The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2019

In a shocking turn of events, there are actually a ton of movies I’m excited for this summer. In years past, I’ve struggled to round out to an even 10. This year, however, I’m expanding to 15 titles that have a lot of potential, even if most of them are recycled IP.

Jeremy Renner in Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame
(April 26)
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson
Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
I’m not concerned with them whiffing the ending of this 22-film deep saga. I’m more concerned with them not cheapening the already cheapened experience of Infinity War, which undercut its gutsy cliffhanger by offing characters we know will be back for future movies (including one that opens later this summer). By limiting the footage we’ve seen in the trailers and ads (including curiously few shots of Mark Ruffalo), they’re doing a good job of keeping the mystery up. Now they just have to solve it. Well, that and the mystery of Jeremy Renner’s hairstyles.

Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen in Long Shot
Long Shot
(May 3)
Starring Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Screenplay by Liz Hannah, Dan Sterling
Directed by Jonathan Levine
I was a bit skeptical of this rom-com – about the Secretary of State (Theron) falling for her speechwriter (Rogen) – until the glowing reviews came in from SXSW. Granted, some of those opinions may have been influenced by alcohol and a free concert by Boyz II Men. Still, their chemistry seems genuine and Jonathan Levine needs a win after his last few projects were a bit compromised.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
(May 17)
Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Jason Mantzoukas, Ian McShane
Screenplay by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Chad Stahelski
By far the sequel I’m most excited for this summer. Keanu Reeves’ re-emergence as an action star has been exciting to see. Plus, they’ve figured out how to top the incredible stunts of the first two films: Put Keanu on a damn horse.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in Booksmart
Booksmart
(May 24)
Starring Caitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis
Screenplay by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde
The reductive view is that is just Superbad for ladies. But even if it is that? That means it’s going to be an amazing comedy. Dever and Feldstein have been stealing scenes for years. Now they get to strut their stuff and carry their own film.

Millie Bobby Brown in Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
(May 31)
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford
Story by Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Directed by Michael Dougherty
I was underwhelmed with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot, despite its impressive cinematography. A clear example of the “awesome trailer, OK movie.” Somehow, I’m all in on this sequel, which introduces all of Godzilla’s foes at once, and features a murderer’s row of TV all-stars, including Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and CCH Pounder (The Shield).

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What I Watched This Week: 14 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Saturday Night Live – “Emma Stone/BTS” (C-)
Though mostly apolitical, the show felt even more slapdash than usual, with lots of so-so celebrity impressions trotted out, especially in the weak cold open. Only occasionally was Emma allowed to show the super-weird brilliance she’s brought to the show many times before. Case in point: the excellent short “The Actress.”

Game of Thrones – “Winterfell” (B) / season premiere
An hour of table-setting doesn’t exactly make for exciting TV. At least Jon knows what we’ve all been yelling at the TV for the last few episodes. (“That is your aunt! Stop that!”) But of course the production still looks like a million bucks, with an excellent shot nighttime scene with the show’s best jump scare ever.

Barry – “Past = Present x Future over Yesterday” (A-)
A dramatic push forward, even if it feels a little overstuffed. Forced to confront his past, Barry really is trying to a better person, but it’s negatively affecting all his relationships. The reappearance of Sally’s ex Sam is sure to bring Barry’s violent tendencies out in horrible fashion, but it’s also possible he just runs away from the hard work of confronting his enemies without hurting them.

Veep – “Pledge” (A)
The nastiest, funniest episode of the season, and a strong contender for the show’s top 5. The abortion clinic scene and Jonah’s disastrous attempt at sensitivity training had me laughing harder than I’ve laughed at anything all year.

Killing Eve – “Nice and Neat” (B+)
Basically an homage to Misery, with even more incredible acting from Jodie Comer and a new killer for Eve to hunt.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Bimbo” (B)
A deeply silly episode, with a ridiculous A-plot and an even more preposterous sub-plot. It’s all consistently funny, but nothing truly special. Marc Evan Jackson really shines, though.

A.P. Bio – “Personal Everest”

CURRENT SHOWS
Killing Eve – “Do You Know How to Dispose of a Body?” (B+)
When an opening title card can make me laugh, I know I’m in good hands. Picking up “30 seconds later” after the finale, the show is really just Eve and Villanelle doing whatever they can to get out of their bloody situations. While Eve is racked with guilt, Villanelle has no problem murdering (mercy-killing?) a car accident survivor. The constant punctuation of dark humor makes me glad the show hasn’t lost a step.

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What I Watched This Week: 7 Apr 2019

NEW SHOWS
Barry – “The Power of No” (B+)
Barry is trapped in a prison of his own making. After making the right choice not to kill the head of the Burmese crime family, he’s made his own situation that much worse, because now they know there’s a hit out. And with Fuchs back in town, the tension is that much higher, while Gene is forcing him to confront his dark past. But wait! This show is still hilarious, especially in the many acting class scenes this week. One particular standout moment: Gene asks the class if they wish they could have been “in the shit” with Barry, with two white students enthusiastically nodding and two black students shaking their heads. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, right after last week’s DNA swab gag.

Veep – “Discovery Weekend” (B+)
As always, Selina is her own worst enemy. But throwing a wrench even further into her plans are fellow candidates who know her playbook and how to use it against her. I loved the Rhea Seahorn/Anna Chlumsky visual joke, but the real MVP was William Fichtner as a self-absorbed, closeted billionaire/major donor.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Casecation” (A-)
How did Brooklyn Nine-Nine deliver a better episode about the having-kids-or-not debate than This Is Us? Part of it is feeling like the exact right stakes for these characters and this episode, instead of another emotional obstacle to overcome. But This Is Us also didn’t have Julia Sweeney as colostomy patient/would-be bomber.

A.P. Bio – “Melvin” (A-)
Christopher Lloyd is great in his brief turn as Jack’s feuding neighbor. This episode was just non-stop laughs – from Durbin’s terrible photoshoots to an all-timer classroom scene – and terrific friendship/relationship storytelling with Jack and Lynette.

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What I Watched This Week: 31 Mar 2019

NEW SHOWS
Barry – “The Show Must Go On, Probably?” (A-) / season premiere
There was the fear that this season wouldn’t know where to go next, since it ended on such a perfectly dark note. But it’s clear Bill Hader and his creative team haven’t lost a step. They still know how to balance tension and humor, even when it seems like the show’s on separate tracks.

Veep – “Iowa” (A-) / season premiere
After two years off, there was the potential for this show to just kind of spin its wheels for its last episodes. It’s almost as if the writers knew this, turning that subtext into text as Selina’s campaign tries to avoid the same mistakes of the past, as documented in an enormous bound guide. It’s already funny stuff, but punctuated with extremely dark jokes about abortion and mass shootings that only a show this ballsy could pull off.

This Is Us – “Her” (B) / season finale
A somewhat satisfying finale, or course correction, depending on your point of view. Randall and Beth figure out a way to make it work, but it’s also wrapped up in such a way that I don’t necessarily care what happens in future seasons. Mostly, the show has just made me shout “Tell them what you’re feeling!” to various characters, which is a bit frustrating.

A.P. Bio – “J’accuse” (A-)
Jack finally wins over Lynette, but his cynicism and ambition may kill their relationship before it even gets off the ground. Sarika finally gets to cut loose a bit, letting her be a kid again.

CURRENT SHOWS
This Is Us – “R&B” (A-)
Another excellently cut episode showing the progress and cyclical mistakes characters have made over the years, as Randall and Beth have both failed to express their true feelings until the emotions and resentment are too much to bear. Their issues aren’t petty, but the impasse might not last forever.

OLD SHOWS
The Twilight Zone (Season 1)
“Walking Distance” (A-)
“Mirror Image” (A)
While I won’t be subscribing to CBS All Access for the fourth version of The Twilight Zone, I’m using its premiere as an opportunity to catch up on some original episodes that I’ve never seen. These episodes prove the show peaked in its first season, with simple-but-haunting stories that would be often imitated but never duplicated. (“Mirror Image” in particular was a major influence on Us.)

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Streaming Picks: April 2019

Sorry for the delay. March was a crazy month that involved a lot of travel. The Criterion Channel launches on my birthday (April 8) and I’m hoping that’s one of my gifts. Might eventually add that to the list of services I include in this guide.

FILMS
Top Picks
The Addams Family and Addams Family Values – Prime and Hulu 4/1
Bonnie and Clyde – Netflix 4/1
The Hateful Eight – Netflix 4/25
Burning – Netflix 4/29
While Prime and Hulu have the very enjoyable TV adaptations of The Addams Family (featuring the late great Raul Julia), Netflix is where it’s at for movies this month (a rare thing to say). They’ve added Bonnie and Clyde to capitalize on their new film The Highwaymen. They’ve also got Burning, the South Korean mystery that was one of 2018’s best films. And while The Hateful Eight is no one’s favorite Tarantino, they’re streaming the extended roadshow version, which has never been available on home video before. I saw this version in 70mm in 2015, and it does add a little bit of substance to the version most people have seen.

Recent Selections
A Quiet Place – Prime and Hulu 4/2 (Academy Award nominee)
Tyrel – Hulu 4/11
Pledge – Hulu 4/12
We Are Columbine – Hulu 4/16
Overboard – Prime and Hulu 4/17
Mid90s – Prime 4/18
The Quake – Hulu 4/18
I, Daniel Blake – Netflix 4/19
Book Club – Hulu 4/21
The Sisters Brothers – Hulu 4/22
Arcadia – Hulu 4/23
Beast of the Water – Hulu 4/23
Border – Hulu 4/23 (Academy Award nominee)
Don’t Go – Hulu 4/24

Originals
Suzzanna: Buried Alive – Netflix 4/3
Unicorn Store – Netflix 4/5
A Land Imagined – Netflix 4/12
The Perfect Date – Netflix 4/12
The Silence – Netflix 4/12
Who Would You Take to a Deserted Island? – Netflix 4/12
A Fortunate Man – Netflix 4/19
Music Teacher – Netflix 4/19
Someone Great – Netflix 4/19

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Mar 2019

NEW SHOWS
Documentary Now! – “Any Given Saturday Afternoon” (A-) / season finale
This is what was missing from “Long Gone.” This episode, about three former bowling champions competing for one last tournament has all the gags and all the pathos. Bobby Moynihan, Tim Robinson and Michael C. Hall all score at previously unknown levels of comedy. But it’s Kevin Dunn as the beleaguered network producer trying to juice some drama out of this boring pastime that steals the show. There’s also a treasure trove of little details, especially in the names of the sponsors, including that the league was bought in 2003 by Pets.com.

A.P. Bio – “Toledo’s Top 100” (B+)
Patton Oswalt throws 100mph in a rare episode that focuses on him, as he’s named into the top 10 most eligible bachelors in Toledo, while Jack is all the way down at 86. There’s also a thwarted student-teacher romance subplot that skates right up to the edge of the line, but reels it back in. It helped that the kids were already awkward and uncomfortable.

CURRENT SHOWS
A.P. Bio – “Wednesday Morning, 8 A.M.” (A-)
The show switches up its structure for a near-real time exploration of Jack’s attempts to get his special chair back from the hot lady in accounts payable. In doing so, the show delivers its best episode to date, setting up a potential romantic interest for Jack that actually could work.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Therapist” (B+)
David Paymer is excellent as the killer shrink, as is Cameron Esposito as Rosa’s new girlfriend. Terry being insecure about pleasing his wife in bed feels a little out of character, but at least it gives us some primo Hitchcock and Scully content.

Documentary Now! – “Long Gone” (B)
The show went political and absurd when it should have gone melancholy. Well-executed stylistically but its not that funny when it clearly wanted to be.

This Is Us – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (B+)
The show explores the dichotomy between simple childhood relationships and extremely difficult adult relationships. Pulling Randall and Beth apart is certainly not a storyline I enjoy, but its raw emotions – and the performances of Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson – make it engrossing.

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What I Watched This Week: 10 Mar 2019

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “Mulaney” (A) / series finale
As a season finale, it’s perfect. As a somewhat abrupt series finale, it’s still pretty satisfying. While I’m sad the show is ending on what is clearly not its own turns, especially since it took a leap this season, this is about as good an ending as one could hope. In that respect, it reminded me of the dearly departed Togetherness.

This Is Us – “The Waiting Room” (B-)
In creating an episode where everyone’s annoyed and on edge, we as the audience are also annoyed and on edge. At least the last five minutes, in which Kate and Toby touch their newborn son while communing with Jack from beyond the grave, are spectacular.

Documentary Now! – “Searching for Mr. Larson” (B+)
As a huge Far Side fan, this was pretty great. Fred Armisen gives arguably his best performance yet on this show as the incredibly pathetic documentarian. But the absolute dead-on one line from the actor playing his dad gave me the biggest laugh.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Gintars” (B+)
Ike Barinholtz crushes it, guest starring as the biological father of Nikolaj, who loiters at the 99 until Boyle agrees to let him see the boy. It’s the details that sell this one, like Gintars’ head-to-toe denim, his poorly conceived Gap knock-off (GAPE) business, and that he spends his days watching Mad About You on Latvian Hulu.

A.P. Bio – “Nun” (B+)
Funnier than the premiere, and proving Lynn Shelton should direct a horror movie soon. And what’s this? Something resembling another emotional breakthrough for Jack?

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What I Watched This Week: 3 Mar 2019

NEW SHOWS
Crashing – “The Christian Tour” (B)
The stuff on the tour is great, but the break-up and subsequent roasting by a quartet of female comedians feels a little tacked on.

This Is Us – “The Graduates” (B-)
A towering performance from Mandy Moore is undercut by the show repeating dramatic plotlines. We’ve already been through Kevin’s drinking and Kate’s pregnancy risks and Randall’s insistence that his political ambitions are more important than Beth’s dreams. Running this all back feels like lazy, panicked writing. Hopefully we’ll get some emotional breakthroughs before the season is out. Spinning its wheels for four more episodes sounds like a drag.

Documentary Now! – “Waiting for the Artist” (A)
Cate Blanchett shines as a parody of performance artist Marina Abramovic. It’s one of the show’s most hilarious and detailed episodes, and also is the rare one to have a genuine emotional core.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Golden Child” (B+)
Plenty of great antics from everyone, but while Lin-Manuel Miranda is positioned as the scene-stealer, as usual, he’s so great he makes someone else shine, in this case Melissa Fumero, showing tremendous range after her dramatic outing last week.

A.P. Bio – “Happiness” (B) / season premiere
Funny to be sure, but lacks the, eh, urgency(?) of the first season. It’s sweet, but a little predictable. But Paula Pell and Patton Oswalt make a great duo. If any show gets dropped because of the absolutely insane amount of shows in April, this will be it.

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Feb 2019

NEW SHOWS
The Oscars (B+)
After all the debacles, this hostless show made for pretty good television, moving along briskly with no segments that leave you thinking, “When is this going to be over?” (Well, except for that excruciating speech by the hair and make-up team from Vice.) Shame about the Best Picture winner, though.

Crashing – “The Viewing Party” (B)
Like Atlanta‘s “Helen” last year, this is a deeply uncomfortable relationship-in-crisis episode that still has some strong moments. Emo Philips showed up for a set, and it was glorious, but he’s the only delightful part of the show, as things are awkward to a degree that’s unsettling.

True Detective – “Now Am Found” (B+) / season finale
About as satisfying as it could be, though there’s no big takedown of the bad guys. Everyone’s dead or too old to prosecute. My wife called the main twist, but the second one no one saw coming. (Although now I’m questioning if that was even real.) We’ll have to live knowing that we as the audience knows the truth, but that its characters never will.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – “February 25, 2019” (A)
Even though I don’t have automatic seething rage at the mere mention of his name, even I’ll admit his shtick has worn thin. So imagine my surprise that Fallon used the occasion of his fifth anniversary hosting the show to turn in a brilliant, self-deprecating homage to The Larry Sanders Show. Every other late-night host (except maybe James Corden) is more daring night-to-night, but this one-off is one of the boldest things among the wide open sea of shows in a long time.

Documentary Now! – “Original Cast Album: Co-op” (A)
The rare piece of art that lives up to the breathless hype that’s surrounded it for months. John Mulaney is absolutely incredible as a Stephen Sondheim stand-in in this Company parody. The original doc is all but impossible to see, but this reverent and uproarious spoof might be the show’s lasting legacy.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “He Said, She Said” (A-)
This show doesn’t do issue episodes unless it knows it can pull it off. They succeed again with this episode about a tough case – headed up by Peralta and Santiago – in which they have to bring down a serial sexual harasser and attempted rapist without any physical evidence in the boys’ club of Wall Street. It’s extremely well-done, even if laughs have to take a backseat.

 

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Streaming Picks: March 2019

FILMS
Top Picks
Tapeheads – Prime and Hulu 3/1
This mostly forgotten ’80s comedy has a very strong but very tiny cult, of which I am a part. It’s a delightful, goofy and clever buddy picture with John Cusack and Tim Robbins as wannabe music video directors. This one has been hard to find in the past, so definitely check it out if you’re a fan of either’s career.

Foreign Language Film Spotlight
Shoplifters – Hulu 3/14 (Academy Award nominee)
The Lives of Others – Netflix 3/15
A Separation – Netflix 3/15
Cold War – Prime 3/22 (Academy Award nominee)
But if you’re looking for something more highbrow, I recommend all these foreign language films. Shoplifters and Cold War were two strong contenders from Japan and Poland, respectively, that were no match for Roma. The latter two won the award in their years, The Lives of Others in a major upset over Pan’s Labyrinth. I wouldn’t call any of these happy movies in any way, but they’re all moving, with a lot to say about the past and present of their home countries.

Recent Selections
Ouija House – Hulu 3/1
Christopher Robin – Netflix 3/5 (Academy Award nominee)
Where Hands Touch – Hulu 3/5
I Can Only Imagine – Prime and Hulu 3/8
The Party’s Just Beginning – Hulu 3/11
Acrimony – Prime and Hulu 3/12
Colette – Prime 3/12
Free Solo – Hulu 3/13 (Academy Award winner)
No Way Out – Hulu 3/15
Speed Kills – Prime 3/16
Tea with the Dames – Hulu 3/16
Divide and Conquer – Hulu 3/17
Assassination Nation – Hulu 3/18
The Last Race – Hulu 3/21
A Cam Life – Hulu 3/26
Monsters and Men – Hulu 3/27
The Domestics – Prime and Hulu 3/29
Chef Flynn – Hulu 3/30
Outlaws – Prime 3/30

Originals
Budapest – Netflix 3/1
River’s Edge – Netflix 3/1
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – Netflix 3/1
Your Son – Netflix 3/1
Juanita – Netflix 3/8
Lady J – Netflix 3/8
Walk. Ride. Rodeo. – Netflix 3/8
Triple Frontier – Netflix 3/13
Burn Out – Netflix 3/15
Dry Martina – Netflix 3/15
Girl – Netflix 3/15
Paskal – Netflix 3/15
Mirage – Netflix 3/22
The Dirt – Netflix 3/22
15 August – Netflix 3/29
Bayoneta – Netflix 3/29
The Highwaymen – Netflix 3/29

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