93rd Oscars Predictions/Preferences

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It’s looking good for Nomadland (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Here’s my quick rundown of who’s most likely to grab the gold on Sunday, April 25, 2021, and whom I would vote for if I had a ballot.

Best Picture
Prediction: Nomadland
Preference: Promising Young Woman

Best Director
Prediction: Chloé Zhao
Preference: Emerald Fennell

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 4/23/21

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Rutherford Falls (CREDIT: Peacock/YouTube Screenshot)

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

Movies
Mortal Kombat (2021) (Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max)
Together Together (April 23 in Theaters, May 11 On Demand) – Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, and surrogacy, oh my!

TV
Rutherford Falls Season 1 (Premiered April 22 on Peacock) – Mike Schur, Ed Helms, and a town bordering a Native American reservation walk into a sitcom.
Romeo and Juliet (April 23 on PBS) – A new production from London’s National Theater starring Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor
A Black Lady Sketch Show Season 2 Premiere (April 23 on HBO)
-93rd Academy Awards (April 25 on ABC) – Handin’ out those Oscars.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Premiere (April 28 on Hulu)

Music
-Eric Church, Heart & Soul – A three-part album released over the course of a week!
-Dinosaur Jr., Sweep It Into Space

The 2020 jmunney Academy Awards

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Promising Young Woman fulfilled plenty of promises for me this year (CREDIT: Focus Features/YouTube Screenshot)

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be selected. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Da 5 Bloods
The Invisible Man
Promising Young Woman
Tenet

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And Now For Something Completely Blood-Soaked: ‘Death Ranch’ Movie Review

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Death Ranch (CREDIT: Dark Temple Motion Pictures)

Starring: Deiondre Teagle, Faith Monique, Travis Cutner, Scot Scurlock, Brad Belemjian

Director: Charlie Steeds

Running Time: 78 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But Filled with Blood and Guts and All Sorts of Profanity

Release Date: April 20, 2021 (On Demand, DVD, and Blu-Ray)

Grindhouse, grindhouse, grindhouse!!! Do you want to see a bunch of racists get their guts ripped out? Well, if you’ve stumbled upon Death Ranch, then you’ve come to the right place. If you are who considers yourself a friend to all of humankind, then surely you believe that the Ku Klux Klan is one of the most distasteful organizations in modern society. Ergo, they’re an obvious choice for the villains in a tale of three Black siblings on the run through the woods of Tennessee in 1971. And in true grindhouse fashion, these Klansmen are just outrageously, disgustingly awful. If you can imagine the most depraved things possible, then chances are writer-director Charlie Steeds has thought to include it, from rape to cannibalism to an extreme close-up of body hair-ridden petroleum jelly. There’s a lot of real-life trauma baked in this den of horrors; it’s up to you the viewer to decide if this is the sort of thing you can stomach.

When I see a movie about Black people fighting back against their tormentors, I’m generally inclined to pontificate about where it fits within the tradition of African-American cinema and about how it resonates with real-world struggles. But there’s something telling me that that might not be the approach that this particular movie is asking for. Looking over the rest of Steeds’ filmography only confirms that suspicion. It’s filled with titles like Deadman Apocalypse, Vampire Virus, and The House of Violent Desire. And if Escape From Cannibal Farm is anything to go by, then people eating other people in rural settings is clearly a recurring theme for him.

I almost feel like I shouldn’t be reviewing a movie like this at all. Shouldn’t it be a secret that gets passed around in grimy basements and abandoned projection booths? It’s actually available on demand and on DVD and Blu-Ray for regular home viewing, but something tells me that the most appropriate way to watch Death Ranch is by setting up your own impromptu theater in an empty barn on a creepy country back road.

Death Ranch is Recommended If You Like: BlacKkKlansman but wish it had been a lot more like Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Pathetic White Men

Godzilla vs. Kong vs. My Internal Composure: A Movie Review

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Godzilla vs. Kong (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Godzilla, King Kong, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Mechagodzilla

Director: Adam Wingard

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: March 31, 2021

What if it were Godzilla vs. Kong vs. … jmunney? Does the latest no-holds cinematic brawl between these two iconic behemoths make me want to join the fight? Hey man, I’m a pacifist! But entering their domain in some capacity might be fun. They seem like good company.  Kong is certainly a clown. And sensitive, to boot! Godzilla’s harder to peg, but I’d be willing to put in the emotional groundwork to make the connection. What’s Mechagodzilla’s deal, though? He sure comes out of nowhere. Does he even have a soul?!

Grade: 5 Podcasts of 10 ASLs

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

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After the “Oscar Do-Over” episode. Aunt Beth discovered that Jeff had NEVER seen Rain Man! Of course, that’s definitely about to change. Keep listening to find out what happens next…

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 4/16/21

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Big Shot (CREDIT: Disney Plus/YouTube Screenshot)

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

TV
Big Shot Series Premiere (April 16 on Disney+) – John Stamos coaches girls basketball.
American Dad! Season 18 Premiere (April 19 on TBS)
Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World (April 22 on PBS)
-36th Independent Spirit Awards (April 22 on IFC) – Hosted by funny lady Melissa Villaseñor!

Music
-Greta Van Fleet, The Battle at Garden’s Gate
-The Offspring, Let the Bad Times Roll

The Comforting Confusion of ‘The Father’

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The Father (CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss

Director: Florian Zeller

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: February 26, 2021

Whenever I think about The Father, I can’t help but pronounce it the way that Mike Myers does when he encounters Marv Albert in the “Dieter’s Dream” SNL sketch (“Fah-thuh!”, although for some reason I add a “z” i.e., “Fah-zhuh”). Weirdly enough, that’s an apt comparison, as Florian Zeller’s film is pretty much equally surreal as the avant-garde German talk show host’s trip into the subconscious. Apparently, the way to make a movie about dementia exciting instead of a total bummer is to arrange it according to the whims of the dementia-addled mind. It’s rough to see Anthony (Hopkins) losing his sense of reality, but it’s fascinating to be bent back and forth by the facial mismatches and temporal-spatial distortions he’s experiencing. In the absence of a cure, maybe embracing the absurdity is the best way to handle something as disorienting as dementia. At the very least, it worked for this movie.

Grade: 4.0 out of Dec. 31 Missing Watches

‘In the Earth’ Follows Its Cinematic Brethren Into the Woods

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In the Earth (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires

Director: Ben Wheatley

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for A Few Scenes of Grievous Bodily Harm

Release Date: April 16, 2021 (Theaters)

In the Earth combines elements of some of my favorite dread-filled horror and sci-fi flicks, which is good enough to grab my attention, but you can see the seams in the synthesis. A scary trip to the woods quickly leads to reality-altering vibes in the vein of Annihilation and The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s also the society-breaking-down milieu typical of any zombie flick. And I even catch a whiff of pod people-energy, as I worry that certain characters’ misplaced priorities could lead to some body snatching. It’s a hodgepodge, occasionally a visual feast, and ultimately more of an experiment than a landmark achievement.

My only previous exposure to writer-director Ben Wheatley was his overcaffeinated shoot ’em up Free Fire. In the Earth is equally non-squeamish (it does feature a guy getting his toes cut off, after all), but it’s also more reflective and meditative. Conceived and produced during the pandemic, it obviously required a more scaled-down and intimate approach. It’s ostensibly about the cure for a global virus, but it hardly resembles our current reality, at least not in any way I or anyone I know has been experiencing it. In practice, it’s just a spooky sylvan journey, making it just the latest in a long and dense cinematic tradition. Something weird is happening, a couple of characters are sent off on their own to figure it out, and then they encounter some other weird happenings. It happens!

During In the Earth‘s early going, I said to myself, “Is this just Annihilation but with a micro-budget?” That trip to Area X is one of my favorite movies of the past five years, so I quickly steeled myself for inevitable disappointment. But it’s always nice to be reminded of something that I love, so it wasn’t all bad. Then about halfway through, there was a sharp turn to a completely different movie. Well, perhaps not “completely” different. More like “tangential” and “different enough.” One major crisis had been dealt with (or at least escaped from), and then some other characters got some more screen time, and I felt myself thinking: well, it’s better to steal from a whole bunch of movies than it is to be the cheap knockoff of just one movie.

In the Earth is Recommended If You Like: Annihilation, Blair Witch, The Walking Dead, and whatever ever else Ben Wheatley watched during the pandemic, all tossed carelessly into a blender

Grade: 3 out of 5 Backpacks

A Day in the Farm Life: ‘Gunda’ Documentary Review

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Gunda (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Pigs, Chickens, Cows, Bulls

Director: Viktor Kossakovsky

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: G

Release Date: April 16, 2021 (Select Theaters)

I first stumbled upon Russian documentarian Viktor Kossakovsky’s work a few years ago when I saw Aquarela, which was just an hour and a half of H2O doing what it does. Now his subject matter is fully alive (instead of life-sustaining), as he takes us to the farm in Gunda. Shot in stunning black-and-white cinematography, this is a meditative document of swine, poultry, and bovines going about their day. There’s no on-screen human presence in any capacity, but this isn’t strictly cinema verite. As straightforward as the presentation is, you can sense the pulse of mediation. Watching Gunda isn’t the same as visiting a farm. It may be simple and no-frills, but I don’t think anyone else quite has the capacity to make it the way that Kossakovsky did.

Fair warning: if you’re going to watch Gunda, you absolutely have to be comfortable with maximum levels of snorting. The biggest star of the show is a momma pig who spends a significant portion of the runtime suckling her piglets, and simply put, she makes the sounds that pigs make, and she’s not ashamed to do so. That’s the general vibe of this entire film. Farm animals typically aren’t ashamed to be themselves, but that seems especially true here. While watching, I felt like I was stumbling upon personal moments that I wouldn’t have otherwise have had access to. Or maybe I’m just noticing things that I’ve never noticed before because presenting it all in a feature format forces me to pay attention. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen cows and bulls whipping their tails against each other, for example, but that’s what they’re doing here.

Overall, there’s a bit of unexplainable magic at play in Gunda that makes it all so very compelling. I could do my best to break down how Kossakovsky managed to pull off such stunning cinematography, or take inventory in quotidian terms of everything that the animals get up to over the course of 93 minutes. But I don’t know why a pig walking around in the grass managed to transport me as much as it did. And yet somehow it did, and I’ve gotta respect her for that.

Gunda is Recommended If You Like: A day at the farm minus all the smells

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Snouts

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