Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 3/15/19

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CREDIT: Saeed Adyani/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 Mustang

TV
Arrested Development Season 5 Part 2 (Premieres March 15 on Netflix) – The final (?) episodes!
Shrill Season 1 (Premieres March 15 on Hulu) – Starring Aidy Bryant!
Turn Up Charlie Season 1 (Premieres March 15 on Netflix)

Comedy
Amy Schumer Growing (Premieres March 19 on Netflix)

Sports on TV
-March Madness (March 19-April 8 on CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV)

SNL Review May 12, 2018: Amy Schumer/Kacey Musgraves

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-amy-schumerkacey-musgraves/

A Mother’s Day Message From the Cast of SNL – B-

Amy Schumer’s Monologue – B-

Mother Knows Best – B-

Handmaids in the City – C+

The Day You Were Born – C-

Gospel Brunch – C-

Kacey Musgraves performs “High Horse” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Bailey Gismert – B-
Michael Che’s Stepmom – C+

Wake Up Denver – B+

Kacey Musgraves performs “Slow Burn” – B-

Last Call – B-

James Madison High School Graduation (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

This Is a Movie Review: ‘I Feel Pretty’ Mines Humor and Self-Confidence Out of Cognitive Dissonance

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CREDIT: Mark Schafer/STX Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Amy Schumer, Rory Scovel, Michelle Williams, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps, Lauren Hutton, Tom Hopper, Emily Ratajkowski, Adrian Martinez

Directors: Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Strategically Filmed Nudity

Release Date: April 20, 2018

A friend who accompanied me to the I Feel Pretty screening remarked afterwards that Amy Schumer was the wrong fit for the lead role and that an actual plus-size actress like Nicole Byer or Aidy Bryant (who plays one of Schumer’s close friends) would have made more sense. Her point is salient, for while Schumer does not have a supermodel’s stereotypical rail-thin body, she is hardly anywhere near obese. But this movie, in which a cosmetics company employee suddenly starts believing that she is transcendentally beautiful, is about perception more than reality. What it requires in the lead then is someone with a body that can both convincingly cause self-esteem issues and be stunningly attractive. That is to say, it could be anybody, and that is the underlying message. I Feel Pretty is not about a fat girl who starts to believe that she is skinny, but rather, it is about someone with low self-esteem who transforms into the most self-assured woman ever.

Writing/directing duo Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein take their cues from the likes of Big (even featuring clips from that 1988 Tom Hanks classic to make the connection even more obvious), as Renee (Schumer) wishes at a fountain that she can be one of the beautiful people that commands the attention of any room she walks into. The next day at SoulCycle she gets knocked out after hitting her head, and when she comes to, she looks in the mirror, and voilà! Her wish has come true, and she proceeds to admire and shamelessly caress all her assets. But here’s the kicker: her appearance has not changed, and there is no indication that she is hallucinating an idealized version of herself. The audience sees the same body she has had the whole time, and presumably that is what Renee sees, too. It is only how she sees it that has changed.

I Feel Pretty walks an unceasing tightrope, as it is built on a foundation of cognitive dissonance. Schumer has to play a character who is insane enough that she has a sort of inverted body dysmorphia but not so insane that she cannot function in society. (Appropriately enough, one of the biggest laugh lines comes from her being assured that her company offers plenty of mental health services.) She gets away with it by maintaining a relaxed energy befitting the self-confidence she achieves. And besides, while constant confusion may not be the best formula for logic, it is a perfect formula for laughter, as the brain attempts to make sense of the nonsense of self-discovery.

Much of the humor derives from the reactions of those around Renee. Her best friends Vivian (Bryant) and Jane (Busy Philipps) humor her assurances of “It really is me” while subtly worrying that she has lost her mind. As for those who meet her after her “change,” Rory Scovel, as Renee’s love interest, and Michelle Williams and Lauren Hutton, as her co-workers, get a lot of comedic mileage out of just looking on in stunned amazement at this truly singular woman in their presence. What they are responding to has almost nothing to do with her body and everything to do with her self-assurance. (Williams, for her part, is unforgettable in her affectation of a breathy baby-doll voice that is supposedly her character’s natural way of speaking.)

The story falters a bit in the middle for the sake of fitting into the genre’s typical denouement. Renee initially remains as nice as she always been after her transformation, but after a taste of life on the other side, she starts displaying some casual cruelty that feels less like a natural regression and more a betrayal of character consistency. These conflicts lead to some sweet resolutions, but they are not quite satisfying enough to make the means of getting to that point easy to stomach.

I Feel Pretty’s message that self-confidence and self-acceptance are the keys to success and happiness is no great revelation, but that does not make it any less true or not worth repeating. But I am left wondering: would it have resonated more if the lead had a less normative body type? From a business standpoint, it would be positive if more starring roles went to those who are plus-size, queer, trans, and/or people of color. But the point is that self-confidence and self-doubt are both available to everyone, no matter how traditionally attractive they are or are not. So theoretically the lead of I Feel Pretty could have been anyone, but in practice it had to be one person. At least there is a genuine invocation of inclusivity with a conclusive speech. It is the sort of speech that has been co-opted to sell cosmetic products (both within and outside the film), but it is nonetheless worth holding onto its positivity and running with it.

I Feel Pretty is Recommended If You Like: Big, Laughing While Being Confused, Finding the Inspiration to Achieve Your Dreams

Grade: 4 out of 5 Diffusion Lines

This Is a Movie Review: The Writer of ‘American Sniper’ Says ‘Thank Your for Your Service’ with a Deep Dive Into PTSD

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/DreamWorks Pictures/Universal

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Beulah Koale, Amy Schumer, Joe Cole, Keisha Castle-Hughes

Director: Jason Hall

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for PTSD Hallucinations and the Resultant Anger

Release Date: October 27, 2017

When American Sniper racked up over $300 million at the domestic box office, it wasn’t shocking just because it featured zero comic book superheroes or animated talking animals, but also because of how focused it was on the homefront. Its Iraq-set sequences were generally not very memorable; instead, its main purpose for existing was to bring to the fore the scourge of post-traumatic stress disorder on U.S. soil. I doubt that Thank You for Your Service, written and directed by Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall, will rake in similarly huge bucks, but it has learned the right lessons from its predecessor of where to place its focus.

Thank You is primarily concerned with the perpetually overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs, which is trying to offer psychiatric help for its returning soldiers, but the soonest it can offer appointments is 12 weeks, but sometimes no earlier than nine months. For vets like Adam (Teller), Aieti (Koale), and Will (Cole), that is just as life-threatening as combat in Iraq. This might not sound like the most rousing of cinematic premises, but the way it plays out is quite thrilling. PTSD episodes exist as disorienting hallucinations that are the more surreal for just how minimally they depart from reality. A fallen comrade suddenly appears and seems to be perfectly corporeal but then lets out a blood-curdling scream, inciting a burst of uncontrollable violence. It plays out as horror that will hit too close to home for many.

Anchoring the whole endeavor and preventing it from becoming too overwhelming is Teller, who has developed a knack for playing characters with plenty of hustle who take on much more weight than anyone has asked them to. Adam’s burden is less PTSD and more survivor’s guilt. He struggles to atone for a squadmate he attempted to save but who ended up partially paralyzed, and he can barely face the widow of a fellow sergeant who died after taking his place on one coincidental day. That he ultimately does face his fears provides some hope that maybe this system is not entirely broken. As a narrative machine, Thank You for Your Service is a little creaky, but it pulls through with astutely observed interactions between soldier and soldier or soldier and spouse, and brings it all home with a gentle catharsis.

Thank You for Your Service is Recommended If You Like: American Sniper, Jacob’s Ladder

Grade: 3 out of 5 PTSD Hallucinations

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Snatched’ is a Miscalculated Vacation in More Ways Than One

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack

Director: Jonathan Levine

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: R for Sloppy Partying and Surprisingly Deadly Slapstick

Release Date: May 12, 2017

Amy Schumer’s acting instincts dictate that she make her characters immature to the point of straining as much credulity as possible. She has no time for the trope of the professionally successful, but emotionally unstable woman. Instead, everything spirals out of control for her all at once, although that implies that things were ever in control in the first place. For Snatched’s woman-child protagonist Emily Middleton, the latter is almost certainly not the case. After losing her job and her boyfriend, she crawls back into the warm embrace back home with mom Linda (Goldie Hawn), where she can spill ice cream on her shirt and whine like a teenager. This is the Platonic ideal – or Platonic nadir, as it were – of a Schumer performance. How Emily was ever able to move out on her own is a mystery.

Linda’s troubles are much less extreme and thus more relatable. In the decades since separating from her husband, she has never gone back to dating, or even really left the house for that matter. So when her daughter insists that they travel to Ecuador together, she is unsurprisingly hesitant, partly because she is so scared to let loose, but perhaps even more so because she knows better than anyone that following Emily only leads to trouble. Even if the premise were not right in the title, it would be clear so quickly that she is the type of person who would skip right into a kidnapping scam. That Emily and Linda survive mostly unscathed makes them either improbably lucky or impossibly superhuman; both options are exhausting after an hour and a half.

While Schumer commits too hard to being pathetic, there is fun to be had among the supporting performances, where caricatures can be more functional. Wanda Sykes gets the majority of the zingers as an outgoing fellow traveler who recognizes the very real dangers of kidnapping, despite her tenuous grasp of statistics. As Sykes’ platonic life partner, Joan Cusack is weirdly perfectly cast in a completely silent role. And Christopher Meloni is the biggest highlight as an adventurer in way over his head, demonstrating that joie de vivre is often essential to making incompetence sing on screen. Schumer could take some pointers from him, though I suspect she enjoys being stuck in the muck.

Snatched is Recommended If You Like: Women behaving just as badly as men-children, Gene the Chef from Wet Hot American Summer

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Tits Out

SNL October 10, 2015 Recap: Amy Schumer/The Weeknd

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My full review of this episode can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2015/10/11/saturday-night-live-season-41-episode-

Fox and Friends – B

Amy Schumer’s Monologue – B

Delta Flight – B+

Hot for Teacher 8 (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Guns – B

The Weeknd ft. Nicki Minaj – “The Hills” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes– B
Solomon the Travel Correspondent – B
Mrs. Freda Santini – C+

Lincoln Assassination Reenactment – C

Hands-Free Selfie Stick – B

Bakersfield Citizen Forum – C

The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face” – B+

Baby Shower – B-

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”