"The Lost City of Z" and "The Righteous Gemstones" are this week's picks.
The Emmys were last weekend, and I don't have much to say about them, other than I have no clue how a panel of people is supposed to watch every single show in existence to determine the winners in the current era. Every week, new shows hit Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, among other services, to say nothing of shows that premiere on the traditional cable channels or premium channels like HBO and Showtime. I haven't even heard of all the shows that were nominated, let alone watched a single second of them, and I write about this stuff weekly.
At least with the Oscars, streaming services separate the wheat from the chaff by premiering all the stuff they know is awards-worthy in theaters first. That way, voters know what to spend time on and what they can skip. The television landscape is pure chaos. Plus, a movie only requires two hours, maybe three. A season of TV can take weeks to finish.
So congrats to all the winners. Just know that I will never, ever watch most of you. I just don't have time.
You know what I have watched? This week's picks.
“The Lost City of Z” (2016)
Amazon Prime Video, rated PG-13, 140 minutes
Frequent readers of this column know two things about it:
I don’t write about movies currently in theaters, only ones on streaming services. And all television shows are fair game.
I love to circumvent the first rule, often by sneaking commentary into other entries. I also struggle to stay on topic in general.
Why am I bringing this up? Uh, no reason.
“The Lost City of Z” is directed by James Gray, and wouldn’t you know it, Gray has a movie out right now, too. It’s called “Ad Astra,” it stars Brad Pitt, and it’s one of my favorite movies of the year so far.
Unlike other times when I hijack a section, this time the hijacking has a purpose. The two films work as thematic companions to one another. “Lost City” is the true-ish story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who went missing in the Amazon in 1925 while attempting to find the titular lost city. Gray focuses the story not on Fawcett’s accomplishments or the dangers awaiting his crew in the jungle but on the idea of obsession. What makes humans liable to focus so intensely on accomplishing a goal, even at the risk of alienating loved ones? That’s what interests Gray.
“Ad Astra” takes this idea and shifts it to an outer perspective. Roy McBride (Pitt) is the son of legendary astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). He’s an astronaut too, but less because he wants to be and more because he felt he ought to be. Clifford went missing while on a mission when Roy was 16, but he was distant with his son before then.
Thanks to that lack of a relationship, Roy prefers to be alone. He was married but got a divorce. He doesn’t value human connections. When an extraterrestrial event threatens Earth, and it is believed that Clifford might not be dead after all, Roy is forced to face his ghosts head-on. “Ad Astra” is a lot of things, but chief among them is a study in what can happen to loved ones tossed to the side.
The stories of the two films don’t overlap. You can watch one without the other and enjoy it. But knowledge of how the films’ themes weave in and out of each other will improve the experience. “Lost City” is a great starting point. It’s gorgeous to view and Hunnam gives a surprisingly strong performance, as do Robert Pattinson as Fawcett’s exploration partner, Sienna Miller, as Fawcett’s wife and Tom Holland as Fawcett’s son.
Go see "Ad Astra," and thank me later. Some audiences don't get it, but if you're reading this, you will.
“The Righteous Gemstones” (2019)
HBO, rated TV-MA, 30 minutes
Based on the show’s advertising, you’d be forgiven for thinking “The Righteous Gemstones” was a takedown of Christianity.
It’s a lot more nuanced than that, specifically going after televangelists and megachurches that value profits over prayer. Eli Gemstone (John Goodman) is the family patriarch and the one who created the Gemstone empire when he married Aimee-Leigh Freeman (Jennifer Nettles), one half of a superstar country music duo with her brother, Baby Billy Freeman (Walton Goggins, a national treasure). Eli was a modest preacher before then. Together with Aimee-Leigh — and her fame — he managed to create a church seemingly too big to fail, though he insists Aimee-Leigh was the heartbeat of the whole thing.
That all happened before the show begins, though there is a flashback episode. In the present day story, Aimee-Leigh has died, leaving Eli completely in change and maybe in over his head. Meanwhile, the family’s adult children are dealing with problems of their own. Jesse (series creator Danny McBride) is being blackmailed by an unknown assailant with footage of Jesse doing unholy things with sex workers in Atlanta. Judy (Edi Patterson) wants to be given more responsibility in the business instead of being sidelined because she’s a woman. Kelvin (Adam Devine) keeps getting chances to prove his worth,and keeps failing, except in the case of Keefe Chambers (Tony Cavalero), whom Kelvin converted to Christianity from Satanism.
There’s a lot to like about “The Righteous Gemstones” right off the bat: the ridiculous outfits, the even more ridiculous southern accents, McBride’s signature mix of ribaldry with pure silliness. The best thing, though, is Goggins’ performance as Baby Billy, already one of the funniest characters on television through the show’s first six episodes. (And he doesn’t even appear until episode three.) Baby Billy is your scheming uncle who is a bit gross but also a perfect booze-guzzling buddy. He’s in life for himself, but he’ll make sure everyone has a good time until the moment he screws them over.
He manipulates his sister into coming out of retirement. He manipulates Judy into filling her mother’s shoes. He gives a young Jesse so much beer he pukes. He enunciates every single syllable in his name like his life depends on it, and his hair is blindingly white in the present-day timeline.
But he also clogs, as evidenced by this flashback performance of “Misbehavin’” with Aimee-Leigh that certain sects of the internet will not shut up about, and rightfully so:
I don’t know what else to tell you. Walton Goggins clogs, frequently, in this show. Why aren’t you turning on HBO yet?
Quote of the Week:
Nina Fawcett (Miller), in "The Lost City of Z":
"To dream to seek the unknown. To look for what is beautiful is its own reward. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"