"Tell Me Who I Am" and "The Naked Gun" are this week's picks.
Disney+ launched this week. Apple TV+ launched two weeks ago. HBO Max is set to launch in spring 2020. Peacock, the NBC-owned streaming service, is set to launch at some point next year as well.
This is too much, and I’m starting to not care about television. I mentioned it last month as part of my rant against watching shows at 1.5x speed, but it’s physically not possible for someone to keep up with everything released nowadays. This week, people have asked for my opinions on “The Morning Show” and “The Mandalorian,” and I had to tell them that I don’t, and probably won’t, watch them, even though there’s a fair chance I would enjoy them.
I already subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO and Showtime, plus pay for YouTubeTV for live sports. (Sports are my real job. Read my stuff if you haven’t, thanks!) I subscribed to Shudder for October because horror. And I, uh, borrow a friend’s Hulu account occasionally. A $10ish subscription isn’t much on its own, but added up, it’s a nice chunk of change, and at a certain point I would rather use that chunk on something else. The price would be less of an issue if I could consume everything I already have. But again, I can’t. Not when Netflix is dropping what seems like 10 original shows/films a week.
All this to say: You probably won’t see me recommending Apple TV+ or Disney+ content on here, unless I happen to catch a movie at a friend’s house or something. (Or unless the higher ups want to give me a streaming budget. … Anyone? Hello? Bueller?) So, sorry about that — I think. Apple TV+ shows have gotten mixed reviews, and Disney+ … well, everyone has seen most of the classics on there, and the new stuff is going to be a lot of Big Budget Franchise material, which is becoming less and less of my bag with each day.
While all this content is overwhelming, it DOES mean the job of the connoisseur — the critic, the reviewer, the person who tells you what is worth spending your time watching — is more important than ever.
Aren’t you glad you have me?
“Tell Me Who I Am” (2019)
Netflix, rated R, 85 minutes
It is our memories — the good and the bad — that shape us.
Well, it is our experiences that shape us, but what are memories if not fleeting reminders of what those experiences were? It is in this space that “Tell Me Who I Am,” the new documentary from Ed Perkins, poses its questions. Is it OK to rewrite someone’s story if they don’t know the tale?
Alex Lewis crashed his bike when he was young. He was not wearing a helmet. When he awoke, he could not remember anything except his own name, and he could not remember anyone except for his identical twin brother, Marcus Lewis. He did not recognize his own mother or father, or even know what a bike was. He knew nothing about the world, and he knew nothing about himself.
Nothing, except that he trusted Marcus. They were twins, after all. It could not be a coincidence that he was the only thing Alex remembered. In the days, weeks and months after the accident, Alex peppered Marcus with questions. They started small: Who are my friends? Do I have a girlfriend? How do I ride a bike? Marcus, being a good brother, answers these questions.
They got gradually more intricate: What kind of life do we live? Do Mom and Dad treat us well? What kind of person am I? Marcus answers these questions for Alex, too. They have a good life, he tells Alex. They vacation often to France. Mom and Dad are loving parents, and they have been quite happy.
It would be decades until Alex found out it was all a lie.
Not all was right in the Lewis household. I won’t reveal it here, but if you have a suspicion of what might have happened to Alex and Marcus — one that makes you feel like your stomach is being pulled down by a black hole, one that has you muttering “No, no, no, please, no” under your breath while reading this — you are probably correct. The first half of the documentary is played like a mystery, but the mystery is never the point. The point is to wrangle with difficult questions of ethics. Was it wrong for Marcus to lie to Alex if he was trying to protect him from their past? Was it wrong for Alex to feel like he deserved the truth, no matter how ugly?
The second half of the documentary, in which the brothers talk about these issues for the first time in their lives, face to face, is remarkable and heart-wrenching. I have no idea why they agreed to do this on camera, but for the sake of the film, I am glad they did.
“Tell Me Who I Am” is a tough watch, but an important one. It’s a testament to how much people need to own their history, even if we would rather be someone else.
Amazon Prime Video, PG-13, 85 minutes
After watching “Tell Me Who I Am,” I thought a more lighthearted follow-up was in order. So “The Naked Gun” it is. I was curious how the classic detective spoof would hold up in 2019, and to my delight, it mostly does. The same goes for its two sequels.
The biggest sticking point is probably the casting of O.J. Simpson as Detective Nordberg. Obviously, the film had no way of knowing the turns Simpson’s life would take, but hearing everyone talk about how his character is a good man who would never hurt anyone is, to put it mildly, weird. If you can get past his casting, he actually gives a charming performance — which might be more unsettling than anything else about the situation, but there’s a reason he was such a massive star.
Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin is a treasure. His deadpan delivery of absurd lines never stops being funny. His eye work is incredible. No one falls like him. He’s just the best.
That said: The real star is the writing. I don’t know if any illicit substances were involved in the making of this movie, but if you told me Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers wrote this thing during a weekend-long bender, I would believe you. It’s the definition of zany. Not every joke works, but when there’s a new joke nearly every second, nailing most of them is pretty darn good. They work best when they go for pure silliness and slapstick over cultural critiques, for obvious reasons. This is the only movie where baseball legend Reggie Jackson tries to kill the Queen of England, and no one can take that away from it.
It’s not a life-changing watch, but sometimes you just need to laugh at Leslie Nielsen dressed as a baseball umpire and doing a jig.
Quote of the Week:
Frank Drebin (Nielsen), comforting Wilma Nordberg after her husband was shot:
"Wilma, I promise you: Whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest one minute until he's behind bars. Now, let's grab a bite to eat."