Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/5/20

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CREDIT: Guy D’Alema/ABC

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

Movies
Shirley (Hulu, On Demand, and Drive-In Theaters) – Another excellent performance from Elisabeth Moss!

TV
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 5 Premiere (June 5 on VH1)
Hollywood Game Night (New Episodes Return Starting June 7 on NBC)
Don’t Series Premiere (June 11 on ABC) – New wacky game show hosted by Adam Scott

Music
-Run the Jewels, RTJ4

Josephine Decker’s ‘Shirley’ Presents Elisabeth Moss as Shirley Jackson in Her Latest Acting Tour de Force

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CREDIT: NEON

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman

Director: Josephine Decker

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Acid Tongues and Sexual Encounters in Multiple Directions

Release Date: June 5, 2020 (Hulu, On Demand, and Drive-Ins)

When writing a movie review (or a review about anything, really), it is wise to focus on the details that you care about most. So with that in mind, after watching Elisabeth Moss play Shirley Jackson in the Josephine Decker-directed biopic Shirley, I must say: I love the shirts! Shirley favors short-sleeve button-downs, including an absolutely tremendous one with a mallard pattern. The film takes place in Vermont, but you wouldn’t know it from all the exposed forearms. In another context, her sartorial choices could easily fit on a painfully ironic hipster or a dad joke-spewing goofball, but when Shirley wears them, they say, “This is who I am: deal with it. Or don’t. Either way, I’ma do me.”

That vibe of defiance is thick in the air of Shirley, in which the writer and her Bennington College professor husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) “welcome” newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young) as guests into their home. If that setup has you thinking Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you’re in the right area. If you’re also thinking there might be a heavy influence of Jackson’s most famous works, that, however, is not precisely accurate. There’s no stoning of anyone like in the short story “The Lottery,” nor are there any hints of the supernatural akin to her oft-adapted novel The Haunting of Hill House (save for the ghosts of marital discord). Despite the lack of one-to-one connections, the Jackson home is plenty scary, which Rose and Fred soon discover as they get caught up in a swirling psychosexual adventure.

When it comes to successful visionary movies, they let audiences in on a way of feeling that they fundamentally just get in their psyches (or souls, or hearts, or whatever) without necessarily having to understand the logic of it all. And that’s Shirley for me (and perhaps for some of you as well). I didn’t quite feel that way with Decker’s last film, Madeline’s Madeline, which struck me as a bit too foreign (at least on first viewing) to truly attach to it. But with Shirley, I have the key to open its lock for the cinematic language to feel just right. The psychology of why Stanley feels compelled to torture Fred over his dissertation or why Shirley and a very pregnant Rose find themselves frolicking by the bathtub is not spelled out in concrete terms. Travelling into this abode is like a trip through Hades. It’s pretty exhilarating, at least if you know you’re going to come out eventually. But for those stuck there, it’s a little more exhausting, and my mind will be stuck on them for a while.

Shirley is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Making sarcastic comments at a party, Patterned Short-Sleeve Button-Downs

Grade: 4 out of 5 Typewriters

This Is a Short Essay in Which I Tell You What I Think About Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Douglas’

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CREDIT: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

One thing I need to get out of the way right off the bat: whenever I read the title of Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up special or hear her mention it during the show, I automatically respond, “Very expensive.” You see, only 90s kids will understand. On the classic Nickelodeon cartoon Doug, whenever the title character’s neighbor Mr. Dink showed off his latest gizmos and gadgets, he would tell Doug (whom he always called “Douglas”) that it was “very expensive.” So ever since then, as far as I’m concerned, any utterance of “Douglas” in any context requires the punctuating response “very expensive.”

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That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: Aunt Beth Tells Jeff to Watch ‘Freaks and Geeks’

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

Somehow, Jeff had never seen an episode of Freaks and Geeks in its entirety before May 2020. So Aunt Beth decided he ought to rectify that. Let’s find out how it went!

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/29/20

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CREDIT: Aaron Epstein/Netflix

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

Movies
The Vast of Night (May 29 on Amazon)

TV
Central Park Season 1 (May 29 on Apple TV+) – From Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard, but is it enough to convince me to sign up for Apple TV?
Space Force Season 1 (May 29 on Netflix) – Steve Carell and friends (including a posthumous Fred Willard) go to space!
Celebrity Family Feud Season Premiere (May 31 on ABC)
Press Your Luck Season Premiere (May 31 on ABC)
Match Game Season Premiere (May 31 on ABC)
Quiz Miniseries Premiere (May 31 on AMC) – A cheating scandal on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!
Fuller House Season 5 Part 2 (June 2 on Netflix)

Music
-Lady Gaga, Chromatica

‘The Vast of Night’ Delivers the Small-Scale Sci-Fi Goods

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis

Director: Andrew Patterson

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Looming Threat of Something Alien

Release Date: May 29, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

Imagine, if you will, a movie coming out in 2020 that presents itself as an episode of a fictional anthology TV series called Paradox Theatre, which is clearly inspired by the most famous actual anthology series of all time. Twilight Zone fever is alive and well, baby! The truth is, Rod Serling’s iconic creation, and all the brethren it’s inspired, has never really gone away. (That would still very much be the case even if the CBS All Access revival didn’t exist.) It’s pretty damn hard, nearly impossible even, to recapture the spirit of O.G. Twilight Zone, but I nonetheless love that The Vast of Night wears its influence so openly on its sleeve. The Paradox Theatre framing device could have been deployed even more thoroughly than it is, but it nevertheless sets a vibe that assures you that debut director Andrew Patterson is worth paying attention to.

Patterson and screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger whisk us back to one night in 1950s New Mexico, where there’s a big basketball game at the local high school that everyone in town is headed to. But we’re not here to follow anyone on the team. Instead, we’re going along with two other students as they head off to their jobs sending audio content through the ether. Fay (Sierra McCormick) is a switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz) hosts a radio show. He’s constantly razzing her, but he also takes her seriously enough to know it’s worth doing some digging when she alerts him to some weird noises coming through the boards.

If you’re into the genre, you know where this is headed, i.e., EXTRATERRESTRIAL VISITORS HAVE A MESSAGE FOR US! The fun and the thrill of it is getting to study Fay and Everett’s faces as it dawns on them that major secrets are about to reveal themselves. Something bigger than their regular old small-town life might just actually exist.

The Vast of Night is in its sweet spot when it keeps things claustrophobic. Eventually Fay and Everett venture back out into the night to track down the source of the noises, and there is a nice frantic energy, as they (and seemingly the entire town) become swallowed by panic and paranoia. But when Everett is flipping tapes and Fay is turning knobs and switching wires, there is a pleasantly intense procedural quality to the awe they experience while just sitting around and going through their routine. When you realize that you’re at the mercy of something as vast as the universe just outside your window, it’s enough to make you lean in and become a budding little investigator. Throw in some era-appropriate fixings like thick-framed eyeglasses, full-length skirts, and jokes about the future of cell phones, and you’ve got yourself a slick little satisfying genre picture.

The Vast of Night is Recommended If You Like: The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, The X-Files

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Switchboards

If Only ‘The Lovebirds’ Were More for the Birds

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CREDIT: Skip Bolen/Netflix

While appraising the Michael Showalter-directed, Kumail Nanjiani-and-Issa Rae-starring The Lovebirds, I feel a lot like Graham Chapman’s Colonel character from Monty Python, but like, in reverse. I want to pop in there and go, “I noticed a tendency for this movie to not get silly enough. Now let’s move it along and be more silly.” For something as outrageous as this bad-night-gone-wrong-then-worse rom-com, “not silly enough” might sound like a patently ridiculous accusation. Which is fine by me, as  I love being ridiculous and securing a patent for it. Furthermore, it’s possible to be over-the-top without being silly. The Lovebirds takes a grounded approach, wondering how a couple on the verge of a breakup would realistically react if someone jacked their car to murder someone in cold blood and then they proceeded to uncover a conspiracy connected to that fresh killing. The result is kind of funny and fairly heartfelt, which is enough to make me put a checkmark to my to-watch list and maybe add a smiley face.

As a veteran of The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer, Michel Sho clearly has a transcendent amount of silliness in his funny bone. And Kumail certainly does, too, as he was so, so stupendously silly on Portlandia as a series of weirdly officious service employees. From what I know of Issa, she’s more awkward and goofy than silly, but I’m sure she could get into the silly groove with the right team. Now generally, I don’t like to review movies by taking them to task for what they could’ve been. Instead, I like to approach them on their own terms and ask if they did a good job at pulling off what they were attempting. But if The Lovebirds was attempting to show how people would really react to a bunch of life-threatening shenanigans, well, I believe there are some folks who would bulge out their eyes and cock their heads and maybe stare at the camera. Or maybe not. Perhaps this isn’t a proper review. Could it be that this is actually the introduction of my journey to become the Reverse-Colonel? … Bird is the word!

I give The Lovebirds 2.5 Bacon Strips out of Hot Bacon Grease.

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