What have you been watching? Here’s some quick bits and recommends from our Apple TV & Chill sessions of late. Enjoy!
Benedetta – 8
Sexy, strong like dark coffee, Verhoeven’s religious drama is a well executed, rare piece of adult entertainment from 2021. There are layers here – a discussion of how pleasure and pain work in the language of God – that you won’t find elsewhere in quite the same terms.
Radioactive – 8
She was reckless, brilliant, and took on the patriarchal scientific establishment with both hands behind her back. I knew very little of Curie’s story prior to watching, and that was definitely an oversight worth correcting. No doubt it’s fictionalized like anything else, but this should be standard viewing for high school physics classes and feminist historical filmmakers everywhere. Makes you wonder just what radons we might be sleeping with today . . . but maybe that’s just the nature of discovery. If we’re not willing to be reckless, will we ever break down the walls of our times?
The Fallout – 8
Coming of age in the era of school shootings is a walk on a knife’s edge. Just so, making a movie about it. It’s easy to sensationalize, scaremonger, and Let’s Talk About Kevin all night, turning adolescence into a wannabe Tarantino. It’s much harder to capture the emotional danger of vulnerability, the pains of growing up in a world that demands adult self control from kids. It’s easy to draw blood. What’s harder is to communicate the convoluted paths we take in our healing. Megan Park’s 2021 directorial debut, streaming now on HBO Max, navigates that forest like a doe. Through Jenna Ortega’s capable, thoughtful Vada (a 16-year-old school shooting survivor), her best friend Mia (Maddie Ziegler as the very embodiment of “first world problems,” the rich girl abandoned by her parents in a house full of wine and swimming pools), and Vada’s little sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack), the viewer is taken on a believable suburban odyssey. In the shadow of trauma, Vada’s experiments with drugs, alcohol, lesbianism and lies are hardly dark. When she tells her mom (Modern Family’s Julie Bowen) not to worry about her sexual explorations because they’re “just with a girl,” it’s clear enough that we’re way past Catcher in the Rye here. In fact, the discussion of adolescence begun is so much more real than Heathers, more innocent than Kids, that we were left wishing it wasn’t all done in the shadow of a school shooting. Every teenager is fighting these battles in 2022, not just the ones wearing Kevlar to prom.
Roma – 8.5
Maybe it’s just the name of a district in Mexico City, but Roma to this ear conjures images of empire falling. Class stratification, household slaves, decadent, opulent upper classes . . . or maybe it’s a reference to the nomads, gypsies of the soul, the homeless, orphaned, uprooted natives of America. Maybe I’m looking too hard, but it’s clear nonetheless that Alfonso Cuaron’s 2018 black & white is deeper than its humble presentation, and interpretation is warranted. Like Yalitza Aparicio’s lead role as the house-maid Cleo, there is an ocean of currents beneath the understated calm of this surface. An honest exploration of our classist, racial divisions, Roma isn’t simply a modern tale of ‘us and them,’ but one that understands: even hungry dogs in the street are a part of our blind and dehumanizing paradigm. Caring and tragic, but still somehow hopeful like a bird in a cage, Roma succeeds where Parasite failed. Examining class divisions – where Parasite became an unconvincing mockery – Roma brings compassion. Meaningful photography rules throughout, with directing and acting worthy of its three Oscar wins. Roma never asks directly, but its questions are potent. What is an airplane to a poor, subjugated worker? What is a cloud to a bird in a cage?
The Comeback – 7.5
Shot entirely on an iPhone 13 Pro, director Zhang Meng’s 2022, 23-minute, short sci-fi indie work is more than a marketing ploy for Apple, as much as they might try to use it that way. An indie movie about making indie movies, a small town project about small town projects, The Comeback‘s creative use of practical effects and low-budget resourcefulness is endearing. On a journey into space that Calvin & Hobbes would respect more than most, these cardboard astronauts may never quite escape the stratosphere, but that’s ok, because the story here is all about coming home.
Finch – 7
When future generations look back, let them know that we were plenty aware as we plowed forth into the great dystopian abyss. We willfully killed the climate, and this awareness had become a steady drumbeat by late 2021, when Apple and Tom Hanks came out with Finch. Among the more interesting anthropological angles our descendants may bring to bear on it all, is the humor we brought to the table. Plenty of science, sure, we no doubt could’ve stopped it if we’d just found a way to act intelligently in groups, but it’s the quirkiness of the end-times that our prophets never really expected, and the future might find worth studying. Finch shows up with the same top-notch production quality we’re coming to expect from Apple originals, Scott Stokdyk and his VFX team doing exceptional work to bring Jeff the robot to life. The personality of that robot, the way he learns and jokes, even as he stumbles through his wired adolescence, will keep your attention through to the end, on this light-hearted sci-fi jaunt, and that’s perfectly ok. Be entertained. But there’s a sadness underneath, which I’m not entirely certain the filmmakers themselves were even in on. Watch the endgame of our climate catastrophe and pop some popcorn, giggle at the robot, watch Tom Hanks own the screen like only he can . . . Why shouldn’t the apocalypse be fun, or at least kind of silly? Why wouldn’t robots be ready to take our place, just a wink or two from convincing Turing they have a soul? Wipe a tear on cue but don’t worry too much about it all. Maybe I’m a cynic, but there could be a cultural subtext we’re missing, as our apocalyptic comedies come closer to reality, and all we can do about it – reliably – is talk. Finch gets a 9 for effects, but about a 1.5 for self-awareness, in the end more of a cute, sad robot, fun to watch but just another imitation, automation, lacking soul – an absolute and unforgiveable tragedy, not comic in the least if that’s all that’s left to remember us
. . . like Jeff.
Don’t Look Up – 9
One of the most prescient movies of our time. If you haven’t seen Don’t Look Up, you probably haven’t seen much of anything this year. So I’ll skip the lengthy rundown and just point out what seems to have been overlooked. DiCaprio is at peak performance throughout, as the Michael E. Mann of this alternate earth, but when he’s looking us in the eye and telling us to panic, when he says that our leaders are lying to us and the entire world is at stake, he’s not acting. This is the single most relevant and real 4th wall break I’ve seen, and many missed it. That is real passion, and real fear, from one of the top entertainers alive today. If you can watch his desperate plea for the future of human existence, and not be truly affected, well you’re a different type than I. When he says we really had it all, and just threw it away, it is, in fact, not a drill. It’s past time to do more than just look up. We need to be reacting together, with everything we have, in this moment.
These might be good enough for an entertaining evening, but stop shy of provoking a longer response for now:
Swan Song, Little Women (the original is far better than the remake), Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Mother/Android, The Night House, Antlers, Last Night In Soho, The Last Duel, Malcolm & Marie, The Northman, 13 Lives, Black Bird, Candy (2022), The Sea Beast
Though I’ll admit some of them aren’t entirely unfun (and some I only got partly through, who knows maybe they got better before the end, but who has that much time?), I’ll give the thumbs down to these and hopefully save you the wasted attention (feel free to fight me in the comments section):
Matrix Resurrections, Candyman (2021), Reminiscence, House On The Bayou, Nightmare Alley, Nobody, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), Scream (2022), The Tall Man, The King, Dark Water, The Gray Man, Prey, everything Secret Lives of Pets
And if you haven’t already seen them, strong recommends for Euphoria, Physical and Raised By Wolves, all of which have multiple seasons out and will be seeing full reviews from me . . . someday.