Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/26/21

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Tom & Jerry (CREDIT: Warner Bros/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
The Father (Theaters) – Olivia Colman plays Anthony Hopkins’ father
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (March 4 on Paramount+) – This is the day CBS All Access rebrands as Paramount+.
Tom & Jerry (Theaters and HBO Max) – Colin Jost in the Wedding of the Century!
The Vigil (Theaters and On Demand)

TV
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Corona Can’t Keep a Good Queen Down (February 26 on VH1)
-78th Golden Globe Awards (February 28 on NBC)

Music
-Alice Cooper, Detroit Stories – Loved him on The Muppet Show; glad to see he’s still making music.

This Is a Movie Review: Loopy Royal Period Piece ‘The Favourite’ is a Career Highlight for Its Three Lead Actresses

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CREDIT: Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox

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

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for A Very Sexual Royal England

Release Date: November 23, 2018

The hype for The Favourite indicates that it is not your typical period royal court drama, which is to be expected, given that it is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek auteur behind such clinically chilling visions as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. And while The Favourite is certainly an oddity within the genre, that does not mean it is totally anachronistic. Lanthimos’ version is probably not an exact reflection of how the people within the orbit of the British Queen Anne spoke and behaved some 300+ years ago, but it does not seem impossible that they could have acted that way. People use certain four-letter words that are seldom heard from movie characters with the poofiest wigs and dresses, but these are words that have been around for centuries and surely some people were using them back then. Besides, The Favourite is not especially concerned with historical accuracy; the story behind it all is just inspiration for Lanthimos to craft his own devilishly compelling tale.

The most reasonable way to think of The Favourite is as a showcase for its three lead actresses (who get a little bit of help along the way from a few dudes), who have rarely, if ever, been better. Olivia Colman is Anne, hobbled by gout and occasional indecisiveness, perhaps more than a little manipulative in how she courts favor, but breathtakingly formidable once she has made up her mind. Rachel Weisz is Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, close advisor (and much more) to the queen. She prides herself on being ten strategic steps ahead of everyone else, which is her greatest strength, even when it appears to be her downfall. Her wits allow her to get out of any sticky situation, up to and including kidnapping by a brothel. And Emma Stone is Abigail, Rachel’s cousin and new arrival to the court. She initially appears to be so unfailingly kind that it makes her a little stupid, but ultimately it is clear that she is a full-fledged ingratiator. Stone has never before immersed herself in such a dark persona. If Lanthimos has done his job right, and I think he has, your loyalties will constantly switch along with the characters to the point that you just want to applaud everyone.

The Favourite is Recommended If You Like: Amadeus, All About Eve, Persona

Grade: 4 out of 5 Powdered Wigs

 

This Is a Movie Review: Kenneth Branagh’s Take on ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Has a Killer Instinct But Not a Killer Execution

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CREDIT: Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox

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

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds and Attempted Gun Wounds

Release Date: November 10, 2017

Kenneth Branagh’s take on Hercule Poirot, one of the most famous and prolifically portrayed detectives in English literary history, is the sort of man who cannot enjoy his breakfast unless his two eggs are perfectly symmetrically arranged. As he puts, “I can only see the world as it should be.” His skill at identifying culprits so precisely derives from his distaste for his surroundings being askew in any capacity. And when a crime has been committed, things are certainly askew. For a Poirot newbie like myself, this thesis statement is clear and compelling enough. It points to a tradition that has led to a recently predominant style in which brilliant detectives do not fit on a normative intellectual scale.

As for how this version of this most classic of Poirot cases plays out, Branagh is eager to put his many new spins on locked room mystery tropes. But first, certain typical patterns are unavoidable. Each passenger must be introduced with just enough color to make everyone a legitimate suspect, and the camerawork must be painstakingly particular to note every cabin, door, and hidden compartment. But once the setup is through, there is fun to be had (or at least attempted) in mixing up expectations. Oftentimes, characters in these stories try to get away with little lies or hide pieces of their identities that ultimately prove to be quite telling. In this case, the experiment – and alas, mistake – is that everyone gives themselves away with such dishonesty.

A good mystery should be a few steps ahead of most of its viewers. Branagh does indeed pull that off, but he is also a few steps ahead of his own movie, which is not similarly advisable. The result is an end product in which the love for the genre is clear, but the volume at which it is being poked and prodded is too much weight to bear. Most of the performances are overly stiff, stuck in roles within roles in which the unnatural seams start to show. Only Michelle Pfeiffer manages to truly cut loose. Branagh’s formal openness is a good start, but ultimately a star-studded affair like this one requires much more lasting personalities to really hit.

Murder on the Orient Express is Recommended If You Like: Agatha Christie completism, Marvelous mustaches, the Michelle Pfeiffer Renaissance

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Symmetrical Arrangements