"Hollywood" and "Labor of Love" are this week's picks.
Today, July 10, is the best day for film lovers thus far in 2020.
A24's male friendship/cow theft movie "First Cow"is available to rent digitally. (Look at that cow! What a cow!) "Palm Springs," the new time loop rom-com from The Lonely Island crew, is available on Hulu. Critical fave Gina Prince-Bythewood's dip into action films, "The Old Guard," is available on Netflix (and stars Charlize Theron, so you know it's good). Indie horror movie "Relic," which has garnered comparisons to Ari Aster's breakout hit "Hereditary," is also available for rent. And Tom Hanks' newest Dad Movie, "Greyhound," is available on Apple TV+.
That's five genuinely compelling things to watch! What a concept! I haven't watched any of them yet, but I am quite excited to dig in. I bet a few of them will show up in this column in the next couple weeks.
Also, a shameless plug: This week, I launched a new podcast with The Observer called "The Convo." You can read more about it here, but the basic premise of the show is to promote transparency in journalism and help audiences understand how us journalists do our jobs, hopefully creating some trust in the process. You can subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts, or you can listen straight from the show page.
I promise never to do a Binge Blog episode of the podcast, though. I'd never taint what we have together. It's too special.
Netflix, rated TV-MA, seven episodes, approx. seven hours of content
This far into Ryan Murphy's career as a creator, I thought I knew what to expect.
He makes abrasive shows that push boundaries and initially show a lot of promise before floundering at the end or losing the plot. It's the same trajectory that held true earlier this year with "The Politician." But "Hollywood," Murphy's second show of 2020, caught me off guard. It can still be abrasive, especially in early episodes, but it's also full of warmth. What could have been a "shocking" exposure of Hollywood's underbelly post-WWII instead turns into a sweet rewriting of American film history, transferring power to the people that never had their voice heard.
"Hollywood" is an ensemble piece, but our story initially follows Jack Castello (David Corenswet), a man with dreams of acting but no experience. With a pregnant wife at home, Castello is forced to take a job at a gas station that turns out to be a front for prostitution. His adventures at the gas station eventually lead to him meeting two people in particular: Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), the wife of Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner), who runs Ace Studios, a big-time movie production house; and Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), a budding screenwriter who has a hard time selling his work because he is Black. Amberg helps Castello get a contract with Ace Studios while Coleman joins the gas station crew and ends up meeting (and starting a relationship with) Roy Alexander, an actor soon to be rebranded by his agent as Rock Hudson.
When one of Coleman's screenplays gets unexpectedly picked up by Ace Pictures, to be directed by the half-Filipino Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) and starring Black actor Camille Washington (Lauren Harrier) alongside Castello, the story kicks into another gear. Through a series of events, the film becomes more than just a film. It becomes a symbol of progress in the industry. Some want the film canceled, including some people at the studio. Washington receives death threats. Magazines threaten to expose the secrets of its stars. Through it all, the crew shows courage and the film powers ahead.
This could all easily be cliche, but Murphy makes it work, somehow. There are some over-the-top moments, of course, but that's to be expected. It's funny and full of life and the acting is just the right amount of hammy. This is the most I've enjoyed a Murphy show in a long time, maybe since the first season of "American Horror Story." For anyone looking to add a little pulp to their life, you can do a lot worse than "Hollywood."
"Labor of Love" (2020)
Hulu/FOX, rated TV-14, seven episodes (with one remaining), approx. seven hours of content
Listen, I'm as surprised as you are about this one. Dating shows are not my preferred watch. I find them disingenuous, silly and, in the case of "The Bachelor/Bachelorette," kind of gross.
"Labor of Love" is good. I started watching it against my will, to be sure, but it turned out to be a blessing. It has a slightly different premise than other shows — Kristy Katzmann, the show's star and a former "Bachelor" contestant, isn't just looking for a husband. Katzmann, 41, wants a father for her future children. She feels like she's racing the clock, so to speak, and wants to start a family immediately.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Ryan, this seems even more insane and irresponsible than 'The Bachelor.'" Agreed! It is so insane that it won me over. Many critics have called the show "bizarre," or some synonym thereof, and to that I say: Yes, of course it is. That's the appeal. Others have criticized the show for turning fatherhood into a game, and to that I say: Sure, valid, whatever, but did you see when the show faked a bear attack to determine how the guys would react? Or when they were hooked up to a machine that simulates the pain of childbirth, and their eyes popped out of their sockets like cartoon characters from the pain? Or when, on the first day of shooting, they asked all the men to — How do I put this gently? — place some fluids in a cup, so they could have their sperm count tallied and compared?
"Labor of Love" is what would happen if other dating shows were metaphorically on LSD. A subtly great touch is interviewing all the contestants' parents throughout the show. Watching parents pour praise on their glorious sons as the screen shows the sons, I don't know, playing acoustic guitar while longingly gazing out of a window is majestic juxtaposition. That window, by the way, opens a line of vision between the contestants' house and Kristy's house, which means they can watch each other as they flirt/kiss/whatever with Kristy. And believe me, they do watch! A lot!
I would estimate that 90% of the contestants are whiny babies. One of them is named "Budge," which is not a name. Another is a professional wrestler, a fact which he will remind you about every time he speaks. More than one of these grown adult men sleep with stuffed animals in their beds. There are only two, maybe three, good ones in my eyes and — no spoilers — Kristy has more or less whittled them down correctly, in my opinion, at the time of this writing.
Good job, Kristy! She seems great and way better than these guys, another reason the show is such a treat. She makes them dance like puppets and then sends them home.
Forgot to mention: "Labor of Love" is hosted by Kristin Davis of "Sex and the City" fame. Every time someone speaks to her, they call her by her full name. I wonder if that is in her contract somewhere. I also wonder what she did when she was not on camera because the show is filmed in Atlanta, and she is on camera for maybe five minutes an episode, and each episode spans like a week of real time. I hope they got her a nice hotel at least.
"Labor of Love," get into it!!!
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