‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ Has a Compelling Subject, But It Needs to Go Deeper

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John Lewis: Good Trouble (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: Congressman John Lewis

Director: Dawn Porter

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG for Reminders of Real-Life Prejudice

Release Date: July 3, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

If you want to demonstrate how the American civil rights movement that reached its apotheosis in the 1960s continues to this day, you could do much worse than making a documentary about John Lewis. This man marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, and he’s gone on to represent Georgia in Congress for over 30 years. Over the course of his life, he’s been present for important change that has already happened, and he continues to fight for important change that still needs to happen. Just showing footage of where he’s been and where he’s headed ought to be galvanizing, especially in a time of a great national reckoning with race. But John Lewis: Good Trouble never fully captures the fighting spirit of its subject.

The trouble with Good Trouble, particularly for any viewers who are generally tuned into the trends of cinema and current events, is that the topics it touches upon are covered more thoroughly in other recent documentaries. If you want a historical outline of what has led to so much of America’s racial prejudice, check out Ava DuVernary’s 13th. Or if  you want to be on top of voter suppression, Slay the Dragon is essential viewing. Good Trouble, on the other hand, works mostly as a reminder that these problems exist. It’s nice to know that Lewis is still around in these battles, kicking up the sort of stir that the title refers to, but the inspiration can go only so far if you already knew that about him.

There is one interesting episode that covers the 1986 Congressional election. In the Democratic primary, Lewis squared off against Julian Bond, a close friend and fellow African-American activist. It was a bitterly fought contest in which Lewis implied that Bond used cocaine and emerged victorious thanks to his strong performance among white voters. The strain among these two clear allies must have been significant and surely dramatic enough to devote more than the few minutes that Good Trouble allows it. The fact that the film so quickly switches back to focusing on Lewis’ accomplishments doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s meant to cover up any faults so much as it comes off as cinematic carelessness. Even the most righteous among us have complicated stories; Good Trouble struggles to make that clear.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is Recommended If You Like: Biographical inspiration, but don’t mind some repetition

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Marches

Dear ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’: I Feel the Joy!

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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga (CREDIT: John Wilson/Netflix)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton

Director: David Dobkin

Running Time: 203 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for “Full Nude Sculptures”

Release Date: June 26, 2020 (Netflix)

I have decided to judge the success (or lack thereof) of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by whether or not it made me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition.

So, did Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga make me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition?

Yes! Very much so!

And that’s significant because previously my interest was in the “Hmm, maybe” vicinity. So that’s got to be an increase of about 50 percent.

I get the sense that a lot of the real-life Eurovision entrants are like Will Ferrell characters, particularly the sincere variety that includes the Icelandic dreamer Lars Erickssong. Or at least I hope that’s the case! Every time I’ve ever heard people talk about Eurovision, they make it sound like the singers are genuine heart-fueled dreamers. So while watching The Story of Fire Saga, I realized, “Oh right, of course, the appeal is obvious.”

Contests like Eurovision can also be counted upon to reveal up-and-coming talented individuals who make you go, “Why am I only now just hearing about you?” That happened for me in Eurovision the movie in the form of Melissanthi Mahut, who plays Greek hopeful Mita. I predict and pray for big things for her in the coming years.

I give Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga 3 Knives out of 4 Elves.

Ranking All the ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ Movies: Whoever Wins, We Win Also

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More than a few people have called me spacey, so I thus feel a spiritual connection to the extraterrestrial creatures from the Alien and Predator franchises. I daresay we’re kindred spirits in many ways (except for the parts about killing lots of human beings). Therefore, it has always been part of my destiny to rank every film in these series and share my rankings with all of you, my lovely readers. I’ve split the rankings up into sections for the two franchises proper as well as the “Versus” films, and then there’s a combined list at the end. Please enjoy all the camouflaged, chest-bursting fun!

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/26/20

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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga (CREDIT: John Wilson/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
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Streaming on Netflix) – Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as an Icelandic pop duo, just as the Fates predicted.

Music
-Haim, Women in Music Pt. III

Best Film Directors of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

I’ve got another extra-innings Best of the 2010s for ya. This time, the focus is on Film Directors, those folks who hang out behind the camera and let everyone know how they would like the movie to go.

Based on the eligibility rules of the poll that I submitted my list to, each director had to have at least two films come out between 2010 and 2019 to be considered. I made my selections based on a combination of how much I enjoyed their output and how much they influenced the medium and the culture at large.

My choices, along with their 2010s filmography, are listed below.

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Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/19/20

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Eric Andre: Legalize Everything (CREDIT: Brian Roede/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
You Should Have Left (On Demand) – Blumhouse horror starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried.

TV
Sherman’s Showcase Black History Month spectacular (June 19 on AMC and IFC) – Just in time for Juneteenth!
-2020 ESPYs (June 21 on ESPN)
Perry Mason Series Premiere (June 21 on HBO) – The classic defense attorney returns to TV in the form of Matthew Rhys.
Search Party Season 3 (June 25 on HBO Max)
The Twilight Zone Season 2 (June 25 on CBS All Access) – Guest stars include Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, and Billy Porter.

Comedy
-Eric Andre: Legalize Everything (June 23 on Netflix) – Legalize “everything”? Including … ranch?

Music
-Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways
-Neil Young, Homegrown

‘7500’ Sends Joseph Gordon-Levitt Airborne to Fend Off Hijackers

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu, Aylin Tezel

Director: Patrick Vollrath

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for A Visceral Approach to Hijacking

Release Date: June 18, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

My main reaction to the hijacking thriller 7500 is, “Did it take 18 years to make this movie?” In 2002, a movie about religious extremist terrorists taking over a plane would have been arriving way too soon for American audiences. A few years later, it would have been part of a cinematic reckoning with a post-9/11 world. But now that 7500 is arriving to Amazon Prime viewers in 2020, it feels like it is a relic of at least three eras ago. In a world run roughshod by climate change, a resurrection of populist fascism, and a deadly pandemic, terrorism is hardly the number one fear keeping people up at night that it was in the past couple decades.

Despite all that, a movie does not necessarily have to speak to its times to be an effective white-knuckle pressure-cooker. So when viewed within the context of itself, 7500 is at least admirably efficient and budget-conscious. There are only a handful of characters, and the way things commence, chances are they won’t all still be there by the end. On this flight from Berlin to Paris, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays American co-pilot Tobias, who manages to quickly lock off the cockpit from the terrorists, but things quickly turn to Moral Quandary Territory when the hijackers start taking hostages, including Tobias’ flight attendant girlfriend. Gordon-Levitt’s fundamental decency allows us to trust that he will figure a way out of this crisis, and focusing on his near-solitary struggle makes for a propulsive first act.

But from that point on, 7500 doesn’t have anywhere to go. Literally. The only goal of the moment becomes finding the closest option to make an emergency landing, and accordingly the only tension comes from whether or not Tobias can wait out the terrorists’ demands long enough to avoid any massive tragedy. Eventually the film settles into a sort of odd couple-style buddy picture as the immediate threat of violence dies down and the conflict becomes more existential. Ultimately then, what starts off as a somewhat intriguing setup peters out into a fizzling resolution that isn’t especially compelling with what it’s trying to say.

7500 is Recommended If You Like: Walls between combatants

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Cockpits

I Watched ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and ‘Artemis Fowl’ on the Same Weekend: Here’s What Happened

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CREDIT: David Lee/Netflix; Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Screenshot

Da 5 Bloods

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Victoria Ngo

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time:

Rating: R for Sometimes Shocking, Sometimes Not-So-Shocking Graphic Violence

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Netflix)

Artemis Fowl

Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Goofy Fantasy Action

Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)

I was so worried that I was going to spend so much of my time watching Da 5 Bloods bemoaning its lack of a theatrical release. For one thing, the event status of a Spike Lee joint is unavoidably diminished by an at-home debut, and furthermore, I was concerned that even if I was really feeling it, there would be too many distractions fighting for my attention. Regarding the former, I just had to make peace with that fact. As for the latter, I can’t tell you the last time a Netflix release pulled me in with such a firm grip and refused to let go. A prologue swoops in hard and fast with real-world contextualizing footage from the Vietnam War era: Man goes to the moon! Muhammad Ali refuses to serve! Riots at the DNC! Nguyễn Ngọc Loan is executed! If you look away for even a second, you’re going to miss something essential.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/12/20

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CREDIT: Mary Cybulski/Universal Pictures

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

Movies
Artemis Fowl (Streaming on Disney+)
Da 5 Bloods (Streaming on Netflix) – Da latest Spike Lee joint.
The King of Staten Island (On Demand) – Pete Davidson teams up with Judd Apatow!

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