‘Passing’ Patiently Presents a Black-and-White-and-Shades-of-Grey Portrait of Getting By

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Passing (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Alexander Skarsgård

Director: Rebecca Hall

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 mainly for The Utterance of a Few Racial Slurs

Release Date: October 27, 2021 (Theaters)/November 10, 2021 (Netflix)

So much of Passing consists of just conversations. Anything more would be too dangerous. Actually the conversations are already plenty dangerous.

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same, it all begins with a slightly surreal encounter. Surreal in the sense that when dreaming, we randomly encounter people from our pasts that we haven’t seen for a while and yet it makes perfect sense. And so it goes when Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) bumps into her old friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga) and discovers that she’s been utilizing her light skin tone to pass herself off as a white woman. This includes being married to a proudly racist man (Alexander Skarsgård) and privately hoping that her children don’t arrive any darker than her. She’s living on the razor’s edge, but she’s so matter of fact about it all, as if to say (without actually coming out and saying it) that what she’s doing is perfectly logical.

Writer/director Rebecca Hall (in her directorial debut) takes an understandably patient approach to the material in which not much happens, because everyone is holding themselves back from what they can’t allow to happen. This results in Passing feeling significantly longer than it actually is, which is an observation that is usually meant as a criticism, but in this case I mean it as neutrally as possible. Perhaps the explanation for this temporal confusion is that Clare has the ability to warp the perception of reality within the people in her orbit. She’s the one who’s primarily doing the title action, but it’s Reenie and her husband Brian (André Holland) who get most of the film’s attention, as their relatively comfortable Harlem existence is threatened by just the slightest hint of chaos. There are some lighter moments (particularly any scene with Bill Camp as Reenie and Brian’s regular jazz club companion), but otherwise you can practically see the seams of existence being torn asunder.

It all leads up to a violent climax that might have you grateful that something is finally happening to move the plot forward, although that gratefulness will probably fade in the face of the tragedy. Perhaps you will adjust your gratefulness to think that at least this sort of thing is unlikely to happen again a century later. But while passing between different racial settings might not look exactly the same as it did in previous eras, everyday deceit and the rationalization of such deceit still exists. This is a slow-burning disaster movie; if you ever find yourself in a similar situation and you don’t want the ending to be the same as Clare’s, then you might just want to do more than talk.

Passing is Recommended If You Like: The Harlem Renaissance, Smoke-filled jazz rooms, Tragedy predetermined by the whims of fate

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Deceptions

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Jason Sudeikis/Brandi Carlile

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SNL: Alex Moffat, Brandi Carlile, Jason Sudeikis, Chloe Fineman

Jason Sudeikis used to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live, but now he’s the host. Not permanently, just for this episode (although possibly also future episodes as well). Brandi Carlile is the musical guest. Rock ‘n’ roll!

This time, I’m assembling my review in order of the birthdays of the first person to speak in each sketch. Just the dates and not the years, though. So, for example, someone born January 1, 1980 will go ahead of someone born on January 2, 1970. (For the musical performances, I’ll organize them according to the introducing person’s birthday.)

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That’s Auntertainment! Mini-Episode: Aunt Beth Tells Jeff to Watch OMKalen

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CREDIT: The Kalen Allen/Screenshot

“Pumpkin Spice Hot Dogs”: Aunt Beth wanted to know what Jeff thinks about that. Actually, she wants to know what he thinks about what some guy on the Internet thinks about pumpkin spice hot dogs.

I Think ‘Dune’ Gave Me a Message From the Deep

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Dune (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clementine

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running Time: 156 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

I was fully asleep for about the last third of Dune. I thought I was just nodding off, but next thing I know, Timothée Chalamet was heading off into the desert with Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson as the credits started to roll, and it sure didn’t feel like two and a half hours had passed.

If this sort of thing happened back when I used to work at a movie theater, I would just peek in the next day while working to catch what I missed. Luckily, HBO Max can now serve that purpose for WB flicks, so that’s what I did in this case. Also of note in terms of what happened the day after: I attended an event at my church during which a priest talked about how he’s fine with people nodding off during mass because that means they’re just quietly meditating. Ergo, I was just quietly meditating during the journey on Arrakis.

I don’t think Dune put me to sleep because it was boring. It wasn’t. Rather, it was just so dark and overwhelming. Those spaceships were HUGE! That all contrasts heavily with the protagonist, who’s awfully skinny and named simply Paul. I have an uncle named Paul, and he’s not traversing planets in a quest for the most valuable item in the universe. This is all to say, what we have here is a mix of accessible and gigantic.

Grade: Sure, I’ll Take Another Go-Round in the Desert

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 10/22/21

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

Movies
Dune (Theaters and HBO Max)
The French Dispatch (Theaters)
Ron’s Gone Wrong (Theaters) – Starring Zach Galifianakis as Ron.

TV
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 11 Premiere (October 24 on HBO)
The Last O.G. Season 4 Premiere (October 26 on TBS)

Music
-Duran Duran, Future Past
-Elton John, The Lockdown Sessions
-Lana Del Rey, Blue Banisters
-My Morning Jacket, My Morning Jacket

Sports
-World Series (Begins October 26 on FOX)

Watch And/Or Listen to This: Royal Blood’s “Oblivion”

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CREDIT: Royal Blood/Screenshot

Something to rock out to this Spook-tober.

I Liked It When ‘The Last Duel’ Ended (That’s a Compliment)

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The Last Duel (CREDIT: 20th Century Studios/Screenshot)

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, Alex Lawther

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 153 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: October 15, 2021 (Theaters)

My favorite part of the The Last Duel is The Last Part – tres appropriate! Actually, I liked two last parts, as it were. The film is split into thirds: first we get the perspective of Sir Jean de Carrouges (as played by Mr. Matt Damon), then the perspective of Jacques Le Gris (as played by Mr. Adam Driver), and finally the perspective of Sir Jean’s wife Marguerite (as played by Ms. Jodie Comer). So when I say I liked two last parts, I mean that I liked Marguerite’s section the best of the three, AND I liked the very last scene more than any other scene, as we finally got to see the titular duel between Sir Jean and Jacques and the emotional stakes were abundantly clear. The men’s sections were occasionally a bit of a chore to get through, but they provided essential context to make the resolutions work as satisfactorily as they did (h/t to NPR’s Linda Holmes for priming me towards this reaction with her discussion on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast). I hope everyone reading likes the end of this review just as much.

Grade: The End Was Good!

‘The French Dispatch’ Presents a Journalistic Panorama

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The French Dispatch (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Wally Wolodarsky, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Anjelica Huston, Jarvis Cocker, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Denis Menochet, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, Mohamed Belhadjine, Nicolas Avinée, Lily Taleb, Toheeb Jimoh, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Winston Ait Hellal, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Hippolyte Girardot

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Art Model Nudity, Surprising Sexual Partners, and Some Language Here and There

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters)

The French Dispatch is about the staff and subjects of an American magazine that covers a small but colorful fictional French town. It’s published as an insert in the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star newspaper, so it’s basically like a midwestern Parade, but with the vibe of The New Yorker. Which all begs the question: who is the intended audience of The French Dispatch*? (*The fictional newspaper, that is, not the movie of the same name. [Although by extension, you could ask the same thing about the movie, though that conversation would be a little different.]) It feels like somebody dared Wes Anderson to create an anthology film of the most esoteric stories ever and he then declared, “Challenge accepted.” As I watched I wondered what made these stories worth telling, and I believe that the answer is: they’re worth telling because they’re worth telling. So in that way, The French Dispatch is very much like Little Women.

The fictional French town in this movie is called Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates as “Boredom-on-Blasé,” but there’s no way you’ll be bored while watching a film that’s as overstuffed as this one. Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not bored. (But if somehow you are bored, please let me know about your experience. It’s interesting when someone’s reaction is so different than mine!) The anthology structure is composed into five sections, two to set the context and three to dive deep. First up is an introduction of the staff, particularly editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a my-way-or-the-highway type, except when he readily makes concessions to his writers’ peculiarities. Then travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) takes us on a bicycle tour to provide color for the town. The fleshed-out stories include the journalist-subject pairings of Tilda Swinton covering incarcerated artist Benicio Del Toro; Frances McDormand covering student revolutionaries led by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri; and Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist covering the story of a police officer’s kidnapped son that also features a very talented chef.

The French Dispatch is a love letter to a time and a place when you could throw whatever budget you felt like at whatever story you felt like covering. Based on the accounts of people who were involved in that era, that characterization actually isn’t that far off from how 20th century American journalism really was run. But it’s so different from journalism’s current state of affairs that it might as well be from another universe. Appropriately enough then, The French Dispatch felt to me like it was beaming in from an alternate dimension. I don’t know how these stories could have ever possibly been conceived, but I’m glad that I’ve now experienced them.

The French Dispatch is Recommended If You Like: The New Yorker, Symmetrical geometric arrangements, French pop music, Skinny mustaches

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bylines

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Rami Malek/Young Thug

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SNL: Bowen Yang, Young Thug, Rami Malek, Ego Nwodim (CREDIT: NBC/Screenshot)

This is a review of a very special episode of Saturday Night Live, because all SNL episodes are special, because they’re put together by special people, because all people are special. The particular special people this time are host Rami Malek and Young Thug.

This season, I’ve been playing around with the order of the sketches in my reviews, and this time, I’m going to list them in order of length of what I’ve written (in terms of number of lines and the length of the last line, as written in Times New Roman on Google Docs), from shortest to longest. Here we go!

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That’s Auntertainment! Episode 36: The Wonder Years

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(CREDIT: Erika Doss/ABC)

It’s time to jump in the That’s Auntertainment! Podcast-Time Machine and head back to 1968! And then it’s time to head back to 1968 again! That’s right, we’re talking about The Wonder Years, both Original Style and 21st Century Fresh. Also discussed: Jimmy Valvano’s famous ESPYs speech.

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