Picks and Pans Main: People Picks
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No. 1 Get Hard
Kevin Hart teaches rich ninny Will Ferrell how to dodge all the bullies in the jail yard
It’s high time we had a mainstream comedy seriously address inequality and race. For now, though, we’ve got this funny, old-school buddy picture. Ferrell plays a zillionaire being railroaded into prison on trumped-up charges of fraud. Hart, who runs the car wash in Ferrell’s office tower, agrees to teach him how to tough it out in the slammer. The twist (a good one) is that Hart is a straight arrow, improvising “street” lessons for cash. The stars pair up effortlessly. Ferrell’s performance is chiefly his foolproof on-the-surface facetiousness, while Hart’s is driven internally, a matter of emotional compression and combustion. The one problem? Endless jokes about Ferrell’s panic and disgust anticipating the intimate practices of incarcerated males. It’s a disturbingly standard Hollywood device: You get the impression straight men would rather be sentenced to be fed to wild hogs and rats. Let’s kill this gay-baiting cliché. (March 27, R)
No. 2 Weird Loners
Donnie Darko? Weird loner, yes. Carrie’s telekinetic psycho? Her too. But the four characters in this engaging sitcom are more eccentrically silly (Torrence and Kumbhani), or maybe too eligibly cute for their own good (Newton and Knighton). Having set up house, they all unpack their singular peculiarities: Torrence’s sock-puppet reenactment of JFK’s affair with Marilyn Monroe will be hard to top. (FOX, March 31, 9:30 p.m.)
No. 3 19 Kids & Counting
The third of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s children walks down the aisle, and the tears fall. Jessa actually married Ben Seewald Nov. 1, but this two-hour episode is a proper souvenir album for fans. The couple save their first kiss for off-camera – but if the more than fourscore Duggars and Seewalds gathered for the event don’t get to witness it, why should you? Just be happy! (TLC, March 31, 8 p.m.)
No. 4 Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
The rapper more than delivers on a brilliant new LP
Lamar’s 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d city earned him not only five Grammy nominations but a fan base that extended from Stephen Colbert to Taylor Swift. The follow-up, Butterfly, is even more ambitious – and politically of the moment. Race, poverty and violence are the themes of his raps on standout tracks “u,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “i.” His laser focus commands complete attention, start to finish, over a soundtrack of jazz and funk—a whole 79 minutes. Butterfly could set him up for the throne. Watch out, Kanye.
No. 5 Home
Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and at warp speed, when aliens are the cause
Based on Adam Rex’s 2007 children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday, this 3D Dreamworks concoction follows Tip (Rihanna) as she attempts to reunite with her mother (Jennifer Lopez) after Earth is invaded by an alien race called the Boov. Home is the sort of family entertainment that should have kids rolling in the aisles and adults, perhaps, indulging in at least a smile or two. And there are adorable critters, including a misfit alien, Oh (Jim Parsons), and a cat named Pig. One final reason not to stay home: The soundtrack features irresistible numbers from the two leading ladies. (March 27, PG)
No. 6 Wild
Finally sober but still lost, Cheryl Strayed trekked 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail to reclaim herself. Wild retraces those bold steps, with Reese Witherspoon (as Strayed) and Laura Dern (as Cheryl’s relentlessly, heartbreakingly upbeat mom) landing Oscar nods for their work. Those hoping to follow Cheryl’s path should grab the Blu-ray, with its interactive map of the trail. (March 31)
No. 7 The Dovekeepers
According to a first-century historian, there were fewer than a dozen survivors of the mass Jewish suicides at Masada, the rebel stronghold destroyed by Roman forces in AD 70. Playing two women looking back on this cataclysm, former NCIS star Cote de Pablo and Rachel Brosnahan are at times in danger of being swallowed up by such a tumultuous narrative. But Brosnahan at least has vivid, visionary dreams involving a lion – not a nice one – and the conclusion is wrenching. (CBS, March 31, 9 p.m.)
No. 8 The Best New Books
A black comedy, a gothic tale of belle epoque Paris and a heart-tugging look at the lives of orca whales in captivity
The Witch of Painted Sorrows
Fleeing New York after her father’s suicide, Sandrine seeks refuge at his mother’s Paris home, Maison de la Lune, despite her grandmother’s warnings. Grandma’s onto something: Sandrine is soon drawn in by the house’s dark spirit. This belle epoque thriller is a haunting tale of obsessive passions.
Beneath the Surface
In the documentary Blackfish, ex orca trainer Hargrove spoke out about the artificial breeding, cramped living spaces and other captivity problems he believes led SeaWorld orcas to kill two trainers and a tourist. His book is a heartfelt plea to allow these creatures what humans “had no right to take from them” – their freedom.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Judith Claire Mitchell
A Reunion of Ghosts
The Alter sisters are convinced they’re cursed: Their great-grandfather’s inventions led to mass killings in two world wars, and they’ve lost multiple relatives to suicide. So Lady, Delph and Vee – middle-aged, Jewish and living in their family apartment in Manhattan – decide to exit the world together. Laughing yet? It’s hardly an amusing premise, but Mitchell explores the mixed-blessing bonds of family with wry wit. This original tale is black comedy at its best.
NEW IN PAPERBACK
The Thing with Feathers
Did you know that nutcrackers have great memories? That penguins are afraid of the dark? This exploration of the lives of birds is perfect for spring.
The One & Only
A poignant, entertaining novel about a football-crazed Texas town and the woman who’s devoted her life to it – until unforeseen tragedy strikes.
Fourth of July Creek
In this acclaimed debut, a Montana social worker with problems of his own becomes embroiled in the lives of a troubled boy and his survivalist dad.
No. 9 While We’re Young
Hipsters Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) are young, gorgeous and so kinetic they’re practically action verbs. No wonder older documentarians Josh and Cornelia (Stiller and Watts) are moony over them: The brats may have grown-up ambition – Driver wants to make documentaries too – but no grown-up problems. Director Noah Baumbach and his pitch-perfect cast skewer generational clashes, marriage and existential crises. It’s a film that’s fun for kids of old ages. (March 27, R)
No. 10 Killing Jesus
Based on the bestseller by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Jesus spells out the behind-the-scenes geopolitics of Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion. It’s very well done: The bitter negotiations between Rome’s Pontius Pilate (True Blood star Stephen Moyer) and Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Rufus Sewell) can be summed up by a reality TV slogan: “Outwit, outlast, outplay.” However, on another contemporaneous note, it’s jarring to hear a disciple use “impact” as a verb. (National Geographic, March 29, 8 p.m.)
No. 11 Martin Garrix feat. Usher, ‘Don’t Look Down’
Only 18 – and gazing up to fame
A staple on the festival circuit, Dutch DJ Garrix creates a sound that should reverberate far outside the club walls, especially with Usher’s velvety guest vocals on his latest banger. Over throbbing guitars and a bubbly EDM beat, Usher’s falsetto soars as he sings the title’s cautionary plea. Watch for this single to fly high too—right up the charts.
No. 12 Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Here is your best general introduction to the controversy known as the Church of Scientology. Director Alex Gibney, adapting Lawrence Wright’s book, works his way through the history with methodical rigor: from founder L. Ron Hubbard, whose beginnings as a science-fiction writer shaped the church’s dogma, to its Hollywood ambassadors (Tom Cruise, depicted as cocooned, and John Travolta, rather pathetic). What drives it all, according to Clear, is a blunt skill for reaping money, for controlling members (to the point of penal servitude) and for punishing those who abandon the church (which, in a statement, calls the film “insidious religious persecution”). Such apostates are labeled, without irony, suppressives. (HBO, March 29, 8 p.m.)