Welcome to the Weekend Watch, where we try to point you toward the best ways to spend your viewing time (or, at least, steer you clear of the garbage). In light of the global health crisis and the consequential movie theater closures, this week we wanted to each recommend some quality streaming content you might enjoy.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
This came to Netflix a few weeks ago and after hearing so much praise for it The Lady™ and I decided to make it our next binge. It was totally worth it. 3 seasons of 16 or so 22 minute episodes fly by. The characters are all likeable but have growth. The world they’ve created is fascinating and deeply steeped in lore. This clearly anime inspired show follows our main character Aang who is the last of his creed of bender (benders in this world are people that can manipulate elements. Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. He also happens to be the one person in a generation that can bend all 4 elements, The Avatar. Aang ran away when he was told that he was to be the Avatar and accidentally got frozen in ice for 100 years. During this time with the Avatar missing the Fire Nation used the chaos to rise up and take over many of the more peaceful nations. Including eliminating all of the Airbenders. Eventually two Water Tribe teens, Katara and Sokka, find Aang in the ice, save him, and eventually join him on his quest to learn to bend the remaining elements and fulfill his destiny as The Avatar.
And now for something completely different. This docuseries on HBOMax is fascinating. Following the rise and eventual sex cult and scandal of NXIVM. I found the first episode to be a bit slow because it really set up what the group was doing and why it was so easy for them to bring in new members. But by the time the second episode ends and the scandal starts to reveal itself, holy shit. This is all helped by the fact that two high ranking members of the cult were making a documentary the whole time so there is actual footage and recorded phone calls throughout without having to do recreations. What’s crazy about this whole thing is that for a while there it seemed like NXIVM was actually doing good. But then, you know, you are surrounded by beautiful women and you are a charismatic cult leader, you probably end up taking their darkest secrets to use against them and brand them with your initials and sleep with as many as you can. You know, cult leader stuff.
Bill & Ted Face The Music
What can I say about this movie? It’s cute. It feels right in line with the original and it’s sequel. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece or anything but there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised to see Alex Winter kind of acting the shit out of the character and if I do say so myself he was better than Keanu in this. My one complaint would be that it really feels like they ran out of budget for the last scene so it just sort of abruptly ends. But it works. If you are looking for some Bill and Ted in your life I would suggest this one to round out the trilogy.
A Closer Look
I know a few of my colleagues have put this on their lists in the past but I can’t stress enough how important it’s been to laugh at the horrificness of the world lately. Meyers has made the transition to having no audience pretty flawlessly. From shooting all over his house, to settling on the attic with it’s magic portal door, to spending the summer with his in laws and introducing us to characters like the talking Sea Captain Painting and the disaffected millennial Brooklynite Fish Sculpture. Now back in the studio Seth continues to break down the terrors of the current administration in a humorous way. And honestly that’s all we can do right now, laugh so we don’t cry. And then get out there, make our voices heard, vote. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, we love you.
Classics at the Whitsett Theater Online
Samurai Cop/Miami Connection
I’m just going to combine these into one because they are pretty much the same. They are terrible, just awful, but that’s what makes them fun. I’m pretty sure everyone reading this could make better movies than these two but why mess with horrible greatness. Once again The Whitsett Theater Online helps us virtually get together and rip some movies to shreds. It’s the only thing I look forward to during the week honestly.
Love, Guaranteed/Time Trap
Ok, I’m going outside the box and starting with streaming entertainment that I would NOT recommend. And it’s a two-for-one special. These two movies are, in a word, terrible. Starting with Love, Guaranteed, a poor man’s “every romantic comedy ever.” Maybe you could say I should’ve known just by the trailer. But I didn’t watch the trailer! I didn’t have a choice! I didn’t pick this one! My girlfriend did. So, :P. (She’s not allowed to pick movies for a while….)
As for Time Trap, yeah, I’m gonna take the hit on that one. I came across a site that called it something like “the best/most underrated sci-fi movie on Netflix.” I’m guessing the person that said that has never seen a movie before, sci-fi or not. While an interesting-ish premise (some people get stuck in a cave where, the deeper you go, the slower time progresses), the execution was pretty awful. Easily one of the worst movies ever made. (I’m also not allowed to pick movies for a while…..)
Both of these movies are now streaming on Netflix, with Love, Guaranteed being a Netflix Original.
Part prequel, part reboot and by no means perfect, Bumblebee is still likely the best of the live-action Transformers movies. Set in, and a throwback to, the glorious 1980’s, this is the simple story of a teenage girl and the transforming alien car she wants to fuck. Or it’s a pet…..? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s a little all over the place. But still, who cares? Like I said, it’s easily better than anything Bay did in that universe, including the first one. And it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Ok, I can admit it. I was late to the party on this one. But, in my defense, what the f— is Pop TV? Admittedly, I’m only 4 episodes into season 1, but this shit is funny. From what I can tell, it legit deserved every Emmy it recently won. Created by father and son (and playing father and son) Eugene and Daniel Levy, and co-starring a cast of amazingly talented comedic actors (and Chris Elliot), Schitt’s Creek is the story of the Rose family. Once extremely wealthy, they’re now forced to live in the town they once bought as a joke (real talk time, can you actually buy a town?). Even with as few episodes as I’ve watched, I still cannot recommend it enough. The final season drops on Netflix next month.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
While not my personal favorite (hey there, Ghost Protocol), Mission: Impossible – Fallout still might be the best in the series. I mean, Fast & Furious and Harry Potter aside, when can you say that about a late entry into a 20+ year old franchise? Ain’t nobody out there preaching for City Under Siege, that’s for sure. The real question is, do you have to have seen the others to make sense of this one? I would argue no, I don’t think you do. Sure, there are connections and callbacks but, ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s a spy thriller action movie. Bad guys have a world blow uppy thing and the good guys gotta defeat them. What more do you need? If you got the coin and the time, all 6 (except for 2) are worth a watch. But if you’re only going to pick one, Fallout’s a pretty good option.
I went on a bit of a horror binge over the last few weeks and checked out a handful of smaller flicks. First up is this sci-fi/horror entry out of Russia. Set in 1983, a controversial physician is summoned to a research facility to aid in the examination of a cosmonaut whose craft suffered a catastrophic malfunction on re-entry. It’s not terribly difficult to guess what’s going on, but the design and execution are absolutely top notch. Details are teased in slow-burn fashion. Characters are, for once, well developed and have real, believable motivations. There’s never a lack of tension or atmosphere, and the effects work is incredibly strong. It’s an excellent piece of filmmaking and will likely make a future HorrorFest. It’s available to rent via multiple on-demand services.
We live in the age of Zoom. It was inevitable that we would get movies made with that in mind. I wasn’t expecting much when I threw this on, but man did it impress me. Set during our current pandemic, a group of friends log into Zoom to have their weekly get together. Though this week, to change things up, a friend has arranged a seance. Well, you can guess that things go awry, but they do so in such terrifying and effective fashion that I actually applauded at one point. If you’re feeling up for it, this little slice of ingenuity is streaming exclusively on Shudder.
On paper, the set up sounds a bit cookie cutter: Shortly after a family moves to a small town one of them begins to suspect something fishy is up with the neighbors. See? There are a thousand movies like this. What sets this one apart? Your leads are not only gay, but also a mixed race couple. And though you could argue it’s an ensemble, the de facto lead is African American. I bring all of this up because 1) it’s refreshing to see, and 2) it’s integral to the story and pays off in a multitude of ways. This wound up being one of the smartest indie horror-thrillers I’ve come across in recent memory. And I have to thank the filmmakers for trusting the audience and not overexplaining the more mysterious parts of the story. It made everything, particularly the finale, far more impactful. You can find it on Shudder.
I enjoy Pre-Code movies. Even if they aren’t great, they’re interesting from a historical standpoint to see what you could get away with before the Production Code was instituted and sanitized Hollywood. This noir-drama shows its Pre-Code colors right off the bat, as it features our titular lawyer (William Powell) brushing off a potential client who, though not said straight up, clearly slept with an underage girl. The rest of the scant running time is spent following Powell’s rise in popularity, pushing the system too hard, getting framed for fraud, and trying to clear his name. It’s all done with plenty of wit and style, with Powell and co-star Joan Blondell carrying most of the weight. If you need a brisk bit of the more risqué side of old Hollywood, this is worth a look. It’s currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.
Set in post-war Italy, an African-American soldier falls afoul of some local gangsters after refusing to sell them military supplies. When the woman who saved his life is nearly forced into prostitution, the soldier makes a last ditch effort to free her so they can flee Italy together. Written by Federico Fellini and Tullio Pinelli, this took me by surprise with its candidness about the state of Italy at the time, and the rarity of having not only an African-American lead in 1948, but a romantic one at that. I would never have thought to look for this had it not been part of Cinecon’s recent online film festival, but I’m grateful to have seen it. At its heart it’s a noir film, but it still has a touch of that Fellini neo-realism sprinkled throughout. The copy I saw was a scan of a print from a private collector who donated it to the festival. The only version available for streaming is a time-coded master with window burn, unfortunately. You can find it on YouTube if you’re desperate. Otherwise I’d recommend picking up a (gasp!) DVD to get a better viewing experience.
Class Action Park
GUYS. OMIGOD. Well, first of all, I have never been to a water park. Some of my friends were aghast but really, I grew up 20 minutes from Malibu and we had a pool. Why did I need a water park? They looked TERRIFYING. So, said friends suggested I watch this documentary and I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. This water park will literally KILL YOU. Why did people go there?! Why did it exist? Parts were literally made out of the same materials I used in my fifth grade science fair project. It was insanity and then some. What further confounded me is the blatant defiance some of the staff interviewed in the doc exhibited in the face of any accusation of scandalous or dangerous behaviors. All this to say that really, Class Action Park, is a compelling documentary. Check it out if you have HBOMax.
King of the Cruise
I think I found out about this doc because I was just on a binge of upcoming movie trailers and there it was. This bizarre looking tale about a man on an eight-day cruise. A man in a red velvet cape and a kilt named Baron Ronald Reisinger, no less. He has played Elephant Polo, wrestled a crocodile (and lost an eye!), is the Baron of Inneryne and the ceremonial King of Biffeche. All true. His is a strange but warm story, told through his solo trip on this luxury ship and interactions with other cruise passengers. It is also a fairly easy watch – it is just over an hour long – on Apple TV+.
In addition to being “Bill,” Alex Winters also puts out a lot of great documentaries and this one was really terrific. It’s not a depiction of the bratty Hollywood child actors we often picture when we think about “showbiz kids” and is, instead, more thoughtful and well-rounded. In addition to sitting down with Wil Wheaton, Evan Rachel Wood, Todd Bridges, Mara Wilson and more (Rest in Peace, Cameron Boyce), the doc also follows some kids trying to “make it” giving you varied points of view and a lot of “OMG” moments.
This is Paris
At last we know, PARIS HILTON DOES NOT REALLY TALK LIKE THAT. (Weren’t you curious?) But seriously, the doc is strong and I was surprised. Think what you will about her, she is a b’zillionaire and running quite an empire or businesses. She really is the original “influencer” (so we have her to blame), like it or not. I have always been pretty fascinated with her; how much is a character or caricature, how much is HER (why the hell she gets $1M for a single DJ’ing gig)…. Anyway, it’s free to view on her own YouTube channel and you’re gonna see a lot more of Paris than you have before. She’s actually had some horrific trauma in her life and I appreciated witnessing a more “real” Paris.
Back on my Steve McQueen kick, I caught this on Starz…. Do make sure you look for the 1973 film and not the horrible 2018 remake. If you are not familiar, McQueen is wrongly-convicted murderer Henri Charriere, known as “Papillon” for his butterfly chest tattoo, sentenced to a work camp in French Guiana. There, he forms an unlikely relationship with the frail but notorious forger named Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). The two survive the trauma of utterly miserable living conditions, corruption, assaults, solitary confinement and so forth and try, several times and ways, to escape. It’s a sprawling, slow-build epic. I was far more enthralled by the latter half of the film but would still recommend it.
So that’s your adapted, upcoming weekend in review. Let us know what you saw, liked and/or hated!