Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 1/17/20

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CREDIT: Trae Patton/CBS

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

Bad Boys for Life (Theatrically Nationwide)
VHYes (Limited Theatrically) – I love outdated technology.

Sex Education Season 2 (January 17 on Netflix)
-26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (January 19 on TBS and TNT)
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 10 Premiere (January 19 on HBO)
Awkwafina is Nora From Queens Series Premiere (January 22 on Comedy Central)
Star Trek: Picard Series Premiere (January 23 on CBS All Access) – They made it so.

The Spacetime-Warped Beauty of ‘A Hidden Life’

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CREDIT: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The hills where Franz Jӓgerstӓtter (August Diehl) and his family live lend a sort of otherworldly, out-of-time vibe to A Hidden Life. That remoteness, combined with Terrence Malick’s trademark wide-open compositions and plentiful cuts to moments in the same setting as the previous shot, produce a sort of warping of temporality wherein the nearly three-hour running time becomes easily digestible and the years that passes during which Franz is a conscientious objector feel they could be anywhere between 1% and 100% of Hitler’s reign. The ultimate effect is the lending of a certain immortality to Franz’s sacrifice. Those who have lived quiet, hidden lives of moral firmness are an essential part of the fabric of existence, and that’s a tenet of faith this movie wants us to hold on to.

I give A Hidden Life Warm Approval From My Heart and My Soul.

‘Bad Boys for Life’ Finds the Heart That Was Always Lurking Beneath the Carnage

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CREDIT: Kyle Kaplan/Sony Pictures

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo, Jacob Scipio, Joe Pantoliano, Nicky Jam, Theresa Randle

Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Execution-Style Gunfire, A Fiery Climax, and Motormouth Profanity

Release Date: January 17, 2020

Bad Boys II came out in July 2003, a month after 2 Fast 2 Furious. The former is perhaps the apex at which Michael Bay fully embraced his destiny as a director of baroque extremes. Its signature chase scene, in which cars pop out of other cars and massive vehicular destruction is ultimately essentially shrugged off, is perhaps the most sublimely over-the-top sequence ever committed to celluloid. In the years since, the Fast and Furious flicks have trended more and more towards such defying of physics and logic, while Bad Boys has remained dormant … until now. As Detectives Marcus Bennett and Mike Lowrey return (and Bay retreats to just producing, with Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah taking over directing duties), Bad Boys for Life in turn finds inspiration from the other signature element of the F&F franchise, embracing the heart and brotherhood at its core that was always waiting to be explored.

The pairing of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in the first two Bad Boys leaned hard (dangerously hard) into their odd couple nature. Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) are not only partners, but also lifelong friends, which is evident but also a little disheartening in terms of how much they constantly get on each others’ nerves. But Bad Boys for Life surprisingly, but wisely, embraces the genuine love between the two men. One running thread in the series that continues here is Marcus’ desperation to just retire and spend time with his family. That was previously played mostly for laughs, but now it is much more serious, as Mike survives a brush with death and Marcus becomes fully convinced that they have served long and well enough. But Mike has revenge on his mind, and he wants his partner to be right alongside him as always. Marcus initially refuses, and even though we know he is eventually going to come around, the moment when he stands his ground is killer, with both actors asked to reach new levels of investment and emotional gut-wrenching.

The other gratifying innovation on display is a new set of teammates to render Marcus and Mike much less of the uncontrollable cowboys they’ve always been. It may be fun to see them constantly give Captain Joe Pantoliano conniptions, but at a certain point, it’s a little too hard to accept that someone wouldn’t step in and put a firm stop to their antics. That check comes in the form of AMMO, a new division of Miami PD focused on surveillance and drones more so than going in guns blazing. It’s headed up by a former flame of Mike’s (Paola Núñez) and a trio of youngsters (Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton) who all admire Mike while simultaneously laughing at him and saving his ass when he gets into trouble. These bad boys indeed are still riding together to the end, but there’s plenty of space to hop in alongside them.

Bad Boys for Life is Recommended If You Like: The previous Bad Boys but wish they had more heart, the Fast & Furious series

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Rides Together

CGI Animals and a Daffy Robert Downey Jr. Performance Make for a Feather-Brained ‘Dolittle’

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Carmel Laniado, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Animal Chaos

Release Date: January 17, 2020

It’s not a great sign when my favorite part of a movie is the end credits revealing who all the voice actors were, especially when it’s a movie about talking to animals, because … I love talking to animals! Not necessarily in the Dr. Dolittle sense, but if I did have that ability, I would be happy to use it. As for Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the classic fictional veterinarian, I wouldn’t say that he is unhappy about his interspecies communication abilities, but he is making some odd choices, what with an unplaceable accent while barely opening his mouth whenever he talks to the point that it seems like he is practicing his ventriloquism. Dolittle is a movie whose existence in 2020 I’m having trouble fathoming, but despite that, I can’t say that I doubt Downey’s commitment, however strange it may be.

Anyway, the plot is some fever dream logic-driven concoction about how a reclusive Dr. Dolittle, hiding away in his home following the death of his wife, is summoned to set out on an adventure to find a cure for a deathly ill young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Naturally enough, his animal friends join him to help out, and their presence on this journey just feels too unremarkable. Perhaps that has to do with the reliance on CGI, which renders these creatures less adorable and more just humans with fur or feathers or scales. For the most part, then, Dolittle is a mix of humdrum when it should be goofy and ridiculous when it should be straightforward. Although, there is one part when Dr. Dolittle removes a set of bagpipes from a dragon’s colon, so this endeavor wasn’t a total disappointment.

Dolittle is Recommended If You Have: A Bottomless Appreciation for CGI Animal Hijinx

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Quacks

‘Underwater’ Delivers Deep-Sea Monsters, While Merely Hinting at Something More Insidious

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CREDIT: Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Mamoudou Athie, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: William Eubank

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Attacks On and From Sci-Fi Horror Monsters

Release Date: January 10, 2020

The opening of Underwater promises intense pressure and pitch black scenarios, but honestly? It could’ve had even more pressure and been even more pitch black. That’s not to say that those prone to extreme claustrophobia should give this one a chance. It is, after all, about deep-sea researchers who have to walk to safety across the ocean floor after their vessel becomes damaged by an apparent earthquake. But it’s almost a little too bright, a little too out in the open. The creepy-crawlies that turn out to be lurking in their path are effectively monstrous, but the point of escape appears clearly within reach such that I was never fully worried. Maybe not everyone would make it through alive, but surely some of them would. The ingenuity and grit devised for getting around the beasts are fairly satisfying, but I found myself craving, or at least anticipating, more danger and mystery.

Going right along with the vibe of shining more light than expected, both the opening and end credits inform us that this misadventure will remain very much classified when all is said and done. But the thing is, we’re seeing the classified story. This whole movie is a peak behind the redaction! So why let us know that there is a cover-up when we’re already within the covers? Perhaps there is meant to be an implication, in thoroughly true blue X-Files spirit, that in the real world there are actually terrors in the deep running amok that most folks have no idea about because certain people have decided we’re not supposed to know about any of that. Alas, all that conspiracy flavor is merely the thinnest spread of icing. But by golly, if you’re going to tease us about what your monster is really all about, then please follow through with it.

Underwater is Recommended If You Like: Overlord, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The X-Files but compressed

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Stuff Bunnies

‘Like a Boss’ Goes Broad When It Could Have Gone Weird

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Coolidge, Billy Porter, Ari Graynor, Natasha Rothwell, Jessica St. Clair, Karan Soni, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen

Director: Miguel Arteta

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: R for Totally Open Sexual Discussions Between Close Friends

Release Date: January 10, 2020

In the spirit of being experimental with my movie reviews in 2020, I have decided to review Like a Boss as if someone going to see it thought it were somehow based on the SNL Digital Short of the same name. Now, this might be a little hard to conceive of, because even though there are indeed movies based on SNL sketches, there hasn’t been one in a while, and a two-minute one-off would be an odd candidate for expanding out to feature film length. But after overcoming this initial disappointment (or non-disappointing plain-old realization), this theoretical moviegoer can be comforted by the fact that this movie stars people like Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek, who have hosted SNL, and people like Rose Byrne and Billy Porter, who would surely be great SNL hosts if given the chance. On top of that, the movie starts off with a demented sketch comedy-esque sensibility, with bits involving accidentally getting high around an infant and a baby shower cake that features a head crowning out of a vagina and chocolate sprinkles as pubic hair.

Alas, after a rollicking opening ten minutes, Like a Boss settles into a standard issue broad studio comedy groove about Haddish and Byrne as a couple of lifelong friends and business partners struggling with massive debt. There are a few elements that suggest it could have been something a little more offbeat, in particular Hayek’s huge pearly white chompers. There is a bleached-to-perfection, but also slightly degenerate quality to her cosmetics mogul character that someone like John Waters would surely be proud of. It sounds like a solid fit for director Miguel Arteta (who previously directed Hayek to a fantastic performance in the simmeringly toxic Beatriz at Dinner), but the hijinks of the story pull him away from his knack for weirdos puncturing the niceties of the world around them. So in conclusion, if you’re in the mood for the Lonely Island Like a Boss, you’ll probably be even more likely to decry the fact that Business Lady Like a Boss doesn’t allow its comedic imagination to run completely wild.

Like a Boss is Recommended If You Like: Gags about spicy food, Drone-based physical comedy, Makeup tutorials

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Controlling Stakes

Some Quick Thoughts on ‘Pain and Glory’

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

There are two moments in Pain and Glory that really hit me and made me go, “This! Is! Cinema!” The first comes when an animated sequence accompanies Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) telling us about how he learned about the subjects he should have learned in school by instead experiencing them later in life. Hurray for mixed media! The second is the meta ending, which I don’t want to spoil, in case anyone reading hasn’t seen it, but I do want to talk about it, so I suppose I’ll throw in a SPOILER WARNING. It turns out that the flashback scenes with a young Salvador and Penélope Cruz as his mom are actually a film-within-the-film directed by the adult Salvador, and that is such a lovely framing device. [END SPOILER WARNING] And one more thing! There’s a terrifically funny scene in which Salvador and his leading man Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) skip a post-screening Q&A they were supposed to attend but then phone in and the audience gets to hear the vicious, but also slapstick argument they get into. As is typical of Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory is liable to make you laugh aplenty and go, “What a thing it is to be alive!”

I’ll go ahead and give Pain and Glory 11 Chases out of 15 Dragons.

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