Miranda July Shows Us What It’s Like to Try to Become a ‘Kajillionaire’

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Kajillionaire (CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Focus Features)

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez

Director: Miranda July

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for A Kajillionaire’s Worth of Language and Sexual References

Release Date: September 25, 2020 (Select Theaters)

Everyone wants to be a kajillionaire, isn’t that true? We simply won’t be satisfied until we reach that level of nonsensical wealth. That’s the driving premise behind Miranda July’s new film Kajillionaire, which tells the story of a family of emotionally stunted scam artists trying to pull off their next big heist. As this movie demonstrates, the environments that we grow up in can lead us to behave in certain ways that look positively insane to outsiders. Old Dolio Dyne (Evan Rachel Wood) sure looks resentful of the shenanigans her parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) wrangle her into, but she doesn’t really know any other way to live.

I’ve been practicing a movie review routine lately in which I judge the success of the movie by whether or not it makes me want to do the thing that it’s about. So then, does Kajillionaire make me want to be a kajillionaire? Not particularly, thank you, I’m perfectly fine with earning just enough cash to be comfortable. But if I dig a little deeper, what I really should be asking is: would I like to make that cheddar by running confidence games with my family? I can see the kookiness of the appeal, which I’m sure the Dyne family and July would be glad to hear. But at a certain point, I need a foundation of logic and economic stability in my life. I think Gina Rodriguez’s character can relate. She plays Melanie, an audience surrogate type who’s a big fan of the Ocean’s 11 films and gets recruited by the Dynes during a turbulent plane ride and just has plenty of fun with the whole theatricality of their schemes. But eventually things get a little sloppy and way too much to handle for anyone with a decent amount of emotional maturity.

The limits of my particular reviewing strategy are obvious with movies like Kajillionaire when it’s clear that they’re not exactly advertising the behavior on display. But July does have a knack for generating empathy in a way that can make you wonder if you actually would like us to emulate her lead characters as they navigate their wacky and thorny situations. For Old Dolio, continuing to live with her parents doesn’t just mean continuously navigating an existence outside the law, it also means a living situation that involves renting an empty office space that keeps getting flooded with bubbles. And it further means reckoning with an “apology” in the form of receiving a set of presents for all the birthdays her mom and dad missed. So let me refine my question once more: do I want to live life on the edge and then ultimately find the wherewithal to strike out on my own as much as is necessary for my own mental health (as Old Dolio ultimately must)? Maybe for a couple of hours.

Kajillionaire is Recommended If You Like: Weirdo names, Baggy tracksuits, Random bouts of limbo

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Tremors

That’s Auntertainment! Episode 18: The Twilight Zone

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The Twilight Zone, Jordan Peele (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Do you like entering other dimensions? Well have we got the podcast episode for you! Aunt Beth and Jeff are talking all things Twilight Zone, from the original series all the way to the current CBS All Access reboot.

‘Antebellum’ is Truly Confounding

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Antebellum (CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Lionsgate)

Starring: Janelle Monáe, Jack Huston, Jena Malone, Eric Lange, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe, Marque Richardson, Lily Cowles

Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: R for Tortuous Torture

Release Date: September 18, 2020 (On Demand)

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about certain movies in depth without completely spoiling them, and Antebellum is one of those movies. So just so we’re on the same page right at the top, I’m going to get pretty in depth. But I don’t feel like I’m giving away spoilers, because the main twist of Antebellum (or what could be construed as the twist) feels more like the premise. If the writer/director duo of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz are trying to surprise us, they don’t do a very good job of it. But the way they tip their hand so early, I don’t think they’re trying to play coy. But if that’s indeed the case and they want things to be loud and clear, it raises some questions about why they chose to reveal their information the way that they do.

When I first saw the teaser trailer for Antebellum, I assumed that Janelle Monáe was playing a 21st century woman who finds herself enslaved after becoming inexplicably transported to a pre-Civil War plantation. I didn’t know else to interpret it! The only question was, how did she get there? Was it time travel? An alternate dimension? An illusion? A series of dreams that feel all too real? Whatever the explanation, I thought it made for a potent setup. But alas, Bush and Renz aren’t really interested in reckoning with the terror of this situation. Instead, they just present it as is.

Antebellum opens on the plantation, and it takes about 40 minutes before we see Veronica Henley (Monáe) in her element in the present day with her husband and daughter, doing her thing as a successful author and scholar of vaguely elucidated intersectionality. That’s quite a long time for a prologue that tells us all we need to know in five minutes. There are people on the plantation being held against their will, and we don’t need to see them getting tortured, because we’ve already seen it in plenty of other onscreen slavery narratives. Let’s just get around to finding out how they ended up there and how they’re going to attempt to escape.

And now I’m just to get into all the nitty-gritty, so even bigger SPOILER ALERT if you want it, but this piece of information felt like the only possible explanation as soon as I started watching: Veronica and all the other enslaved people are kidnapping victims, and the plantation is a reenactment of an Antebellum South plantation, complete with slave masters and all kinds of abuse. Somehow the people behind this criminal enterprise have been able to pull it off without ever arousing suspicion from the authorities or the general public. Or maybe suspicions have been aroused! It’s hard to tell, because we never get a significant sense of the context in which this place has been erected. I can buy that there’s still enough racism in the world for there to be an interest in a place this awful, but I can’t buy that it’s practically invisible unless it exists in a fantastical world. Bush and Renz have a kernel of an effective idea here, and they’ve got a bunch of game actors ready to deliver, but they need to pay attention to all those pesky details.

Antebellum is Recommended If You Like: Trying to make sense of the inexplicable

Grade: 2 out of 5 Plantations

2020 Emmy Predictions/Preferences

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CREDIT: televisionacad/Instagram

The Emmys are happening “virtually” in 2020. But nothing about my predictions and preferences is virtual! Check out my rundown below for the 72nd Primetime edition, and then let’s all tune in together on ABC on Sunday, September 20 and see how it goes.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 9/18/20

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Wilmore (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

TV
Ratched Season 1 (September 18 on Netflix) – Ryan Murphy sends Sarah Paulson beyond the cuckoo’s nest.
-PEN15 Season 2 Part 1 (September 18 on Hulu)
Wilmore Series Premiere (September 18 on Peacock) – The Comedy Central alum is back to chatting.
-Creative Arts Emmy Awards (September 19 on FXX)
-72nd Primetime Emmy Awards (September 20 on ABC)
-DIY Conan (September 21 on TBS) – Conan O’Brien’s fans make an entire episode of his show.
The Masked Singer Season 4 Premiere (September 23 on FOX)
I Can See Your Voice Series Premiere (September 23 on FOX) – Ken Jeong’s on another wacky singing competition show.

Music
-Neil Young, The Times EP

That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: Karaoke Korner 9

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

It’s time for another Karaoke Korner! Based on a suggestion by his good friend Dave, Jeff has gone on a journey to determine the best one-hit wonders of the 2000s for karaoke purposes.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 9/11/20

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Archer Season 11 (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

TV
Jeopardy! Season 37 Premiere (September 14, check local listings)
American Dad! 300th Episode (September 14 on TBS)
The Drew Barrymore Show Series Premiere – Everybody loves Drew!
Archer Season 11 Premiere (September 16 on FXX) – Returning to the core premise after several seasons afield.
-Creative Arts Emmys Days 1-4 (Streaming September 14-17 on Emmys.com)

Music
-The Flaming Lips, American Head

 

I’m Thinking of Writing Things (‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ Review)

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things (CREDIT: Mary Cybulski/Netflix)

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: September 4, 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things features a couple of things that I REALLY love in a pair of crucial scenes: a furry doggie and a trip to the ice cream shop! But there appear to be sinister elements lurking beneath the surfaces, as Jimmy the fluffy border collie seems to be stuck in a time loop of shaking himself dry, and Jake (Jesse Plemons) and the young woman (Jessie Buckley) buy their frozen treats in the middle of a snowstorm. Ice cream might taste great year-round, but if you’re going to eat it in the winter, you’d probably want to do it while snuggled up at home! (Also, that girl at the ice cream shop hints at … something nefarious.)

Really, the entirety of I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about events that I love but that have something terrifying bubbling (barely) beneath the surface. Meeting your s.o.’s parents for dinner?! Great, but the time-space continuum seems to be coming undone. Having a conversation in the car about whatever the hell pops into your head?! I love it, but often this scene is so dark that I can’t see anything at all. Dancing in a school hallway?! Hurray! … but is the janitor okay?

You’re thinking of ending things? I’m thinking of making them last forever!

Grade: 45 Dog Shakes out of 60 Ice Cream Cones

That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: RIP Chadwick Boseman

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Chadwick Boseman (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Jeff and Aunt Beth share their memories of Chadwick Boseman upon his passing from colon cancer at the age of 43.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 9/4/20

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Tenet (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Tenet (In theaters, apparently) – I don’t know when I’ll actually be seeing Christopher Nolan’s latest, but I’ll see it at some point.
i’m thinking of ending things (Streaming on Netflix) – The kooky latest from Charlie Kaufman.

TV
Woke Season 1 (September 9 on Hulu) – Starring Lamorne Morris!

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