Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 7/9/21

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Wellington Paranormal (CREDIT: The CW/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
Black Widow (Theaters and Premier Access on Disney+)

TV
Atypical Season 4 (July 9 on Netflix) – Final season alert!
The Patrick Star Show Series Premiere (July 9 on Nickelodeon) – He’s got his own show now.
-2021 ESPYs (July 10 on ABC) – Hosted by Anthony Mackie.
Wellington Paranormal Series Premiere (July 11 on The CW) – What We Do in the Shadows spinoff; already premiered in New Zealand.
Miracle Workers Season 3 Premiere (July 13 on TBS) – They’re on the Oregon Trail now.
Never Have I Ever Season 2 (July 15 on Netflix)

Music
-The Wallflowers, Exit Wounds

Movie Review: Gina Rodriguez Enlivens the Otherwise By-the-Numbers ‘Miss Bala’

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CREDIT: Columbia Pictures

Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Anthony Mackie, Aislinn Derbez, Matt Lauria, Cristina Rodlo, Ricardo Abarca, Thomas Dekker

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Drug Trafficking, Violence Shot Far Enough Away That You Don’t See the Worst of It, and Nudity Covered Up by Towels and Shower Steam

Release Date: February 1, 2019

What if you found yourself embroiled in a series of criminal activities because some bad actors forced you to do their bidding, and you somehow made it out alive? Would you think that this is a sign that you should transform yourself into a full-time badass? Would you maybe even suspect that the whole thing was engineered as a training exercise? This is the ringer that Gloria Meyer (Gina Rodriguez) goes through, and anyone watching Miss Bala (a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name) cannot possibly be anything but impressed by her resourcefulness and gumption.

Gloria is a makeup artist living in Los Angeles who heads south of the border to Tijuana to make her friend Suzu’s (Cristina Rodlo) face a work of art to help her win a beauty pageant. But then a trip to the nightclub leads to a disorienting succession of gunfire, kidnapping, and irreversible new life paths. As Gloria attempts to find Suzu after the two get separated, a drug cartel grabs a hold of her and forces her to do their dirty work. Then the DEA gets their paws on her as well, offering a potential chance to escape this predicament, though the price will not exactly be cheap. She quickly realizes that within the arena of the drug war, nobody really has her back. But as this is a star vehicle for Rodriguez, you know that Gloria will some way, somehow, emerge alive and on top. By the end, you might wonder if this was all a simulation designed to test her mettle, but that conclusion would ignore how chaotic the whole ordeal is, and the filmmaking makes it clear that her survival is never a guarantee.

Miss Bala hits hard as a character study, but it is fairly standard-issue as an action film. Gloria’s psychological development is abundantly present all over the screen, and there are few actors who can combine steely commitment and vulnerability the way that Rodriguez does. Director Catherine Hardwicke has a knack for getting her actors exactly where they need to be, but when it comes to the particular demands of the genre, she plays it safe. That means a standard-issue rough-and-tumble (though thankfully not too frenetic) editing style and a thrum-thrum-thrum score that sounds like it came from the stock music catalogue. So Miss Bala hardly reinvents the wheel, but it’s worth it to see Rodriguez’s face light up when she realizes that she’s a winner, baby.

Miss Bala is Recommended If You Like: Jane the Virgin but wish it had more drug trafficking storylines

Grade: 3 out of 5 Survival Tactics

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ Confronts Racism and Police Brutality via High School Cinema

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CREDIT: Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox

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

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith, Lamar Johnson, Issa Rae, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Anthony Mackie

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Uneasy Race Relations and the Dangers of Living in a Volatile Neighborhood

Release Date: October 5, 2018 (Limited)/Expands October 12, 2018/Expands Nationwide October 19, 2018

About two-thirds of the way through The Hate U Give, Starr Carter’s father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) lines his children up on their front yard and has them recite a creed he has instilled in them since birth: “Reasons to live give reasons to die.” If you have ever worried, or experienced, how living up to your ideals can put you or your loved ones in danger, this moment is essential viewing. If you can be upstanding and strong-willed enough to avoid being taken down by scandal or shame, then you do not have to worry about too many vulnerabilities. But you can still be devastated if you have a lot of love. Maverick defiantly insists that his children make peace with that for the sake of their family, and his example is a wonderful expression of what parents should demand of their children, or indeed what everybody should demand of their fellow human beings.

This is the inflection point that brings into focus the dilemma that Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is struggling with throughout The Hate U Give. She is the only witness to her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), an unarmed black teenager, being fatally gunned down by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. She is thus Khalil’s best potential advocate for justice, but she must weigh going public with her account against the potential consequences. She risks alienation from her classmates at the predominantly white high school she attends, as well as much worse from the local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie) who would seek retribution for the wrong secrets getting out. Not to mention the moral and emotional responsibility of possibly becoming a symbol for an entire movement.

The power of The Hate U Give is in the well-realized vision of its lived-in community. Starr and her siblings are growing up in a classically American code-switching existence: living in a low-income, predominantly black community while getting educated at an upper-class, majority white school. The Carters have the means to move out of their home, but their familial and cultural connections make that decision a little complicated. Theirs is a family that has close blood relations with both police officers and career criminals in a manner that makes perfect sense.

The portrait of Starr’s high school, though, does not quite have as much depth. While the casual racism that her classmates display is believable, the white characters are not always fully fleshed out, occasionally sounding like little more than stereotypes. One partial exception is Starr’s boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa), who may say some clueless or insensitive things, but when confronted with a real crisis, he asks Starr genuinely, “How can I help?” This is absolutely no white savior narrative, but it is a story that recognizes the importance of communion and reconciliation.

The film’s title is inspired by the lyrics of 2Pac, who philosophized that communities of color were oppressed by outside institutions influencing them towards fulfilling their worst stereotypes. Ultimately, Starr realizes however that communities must heal themselves, as they are kept down not just by the hate they receive but also the hate that they self-inflect. The truest explanation is that it is really a combination of both, and while The Hate U Give attempts to end on a somewhat overly simplistic note, it does otherwise present a scenario that sincerely conveys that complication. There is hate out there, whether or not you give it or only receive it, but ultimately it is up to every individual to choose to live for love.

The Hate U Give is Recommended If You Like: John Hughes Films, Social Justice

Grade: 4 out of 5 Reasons to Live

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Detroit’ is a Nauseatingly Intense Portrait of Abuse of Power

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Annapurna Pictures

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

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Jacob Latimore, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, John Krasinski

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: R for a Real-Life Waking Nightmare

Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide August 4, 2017

To sum up my feelings on Detroit, I feel compelled to borrow from Trevor Noah’s take on the footage of the Philando Castile shooting: I can’t really recommend that anyone watch it, even though I think everyone needs to see it. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s dramatization of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident is often sickening and rarely allows for any catharsis, even in its slower moments. Even the epilogue title cards, which typically let some light shine through and or at least offer some hope, are just as depressing. The ending left me on edge, about to break down and cry. The point of Detroit is not depression porn, or value posturing, but capturing a moment of a social ill that is not just a moment but a lingering epidemic. Its message needs to be heard, and it is presented in a manner in which it cannot be ignored.

Going into Detroit, I knew little about the specifics of this incident beyond its racial overtones. But soon enough the truth became depressingly obvious. As the film descends into the pit of its most harrowing moments, it becomes clearer and clearer what sort of terrible ending it is headed towards. We have seen this absence of redemption and justice again and again. The smallest of comforts can be drawn from the fact that this is not a new tragedy, but that only leads to the realization that we may be suffering through a never-ending cycle of violence.

Some of the details of the real-life July 1967 event remain in dispute, and the film makes sure to acknowledge that. What is clear, though, is that three black men died that night and that nine other motel residents – seven more black men and two white women – were badly beaten. Without the ubiquitous recording technology of today, it is impossible to know exactly what happened, but it is not hard to accept Detroit’s version of events.

The narrative unfolds in three portions. The opening is a survey of the racial tension of the country in general and Detroit specifically, with an animated prologue explaining how the end of Civil War and its resulting migratory patterns led to this crisis. The conclusion is a pointedly abrupt courtroom drama. But the significant majority is the middle, which reenacts the night at a seemingly real-time pace. It plays like a horror film, with the Detroit police as the home invaders. The Michigan State Police and National Guard offer some chances to escape the terror, but only in a way that protects themselves and provides no long-term relief.

Detroit features a notably large cast for such a painfully intimate setting, and each individual is given their moment to illustrate the major themes. As a security guard attempting to aid both the police and the victims, John Boyega is the personification of internal conflict. As a brazenly, sadistically racist officer, Will Poulter makes it difficult to hold on to the belief that no person is intrinsically evil. A certain well-known actor shows up late and plays strikingly against type as the officers’ lawyer. And Algee Smith has a star turn as one of the victims. He plays Cleveland Larry Reed, a singer attempting to break through with up-and-coming R&B group The Dramatics. You can see his soul withering away at every turn, but just enough brightness shines through on his face to suggest that maybe, just maybe, a happy future could be in store.

Detroit is Recommended If You Like: Fruitvale Station, Home Invasion Horror, Getting Righteously Angry

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Death “Games”