Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 12/4/20

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MANK (CREDIT: 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
Godmothered (December 4 on Disney+)
Mank (December 4 on Netflix) – Fincher on Mankiewicz.
Mulan (December 4 on Disney+, without the premium fee)
Let Them All Talk (December 10 on HBO Max) – Soderbergh directs Streep-Bergen-Wiest on a cruise.

TV
Big Mouth Season 4 (December 4 on Netflix)
MTV Movie & TV Awards: Greatest of All Time Special (December 6 on MTV)

Music
-Arctic Monkeys, Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Best Film Directors of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

I’ve got another extra-innings Best of the 2010s for ya. This time, the focus is on Film Directors, those folks who hang out behind the camera and let everyone know how they would like the movie to go.

Based on the eligibility rules of the poll that I submitted my list to, each director had to have at least two films come out between 2010 and 2019 to be considered. I made my selections based on a combination of how much I enjoyed their output and how much they influenced the medium and the culture at large.

My choices, along with their 2010s filmography, are listed below.

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This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh Captures Claire Foy Possibly Losing Her Mind in His Latest ‘Unsane’ Experiment

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CREDIT: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

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

Starring: Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Juno Temple, Polly McKie

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Pill-Induced Distortion, Unsanitary Use of a Tampon, and a Violent Spree

Release Date: March 23, 2018

Steven Soderbergh has made a career out of messing around with the standard bounds of cinema, often in ways that could come off as a gimmick in the hands of a less assured director. His latest, Unsane, sets itself apart with its iPhone 7 Plus 4K cinematography (credited to Soderbergh himself). Smartphone photography is certainly advanced enough to make a feature film look as professional as it ought to, so for those who are capable, the smartphone option simply deserves to be added to the docket of available cameras. Thematically, an iPhone fits Unsane’s story of a woman committed to a mental institution against her will, as it compresses the depth of field and lends a dull sheen that lingers in the uncanny valley between intimate and detached.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a businesswoman rising up the corporate ladder, but she is haunted by a troubled past and feelings of loneliness in a new city. The nature of her job is never fully specified (kind of hilariously), but it appears to have something to do with customer service, and she also appears to have power to hire and fire. She has been dealing with occasionally crippling anxiety caused by a stalker . After one particularly bad episode, she drops by for a therapy session, which leads to her signing some forms, which somehow results in her being committed to a mental facility and unable to leave, as she has been declared a danger to herself and to others.

Sawyer’s circumstances quickly become too sinister for this to be a simple mistake or an innocent misdiagnosis, suggesting that a conspiracy is afoot. A staff member (Joshua Leonard) appears to be her stalker in disguise – has he orchestrated the whole thing? Or is the truth to be found from the most well-adjusted resident (Jay Pharoah), who divulges to Sawyer that she is the victim of an insurance scam in which the institution forces people to be committed for as long as their coverage will pay for it? Or is it some combination of forces, working together, or simultaneously coincidentally all ganging up on Sawyer? Of course, there is also the possibility that this could all be in her head, as everything unspools from her point of view the whole time.

This could be a formula for devastatingly unsettling ambiguity, but Soderbergh is not especially concerned about questioning the nature of reality. This is more just a setup for him to explore his particular tastes in psychological and claustrophobic thrills. In many respects, Unsane is satisfying simply on a lurid and pulpy level. Soderbergh does definitely dig deeper than that, presenting in stark terms how both institutional and corporate life can be dehumanizing, their loss of morals too easily justified with a sweep under the rug. Those moments of carelessness and lack of empathy do not usually result in ordeals as dangerous as Sawyer’s, but the opportunities for abuse are there for those who want to take advantage of them.

Unsane is Recommended If You Like: Side Effects, Shutter Island, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gone Girl

Grade: 4 out of 5 Medical Forms

This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh and the ‘Logan Lucky’ Crew Pull Off a Heist at the Biggest Race of the Year

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Credit: Claudette Barius / Fingerprint Releasing | Bleecker Street

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

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Improvised Explosives and Slapstick Violence, Often Involving a Prosthetic

Release Date: August 18, 2017

If you follow the sports world, you will have noticed lately the several examples of the wonders that taking significant time off does towards extending a career. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, perhaps the two greatest tennis players of all time, have taken months-long breaks and at ages 36 and 35, respectively (ancient by athletic standards), they are still somehow in the primes of their careers. The physicality of sports and filmmaking are not exactly the same, but both can be similarly taxing. So while it is right to question the accuracy of Steven Soderbergh’s claim that he was retiring from directing, it is not right to question the wisdom of what he was actually doing, i.e., taking a nice, long, relaxing break, as Logan Lucky is the type of film that you make only when you are bursting with energy.

Logan is Soderbergh’s first directorial effort since 2013’s Side Effects and the HBO film Behind the Candelabra, but in premise, it most obviously brings to mind his Ocean’s trilogy. Recently unemployed West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) recruits his one-armed Iraq War vet bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), along with incarcerated bleached-blonde demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and Joe’s supposed computer expert brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), to rob the cash deposits at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the longest annual race on the NASCAR calendar. So it is basically a hillbilly Ocean’s 11 (Logan’s 6, if you will), and that connection is referenced head-on with a sneakily well-timed joke. Now, don’t let that description fool you into thinking that this film looks down on the people that populate it. Its particular strength is how thoroughly and empathetically each character is rendered, despite their colorful personalities offering an easy temptation for stereotypes.

Accordingly, every actor is given plenty of opportunities to stretch, with Soderbergh guiding them along to their best instincts. Keough shines in her accounting of the West Virginia highway system, Driver is wholly convincing with his unassuming one-armed bartending prowess, Seth MacFarlane is Snidely Whiplash-levels ridiculous as a luxuriously coiffed, arrogant driver, Farrah Mackenzie (as Jimmy’s young daughter Sadie) charms enough to somehow make pageant culture a little less nauseating than usual, and when Special Agent Hilary Swank shows up, she makes an all-business demeanor just as much fun as criminality. But the biggest praise is rightfully reserved for Craig, who is delightfully unhinged in the friendliest way possible, as well as Dwight Yoakam, as a warden whose loss of control of his prison amazingly involves the most hilarious taking to task of George R.R. Martin I have ever witnessed.

The conflict of heist movies is such that their cool vibes always goad you into rooting for the criminals. While these robbers typically are not violent, and often target the most powerful and greediest, they are in fact still criminals. The fact that these are just movies should be enough to remove any feelings of moral crisis. But in case you want more than that, there is a Robin Hood-style resolution. Your mileage may vary on what that means in terms of ethical implications, but there is no doubt that it contributes to the good vibes.

Logan Lucky is Recommended If You Like: Heist Films, Southern-Fried Flavor, Feeling Pumped When You Walk Out of the Theater

Grade: 4 out of 5 Painted Cockroaches