Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/15/20

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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.

TV
-Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 (May 16 on Various Networks)
DC’s Stargirl Series Premiere (May 18 on DC Universe and May 19 on The CW) – Starring Brec Bassinger as Stargirl; Luke Wilson and Joel McHale also appear.
Community Cast Reunion Table Read and Q+A (May 18 on YouTube)
Celebrity Escape Room (May 21 on NBC) – A Red Nose Day celeb goof-off hosted by Jack Black
Holey Moley II: The Sequel Premiere (May 21 on ABC) – Mini-golf is so hot right now.
To Tell the Truth Season Premiere (May 21 on ABC)

Music
-Charli XCX, How I’m Feeling Now
-Moby, All Visible Objects

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is at Its Best When It Fully Embraces Its Possible Irrelevance

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Fluids That Spew Out in the Zombie Apocalypse

Release Date: October 18, 2019

There’s a running gag throughout Zombieland: Double Tap in which Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) attempts to secure the title of “Zombie Kill of the Year.” He can never seem to quite pull it off, as his companion Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on hand to helpfully inform us of some other recent dispatch of the undead that was just a little more impressive. This begs the question, in a post-apocalyptic world in which all mass communication has been decimated, how is word about these kills spreading so quickly and seamlessly? By Columbus providing this info via voiceover narration, there is an implication, perhaps unintentional, that he is somehow omniscient. Or maybe the conceit is that he is telling us this story years later, although that does not appear to be the case, what with the sense of immediacy to his dictation.

This is not the most worrisome concern to have, but it does stand in contrast to the original Zombieland, in which everything clicked into place just so, both comedically and logically. Double Tap has several elements like this that feel important but ultimately aren’t terribly so. The jokes are given greater emphasis, but even more essential is an investigation into a nagging sense of malaise. How do you go on living in a world overrun by zombies when killing zombies has become second nature? In addressing this question, the ten years that have passed since the first Zombieland are actually an advantage.

While people do die and new zombies are turned in this world, we are never worried that the makeshift family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) will fall victim to the carnage. And they seem to know it. They’re living it up in the White House, treating every day like it’s Christmas, but that sense of security is only engendering mid-life, or quarter-life, crises. Columbus and Wichita especially are struggling with the realization that they have already accomplished all they need to in life by their thirties. I wish that the script had dug into these neuroses a little more deeply, but this movie works as well as it does because this malaise is the foundational conflict.

Now, to fully enjoy Double Tap, you’ll have to have a pretty big appetite for the same self-aware self-deprecating jokes being told over and over and a full embrace of certain stereotypes that have already been thoroughly deconstructed. But there’s a lot more melancholy than you might expect from a past-it-sell-by-date carnage-filled zom-com. If that’s not quite a Zombie Endorsement of the Year, it’s at least enough to assure us that our undead imaginations haven’t been fully depleted yet.

Zombieland: Double Tap is Recommended If You Like: Staring into the void, while repeating your favorite jokes over and over again

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rules

This Is a Movie Review: Brad’s Status

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CREDIT: Jonathan Wenk/Amazon Studios

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

Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, Shazi Raja, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson

Director: Mike White

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for A Few Disconcertingly Random F-Bombs

Release Date: September 15, 2017 (Limited)

Generally when writing a review, I avoid discussing issues of representation. That is not to say that that topic should not be avoided entirely, just that a review is not the ideal place for it. I believe that all stories are worth telling and need to be accepted on their own terms to truly understand them. But occasionally, representation is a focal theme in the stories that make it to the big screen, and in those cases, it would be imprudent to ignore it. Brad’s Status is one such movie.

In the most compelling possible interpretation, Brad’s Status is a horror film about extreme middle class neurosis. The score is filled with foreboding strings and heavy piano that contrast but also simultaneously complement the reliably blue skies. Brad Sloan’s (Ben Stiller) life probably should not be as intensely overwhelming as it is, but the status-conscious brain is a universe unto itself.

Brad’s existential crisis coincides with a college tour for his son Troy (Austin Abrams), who is smart enough to potentially get into Harvard but is uncertain enough about his future such that he doesn’t remember the correct date for his admissions interview. Staying on top of your kids during the college search is stressful enough, but on top of all that, Brad is deeply burdened by questions of how his success measures up with the rest of the world. When he thinks of his own college buddies he has lost touch with, he inevitably frets over how they have all exceeded him in terms of material wealth and influence. He remembers his own young adult idealism, and how his plans to change the world have not really borne fruit, even though he now runs his own nonprofit.

If this all sounds like White Straight Cisgender Male First World Problems: The Movie to you, it is worth noting that Brad’s privilege to complain as much as he does is called out quite searingly and clear-headedly by a female POC character. This is crucial, and effective. Those who are looking for more diverse representation in their films might reasonably say, “Sure, Brad’s Status takes white male bullshit to task, but it’s still about the white male bullshitter.” To which I would respond, I’m pretty sure this movie agrees with your sentiment and might in a weird way want you to dismiss it.

Regardless of how it works in terms of representation, Brad’s Status is an enlightening dramatization of the dangers of assumption, especially when you assume the best AND the worst. Chances are that your successful friends’ lives are not as picture-perfect as they seem. And chances are that they are not completely the opposite either. But you’ll never know either way unless you reach out and listen. Unfortunately for Brad, even when he does reach out, living inside his own head remains impossible to escape.

Brad’s Status is Recommended If You Like: Mad Men, Enlightened, White Male Navel Gazing, Criticism of White Male Navel Gazing

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Silver Flyer Cards