Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/18/21

Leave a comment

Kevin Can F*** Himself (CREDIT: Jojo Whilden/AMC)

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

Luca (June 18 on Disney+)
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (Theaters)
The Sparks Brothers (Theaters)

Physical Series Premiere (June 18 on Apple TV+) – Rose Byrne gets into 80s aerobics.
Evil Season 2 Premiere (June 20 on Paramount+)
Kevin Can F*** Himself Series Premiere (June 23 on AMC) – Annie Murphy hates sitcom clichés.
Rick and Morty Season 5 Premiere (June 20 on Adult Swim)
College Bowl Reboot Premiere (June 22 on NBC) – Peyton Manning hosts.
Card Sharks Season Premiere (June 23 on ABC)
Conan Series Finale (June 24 on TBS) – Headed to HBO Max.
The Good Fight Season 5 Premiere (June 24 on Paramount+)
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 6 Premiere (June 24 on Paramount+)
When Nature Calls with Helen Mirren (June 24 on ABC) – Something with animals.B

-H.E.R., Back of My Mind

‘The Sparks Brothers’ Review: Weird Band, Great Documentary

1 Comment

The Sparks Brothers (CREDIT: Anna Webber/Focus Features)

Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, and Plenty of Their Biggest Fans

Director: Edgar Wright

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Language (That I Remember Being Pretty Mild, Honestly)

Release Date: June 18, 2021 (Theaters)

What separates a Behind the Music-style biography from a truly feature-worthy documentary? Attitude, for one thing. And Ron and Russell Mael (aka the pop/rock duo known as Sparks) have got plenty of attitude. A friendly attitude, that is! But inscrutable nonetheless. The Edgar Wright-directed The Sparks Brothers posits that you could look these brothers up on Wikipedia and still know nothing about them. That’s more than a bit of an exaggeration, as their actual Wiki page is a healthy length for a band that’s been around for 50+ years. (It’s about as long as, say, Edgar Wright’s.) But it becomes clear pretty quickly that that contention is hardly meant to be literal. The real story of Sparks is that they’ve remained perpetually under the radar despite their impressive influence and proflicacy to the point that plenty of music lovers have never heard of them. And even among their biggest fans, they are – and will probably forever be – a mystery.

The structure of this film is hardly groundbreaking as far as music documentaries (or documentaries in general) go. Vintage performance clips are mixed in with interviews of the musicians and their colleagues and fans. But that ostensible normalcy is perfectly fine, as the subjects themselves are just so confounding. They don’t appear to live on this planet Earth with the rest of us, or if they do, it’s within a different sort of dimension entirely. Really, how do you explain a Hitler mustache-sporting keyboard player and his moptopped singer brother that seemingly everybody loves and who have been at the forefront of so many of the major historical trends in popular music? If you’re Edgar Wright, you make a whole dang movie about them so that people like myself who never knew about them before can witness the wonderful world of Sparks.

One major thread running through The Sparks Brothers is the idea that people don’t take comedy in music very seriously. Performers who are decidedly comedic tend to be relegated to the novelty act heap. And indeed, the comedy is a major part of Ron and Russell’s appeal, which helps explain why some of the interviewees include the likes of such professional funny people as Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, and Scott Aukerman, as well as Comedy Music Extraordinaire himself, “Weird Al Yankovic.” As far as Sparks go, they haven’t exactly had a Yankovic-style career; instead, they’ve existed in some sort of no man’s land that seems like a parallel universe version of major rock ‘n’ rollers like Rolling Stones or Talking Heads or even Prince. This is not a tragedy, far from it. All signs point to them being quite content with the life and career they’ve lived. So check out their story, and I bet it’ll bring a smile to your face.

The Sparks Brothers is Recommended If You Like: Any of the popular music from the 60s to today

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sparks

‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It’ is Just a Documentary That Decided to Be About Rita Moreno

1 Comment

CREDIT: Roadside Attractions

Starring: Rita Moreno, and Friends

Director: Mariem Pérez Riera

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Casual Hollywood Cruelty

Release Date: June 18, 2021 (Theaters)

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is your typical celebrity biography documentary, though the subject is far from your typical celebrity. She was the third person ever to EGOT, after all! So obviously respect must be paid. We get to know the skeleton of her story via interviews with the 89-year-old living legend herself, as well as some of her closest friends and collaborators. She had struggles early in her life, as she dropped out of school at 15 and became the breadwinner for her family. She also had struggles throughout her career, as she endured sexism and harassment and navigated Hollywood’s notorious habit of racism by employing what she refers to as the “Universal Ethnic Accent.” She also had some romantic encounters that came and went along the way (Marlon Brando comes up a fair bit), and there’s that one project that looms large above them all (West Side Story, of course). Once again, this is typical celeb profile fodder through and through, but it’s worth paying attention to, because Moreno has endured, clear-headed and still full of energy.

I believe that all movies are best experienced on the big screen, even something as straightforward as Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. Alas, I did not see this particular movie in a theater (studios are back in the swing of holding in-person press screenings, though not quite at the pre-pandemic rate), and while I wish I had, the Sunday evening that it spent on my television felt appropriate. This very much feels like the sort of in-depth human-interest reporting that you would see on PBS on CBS that tends to air on the first day of the week. If someone told me that this was a series of about ten separate CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes features stitched together to form one feature-length piece, I wouldn’t be surprised, both in the sense that it has the vibe of those shows and because it’s perfectly believable that Moreno would be covered that often on the same program. So if you’re a big Rita Moreno fan and you have the opportunity to make it out to the theater, I recommend it, but if you prefer waiting until you can lounge at home and summon her up on your TV, that’s not a bad option either.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is Recommended If You Like: Rita Moreno herself of course, Celebrity features on newsmagazine shows

Grade: 3 out of 5 EGOTs

‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard’ Review: Stay for the Hitman’s Wife, Avert Your Eyes for Everything Else

Leave a comment

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (CREDIT: David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Frank Grillo, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman

Director: Patrick Hughes

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: R for A Generally Violent and Highly Sexual Lifestyle

Release Date: June 16, 2021 (Theaters)

Bodyguard Michael Bryce’s therapist has advised him to take a sabbatical … BUT OBVIOUSLY THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! He’s the lead character in an action comedy sequel in which he’s the constant victim of physical and emotional abuse, after all. But what if The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard were just about him having a relaxing vacation? Honestly? I’d check it out. But of course that’s a tough sell in a summer blockbuster season. But that doesn’t mean the action has to be quite as relentless as it is. It’s hard to laugh when guns are constantly being fired from all over everywhere! Thank God for Salma Hayek and her occasionally kooky line readings.

If you haven’t seen the original Hitman’s Bodyguard, pretty much all you got to know is that Bryce was left traumatized during his time protecting super-notorious hitman Darius Kincaid. Considering that Bryce is played by Ryan Reynolds and Kincaid is played by Samuel L. Jackson, it’s not hard to immediately buy into this dynamic. The former’s exasperated quippiness and the latter’s dangerously cackling coolheadedness make for maximum combustibility. If you like your comedy with a constant background threat of deadly sniper shots and exploding cars, then this is the movie for you. But for me, that’s pretty much exactly the wrong energy for a fun time at the cinema, and I imagine I’m not alone in that preference.

But it’s not a total wash, and the new interloping title inhabitant is the reason why. Kincaid’s wife Sonia (Hayek) is the one who “hires” Bryce this time around, and that hiring is very much in quotation marks because the reason she thinks that her husband would ever want this guy’s services again is based on a profoundly stupid misunderstanding. But somehow in the midst of everything aggravating going on, Hayek manages to have some fun. In the few instances of downtime and introspection, she manages to puncture the moment with her loopy approach to social niceties and life in general. Most of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is dangerous and headache-inducing. Sonia Kincaid at least is dangerous and chuckle-against-your-better-judgment-inducing.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is Recommended If You Like: Deadly projectiles whizzing by as you go about your day

Grade: 2 out of 5 Gelatos

That’s Auntertainment! Karaoke Korner 20

Leave a comment

Rock ‘n’ Roll Alert! The Karaoke Korner lineup this time around comes courtesy of Jeff’s cousin Rory, and with RHCP, Weezer, and Tool on tap, you might just want to bop your head and sing along.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/11/21

Leave a comment

The Celebrity Dating Game (CREDIT: Craig Sjodin/ABC)

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

In the Heights (Theaters and HBO Max)
Censor (June 11 in Theaters, June 18 On Demand)

Tuca & Bertie Season 2 Premiere (June 13 on Adult Swim) – Should I watch Season 1 first?
The Celebrity Dating Game Series Premiere (June 14 on ABC) – Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton finally team up!
Card Sharks Season Premiere (June 16 on ABC)
Holey Moley 3D in 2D Season Premiere (June 17 on ABC)
The Hustler Season Premiere (June 17 on ABC)

-Danny Elfman, Big Mess
-Garbage, No Gods No Masters
-Sleater-Kinney, Path of Wellness

‘In the Heights’ Review: Washington Heights is So Hot Right Now

1 Comment

In the Heights (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Noah Catala, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Christopher Jackson

Director: Jon M. Chu

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Young Adults and Older Adults Dealing with Adult Stuff

Release Date: June 10, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

How could anyone possibly sing and dance on the streets of Manhattan as the temps creep up into the high 90s? This is the conundrum that In the Heights forces us to face. Sure, it’s a musical, and its attendant heightened reality isn’t meant to represent literal truth. But the vibe of this movie-based-on-a-Broadway-show is very much “This is what life is really like in the neighborhood of Washington Heights.” So how to explain it? Well, the heat can make people do some pretty irrational things. And you can get away with a few bouts of illogic here and there if you’re generally focused on friends and family.

So just who are these Washington Heights-ians in the midst of a heat wave and looming blackout in this movie musical based on the stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes (the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay)? First off, there’s Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), Navi for short, a young bodega owner who’s looking to buy himself a plot of land in the Dominican Republic. Then there’s his teenage cousin Sonny (Gregoy Diaz IV), who could really use some documentation to firm up his immigration status. Also hanging around the bodega is his good buddy Benny (Corey Hawkins), who really ought to make things right with Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s buckling under the pressure of being the first one in her family to make it to college. Most of that pressure is coming from her kind-of pushy dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits), who never met a financial pickle he wouldn’t crunch his way out of. And then strolling right through is Vanessa (Melissa Berrera), who’s keen on starting a fashion design career while also making sure that Navi isn’t too much of a dingus for the two of them to consummate their obvious feelings for each other. Finally, looking over it all with grace and a steady heart is Navi’s abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). And I cannot fail to mention that LMM is also present on screen as the local shaved ice cart pusher who has an only-in-New York rivalry with the neighborhood Mr. Softee ice cream truck driver (fellow Hamilton alum Christopher Jackson).

This story all plays out via the framing device of Navi telling the tale to a quartet of kids on the beach several years later. And that’s obviously the right sort of vibe. The older generation tells the younger generation stories of their families that happened before they were born so that they know where they came from. And I love to see it, because I am just innately fulfilled by keeping track of how people are related to each other and who’s friends with whom. In the Heights doesn’t need to have song-and-dance numbers to pull off that energy, but because it is a musical, I know that these characters’ familial, romantic, and platonic emotions are indeed larger than life.

Remember at the beginning of this review when I mentioned how senseless it is to be moving your body in the midst of the mucky Manhattan heat? Let me clarify: I’m not mad at In the Heights for that. Sometimes it makes sense to be senseless, especially when you’re in a city that’s not exactly designed to offer relief for that rising mercury AND you’re in the midst of a days-long massive power outage. Hopefully in this situation, you have enough brain cells to take care of what you need to take care of, and the thrill of In the Heights is making sure that these characters maintain the minimum number of brain cells. (Barest of Spoiler Alerts: They do.)

In the Heights is Recommended If You Like: Hamilton, Step Up 3D, Family reunions

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lottery Tickets

‘The Misfits’ Serves Run-of-the-Mill Heist Energy, But Nick Cannon is Kind of Dang Compelling

Leave a comment

The Misfits (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Hermione Corfield, Nick Cannon, Rami Jaber, Jamie Chung, Mike Angelo, Tim Roth

Director: Renny Harlin

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Loose-Lipped Language Here and There

Release Date: June 11, 2021 (Theaters)/June 15, 2021 (On Demand)

The best way I can possibly enjoy The Misfits is by pretending that it’s an unusually elaborate episode of The Masked Singer. How else to explain TMS host Nick Cannon teaming up with Pierce Brosnan for a globetrotting heist? That’s the sort of maniacal thinking that happens around an elaborate display of costumed singing celebrities, not a major action blockbuster directed by Renny Harlin. And after all, like The Masked Singer, The Misfits opens with some tone-setting narration from Cannon. Here’s a sample line from the latter that could very easily be at home on the former: “Funny thing about safety deposit boxes: ain’t nothin’ safe about ’em.” For the uninitiated, it’s not hard to imagine a Safety Deposit Box costume on the next season of The Masked Singer. (In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m a major Masked Singer devotee.)

Okay, I suppose I should spend at least some of this review describing the actual plot in some detail. Despite what the opening scene might lead us to believe, the focus is not primarily on Cannon, even though his character’s name is Ringo. (And he makes a big deal out of how much he loves his namesake Beatle!) Instead, the main character is Brosnan as some fellow named Richard Pace, who gets wrangled into the whole heist scheme by his estranged daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield). Then he meets up with the rest of the crew, who are just as anti-complementary with each other as the title implies. Then as with a lot of crime flicks, I’m not entirely sure what’s actually going on, although I’m pretty sure Tim Roth is the mark. Also, they head to somewhere in the Middle East that I’m pretty sure is fictional (“Jazeristan”?), and yeah, this isn’t exactly the most sensitive movie. Oh well, at least it’s thoroughly lightweight.

Anyway, my biggest takeaway from The Misfits is that I like Nick Cannon’s energy, and I’m not sure I would’ve said that 10 or 20 years ago, although it was probably true then as well. Or at least it’s now true in retrospect. He’s certainly not immune to the aforementioned insensitivity, but despite some missteps here and there, I feel like I’m in good hands with him if I’m promised a good time. Does that make me a fellow Misfit? I don’t know, probably not. It’s doubtful that I’ll be spending very much mental space on this movie for much longer. But I do also love Ringo (the Beatle), so there is that.

The Misfits is Recommended If You Like: Nick Cannon’s emcee energy, Ocean’s Lite, Fast and Furious Lite

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Heists

‘Censor’ Invites Us Into a Trippy, Bloody Good Time

1 Comment

Censor (CREDIT: Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)

Starring: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It’s Pretty Gory as Befitting the Subject Matter

Release Date: June 11, 2021 (Theaters)/June 18, 2021 (On Demand)

I imagine the inspiration for Censor came about while writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond was watching David Cronenberg’s body horror classic Videodrome and thought, “We need another movie like that.” And I can’t be mad at how lovingly Censor wears that influence on its sleeve, as I 100% agree with that sentiment. Let me shout it so that everyone in the back can hear: there aren’t enough movies emulating Videodrome! There should be more! Especially when one of them ensconces itself within the moral panic of Britain’s 1980s “video nasties” era. This is a time and a place when some bloody, bloody fantastical violence is being passed around by the kids – could it somehow burst out of those videocassettes?

If there’s someone at risk of that happening to, it doesn’t appear to be film censor Enid, at least not when we first meet her. She operates with a seen-it-all attitude towards the potentially objectionable content she encounters in her job, and if you’re the type of moviegoer inclined to watch something like this, you probably feel much the same way. But she has a distinct psychological vulnerability: the long-ago, not-fully-explained disappearance of her sister. Feelings of guilt and protectiveness bubble back up and become overwhelming when she’s declared dead in absentia and Enid encounters a video in her work that seems to mirror this past trauma. What follows is a mystery-unraveling journey reminiscent of 8MM, but much more personal and surreal. Throw in some supernatural flair very much a la The Ring, and we’ve got ourselves our very own full-flavored 21st Century Video Nasty.

And now I’ll conclude with a goofy thing I like to occasionally do when reviewing a film, in which I ask if it has convinced me to want to do the thing that it is about. So then, does Censor make me want to be a film censor? In a way, I’m already inclined towards such a pursuit. It’s not that different from being a critic, after all. Both involve thorough analysis and serve the purpose of guiding audiences towards a well-informed decision. So yeah, if the MPAA or some other film board needs some extra help, I wouldn’t mind being called to duty, especially if it means I get to have a trippy sidequest like Enid’s (although I’d prefer it if it weren’t so deadly).

Censor is Recommended If You Like: Videodrome, 8MM, Trading gory cult classics with your friends

Grade: 3 out of 5 Video Nasties

That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: 2021 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions

Leave a comment

This week’s mini-episode is an edition of “That’s Dad-ertainment,” as Bob Malone joins his son Jeff to discuss their favorite moments from the 2021 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

Older Entries