Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/6/20

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Moonbase 8 (CREDIT: Showtime/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
Moonbase 8 Series Premiere (November 8 on Showtime) – Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, and John C. Reilly go to the moon!
The Unicorn Season 2 Premiere (November 12 on CBS)

Music
-Kylie Minogue, Disco

Music on TV
-2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (November 7 on HBO)

Books
Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy! (November 10) – Written by The Ringer‘s Claire McNear!

This Is a Movie Review: Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly’s High Regard for a Couple of Screen Legends Makes ‘Stan & Ollie’ a Gently Heartwarming Affair

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

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

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston

Director: Jon S. Baird

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Few Adult Arguments

Release Date: December 28, 2018 (Limited)

If you’ve ever thought that Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly should team up to play legendary screen duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, then you must be their biggest fans or their close friends. Stan & Ollie very much feels like a passion project, and it also has the vibe of a secret present, because who in 2018 would have ever thought to ask if anyone wanted to make this movie? Coogan and Reilly have their subjects’ signature gestures down pat, and various real life scenes play out with a charming blend of misanthropic physical comedy in the vein of heavy luggage sliding down a staircase. The year is 1953, and Laurel and Hardy’s cinematic glory days are well over and never to re-emerge, though Stan is hard at work writing a screenplay about Robin Hood and incessantly tracking down a producer. But to actually make some dough and earn some new laughs, they head out on a tour of live shows in Britain and Ireland.

The primary, low-key charm of Stan & Ollie is the culmination of two longtime companions realizing the depth of their connection. The pressures of the road lead to simmering resentments being aired out, but those blowouts clear the way for these two to reaffirm that they are more than just partners but are in fact true and loyal friends who might as well put on one more show for as long it can last. Their relationship is mirrored by that between their wives, who are often at odds with each other as they stand firmly in their husbands’ corners. It is the third marriage for both of them, but it appears that the third time’s the charm. Stan’s wife Ida (Nina Arianda) is a bit of a brassy steamroller, while Ollie’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) is mousy but just as formidable. There is one especially heartwarming moment in the middle of a show when Ollie’s health troubles look like they will incapacitate him, but he looks at Stan for support and they are able to carry on; meanwhile in the audience, Ida and Lucille become a unified front as they lock hands. That is the sort of unity of spirit you hope to find in any major personal endeavor.

Stan & Ollie is Recommended If You Like: The real Laurel and Hardy presumably, Low-key showbiz biopics

Grade: 3 out of 5 Top Hats

This Is a Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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CREDIT: Disney

Ralph Breaks the Internet presents a remarkably satisfying and accurate (such as it is) cinematic version of the Internet (minus all the porn, of course). It’s filled to the brim with buzzy avatars representing pushy autofill, distracting suggested ads, and the like. There are also scores of little blue birds tweeting a bunch of nonsense (there should probably be even more of those). If the references look like they will be instantly dated, look again, and see that it is actually an ouroboros/phoenix of eternal present and unceasing nostalgia constantly eating itself and being reborn. The story zips along weightily with the technical dangers of a connected world grounded metaphorically in the emotional lives of Ralph and Vanellope. And the much-hyped inclusion of all the Disney Princesses is more significant than expected, with the ladies proving to be narratively essential as they also remain thematically true to themselves. All in all, as much as constant connectivity has transformed society (often for the worse), Ralph Breaks the Internet demonstrates that there is still room for friendship.

I give Ralph Breaks the Internet 23,000 Hearts out of 27272 Viruses.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is the Ultimately Charming Tale of Two Fraternal Wild West Hitmen

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CREDIT: Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

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

Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

Director: Jacques Audiard

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: R for Wild West Gunfire, Saloon-Based Vices, and the Aftereffects of a Spider Crawling Into Someone’s Mouth

Release Date: September 21, 2018 (Limited)

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix have teamed up as a couple of brothers whose last name is “Sisters.” Reilly is Eli and Phoenix is Charlie. They’re killers-for-hire out on the frontier in the middle of the 19th century, but eliminating their marks just is not their preferred way of spending their time, plain and simple. Charlie is too busy drinking and whoring, while Eli has too much of a conscience to last too long in this business (and honestly so does Charlie). There are plenty of people who don’t like their jobs, and plenty of movies about that predicament. Certainly, “the hitman who wants to get out of the game” is a tried-and-true trope. But this is different from your John Wick‘s or your Sexy Beast‘s. Eli and Charlie aren’t hard-bitten, they’re just tired and would prefer to find something to be happy about.

The Sisters’ target is Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has devised a new method for discovering gold. It seems a little fantastical in theory, but Warm sounds like he knows what he is talking about. So when Eli and Charlie catch up to him, they decide they would much rather collaborate than kill. Same goes for Detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was supposed to be aiding the Sisters in this assignment but instead becomes drawn into Warm’s machinations. (This team-up is miles away from Gyllenhaal and Ahmed’s partnership in Nightcrawler, with the two giving performances that barely share any DNA with those earlier roles.) It’s heartening watching this quartet work together, for while riches do play a motivating factor, they are really more after a more general sense of fulfillment. The menace of the boss coming to collect is always lurking, but the moments of finding a mutual understanding (along with Alexandre Desplat’s surprisingly jazzy score) are enough to convince you to focus on life’s pleasures where you can find them.

The Sisters Brothers is Recommended If You Like: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix When They’re a Little (But Not Completely) Goofy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Gold Sifters

This Is a Movie Review: The Naughty Nuns of ‘The Little Hours’ are Raunchy and Sweet

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

Starring: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen

Director: Jeff Baena

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Naked Witchcraft Acid Trips

Release Date: June 30, 2017 (Limited)

Fred Armisen shows up as a visiting bishop about halfway through The Little Hours. It is a hilarious scene, but it encapsulates the trepidation I had upon viewing this flick. In writer/director Jeff Baena’s riff on one of the tales from 14th-century story collection The Decameron, things are getting wild and crazy at a convent, with a trio of central nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci) getting into sex, witchcraft, and other debauchery. While the premise alone is worth several chuckles, I had worried that it was better suited to a sketch rather than a full feature length, and Armisen’s routine demonstrates exactly what I was thinking of.

As Bishop Bartolomeo, Armisen takes stock of all the sinning that the residents have been getting up to, and it is a potent mix of petty, mundane, and outrageous. Running down kooky lists and taking a few breaks for exasperation is one of Armisen’s specialties. He revels in a litany that includes envy, “being a busy body,” “eating blood,” and “not being baptized.” This recaps everything important that has happened thus far and if this scene had been an SNL sketch (easily imaginable, considering the cast), our imaginations would just fill in the visuals for all that outrageousness. Instead, we get to see all the vulgarity play out, which could be a recipe for exhaustion after ninety minutes, but The Little Hours has some grounding elements to make the whole course palatable.

The focus is on three young brides of Christ – Alessandra (Brie), Fernanda (Plaza), and Genevra (Plaza) – who are either seeking to escape the convent or happy to stay there but not really interested in living the religious life properly. This would all be just a mélange of nuns behaving badly if not for the appearance of runaway servant Massetto (Dave Franco), who strikes up a romance with Alessandra and a deal with the head priest (John C. Reilly) to keep his true nature a secret. The love story is kinda sweet and Reilly is always so invested in the material no matter how ridiculous, elements that help offset all the debauchery, which is fitfully amusing but could have been exhausting if not for these counterpoints. Besides, this film cannot coast on shock value when its ladies do not bother one iota to resemble actual nuns.

The Little Hours is Recommended If You Like: History of the World: Part 1, The sexier scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The To Do List

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Rolls in the Hay