A deep thriller and a silly mockumentary are this week's recommendations.
I’m writing this on a plane to Iceland, so I’m keeping this week’s edition a bit shorter than usual.
Not without first complaining, though.
Last week, the Academy Awards announced it was creating an award category called “Best Popular Movie,” which on the surface sounds like a fine idea. Give the blockbusters some love! They deserve it. Mainstream movies can be great, too, you know. Not every Best Picture winner has to be about falling in love with a fish (Love you, “The Shape of Water). Why not give films like “Mission Impossible: Fallout” a chance to shine?
Well, for lots of reasons, most of which are summed up perfectly by ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer. The solution to the Best Picture puzzle isn’t to give mainstream movies their own award. The solution is to make mainstream movies better. It’s not unprecedented: in 2003, the award went to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” That’s a movie based on a fantasy novel, the kind of movie that fanboys would camp out at midnight to buy tickets for. And it’s phenomenal! It totally deserved the award, which it won over indie darling “Lost in Translation” and Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” which isn’t a film but a Film. It was also the highest grossing film of 2003, raking in $378 million in the U.S. and $1.1 billion worldwide.
Films can be both popular and good. We just have to stop putting up with mediocrity and demand more from studios. Save your money for the films that deserve it, and let’s see how the overall quality of the business improves.
A quick note: Next week I’ll still be in Iceland (and the Netherlands), and special guest Katie Johns from the Longboat Observer will fill in for me. Raise a glass for a different perspective, everyone!
Let’s get started.
Netflix, PG-13, 148 minute run time
In all the memes “Inception” spurred in the years following its release — any “blank-within-a-blank” statements are bound to be followed by “blank-ception” — it’s easy to forget how damn good this movie is.
I saw this movie in a theater with my father when I was 16. I remember this because “Inception” was the first movie to blow my young mind.
I liked movies before then, sure (didn’t you read my blog post about “The Princess Bride”?) but this was the movie that helped me realize they could be art. Additionally, this movie made me realize the people behind the cameras matter just as much as the ones in front of them.
Christopher Nolan’s direction is simply astounding. The fight scene involving Jospeh Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur in an ever-rotating hallway is a hallmark achievement. The dream-building sequences are stunning. The movie’s final shot (no spoilers!) is perfect. Even in 2018, every set looks fresh.
Speaking of dream building, that’s a powerful lesson for people to learn. Of course, in “Inception” they mean literal dream building. But in our world, figurative dream building is possible. You can make of yourself and your future whatever you want. No one can stop you. But you can also get lost — or stuck — in them if you're not careful. These are quite adult themes for a movie that teens seem to love. The film may endure in pop culture for its visual effects and because of online jokes, but there’s a lot of meat on that bone, too. Re-watching it gives viewers tons to think about.
I have nothing bad to say about this movie, and no clever way to wrap this up. Leo DiCaprio rules in it. Ellen Page rules in it. Cillian Murphy rules in it. Gordon-Levitt rules in it. Watch this movie. You’ve forgotten how great it is.
“American Vandal” (2017)
Netflix, TV-MA, eight episodes, 26-42 minute run time each
First things first — this show is absurd.
This mockumentary series parodies the true crime dramas that are so popular right now. Heck, I’ve even recommended one of them, “The Staircase,” in this very blog. But it does so in such an over-the-top way, you don’t have to care about true crime at all to enjoy it.
The series centers on Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), a senior high school student who gets expelled for, uh ... well, for drawing a certain male body part all over his school parking lot. At least, the school thinks it was Dylan. Over the show’s eight episodes, the audience is taken through true crime saga bit by bit — from an overview of the crime itself, to potential suspects, their alibis, multiple breaks in the case, the motives of Dylan's accusers, preparing for trial and, of course, a verdict. There’s even a direct “Serial” parody, and the show is worth watching for that alone.
And, yeah, there's lots of jokes about body parts.
The biggest trick this mockumentary pulls is getting the audience to care about its characters. Not just Dylan, but Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck), the sophomore best friends making the show-within-a-show (Show-ception! See, I told you.) documentary about Dylan. Tatro’s performance is pitch-perfect as the dumber-than-dirt Dylan, allowing audiences to laugh at his immaturity while also sympathizing with the perhaps unfair situation in which he finds himself.
It might be about the most juvenile crime imaginable, but “American Vandal” sells its premise and delivers the goods. Give it a watch and you, too, will be unable to sleep at night, tossing and turning as the same question enters and fades from your mind, over and over:
“Who drew the dicks?!”
I can’t think of a better way to end this column than that.