn’t coming across like Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World.

Oh, when there is a crack within the five members of the Pentaverate, who do you think is behind it? Why of course! It’s the casino billionaire and the Murdoch stand-in. 

I hated The Pentaverate. Hated, hated, hated. If you have any sense of taste or decency, you will hate it too. 

You have been warned. 

Oh, if you think I am just a grumpy old man with a minority opinion on this actual sh*t show, as of May 15, the average critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is just 20 percent. Only once in the last week have I noticed The Pentaverate ranking as a top-ten most viewed program on Netflix. And based on the CGI and the A-List (to some people) cast, I imagine Netflix wasted a lot of money on this fiasco.

The Pentaverate is rated TV-MA for full frontal (possibly with use of prosthetics) nudity, animals engaged in sex, violence, suicide, adult situations, foul language, and scatological references. Well, at least no one smokes in it. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Five years after the fictional story of the Naperville, Illinois crime family, the Byrdes, began streaming on Netflix, Ozark has come to an end. 

Late last month the final seven episodes, comprising of Season 4 Part 2, were released. 

If you haven’t heard of the Byrdes, the family is headed by Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial planner whose firm makes the fatal mistake of laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel run by Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). Marty is married to Wendy (Laura Linney), a former Democratic Party operative, although the word “Democrat” hasn’t been mentioned for the past two seasons. Their children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), are reluctant partners in the family business, which is based in the Lake of the Ozarks region of Missouri. A riverboat casino is the centerpiece of their laundering operation.

Leaving an organized crime network is much harder than joining one. But that’s what the Byrdes continue to strive for, looking back at the Chicago area as a safe haven. For real. Clearly, the Byrdes haven’t been keeping an eye on the dramatic rise of violent crime here. 

The Byrdes have formed a shaky alliance with a member of a local small-time crime family, Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner). A two-time Prime Time Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for that role, Garner is simply fabulous. Marty and Wendy can’t protect and grow their operation, let alone leave it, without assistance from other villains, convenient and tired ones, including a former Republican US senator from Illinois, Randall Schafer (Bruce Davison), and the CEO of a Chicago-based pharmaceutical corporation, Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk). Yawn. Republicans bad, pharmaceutical firms, also bad. The money laundering Brydes? Not so much, at least according to the scriptwriters. Wendy, to protect their rackets, finds herself a reluctant participant in a Midwestern vote-suppression scheme that Schafer is behind. 

In real life, between the release of Part 1 and Part 2 of Season 4 of Ozark, the decades-long Democratic boss of Illinois, Michael Madigan, was indicted. But never forget, in television land, the GOP is evil.

Oh, what was that about Netflix losing subscribers?

A character introduced in Season 4, a disgraced former Chicago Police detective with good intentions, Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), confronts the Byrdes over their hubris gained from their power and money, equating them with the Kennedy family and the conservative Koch family from Wichita. Slow down there. There is no Koch-equivalent to the Kennedys using their influence to allow Ted Kennedy to walk away with only a hand slap after arguably murdering Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick

Okay, I’ve hit the things that I didn’t enjoy with Ozark. Back to the good stuff–and there is plenty of it. 

The Navarro family has its own struggles. Omar’s nephew, Javi Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera), has plans that don’t coincide with those of his uncle. One of the many appeals of Ozark is the shifting of alliances–and the betrayals that accompany them. And of course, so are the performances–led of course by Garner–of the major characters and minor ones. One of the minor characters, Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro), makes a surprise return.

The cinematography of Ozark is at a feature-movie level. 

While of course set in Missouri, Ozark except for some Chicago scenes in Season 1, is filmed in the Atlanta area. In Part 1 of Season 4 I noticed a light rail train in what was supposed to be downtown Chicago. What were called streetcars way back when haven’t been running in Chicago for decades. In Part 2 of the final season, I spotted what appears to be a cabbage palm tree in front of Ruth Langmore’s Lazy-O Motel. That tree cannot survive a Midwestern winter.

And what about Wendy and Marty Byrde? As I remarked in a previous review, they are the television version of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who in The Great Gatsby “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.”

All four seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is rated TV-MA for graphic violence, drug use, nudity, and obscene language.

Earlier post:

Review: Ozark Season 4 Part 1.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit.

Blogger in Marathon, Texas.

By John Ruberry

“There’s no law west of Dodge and no God west of the Pecos.”
James Pepper (Ben Johnson) in Chisum.

“The devil in hell, we’re told was chained
A thousand years he there remained
He neither complain nor did he groan
But was determined to start a hell of his own

Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being chained in a prison pen
So he asked the Lord if he had on hand
Anything left when he made this land

The Lord said yes, there’s a plenty on hand
But I left it down by the Rio Grande
The fact is ol’ boy, the stuff is so poor I don’t think you could use it as the hell anymore

But the devil went down to look at the truck
For after lookin’ that over carefully and well
He said this place is too dry for hell
But in order to get it off his hands

The Lord promised the devil to water the land
So trade was closed and deed was given
And the Lord went back to his home in heaven.”
Johnny Cash, Mean As Hell.

Earlier this month Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I spent ten days in Texas, mostly West Texas. And yes, there is law there and there is a God west of the Pecos too.

I covered my economic and political observations of our Texas trip, including what I noticed in the boom towns on the Permian Basin, Midland and Odessa, in a post at Da Tech Guy that is available here. 

Our first stop on note was on the oil producing basin, Monahans Sandhills State Park, where we found the type of dunes you’ll encounter on the Sahara. 

Our first West Texas overnight stop was west of the Pecos, in Fort Stockton, home of what was once the World’s Largest Roadrunner, Paisano Pete.

Then of course we had to visit Marathon, after all, I am the Marathon Pundit. Parts of a sadly overlooked movie, Paris, Texas, were filmed there.

Then it was on to Terlingua, a former mercury mining settlement, turned ghost town, which is now the closest thing to a tourist gateway town to our main destination, Big Bend National Park, where you will discover desert, mountains, and lots of thorns, Cash discusses “thorns” later in his spoken word Mean As Hell piece that I excerpted above.

Big Bend was our main destination for this trip, a gorgeous but little-visited national park because of its isolation. Perched on the border with Mexico on the Rio Grande, it is a seven-hour drive from Dallas and a five-hour drive from San Antonio.

To the west of the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas’ largest state park, where we kayaked and spent our last day in the Big Bend region. It’s a beautiful park too and well worth at least a day of your time.

The biggest dud of the trip was our attempt to witness the Marfa Lights. Well, we were in Marfa, where much of the George Stevens’ classic Giant was filmed, and the lights, which some people compare to the will o’ the wisp, were not to be found, as is usually the situation every night, despite a viewing stand. Marfa is a leftist outpost where we encountered a human thorn. When picking up a pizza, Mrs. Marathon Pundit was scolded by a cashier in because she was not wearing a mask. In Texas! But my wife held her sandy ground. 

On Easter Sunday it was on to pentagon-shaped Jeff Davis County; yes, it’s named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy, where we toured historic Fort Davis, a frontier fort that seems to be a time capsule from a John Ford western movie. And we drove on the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop, among the sites of worth there is the McDonald Observatory.

On our way back to Dallas-Fort Worth, we met a Facebook friend in Sweetwater. 

The next day we were back in the Chicago area, the home of grifters, high taxes, and high crime. 

And many human thorns.

Related post:

Texas is success and Illinois is failure.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Within the last month two new seasons of Viking-themed series began streaming on Netflix, Vikings: Valhalla and Season Five of The Last Kingdom. The former is a sequel to another Netflix series, Vikings, which I have not seen, but as the action of Valhalla occurs about 100 years after the first batch of shows, viewers need not have tuned in to Vikings to follow the new action.

The Last Kingdom and Vikings: Valhalla have much in common, besides Scandinavians battling the English. A main plot driver in both shows is the conflict between Christians and followers of the Norse gods. Presumably Valhalla begins the same year, 1016, when Canute the Great seized the crown of England. Ironically, only two English kings, Alfred, who is played by David Dawson in the first three seasons of The Last Kingdom, and Canute, gained the epithet “the Great.” Oh, when Canute was crowned, this Viking, who later became king of Norway and Denmark, was a Christian.

Both shows attempt to be even-handed between the two cultures, but they leave out one very nasty part of Viking life, slavery. Yes, there was slavery among Christian Europeans, but slaves–thralls are what the Norse called them–were an essential part of the spoils of Viking raids. However, both series portray human sacrifice by the Scandinavians.

Vikings: Valhalla, which consists of eight episodes, is the inferior of the two shows, so let’s get that one out of our way. Its central character is Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett). Yeah, he’s the same man who journeyed to North America around 1000. While there is no historical record that says Erikson participated in wars with the English, there’s no proof that he didn’t. It’s believed around the time of his journey to North America he converted to Christianity, but he’s a follower of the Norse gods here, although he dabbles with the Christian religion. His sister, Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), is a devout follower of the Norse faith. Freydís is romantically involved with Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), who history tells us was a newborn at the time of they were “getting it on” in the show.

The main action of Vikings: Valhalla originates in the Norwegian town of Kattegat, which is ruled by Jarl Haakon (Caroline Henderson), who history tells us was a white man, but here Haakon is a black woman.

I could go on for quite much longer on the many historical anomalies, but I will conclude here that had Vikings: Valhalla had an intriguing story line, if the performances were compelling–Henderson’s overacting is particularly annoying–and hey, if the CG was believable, then I’d say, “tune in.”

But don’t.

The Last Kingdom’s fifth last season takes place around 920. Its lead character, the fictional Uhtred, whose birthright as lord of Bebbanburg in Northumbia, England was usurped by the Danes in the first episode of Season One. He was raised by Danes, during that time he abandoned Christianity for the Norse gods, although he’s not very devout. When Uhtred reaches adulthood, he’s a skilled fighter and a ladies’ man, a James Bond of the Middle Ages.

The Last Kingdom is based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series of books.

Alfred the Great’s goal was not only to defeat the Danes–the word “Viking” is never uttered during The Last Kingdom–but also to create from his small kingdom of Wessex a unified England. It’s up to his son, King Edward, to complete the task, with Uhtred’s assistance of course.

All the while Uhtred is forced to confront a onetime romantic interest, fellow-Saxon and abductee, Brida (Emily Cox), whose faith in the Norse religion is strong.

Edward meanwhile has to confront betrayal within his court as a unified England seems within grasp.

While a bit wooden at times, the acting in The Last Kingdom is generally quite good. The battle scenes are intense, and the plotlines are strong enough to keep watching. But to figure out what is happening here, you absolutely have to watch the first four seasons beforehand. One flaw of The Last Kingdom, as with Ozark, which also took a year off from filming, presumably because of the COVID outbreak, is that it is need of very strong recaps at the beginning of each episode, of which there a ten this season. Hey, people forget things two years later. Another challenge in keeping the storyline straight is that many of the characters’ names, all based on historical figures, are similar; they incorporate the Old English prefix “Æthel,” which translates into modern English as “noble,” or Ælf. Had they asked me, I would have for starters changed the name of a duplicitous rat, Æthelhelm (Adrian Schiller), a character whose historical standing is foggy. In The Last Kingdom he’s the father of Edward’s second wife, Ælflæd (Amelia Clarkson). One son of Edward is Æthelstan (Harry Kilby) another is his half-brother Ælfweard (Ewan Horrocks), he’s the son of Ælflæd.

A spin-off of The Last Kingdom is in the works, a movie titled Seven Kings Must Die.

There are two more seasons of Vikings coming. I probably won’t be watching.

Both programs are rated TV-MA for violence, nudity, and sex.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.