Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 11/5/21

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(CREDIT: Apple TV+)

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 Beta Test (Theaters)
Eternals (Theaters)

TV
Animaniacs Season 2 (November 5 on Hulu)
Big Mouth Season 5 (November 5 on Netflix) – Looks like November is Animat-vember.
Dickinson Season 3 Premiere (November 5 on Apple TV+) – Final Season Alert!
Joe Pera Talks With You Season 3 Premiere (November 7 on Adult Swim)

Music
-Aimee Mann, Queens of the Summer Hotel
-Diana Ross, Thank You
-Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, The Future

‘The Beta Test’ Earns an Alpha Grade

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The Beta Test (CREDIT: IFC Films)

Starring: Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Jessie Barr, Jacqueline Doke, Wilky Lau

Director: Jim Cummings

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (But It Would be R for Spiraling Profanity and Blindfolded Sex)

Release Date: November 5, 2021 (Theaters)

When I sat down to watch The Beta Test, I initially thought that I had walked into the wrong room. What the heck was this Swedish domestic drama doing on the screen? Wasn’t I supposed to be watching an American satire about Hollywood wheeling-and-dealing? But then, sure enough, the words “The Beta Test” showed up on screen and the opening credits started unspooling in the English language. But then I had another worry, as this whole affair quickly began to feel a little too inside baseball.

Jim Cummings stars (and also co-wrote and co-directed alongside co-star PJ McCabe) as high-strung Hollywood agent Jordan, who’s dealing with a looming wedding right when a mysterious purple envelope pops into his mailbox inviting him to an anonymous sexual adventure. Could something so squarely set within the showbiz industry play anywhere outside Southern California? I’m here to say that it can, as long as you’re in the mood for a darkly comedic horror tale about data collection and personal facades slipping away.

Now is the time when I pose the question: would I myself like to take The Beta Test? I’m certainly tempted by the lustiest moments, and those purple envelopes are rather alluring. But the consequences are also unavoidably clear, as each instance of the test involves infidelity that pretty much inevitably leads to a deadly lovers’ quarrel. I’m single, though, so I theoretically wouldn’t have to worry about that. But the parameters of The Beta Test are set up so that only people in relationships are targeted. So, if I were in a relationship, I would promise The Beta Test that I would be completely honest with my partner, no matter what decision I make.

There’s a strong suggestion within the movie that honesty is the best policy, as Jordan gets himself into heaps of trouble but ultimately finds his way back, or discovers a new way forward, by essentially vomiting up the contents of his soul during the climax. Couple that with some subtle hints that seem to suggest that his fiance Caroline (Virginia Newcomb of The Death of Dick Long fame) might also be somehow involved in The Beta Test, thus giving off this surreal sense that maybe everyone on screen is ensnared in one way or another.

So perhaps we’re all a part of this game anyway. This movie hinges on the seemingly limitless possibilities presented by data collection. In the social media era, so much information about ourselves is publicly available, and The Beta Test posits that with just a few clicks, a whole parade of suckers can be lured into a dangerous Eyes Wide Shut-style game. When this premise is explained within the movie, it’s certainly based on a foundation of reality, though you might confidently respond, “But at least it’s not really that bad.” The thing is, though … what if it is? What if The Beta Test really is playing out right under our noses? In the wake of watching this movie, I’m finding myself in a push-pull between “no, that’s not possible” and “actually, it might be very possible.” That’s the sort of pendulum where unforgettable movies like this one get stuck in your cerebrum for a good long while.

The Beta Test is Recommended If You Like: Deleting your Facebook account, Jokes about absurd cinematic reboots, Enigmatic flashbacks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Purple Envelopes