THIS IS FORTY
I didn't know the name Radha Blank a couple weeks ago, but now that I've seen her debut feature, I'm a big fan. She not only wrote and directed The Forty-Year-Old Version (now on Netflix) but stars in it as a fictionalized version of herself, a once-promising playwright at the tail end of her 30s. As she navigates the institutional racism and microaggressions of the art world, she looks on helplessly as her newest work is compromised to cater toward white audiences, all while dabbling in the world of underground hip-hop. Shot in black-and-white in New York City, Version channels the livewire energy and scrappy style of early Spike Lee, and it announces the arrival of an exciting new voice in independent film. (NATHAN WEINBENDER)
BRAKE FOR THIS BOOK
It's not news that lurking in many comedians' hearts is a darkness belying the laughter. Denver-based comedian Sam Tallent does a remarkable job uncovering that darkness in the protagonist of his novel, Running The Light. His Billy Ray Schafer is complex, turning a misspent youth and prison sentence into a meteoric comedy career. In Running The Light, the reader joins Schafer on the downhill slide toward irrelevance, working third-tier markets and trying to reconnect with his kids and ex-wife through a haze of drugs and booze. Tallent reveals the heart as well as the darkness in Schafer, and in doing so also delivers an eye-opening look at the life of a road comic. (DAN NAILEN)
MAN (NOT) ON THE MOON
My only complaint about new comedy miniseries Moonbase 8, streaming via Showtime, is that its first season is a mere six short-but-sweet episodes. Starring the hilarious all-star trifecta of Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly, the show follows astronauts hoping to be selected for a lunar mission after a trial run at NASA's "Moonbase 8" in the Arizona desert. Hijinks ensue, including when the crew encounters a super-hip team of millennials working nearby for SpaceX, and have a Cliven Bundy-esque showdown with gun-toting cattle ranchers. (CHEY SCOTT)
I May Destroy You is an intense journey about a sexual assault survivor's trip through trauma and recovery, and it's a testament to the incredible skills of show writer and star Michaela Coel that it works so well. As young London novelist Arabella, Coel manages to tackle issues involving race, class, social media and gender politics all through Arabella's bumpy ride, and she makes that trip at turns hilarious and horrifying. The pilot makes this HBO streamer seem like a Memento-style show about cobbling together the shards of memory from a blackout assault, but I May Destroy You turns out to be so much more. (DAN NAILEN)
THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST
Some noteworthy new music hits online and in stores Nov. 27. To wit:
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG, No Fun Mondays. The Green Day singer has been knocking out some pandemic pop cover tunes by the Bangles, the Clash and more.
MILEY CYRUS, Plastic Hearts. Speaking of covers, Cyrus includes cuts by Blondie and Cranberries on her latest.
SMASHING PUMPKINS, Cyr. If you're wondering if we need a new double album from Billy Corgan and Co., the answer is "probably not." (DAN NAILEN)