Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/14/21

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The Underground Railroad (CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video/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
Army of the Dead (May 14 in Select Theaters, May 21 on Netflix)
Oxygen (May 12 on Netflix) – Directed by Alexandre Aja, but no piranhas.
Profile (Theaters)
Spiral (Theaters) – Chris Rock joins the Book of Saw.
Those Who Wish Me Dead (Theaters and HBO Max) – Might check out to see what Angelina Jolie is up to.
The Woman in the Window (May 14 on Netflix) – Joe Wright directs Amy Adams.

TV
The Underground Railroad (May 14 on Amazon)
-2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards (May 16 on MTV)
-2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards: Unscripted (May 17 on MTV)
-2021 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions (May 17-28, check local listings) – 19-game winner Jason Zuffranieri looks like the one to beat.

Music
-Aly & AJ, A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun – This came out last week.
-St. Vincent, Daddy’s Home
-The Black Keys, Delta Kream – Dan and Pat cover hill country blues.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ is Amiably, Almost Transcendently Sweet, Except When Its Nasty Side Mucks Things Up

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

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

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, John Cena

Director: Sean Anders

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Alarmingly Near-Lethal Accidents and the Budding Birds and Bees

Release Date: November 10, 2017

There is a principle in improv comedy that stresses avoiding introducing conflict too quickly, as arguments can be anathema to the performative harmony required by yes-and’ing. That same advice is not as often applied to a scripted narrative, as conflict is frequently the engine that drives the plot. But for a family-centric hangout comedy like Daddy’s Home 2, which derives its most humorous moments out of character-based foibles, it might actually be best to keep conflict to a minimum. For its first 30 minutes or so, this sequel easily bests its original by allowing its blended families to be mostly harmonious. But it cannot quite quit its nasty, mean-spirited streak. Still, there are enough moments that genuinely convey the magic of the holidays and the power of choosing love over frustration for this to mostly be a success.

When we first check back in on Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), they’re the perfect picture of co-dadding. Whenever they are told that theirs is a strange arrangement between father and stepfather, they do not care, because they genuinely get along with each other now, despite their significant differences. But all is not 100% well, as the kids are not fans of swinging back and forth between two houses, especially on Christmas. The solution: one big holiday getaway with all the kids and all the parents, with Brad’s dad Don (John Lithgow) and Dusty’s dad Kurt (Mel Gibson) joining to add a few new wrinkles.

The juxtaposition between these two patriarchs is where DH2 derives most of its laughs. Don and Brad are unabashedly close, always greeting each other with a kiss on the lips. Dusty, meanwhile, resents Kurt for rarely showing up to be an adequate father and grandfather. These stark differences could lead to a bunch of cheap gags, but instead the interplay between this quartet remains mostly palatable, thanks to the sweet treatment of Don and Brad’s closeness, Kurt not being as much of a Neanderthal as the previews implied, and the film clearly presenting his absenteeism and macho bullshit as bad things. Plus, Brad and especially Don avoid being bullied by remaining confident in their identities and playfully acknowledging Dusty and Kurt’s different personal styles.

Thus why it is too bad that DH2 cannot trust itself to maintain this bonhomie. Every little disagreement and accident gets blown way out of proportion. Sure, even people who get along get on each other’s nerves every once in a while, but generally they do not turn into completely unrecognizable assholes, as they do in this film. There are plenty of funny moments of folks just goofing off, so there is no comedic need for all the shouting and chaos.

This over-the-top-tendency does not even touch on the moments of (unintentional?) pure horror, when mishaps with heavy machinery and weaponry result in main characters just a few inches away from death. A snow blower gets stuck in Christmas lights and flies around the house! An errant chainsaw nearly impales Brad! Don gets lost and is almost left facedown in the snow overnight! A shotgun accidentally fires, and the bullet grazes Kurt’s arm! Somehow all this madness leads to a genuinely heartwarming conclusion that almost makes all these extremes almost forgivable.

One particularly insightful scene represents what Daddy’s Home 2 is at its best and for a few minutes, places it among the upper tier of 2017’s cinematic offerings. It is telling that this film understands certain improv principles, as an outing at an improv show demonstrates the danger and revelations that can happen at a live comedy performance. Don has been taking improv classes, so Brad has volunteered him as an audience participant. A prompt for the scene hits a little close to home, exposing the secrets cracking away at his endlessly chipper façade. The wrenching agony on Lithgow’s face presents an actor at the top of his game, always giving his all no matter how silly or sentimental the material.

Daddy’s Home 2 is Recommended If You Like: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Other Guys, Anything with John Lithgow

Grade: 3 out of 5 Loaded Guns (Literal and Metaphorical)

This Is a Movie Review: Daddy’s Home

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DaddysHome

The problem with Daddy’s Home is one of pitch. It wants us to believe that Brad is a nice guy, and we believe it, because he is played by Will Ferrell in Family Man Mode. Sure, he might have the occasional overwrought meltdown, but he looks as fundamentally decent as his quality credit score implies. But that meltdown, prompted by his wife’s ex (Mark Wahlberg) ends up being so thorough that the film is more uncomfortable than it is prepared to be. It could work if the tone were to ramp up the boorish ridiculousness (as in Talladega Nights) or play more like a low-key dramedy (as in Everything Must Go). Instead, it is a middle-of-the-road breeze that ends in a dance battle. That conclusion itself is amusing, but it skirts over some major conflicts.

None of that really matters when considering the insane levels of product placement. Ferrell’s voiceover in an early scene includes praise for his Ford Flex, which is basically a verbatim recitation of the copy of a suburban car commercial. It is such a jarring pastiche that it initially plays as a devious goof. There appears to be some interest in satire about the reality behind cheery all-American ads. The film’s premise, as it traffics in the roles worn by adults, would lend itself well to that approach. But along the way, Daddy’s Home feels too beholden to a traditional narrative to really work as something stranger.