A animated show about the horrors of puberty and a contemplative sci-fi masterpiece are this weeks' recommendations
It’s September now, and that means Big Movie Season is about to begin.
Fall is my favorite time of year — mostly because football is back, but also because I get to see the films actual movie critics have been drooling over since they saw them at festivals. I just saw the Nicolas Cage-fueled “Mandy” this week (it rules), and that premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. It’s been a long wait for some of these, is what I’m saying.
Here’s a short list of some films I can’t wait to hit theaters. There’s so many more I’m going to forget, but *shrugs.* Can’t remember ‘em all.
- Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” out Nov. 16. The dude who made “12 Years a Slave” is making a revenge heist movie starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal, and so many other big names. And Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl,” “Sharp Objects”) wrote the screenplay. Do I need to say anything else? Sign me the hell up. I needed this yesterday.
- Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” out Oct. 12. Confession: I love “La La Land.” Is that OK to say yet? Because I love it. I also quite liked “Whiplash,” and I’m excited to see what Chazelle does with this Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling. Early word has been that the film doesn’t glorify the astronaut world, instead accurately portraying how COMPLETELY INSANE AND TERRIFYING THE MOON MISSION WAS BECAUSE ARE YOU KIDDING ME, THAT HAD TO HAVE BEEN THE SCARIEST THING EVER. I’m excited to see it.
- Claire Denis’ “High Life,” out TBD. I’m not too familiar with Denis’ other works, but apparently this movie is about a bunch of prisoners sent on a ship to investigate a black hole, but also have, like, sexual experiments done to them on this ship? It stars Robert Pattinson, who has turned into quite a good actor, and Juliette Binoche, who has always been a good actress. The reason I’m most excited for “High Life”? It’s being put out by A24, the indie company which has released some of the best films of the last few years, including “Eighth Grade,” “Hereditary,” “A Ghost Story” and “The Florida Project.” A24 knows good movies. If they’re in on this film, so am I.
- Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” out Oct. 26. All my favorite critics said this Korean film was their favorite entry at Cannes, which immediately got my attention. All reviews have been short on plot for fear of spoilers, but it sounds like the film is about a man named Jongsu (Ah-in Yoo) who runs into a woman he knew (and has since forgotten) from childhood, Haemi (Jong-seo Yun). They start a relationship, but Haemi soon starts bringing another man around Jongsu, Ben (“The Walking Dead” alumni Steven Yeun). This triangular relationship is the film’s basis, but based on early word, it’s filled with anything but love, and figuring out why is part of the film’s mystery.
- Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” out Nov. 30. The “Moonlight” director is back, adapting a James Baldwin novel to the big screen. Simply put: Jenkins is one of America’s most talented directors, and I can’t wait to see what he does for a follow-up.
The waiting for those films (and others) will be impossible, but you don’t have to wait to watch this week’s recommendations. Well, read this column first, then watch them.
“Big Mouth” (2017)
Netflix, TV-MA, 10 episodes, 30 minutes
I wish I had a show like “Big Mouth” to watch when I was a teenager.
Make no mistake, despite the TV-MA rating, this show is for teens, or at least people who remember what it feels like to be a teen. Who among us hasn’t woken with a face full pimples, a mouth full of braces and a brain full of lewd thoughts? It’s your body’s most awkward stage. You feel like the middle picture on an “Animorphs” book cover, still human but full of animal instinct.
It’s awful and scary and wonderful. “Big Mouth” is the most accurate representation of how puberty feels, smartly turning the phenomenon of hormones into literal monsters that looks filthy and talk filthier. The Hormone Monster, voiced by series co-creator Nick Kroll, and Monstress, voiced by Maya Rudolph, push and pull the emotions of New York teens like devils on their shoulders.
It’s the kind of cleverness comedy fans have come to expect from Kroll (“Oh, Hello,” “The Nick Kroll Show”), whose teenage life was the show’s inspiration. He had help from co-creators Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, and it also helps that Kroll recruited “Oh, Hello” partner and all-around comedic genius John Mulaney to voice Andrew Glouberman, one of the teens most affected by the Hormone Monster. The two have impeccable comedic rapport at this point, and when the subject matter is this ripe for ribaldry, things get hilarious quickly. Just make sure you’re prepared to feel uncomfortable, and open your mind to some out-there ideas. It’s a cartoon for a reason; they use the medium’s flexibility to do things that wouldn’t work in a show set in the “real world.”
The show also manages to squeeze in some emotional beats that work, because what is teenage-hood without crying now and again? You’ll pump your first every time a character scores a successful kiss or learns to express feelings instead of pushing them down. And though the show was created by Kroll, it gives almost as much time to the female point-of-view. (There are episodes called “Everyone Bleeds,” referring to periods, and “Girls are Horny, Too.”)
Other voice actors on the show include Jordan Peele, Fred Armisen, Jessi Klein, Jenny Slate and personal favorite Jason Mantzoukas, plus many other names you’ll recognize in the credits. It’s a stellar cast working with a stellar premise to create a stellar show. Season one is available now, and season two hits Netflix Oct. 5. There’s plenty of time for you to fall in love with this beautifully odd creation before then.
Amazon Prime Video, PG-13, 116 minutes
Communication is the backbone of everything we do.
Whether it’s person to person or media to citizen (journalism!), communication is crucial to making the world the best it can be, and society as a whole has done a poor job of communicating for a while now. We hear each other, but we don’t listen to each other. There’s a difference. Sometimes, people don’t even attempt to listen, instead believing themselves to be the all-knowing, all-seeing center of the universe, and that’s scary. You never learn anything by listening to yourself talk, after all.
I don’t know how many of you have read the brilliant “Watchmen,” or seen the dreadful Zack Snyder film adaption, but in it, one of the characters makes the case that (*SPOILERS*) the only thing that could unite humanity and prevent self-annihilation is an alien invasion, and in that world, he’s (semi) correct.
Denis Villeneuve's “Arrival” shows how easily even that could go wrong, thanks to humanity’s own idiocy.
The film, based on a short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life,” sees 12 alien ships fall to Earth in 12 different locations. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist brought onto one of these ships to help decipher the alien’s language, which is nonverbal and made of circular, sinewy symbols, so humanity can figure out why the aliens are here. Banks makes progress quickly, translating one message as “offer weapon,” but China’s linguists translate the same symbol as “use weapon.” This freaks out everyone, and instead of talking out why there’s a difference in translation, China and other nations break off communication with the rest of the world.
This, as you can imagine, leads to nothing good. The rest of the movie is a struggle of wills, and at times it seems like Louise’s compassion makes it easier for her to communicate with the aliens — nicknamed Abbott and Costello, names that in no way reference a famous miscommunication, I’m sure, by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) — than the humans supposedly on her side.
There’s more happening in “Arrival” than communication commentary, though. It asks tough questions about the nature of time, and whether a person knowing their own future would affect how they act. Are actions that bring years of joy worth it those same actions guarantee immense pain later?
It’s also gorgeously shot. Villeneuve is one of my favorite current directors. He manages to pull audiences into this world of unknown — I’ve never encountered alien life, have you? — and make it feel familiar within a few minutes. The important shots carry gravitas. Flashbacks are used without feeling distracting. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is at one uplifting and full of foreboding.
“Arrival” is affecting because it’s relevant to every single person on this planet. I have someone in my life who won’t watch it because they “don’t like sci-fi movies.” But the sci-fi plot is just a Trojan horse to carry its universal themes, ones that we all need to think about as we move forward. How would the world be different if we were open and honest all the time? No more lying from government, from corporations, from friends and lovers, from anyone. If we actually tried to understand each other. If we put value in empathy. If we actually saw each other as equals rather than obstacles in our path toward being right all the time. I think it would help immensely. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better.
It won’t happen, because the people who need to hear this film’s message won’t listen to it.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
See you next week.