Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 10/2/20

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Hubie Halloween (CREDIT: Scott Yamano/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
Possessor (Select Theaters) – Body horror from Brandon Cronenberg.
Hubie Halloween (October 7 on Netflix) – Adam Sandler in a Halloween movie. Now give him some candy!

TV
Saturday Night Live Season 46 Premiere (October 3 on NBC) – They’re back in Studio 8H!
black-ish Election Special (October 4 on ABC)
The Good Lord Bird Series Premiere (October 4 on Showtime) – Ethan Hawke as John Brown and Daveed Diggs as Frederick Douglass.
Soulmates Series Premiere (October 5 on AMC)
Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones Premiere (October 7 on BBC America)

Music
-William Shatner, The Blues

Podcasts
With Gourley and Rust (October 2 on Patreon, October 9 on all other platforms) – Matt Gourley and Paul Rust talking horror movies.

‘Velvet Buzzsaw’: Something Killer This Way Arts

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CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Netflix

Not too long before I watched Velvet Buzzsaw, I discovered that its director, Dan Gilroy, has been married to one of its stars, Rene Russo, for nearly 30 years. I migh have previously known that fact, but I don’t think I knew about it as far back as Gilroy’s last film, 2014’s Nightcrawler, which also featured Russo acting quite excellently. Besides making movies together, they also have a daughter who’s already all grown up. I mention all this because I enjoy thinking about the familial background that can go into making a movie. And also, I find it more satisfying to think about the Gilroy-Russo family than I do to think about Velvet Buzzsaw. That’s not to say that Velvet Buzzsaw is bad, but rather, it’s just to say that I’m the type of person who generally finds it heartening to see even just a snapshot of any family life.

Anyway, it’s particularly interesting to think about this marriage in light of Russo’s death scene in Buzzsaw, which her husband wrote AND directed! Honestly, I think it’s the sign of a good relationship when you can orchestrate your spouse’s death onscreen but not do so in real life. It’s a pretty gnarly moment and probably the best realization of the movie’s concept of “killer art.” I got a real Wes Craven’s New Nightmare “art imitating life” vibe during Velvet Buzzsaw‘s first deadly set piece. It takes us a little while to get to all the moments of the paintings and pieces tearing up human flesh, but when they do happen, they’re impressively, lavishly staged. But I think I would have recommended getting to the gore a little more quickly, because before we get there, we don’t have much to latch on to, other than Jake Gyllenhaal (who, you may recall, was also previously directed by Gilroy in Nightcrawler) as a fellow named “Morf” lounging around naked with only a laptop to cover his naughty bits.

I give Velvet Buzzsaw 3 Thick Black Eyeglass Frames out of 5 Wax Families.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Blindspotting’ is a Little Messy, But It Has Plenty to Say About Violence and Gentrification

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CREDIT: Ariel Nava/Lionsgate

This review was originally published on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry

Director: Carlos López Estrada

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Confrontational Profanity and Intense Physical Violence

Release Date: July 20, 2018 (Limited)

Are we defined by the most extreme moments in our lives? Please, somebody, tell Blindspotting, because it would like to know!

Longtime friends and Oakland, California natives Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal star as longtime friends and Oakland, California natives Collin and Miles, respectively. They work together at a moving company, managed by Collin’s ex Val (Janina Gavankar). Collin is approaching the end of his probation, his jail stint the result of a violent incident that has forever seared itself on Val’s memory. A central question in Blindspotting is whether or not Val can ever look past Collin at his worst, and looming even wider is the question of whether or not Collin and Miles can look past the version of their hometown that they grew up in.

Gentrification has arrived for every urban area in this country with any hint of trendiness, and Miles could not be more opposed. Collin is more serene about the matter, perhaps because he has more intimate experience with the consequences of myopia. Development efforts may take away local color, but they also can make cities safer. Alas, they often just tuck the danger away into hidden corners, which Blindspotting does not turn its eyes away from. If only gentrification could clean up a population’s morality and make it more compassionate. It is a phenomenon that has its failings, but those failings do not call for as violent a reaction as Miles is predisposed towards. There is a lot of confrontation from all directions in this movie – the challenge is to cut through your blind spots and find the most useful message.

Blindspotting is Recommended If You Like: Daveed Diggs breaking big, Socially conscious sitcoms, Wayne Knight cameos

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Kwik Ways

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Wonder’s’ Lessons in Kindness Are Obvious, But Timelessly Valuable

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CREDIT: Lionsgate Entertainment

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

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Noah Jupe, Ali Liebert, Danielle Rose Russell, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Elle McKinnon

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Middle School Bullying

Release Date: November 17, 2017

If you plan on seeing Wonder, please do yourself a favor and bring tissues. That is not a mark of quality in either direction, just a fair warning of what you’re in for. Of course, if you know the premise of the film, chances are you could have guessed as much. The story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a congenital facial deformity struggling to fit in at middle school, could not be anything but emotional. But the explanation for Wonder’s knack for keeping the waterworks running for two hours straight goes beyond the obvious. This is the type of movie in which rhetorically gifted actors make grand pronouncements about the importance of kindness and loyalty. Their insights are far from groundbreaking, sure, but their eloquence is a gift and the realization that people have had the courage to live up to these ideals is profoundly affecting.

Director Stephen Chbosky already demonstrated his emotional bona fides with the adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and with Wonder he has now confirmed himself as one of the best in the business for prompting a good cathartic cry. He pulls it off this time by taking full advantage of the academic setting. School is not just a place for learning how the world works, but also how to be a good person. It helps in that regard when you have dedicated educators, and Auggie has a couple of excellent teachers played by Daveed Diggs and Ali Liebert, and a fantastic principal played by Mandy Patinkin. They are not defined by their quirks but by their love of teaching. Diggs’ Mr. Browne is the type to write inspirational sayings like “our deeds are our monuments” on his chalkboard. It helps to be in an environment that reminds you of such simple, but necessary truths. Patinkin’s bow tie-sporting Mr. Tushman (yes, he’s fine with you laughing at his name) fulfills the bulk of the speechifying. With his words, he is marvelously generous, maintaining and spreading a positive attitude.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s perspective and narration, naturally enough. But it extends that generosity to multiple characters, making this less a story about overcoming physical defects and more one about how there are so many ways we can be cruel to anybody, but it is so much better if we instead reach out with kind gestures. The gift of subjectivity and their own narrated segments is granted to Auggie’s teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie’s best friend Jack (Noah Jupe), and Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). The lesson here is clear and effective: you never know someone else’s full story if you haven’t lived through it, so it is always wise to allow them to share it with you.

Chbosky can be a little haphazard with this subjectivity. It is no big loss that Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) are not afforded their own segments, as we still get satisfying peeks into their interiority. But it would have been nice, for example, if we had gotten a closer look at Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Auggie’s most frequent bully. We do meet his very unreasonable parents, but for a movie that is so kind in all capacities, it stings a little that he does not have more of a chance for redemption.

When you get right down to it, Wonder is simply a force for good in this world, demonstrating as it does that kindness, courage, second chances, and cameos from Chewbacca never go out of style.

Wonder is Recommended If You Like: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dead Poets Society, Room

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Astronaut Helmets