Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/15/19

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CREDIT: 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 Good Liar (Theatrically Nationwide)
Ford v Ferrari (Theatrically Nationwide)
Klaus (Streaming on Netflix) – I’ve actually been hearing good things about this one.
The Report (Limited Theatrically) – Service journalism cinema.

TV
Mr. Pickles Season 4 Premiere (November 17 on Adult Swim)

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In ‘The Good Liar,’ Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren Bring Their Own Violent Spin to the Con Artist Game

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter

Director: Bill Condon

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Shocking Old Person-on-Old Person Violence and a Quick Walk Through a Strip Club

Release Date: November 15, 2019

As Ian McKellen meets up with Helen Mirren for a first date and they complain about the “computer service” and its supposed reputation for “mismatching the delusional with the hopeless,” it’s a good bet that The Good Liar isn’t just a simple septua/octogenarian rom-com. Even if you didn’t know going in that this was a thriller, the smoking hot, fine-tuned wit would tip you off that something deeper and more sinister, is going on. And sure enough, as Ray Courtnay (McKellen) and Betty McLeish (Mirren) continue going out together, Ray is also busy with his business partner Vincent (Jim Carter) on a grift worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. You very quickly get the sense that pretty much everyone in Ray’s life is a target of his cons, and each act in the film gives a new clue of the lifelong layers of his false identities. All of this should seemingly have us very worried for Betty.

But if you are like me, you were never seriously concerned that she would be the ultimate victim, considering that she is played by the indomitable Helen Mirren and con artist films so often turn on a reversal of fortune. So the fact that Betty pulls one over on the most frighteningly masterful deceiver should come as no shock. The joy is in the details of beholding her playing her part so perfectly and the final revelation of just why she is the one who would want to turn the tables (a date to see Inglourious Basterds is an early hint). No punches are pulled as we learn the truth, which transcends just Ray and Betty’s story and touches upon all of Europe reckoning with its violent past. Ray is the kind of man who doesn’t think twice about killing someone to protect himself and then slip away undetected. Betty’s story is about ensuring that all-too-common terrible legacy finally catches up to him.

And as one last important note, I must mention the tablets that Ray and Vincent use to transfer funds in the deployment of their grifts. These things are hilariously bulky, looking more like giant calculators (with conveniently large-print text for the senior set) instead of any familiar twenty-first century gizmo. Perhaps these really are what people with bank accounts worth millions of dollars actually do use to make convenient transfers at home and on the go. And it’s not like there was ever any way to make pushing buttons on these tablets look particularly cinematic. Honestly, though, I’m not complaining. It’s not like these moments demand to be visually seamless. These tablets certainly aren’t part of the mental picture I have for big-time con artists, but I often enjoy it when my expectations are confounded.

The Good Liar is Recommended If You Like: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Remains of the Day, The Debt

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 False Identities

‘Charlie’s Angels’ Doesn’t Do Much to Justify Its Existence in 2019, Except When It Gets Really Silly

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CREDIT: Chiabella James/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deafening Explosions and a Lot of Flexible Legwork

Release Date: November 15, 2019

Globetrotting in 2019: who needs it? I, for one, cannot say I find it particularly necessary after watching the 2019 edition of Charlie’s Angels. As three gadget-toting, butt-kicking, espionage-deploying young women chase a McGuffin around multiple continents, what do they, or any person of any age for that matter, have to offer us that we haven’t been offered before? Maybe something new is theoretically out there somewhere, but what I see are mostly a bunch of competently (and frequently goofily) staged action scenes. I’ve never previously seen any Charlie’s Angels TV episode or movie in its entirety, but the main feeling this one gave me was a nagging sense of “been there, done that.” (Although, it is worth noting, there is nary a whiff of the “three little girls” paternalistic energy of the original.)

Despite that shortcoming, I suspect that Elizabeth Banks, who wrote and directed and also stars as Bosley (or rather, one of the Bosleys), is not necessarily too worried by the plot being overly paint-by-numbers. As long as our new batch of Angels (Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Sabinska) get to show off some personality, there can be a feature-length rasion d’être. For the most part, they just go where the story demands that they go, but occasionally there are flashes of extreme goofball energy. Naomi Scott wears a fantastic red dress because why not? K-Stew makes “beep boop” noises while cracking a safe just for the hell of it. And then during the credits there is an onslaught of cameos: a few make obvious sense for this movie, but most of them are breathtakingly, delightfully random. So at least there’s a little bit of fun to get these angels flying.

Charlie’s Angels is Recommended If You Like: Flirting with Noah Centineo, Original pop soundtracks

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bosleys

‘The Report’ Details the Long Slog Towards Exposing Torture

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CREDIT: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Studios

Starring: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Ben McKenzie, Jake Silberman, Matthew Rhys, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Dominic Fumusa, Corey Stoll

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: R for Depictions of Torture

Release Date: November 15, 2019 (Limited)

There’s a moment in The Report that might be what most viewers remember it for, in which the 2012 hunt-for-Osama bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty is called out and basically scoffed at for implying that torture led to valuable intel in the war on terrorism. Despite this apparent antagonism, The Report and Zero Dark Thirty work well as companion pieces, offering somewhat parallel stories in the defining geopolitical conflict of the twenty-first century. I believe that the message of Zero Dark regarding the efficacy of torture is more complicated than any binary interpretation, and I actually think that the people behind The Report would agree, at least in terms of the existence of complications in the world. When a narrative is about a real-life group of people poring over thousands of government documents for months on end, you tend to find that the answers aren’t always quite so straightforward. But two things remain clear: torture is bad, and the people deserve to know that it happened.

The primary document sifter is Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), who was working as a Senate staffer for California Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) while he investigated the CIA’s systematic use of torture in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The job is thuddingly labor-intensive, but Daniel is fully devoted to the task, and besides, the real challenge for him is getting this information out to the public over the protests of the forces who would prefer it be as redacted as possible or just completely hidden. The Report serves the entertainment value of presenting someone doing his job supremely competently, but it is also a bit of a slog. It is not exactly fun to spend so much time in windowless basements with Daniel, and his co-workers let him know that it’s not so great for him either. But for the good of mankind, this information needed to get out one way or the other. And if this story needed to be jazzed up into a big-screen adventure for people to become more aware of this miscarriage of decency, then The Report ought to be considered a succcess at least on that score.

The Report is Recommended If You Like: The truth being made public

Grade: 3000 of 5000 Documents

Can the Success of 1999’s Most Phenomenal Movies Be Repeated?

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CREDIT (Clockwise from top left): Artisan, Warner Bros., Lucasfilm, Buena Vista

Can we go back to 1999? It’s not just Charli XCX who’s feeling that way. Pretty much every movie studio would like to turn back the clocks 20 years. That annum deserves its iconic status, and that’s partly thanks to a quartet of box office successes that reached the level of phenomenon. Any film executive would kill to have one hit that fully enraptures the culture the way that The Matrix, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The Blair Witch Project, and The Sixth Sense did, and somehow we got all four of those in one year (within five months of each other, no less). Their success stories are unique within the industry, and unique from each other. Is there any way that they could possibly be repeated now in a very different theatrical landscape? Let’s investigate!

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/8/19

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CREDIT: Adult Swim

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

Movies
Doctor Sleep (Theatrically Nationwide)
Last Christmas (Theatrically Nationwide)
Noelle (Streaming November 12 on Disney+)

TV
Rick and Morty Season 4 Premiere (November 10 on Adult Swim) – The show with perhaps the best episode titles finally returns. (“Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat” kicks us off.)
Disney+ Launch Alert!
Forky Asks a Question Series Premiere (November 12 on Disney+)
The Mandalorian Series Premiere (November 12 on Disney+)
Pixar IRL Series Premiere (November 12 on Disney+)
The World According to Jeff Goldblum Series Premiere (November 12 on Disney+)

‘Doctor Sleep’ Demonstrates That You Can Never Fully Outrun the Darkness of Your Childhood

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running Time: 152 Minutes

Rating: R for Creepy Nudity, Shotguns Fired at Supernatural Villains, and an Overall Generally Disturbing Vibe

Release Date: November 8, 2019

The end of 1980’s The Shining did not promise that all would be well for little Danny Torrance. But the opening act of Doctor Sleep is much more encouraging. Danny and his mom Wendy have made it out of the Overlook Hotel, but they haven’t quite escaped it. Danny is still being harassed by the spectral residents, but thanks to a few words of advice from the ghost of Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly taking over for the late Scatman Crothers), he is able to firmly close the door on them and keep them at bay. But cut to thirty years later, and Dan (now played by Ewan McGregor) isn’t looking so good anymore. We meet him anew as an alcoholic getting brutally beaten up at a bar and stealing money during a one-night stand from a single mom after she stole money from him to buy cocaine.

I am not an alcoholic myself, so I do not know what it feels like to deal live with that disease. But now that I have seen Doctor Sleep, I imagine that alcoholism must resemble the experience of being constantly surrounded by relentless supernatural villainy. Or at least I imagine that’s what it feels like for Stephen King, who has been public about his struggles with the bottle and has used it for inspiration in his own work. How else to explain the prologue to Doctor Sleep, which feels like a happy ending, but is instead a red herring that leads into more than two hours of evil letting us know that it’s not done with us? It must be agony to endure all that pain when intellectually you know, as Danny does, how to fight it off but you just cannot bring yourself to do it.

But perhaps that understanding of the darkness is ultimately where Danny is able to draw his strength from. He certainly needs all of it, as there is a new threat in the form of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who leads a band of vagabonds who are basically energy vampires. They are not quite immortal, but they have lived for centuries by feeding off the life force of people with remarkable abilities. They have their sights set on thirteen-year-old Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), who exceeds perhaps even Danny with her mastery of the shining (which is basically a combination of telepathy and clairvoyance, as well as something akin to astral projection).

One of the biggest pleasures of the film version of The Shining was how it left so many of its striking images ambiguous, often cutting away before we had a chance to make sense of what was happening or even where we were spatially or temporally. Doctor Sleep is at its strongest when it follows this approach, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so as Danny and Abra commune via the shining. Even moments of revisiting specific settings from The Shining do not play as fan service, but rather, they have an ominous sort of “we shouldn’t be here, we’re playing with fire” vibe. The only major misstep is when writer/director Mike Flanagan’s script over-explains what is happening. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel that the film is based on, but King has a reputation of being a little wordy, and that seeps into the film a bit. But otherwise, Doctor Sleep is a solid frightener about how the darkness within human brains can be quite demandingly resilient.

Doctor Sleep is Recommended If You Like: The Shining, But the Stephen King Element More Than the Stanley Kubrick Element

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Mind Tombs

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