Hopefully your week ahead is looking kind of quiet, because there’s a lot to sink your teeth into over the next seven days. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. WHAT TO WATCH FOR A-LIST THRILLS ‘N’ SPILLS
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise delight: a spy movie with an infectious sense of fun and some terrific, inventive visuals. Opening in theaters Friday, this sequel arrives to greater expectations, but Vaughn looks primed to rise to the occasion. This time, the sharp-suited British employees of the Kingsman secret service, led by Colin Firth and Taron Egerton, join forces with their new American colleagues, who include Halle Berry and Channing Tatum, to defeat a ruthless criminal played by Julianne Moore. With a cast this starry, it seems reasonable to feel cautiously optimistic.
2. WHAT TO LISTEN TO IF YOU’VE ALWAYS HAD A SOFT SPOT FOR GEORGE MICHAEL
When George Michael passed away on Christmas Day, it was reported that the former Wham! singer had left three unreleased albums in the vaults. So it’s perhaps a little disappointing that the singer’s first posthumous release isn’t a new song, but a reworked version of a B-side from 1990. Still, this new version of “Fantasy” is definitely welcome: Chic legend Nile Rodgers has made an underrated George Michael song sound even funkier, and the late singer’s vocal is a swooping, lust-fueled delight.
3. WHAT TO STREAM BECAUSE IT’S AS GOOD AS EVERYONE SAYS IT IS
Since launching in 2014, this Amazon comedy-drama series has been praised for its sensitive depiction of a middle-aged father (Jeffrey Tambor) who comes out to her family as a trans woman. It’s an important show filled with empathetic performances: Tambor and co-stars Gaby Hoffmann, Judith Light, and Kathryn Hahn have all earned Emmy nominations. Premiering Friday, this fourth season arrives in the wake of the highly controversial transgender military ban. In this context, expect Transparent to feel even more poignant and enlightened than in the past.
4. WHAT TO WATCH IF YOU LOVE DAME JUDI DENCH (AND OF COURSE YOU DO)
Twenty years ago, Dame Judi Dench movingly portrayed a grieving Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, and deservedly earned the first of her seven Oscar nominations. The beloved British actress returns to the role in this poignant comedy-drama film, which tells the true story of Victoria’s late-in-life friendship with her handsome and much younger Indian servant, Abdul Karim (Furious 7‘s Ali Fazal). Opening in select theaters Friday, Victoria & Abdul isn’t a flawless piece of filmmaking — Fazal’s character is a little underdeveloped, when comparing the film adaptation to his actual diaries that were discovered posthumous — but there’s no denying the majesty of Dench’s acting. An eighth Oscar nomination for the 82-year-old thesp looks like a distinct possibility.
5. WHAT TO READ IF YOU FIND MOST CELEBRITY MEMOIRS A LITTLE FLUFFY
Last year, revered Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane featured on a huge number one hit, “Black Beatles” by hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. But just months before the single dropped, he’d been released from prison. Co-written with music journalist Neil Martinez-Belkin, this memoir is a redemption story that doesn’t shy away from detailing Mane’s incredibly troubled past: one sullied by violence, drug addiction, and jail time. It’s not always an easy read, but the rapper’s candor — and commitment to changing himself — is definitely compelling.
6. WHAT TO CHECK OUT FOR A FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON A POP SUPERSTAR
Launching Friday on Netflix, this documentary film promise “unfiltered, behind-the-scenes access” to Lady Gaga as she records and promotes her 2016 album, Joanne, and prepares for this year’s Super Bowl halftime performance. Given that Gaga is a famously sharp operator with a producer credit on this film, some critics will quibble with how “unfiltered” it really is, but Five Foot Two certainly feels revealing: the singer discusses her relationship history, her difficult relationship with fellow pop queen Madonna, and the chronic pain she’s suffered since breaking her hip in 2013. Even if you’re only a casual Gaga fan, it’s compelling viewing.
7. WHAT TO ADD TO YOUR MORNING MOTIVATION PLAYLIST
Northern Irish singer Nadine Coyle is formerly a member of Girls Aloud, a girl band who were huge at home in the U.K., but more of a cult act stateside. After a couple of quiet years, she’s back with a storming solo single that’s quite literally a command to get up and graft: “Why don’t you do your thing? Bring the money home, just like mama done,” she belts on the chorus. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, a quick blast of “Go to Work” should help to clear the cobwebs.
8. WHAT TO GO AND SEE WHETHER YOU’RE INTO TENNIS OR NOT
Opening Friday, this well-hyped biopic tells the story of a legendary sporting encounter: 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King, a great player campaigning for equal pay in women’s tournaments, and Bobby Rigg, a retired champion who used showy chauvinism to relaunch his career. Emma Stone and Steve Carell are perfectly cast as the unlikely rivals, and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) capture the buzz surrounding their encounter beautifully. But of course, it’s only partly about tennis: this uplifting film also explores gender equality, LGBT rights, and King’s stirring personal evolution.
9. WHAT TO TRY FOR A NEW SLANT ON TRAVEL SHOWS
Taking a vacation with a family member can be tricky; after all, it could have been years since you last shared so much, ahem, “quality time.” Debuting Friday on Netflix, this new travel documentary series follows 29-year-old British comedian Jack Whitehall and his 77-year-old father Michael, a retired talent agent, as they tackle South East Asia’s so-called “gap year route,” which is typically a usually party-packed passage through Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia that’s popular with British teenagers. Expect plenty of laughs and a few mishaps as the pair try to bridge the generation gap while sticking to their itinerary.
10. AND FINALLY, WHAT TO WATCH IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN A “TREKKIE”
For sci-fi fans, the premiere of the first new Star Trek series since Enterprise (2001-5) is definitely event TV. Co-created by Alex Kurtzman, who worked on J.J. Abrams‘ recent Star Trek movies, Discovery is set around a decade before the events of the classic William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy-led show. The main focal point will be the ship’s first officer, played by The Walking Dead‘s Sonequa Martin-Green, who’s flanked by a strong supporting cast that includes Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, and Rainn Wilson. After the pilot airs Sunday night on CBS, a second episode will debut on the CBS All Access streaming service. After that, new episodes will be added to the streaming service weekly.
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