Did I Wolf Down ‘Wolf’?

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Wolf (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Eileen Walsh

Director: Nathalie Biancheri

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: December 3, 2021 (Theaters)

Wolf is basically what I’ve been waiting for ever since I started reviewing movies by asking myself if I wanted to do what’s being offered in the title. This is a movie about a human man who believes that he’s a wolf! Do I also want to be a wolf, even if only for a little while? That might be fun, but that’s not exactly what this movie is really about … or is it? Jacob (George MacKay) sure looks like a Homo sapien, as do all of his fellow patients at the facility where they’re being treated for species identity disorder. But there are moments that really make you wonder if a lupine soul somehow did find its way into a human vessel. Alas, the abusive tactics reminiscent of troubled youth programs practiced by the facility’s director aren’t likely to help us find any answers. Anyway, I quite enjoyed Wolf introducing me to a whole new world and would have liked to have been able to explore it even more (the ending’s a little abrupt).

Grade: 7 Howls out of 10 Whiskers

That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: Aunt Beth Tells Jeff to Listen to ‘The Traveler’

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In case you weren’t aware, Jeff loves the blues. Aunt Beth decided that he should listen to some Kenny Wayne Shepherd, so it might be safe to say that she already knows that he loves the blues.

Subscribe to That’s Auntertaiment!‘s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thatsauntertainment

Thank You, ‘Resident Evil,’ I Do Feel Welcomed to Raccoon City

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures/Screenshot

Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough

Director: Johannes Roberts

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theaters)

As far as Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes, I’d really like to talk about the acting. Particularly, the performances of the “With” guy and the “And” guy. I’m talking Donal Logue and Neal McDonough, baby!

When you have an unabashed genre flick like this one, you need guys who can deliver exactly what’s asked of them without any winking or second-guessing. And that’s precisely what they provide. Also, let’s talk about McDonough’s hair. He usually keeps it pretty cropped, but when he first shows up, he’s got quite the set of locks. I was like, “Who is that? I know I recognize that face and that voice.” When I realized who it was, I was more than a little blown away.

All the other main players held my attention well enough. I don’t have any strong attachment to the Resident Evil franchise, but somehow I have a soft spot for its cinematic efforts.

Grade: Occasional Zombie Dog Eyes

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 12/3/21

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PEN15 (CREDIT: Hulu/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
Benedetta (Theaters) – Paul Verhoeven’s lesbian nun movie.
Flee (Theaters)
Wolf (Theaters)

TV
PEN15 Season 2, Part 2 (December 3 on Hulu) – This is reportedly the end.
Jeopardy! Professors Tournament (December 6-17, check local listings)
Abbott Elementary Series Premiere (December 7 on ABC) – Starring Miracle Workers‘ Quinta Brunson.
Live in Front of a Studio Audience: “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” (December 7 on ABC)
Welcome to Earth Series Premiere (December 8 on Disney+) – The World According to Will Smith

Music
-Tom Morello, The Atlas Underground Flood

An Animated Documentary About a Refugee? Thank You, ‘Flee’!

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Flee (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Amin Nawabi

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing Corruption and Poor Living Conditions

Release Date: December 3, 2021 (Theaters)

In the days leading up to my viewing of Flee, it was always the Red Hot Chili Peppers that popped into my head whenever I said the title to myself. But of course, this movie has nothing to do with a certain rock ‘n’ roll bassist, so this information is kind of irrelevant, but I like my readers to know where my mind was at when they’re reading my reviews. And Flee had that mind captivated to the point that Flea no longer occupied my headspace pretty much immediately.

Instead, this Flee refers to the act of fleeing, which a man by the name of Amin Nawabi has had to do quite a bit over the course of his life. He’s an Afghan living in Denmark by way of Russia, with a few other bumpy stops along the way. We meet him at a point in his life when he’s finally able to stay in place much more than in his younger on-the-run days. This stability has helped him to open up and tell his story to his friend Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who went ahead and directed this film. Most of Amin’s journey was unrecorded at the time (save for a few fortuitous pieces of security footage), so Rasmussen resorts to animating the tale along with a soundtrack of Amin recounting his memories. The end result is basically a vibrant and heart-tugging artistic therapy session.

Like countless other refugees, Amin and his family are just trying to escape the threat of violence in their homeland. And then like just about everyone else in post-Soviet Russia, they have to make their way through the muck of chaos and corruption (which is of course more suffocating for outsiders). And on top of all that, Amin is coming to terms with his queer identity after growing up in a country that doesn’t even have a word for “gay.”

But Flee is far from an unrelenting horror show. There are moments of sheer joy, particularly through Amin’s pop culture touchstones. He’s enamored with a certain musclebound Belgian action star, and whenever he gets to watch some kickboxing on TV, it’s fully infectious. There are also a couple of lovely music-fueled bookending scenes, as a young Amin listens to a-ha’s “Take on Me” on his Walkman, while towards the end his first trip to a gay club is soundtracked by Daft Punk’s “Veridis Quo.” He made it through, I’m glad I got to hear his story, and I bet you will be, too.

Flee is Recommended If You Like: 80s synth pop, Queer acceptance, Jean-Claude Van Damme

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fake Passports

‘King Richard’ Teaches Me Tennis

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King Richard (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Aunjanue Ellis, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Running Time: 145 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

At the beginning of the 2021 film King Richard, Richard Williams (not the actual Richard Williams, but the version of him played by Will Smith) is listening in his car about how the proper way to hit a tennis serve involves making a high-five gesture while striking the ball. This prompted me to immediately move my butt and try that technique out while sitting in the theater. I love watching tennis, and I’ve been meaning to get around to playing the game myself. (I guess I’m just looking for the right doubles partner.)

So anyway, that bit of “practice” immediately had me hyped, and that excitement lasted for the entire two hour-plus runtime. I probably would’ve been excited anyway, as sports biopics tend to inspire that reaction. But it was pretty essential that it happened right away, so that Richard’s stubbornness didn’t wear me down. In conclusion, I really loved ALL the instructional moments of this movie.

Grade: 4 Open Stances out of 1 Closed Stance

I Went to See ‘Encanto,’ and Well, Here’s What Happened

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Encanto (CREDIT:
Walt Disney Animation Studios/Screenshot)

Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Carolina Gaitán

Directors: Jared Bush and Byron Howard

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: November 24, 2021

When I went to see Encanto, I was all ready to stay awake and enjoy a movie, but then … I started nodding off. And it kept happening throughout most of the movie! (This is becoming a bit of a pattern for me when it comes to animated Thanksgiving Disney releases.) I thought I would be able to make it all the way through just fine! The showtime wasn’t that late, and it wasn’t a particularly tiring day! But movie theaters just always make me sleepy now that I’m the age that I am. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t fully unconscious for any prolonged stretches, but it still felt like I missed something, although my viewing companion assured me that I got the gist. I wish I had more to say about the actual content, but my drive for shuteye was undeniably the biggest force of this cinematic experience. Oh, well. I hope Stephanie Beatriz shows up in more movies soon enough.

Grade: Tres Maribels out of Cinco Madrigals

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/26/21

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(CREDIT: HBO/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
Encanto (Theaters)
House of Gucci (Theaters)
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (Theaters) – Starring Kaya Scodelario, as opposed to Milla Jovovich.
Licorice Pizza (Theaters)

TV
How To with John Wilson Season 2 Premiere (November 26 on HBO) – The best docuseries on TV.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 15 Premiere (December 1 on FXX) – It’s still as sunny as ever.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas (December 1 on The Roku Channel) – Holiday special for a cancelled show.

‘Licorice Pizza’ Invites Us to Come of Age, P.T. Anderson-Style

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Licorice Pizza (CREDIT: Paul Thomas Anderson/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Skyler Gisondo, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Moti Haim, Donna Haim, Christine Ebersole, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Maya Rudolph

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Indelicate Language

Release Date: November 26, 2021 (Theaters)/Expands December 25, 2021

When I hear the title “Licorice Pizza,” it makes me think of that classic Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen song about putting every conceivable topping you can think of on the top of the crust. I can’t help but shout, “Licorice? Put it on the pizza!” But as it turns out, the directorial approach of Paul Thomas Anderson vis-a-vis Licorice Pizza has basically nothing in common with the Olsen twins. That’s okay, though!

Instead, this movie has me feeling like Linda Richman, which is to say, “Licorice Pizza is neither licorice, nor pizza: discuss.” So discuss I will! A couple of kiddos named Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman) cross paths in 1973 in the San Fernando Valley and then strike up a sorta-friendship, maybe-romance, partnership-in-hustling. Gary’s an accomplished child actor, but when he meets up with Alana, they switch their focus to selling waterbeds. They eventually splinter off into their own interests, as they get involved with the likes of politics and pinball legalization, contend with a gas crisis, and meet a bunch of memorable characters along the way. It feels like Anderson wanted to make a movie about some of the touchstone moments of his youth (or toddlerhood – he was born in 1970) and created a couple of central characters who could Forrest Gump their way through it all. Not a bad idea if you have a knack for populating an ensemble cast full of an endless stream of oddballs and eccentrics.

One question I had throughout watching Licorice Pizza was:just how old are Alana and Gary really? She says she’s 25, and he says he’s 15, which sounds perfectly plausible at first. But it’s of course more than a little concerning that a twentysomething would be hanging out so much with a teenager. Although it doesn’t come across as creepy as it could, mostly because Gary feels a lot older than he ostensibly is. I suppose that’s the lot of the child actor, to mature faster than everyone else (in some ways). Furthermore, when you consider all the various business ventures that are launched and folded over the course of the runtime, it feels like multiple years must be passing. So I started to surmise that maybe Gary was a little older by the end of it all anyway. But actually, I’m pretty sure all this action somehow takes place within one year (or less!). Latchkey kids apparently could get away with a lot way back when. Or in Gary’s case, teenage adults could do pretty much whatever they wanted in the 70s. These are the discombobulating thoughts I had while watching this movie!

In conclusion, Licorice Pizza is more or less a series of chuckle-inducing zesty vignettes with a bent-but-bighearted emotional throughline. Worth checking out!

Licorice Pizza is Recommended If You Like: Old sitcom bits and other pop culture ephemera, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Sisters yelling at each other

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Waterbeds

Say Yes to the ‘House of Gucci’

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House of Gucci (CREDIT: Fabio Lovino/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 157 Minutes

Rating: R for Opulent Language and Sexuality, and a Little Bit of Gun Violence

Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theaters)

How historically accurate is House of Gucci? I’m not sure, and at this moment, I don’t particularly care. The general bullet points at least are correct as far as I can tell: Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) marries her way into the legendary Gucci fashion family. She reveals her true ambitious self by pushing aside her brother-in-law Paolo (Jared Leto) and uncle-in-law Aldo (Al Pacino). But her union with her husband Maurizio (Adam Driver) eventually falls apart, so much so that after their divorce, she teams up with a psychic (Salma Hayek) to hire a hitman to murder Maurizio. The Guccis are clearing themselves right out of Gucci.

It’s a tale that’s as ripe as a tomato for building a legend around. When you’re going the mythmaking route, it helps if the real-life people being portrayed are dead, which is mostly the case here, except for Reggiani. I don’t know if she plans on watching the film, but either way, I hope she can make peace with the fact that her persona is now partly owned by the culture at large.

And what a persona it is! Gaga goes big. Perhaps the Biggest of Her Career. Now, you may be thinking, “That’s saying something, considering what she’s famous for.” But while her landscapes and scaffolding are frequently over-the-top in baroque and rococo fashions, her foundations are usually grounded in more straightforward feeling. But in this case, Patrizia cannot be contained. She’s the kind of person who wonders aloud, “Will I be successful?” And you know what she really means is, “Look out suckers, I’m not going to stop until I do everything I can to be successful.” You get the feeling that Gaga has captured some elemental force, and if she had let it get away, it would be like unleashing Pandora’s box.

The other performance I’m absolutely in love with is Leto’s take on the black sheep of the family. Paolo Gucci and I have similarly left-of-center views on fashion, so I’m already drawn toward him for that reason. Leto plays him as a sort of simpering Italian version of Rodney Dangerfield, with a voice that sounds like a certain video game plumber. Often when it comes to Leto, I’m put off by stories of his onscreen antics, and even beyond that, I’ve never quite connected with any of his performances. However, in this case, he’s making some wild decisions that perfectly embody the House of Gucci milieu. It’s breathtaking.

As for the rest of the cast, Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons (as Maurizio’s stick-up-his-ass dad Rodolfo) are much more subdued than everyone else. Pacino is subdued by his standards (which is to say, he’s in between the Gucci extremes). And we all know that Salma Hayek always brings it, and she brings it as hard here as she always does. In conclusion, I spent most of this review talking about the acting, and that’s because these are performances that are as hearty and life-sustaining as a Mediterranean diet. Dig in!

House of Gucci is Recommended If You Like: I, Tonya, Super Marios Bros., That Olive Garden commercial with the Selena Gomez song

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fabrics

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