“Here Comes Mr. Jordan” sums up the human condition in a bittersweet sax riff

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“Pleasant Valley, where all is peace, and love, and harmony, and where men are beating each other’s brains out.”

It’s rare that an opening title card sets the tone of a movie quite so effectively as the laugh-out-loud beginning to Alexander Hall’s 1941 gem “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. It’s both a funny line and a signifier of one of the themes of the film, about how nothing quite lives up to our idealization of it. Not even Heaven.

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Instant Gratification: “Lost in America” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix

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Pick of the week: “Lost in America” (Netflix) — Albert Brooks fan rejoice, as Netflix is now streaming all the comedies he wrote and directed. Maybe give a miss to “The Muse,” but there are some comic masterpieces here, including “Defending Your Life,” “Modern Romance” and this 1985 gem  starring Brooks and Julie Hagerty as an upwardly mobile couple who decide to “drop out” of society, only to find life out of the rat race isn’t so comfortable. Even in a top-of-the-line RV.

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The “Mystery Science Theater 3000” cast is reunited. And it feels so good.

 

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(Photo courtesy of City Pages)

It was somewhere in the fourth hour of my five-hour drive up to Minneapolis that I wondered to myself whether my apparently lifelong devotion to “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was worth it.

I was driving from my home in Madison up to the State Theatre in Minneapolis for the live broadcast of the Rifftrax Live “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reunion” show on June 28. In the ‘90s, this would have been a no-brainer. It’s fair to say I was obsessed with the show – had just about every episode on videotape, MST3K Info Club card in my wallet. Many a Saturday night was built around takeout Chinese and a new episode of “MST3K.”

But that was then. Now I’ve got a career, a wife, kids. I watch and write about the DVDs from time to time, and have headed to the local movie theater for a Rifftrax simulcast event from time to time, which is a lot of fun. But it’s not essential to me in the way it was 20 years ago.

And yet still, I went to Minneapolis. And I’m so glad I did. The event will be rebroadcast in theaters on Tuesday, July 12, and if “Mystery Science Theater 3000” has meant anything at all to you over the years, I highly recommend you go.

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“Going Away”: Two wandering souls connect in the south of France

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One is vagabond by choice. The other is a vagabond by necessity. Their paths cross in veteran French director Nicole Garcia’s empathetic but at times unfocused “Going Away.”

The 2013 film, largely overlooked in the United States and only now available on DVD from Cohen Media, mixes Dardennes Brothers-style economic realism with big melodramatic revelations. The fit can be awkward at times, but also strikes emotional sparks against a lush south of France backdrop.

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Instant Gratification: “Spotlight” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix

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Pick of the week: “SpotlightMy full review is here. Last year’s Best Picture winner was something of an underdog, fitting for a complex, cool-headed but quietly furious drama about a team of Boston Globe reporters who painstakingly unearth a conspiracy of silence around priest abuse in the Catholic Church. Writer-director Tom McCarthy avoids Hollywood melodrama, instead showing us the relentless legwork that went into reporting the story, making things such as searching through archives and interviewing witnesses the stuff of high drama, and heroism.

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Instant Gratification: “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” and four other good movies new to Netflix and Amazon Prime

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Pick of the Week: “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” (Netflix): My full review is here. Netflix dropped this excellent documentary by UW-Madison graduate Bill Siegel about a month ago, but wisely picked it back up after the death of Ali. It’s a terrific look inside Ali’s struggles in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, a fight that got him banned from boxing and made him a pariah for many white Americans. While he is being rightfully lionized, this film is an important reminder of how much of the country turned its back on him and what he stood for.

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