"Blow Out" and "Perry Mason" are this week's recommendations.
Only one entertainment thing matters this week, and that is the new trailer for "The Batman," directed by Matt Reeves ("Planet of the Apes," Cloverfield") and starring Binge Blog favorite Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader. There's a lot (for me) to love about the trailer — which was puzzle-pieced together using the 25% of the movie that has been shot thus far — including Pattinson's look, which appears to be a cross between The Crow and a preppy My Chemical Romance fan. To be clear, this is a positive. Batman has always been a dude who is Sad About His Parents. It's high time a film made him look like it.
Other positives: Pattinson chose not to go the Christian Bale route voice-wise while in the Batsuit, instead using a stern but appropriately-pitched growl. Paul Dano sounds great in the voiceover as The Riddler. We don't see a ton of Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, but I like that she's wearing a burglar mask instead of the usual Catsuit (at least initially). Jeffrey Wright looks more like Jim Gordon than any other Jim Gordon. Colin Farrell looks unrecognizable as The Penguin. Seriously, I know the makeup team confirmed it is him, but are we sure they aren't messing with us? They did an unbelievable job. Also, nice use of a Nirvana cover to let us know we're in the 1990s.
Overall, I love the feeling the trailer gives off. It looks like Christopher Nolan's Batverse was remixed with David Fincher's "Zodiac." We'll have to wait until October 2021 for the whole thing, but it's a promising start.
OK, one other entertainment thing matters. The trailer for "Ammonite," starring Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet, dropped on Tuesday. It could not look more like an English-language "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" ripoff … but that movie is transcendent, so who cares? I'll be watching this on day one.
"Blow Out" (1981)
Prime Video, rated R, 108 minutes
In theory, I understand why people don't talk about "Blow Out" when discussing Brian De Palma films.
It wasn't a huge hit, only pulling in $12 million at the box office despite starring a young John Travolta, who was coming off a hit with "Urban Cowboy." That was nothing compared to other De Palma films like "Scarface" ($66 million) "Carrie" ($34 million) and the mega-smash that was "Mission: Impossible" ($457 million).
I had never heard of the film until going on a Letterboxd deep dive a few weeks ago. Once I read the description (and some glowing reviews from critics I trust), I knew I had to see it, and guess what: I was right. "Blow Out" rules.
It's a conspiracy movie on the surface. Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sound engineer working on B-grade horror flicks in Philadelphia. One night while Terry is out gathering ambient sound in a park, his equipment picks up the audio of a car's tire exploding. He then sees the car driving off the road and into a river. He dives into the river and is able to drag a young woman out of the car but not the man sitting with her. That man turns out to be a presidential hopeful, and the woman with him was not his wife.
The candidate's assistant tries to convince Terry not to say anything about the accident; his family is going through enough, no reason to tell them he was having an affair, right? Well, Terry can't quite drop it. Something about the audio of the accident didn't sit right with him. He checks his tapes. Sure enough, he hears two explosions, not one. This leads him to one conclusion: The tire didn't blow out; it was shot. Someone wanted that car to crash.
The rest of the movie follows Terry's journey into the depths of this conspiracy as he tries to convince people in power of his theory, going as far as creating his own movie of the events, syncing the audio he captured with stills a photographer (Dennis Franz) took of the accident. At the same time, he's watching the back of Sally (Nancy Allen), the woman he saved from the water, who might know more about the case than she lets on.
The film feels timely with all the misinformation floating around the internet these days, much of it spread by people in power. It also is a showcase for the power of filmmaking and the freedom that comes with producing art that calls out those people in power. Sometimes, that's the only way you can get people to listen.
"Blow Out" also gets points for the following, which is all subjective, I admit:
- Characters say the name of the movie like 25 times, which is the sign of a great movie (to me).
- De Palma's camera work is out-of-this-world good. The decision to use a scene from one of the movies Terry is editing as a cold open — a killer is stalking college girls from outside their windows — and then proceeding to constantly use shots looking through windows during the rest of the film is brilliant. And there's a shot involving fireworks toward the end of the movie is nothing short of sublime. You'll know it when you see it. My jaw dropped.
- Speaking of the ending, the last 15 minutes of this thing take it from good to outstanding. I don't know exactly what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what De Palma delivers. Haunting and emotionally fulfilling in equal measure while taking the movie full circle. The final scene is an all-timer.
- John Lithgow is the third lead in this movie. He plays a man so loathsome he might as well be a slug. It's great.
- Travolta rules in this movie! Not in an "I'm a movie star, look at me look cool!" way, either. He rules in an "I'm a compelling force, and I will make you feel what I'm feeling" way.
You really need to watch "Blow Out."
"Perry Mason" (2020)
HBO, rated TV-MA, 10 episodes, 10 hours of content
This isn't your grandparents' "Perry Mason."
That's what everyone who remembers the original "Perry Mason" tells me, anyway. I wouldn't know. I've never watched the original series, which ran from 1957 until 1966 and had Raymond Burr portray the titular defense lawyer. Nor have I heard any of the Perry Mason radio hours or read any of the Perry Mason books that predate that series.
I went into the HBO series fresh. I love a good crime story, and from the trailers, this appeared to be one. I also love Matthew Rhys and am willing to watch pretty much anything he's in, so I was in from the jump. (Quick reminder to watch "The Americans," the best show of the 2010s, if you haven't yet.) Rhys' Perry Mason begins the series, which is set in 1932, as a private investigator, and a slovenly one at that. He's divorced, he's a bit of a drunk, and he makes most of his money taking salacious pictures of whomever his client desires. He also has PTSD from his time fighting in World War I. Imagine my surprise when I found out this was almost the antithesis of the original Mason, a stand-up defense lawyer who fought not just for a "not guilty" verdict, but full-fledged innocence, finding out who really did the crime and pinning it on them with hard evidence.
Rhys' Mason might be a mess, but he's not totally gone from the character some might remember. He's tenacious when he wants to be, like when old friend and lawyer E.B. Jonathan hires him to find evidence in the case of a ransom scheme gone horribly wrong, a case that will entangle Mason with crooked cops, slimy prosecutors, mysterious Elks Lodge members and a preacher (the insanely good Tatiana Maslany) who may or may not be gifted with the ability to perform miracles. The show's first season follows the child kidnapping case all the way, with side detours showcasing Mason's relationship with Lupe Gibbs (Veronica Falcón), a pilot, and his desire to get back in his son's life, as well as the dilemma a Black officer named Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) faces when his bosses get in the way of justice. And yes, have no fear, longtime Mason fans: Our favorite schlub does become the lawyer he's meant to be, eventually.
The show has already been renewed for a second season. That's good, because season one gets better as it goes along and finds a groove. Rhys and Maslany are both at the top of their abilities. They don't get a ton of time together, but when they do, the screen bursts with energy.
Season one ends with not everyone receiving a fairytale ending, which is fitting for the tone of the show. I'm excited about the future of the show. There's a lot of ground the writers can tread with this gruff version of Mason. This was a great place to start.