Examinations of "Waves" and "It's Alive with Brad," plus a smorgasbord of entertainment news.
A lot of interesting things happened in the entertainment industry this week, so let's go bullet points and hash it all out:
- The new James Bond film, "No Time to Die," was supposed to be released next month, but on Wednesday, MGM announced its released would be delayed until November because of the outlook of the "global marketplace." You can translate this to be a direct result of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, which has forced theaters in China, Japan, Italy and other large markets to close. Some reports, including one from The Hollywood Reporter, say the move could cost MGM $30 million to $50 million in the short term (though in the long run, it'll likely make up those losses).
Bond is always a tentpole release, so I get MGM wanting to maximize its profits, but personally, it's disappointing. Spring is the perfect time of year for Bond. I wonder if this move will help Daniel Craig's chances at a Best Actor nomination in his final outing as 007, though. And I also wonder if the movie will cause a slew of other big films to also get pushed back. If that happens, the next few months could suck local theaters dry.
- HBO and Naughty Dog announced Thursday that the premium cable channel and video game studio were collaborating to create a limited series based on "The Last of Us," Naughty Dog's critically-acclaimed 2013 horror game whose sequel is set to be released later this year. "Chernobyl" creator Craig Mazin will be heading up the project. This is all great news: Mazin has proven he can create compelling television, and he's getting an amazing property to work with.
I think the reason most video game movies have been duds is because there's too much story within the games to pack into two or three hours, so limited series like this might be the perfect length. (They also don't necessarily have to be "limited," as "The Witcher" proved. Yes, I know that is technically based on the books, not the games, but it might as well have been.)
Other games I'd like to see turn into series: "Red Dead Redemption" and "Red Dead Redemption 2," first and foremost, but also "Horizon: Zero Dawn" (living robot dinosaurs!), "Persona 4/5" (hellish dream worlds and teen drama!) and something from "The Legend of Zelda" series, if they can figure out how to make Link talking sound natural.
- Thursday was also the launch of "FX on Hulu," a joint venture between the titular companies that will see shows produced by FX aired exclusively on Hulu. This is incredibly confusing. I have no idea why FX doesn't just air these shows itself and then put them on Hulu later or, alternatively, why they aren't simply considered Hulu shows in the first place, producers be damned. The branding is going to cause more harm than good, but I am excited for some of these shows, in particular "Devs," the latest project from Alex Garland, director of my beloved "Annihilation" and "Ex Machina." The first two episodes are out now.
Hopefully, you cared about at least some of that! If not, there's always the normal recommendations:
Amazon Video, rated R, 135 minutes
I saw “Waves” late in 2019, and I walked out of the theater feeling the most conflicted I had felt over a film in some time. I ultimately gave it three out of five stars on Letterboxd — follow me, by the way — for its beautiful and innovative cinematography, even if it gets a little lost in its own BS at times, and for its performances, especially from Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. That’s the highest I could go. The film’s first hour is a (captivating) mess, and although the second half is much better, it didn’t outweigh the first’s mistakes.
Since then, “Waves,” which was shot and takes place in Florida, has been the film I have thought about the most. I’m still not sure if it’s good, but I do think its message is important enough that everyone needs to see it.
The film opens by following the life of Tyler Williams (Harrison Jr.), an elite high school wrestler and a straight-A student. He’s the model teenager in the eyes of his father (Sterling K. Brown) and stepmother (Renee Elise Goldsberry), though his father is constantly pushing him to be even better. He has a sweet girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie), and good friends.
Of course, some of this perfect life is a mirage: Williams is a hardcore party boy with an addiction to painkillers, an addiction he picked up while fighting through a serious wrestling injury. As the pressures of teenage life, and trying to keep that mirage intact, build on Williams’ shoulders, he begins to spiral out of control, until something happens that forever alters the course of the whole family.
Without spoiling too much, I don’t buy much of what happens in this half of the film, even after reflection. Character motivations are weak, and some events are exaggerated past the point of believability, such as Williams’ injury, which at one point a doctor describes as a severity he’s literally never seen before, even though Williams has been wrestling with the injury for months. His shoulder would be almost literally off the bone if that was the case. He wouldn’t be able to function, even if he’s slamming painkillers. And that’s one of the more mild head-scratchers.
Despite those flaws, I can’t be too mad at the first half because the wonderful second half of the movie wouldn’t be able to exist without it. After what happens to the Williams family, well, happens, the film shifts its focus to Tyler’s sister, Emily (Russell). If I can’t talk about the film’s first half, I really can’t talk about its second, but it goes to places much more compassionate and touching than I expected. Its message is one of empathy, something the world at-large could use much more of today.
Through it all, Director Trey Edward Shults keeps his camerawork gorgeous. He does this 360-degree spin thing a few times, capturing an entire scene at once, and it never fails in its effectiveness. The film is washed in reds, blues and pinks. One scene in particular, featuring two characters fishing and talking before a big musical crescendo, is truly stunning.
“Waves” isn’t a movie I’m confused by people disliking. There are quite a number of reasons to dislike it, in fact. I still think — and I hate using this word — it’s important to see. It’s a reminder that a film doesn’t have to be perfect to be powerful, and it’s a refresher course on the importance of forgiving people for their mistakes, even if you never forget them.
“It’s Alive with Brad” (2016-present)
YouTube/Hulu, unrated, videos vary in length
When I wrote about “Gourmet Makes,” Bon Appetit’s YouTube series where chef Claire Saffitz attempts to class up junk food favorites, in January, I thought that would be the last Bon Appetit series I’d do.
I was wrong because since that time, I have fallen in love with “It’s Alive.”
Hosted by chef/consummate bro-fessional Brad Leone, the series is a deep dive into fermentation, or “controlled rot,” as Leone likes to say. I’ve never fermented something in my kitchen and likely never will, but I watch for Leone, who is as compelling a presence as I have seen in recent memory. I want him to be my best friend. He talks with a New Jersey accent that goes in and out. He sometimes has trouble putting together a coherent sentence and other times makes up entirely new words. He’s a believer in conspiracy theories. In other words, he’s everything you don’t want in, say, the president of the U.S. (folks …) but everything you do want in an affable television host. He always brings a positive attitude to the proceedings and is open about making mistakes. His goal is to make home cooking seem fun while also handing his audience the knowledge needed to spruce up their meals ever so slightly, such as making sure you crush cloves of garlic before you mince them to release more allicin, aka the stuff that’s good for you.
Mostly, though, “It’s Alive” focuses on the fun part.
Leone was instrumental in Bon Appetit going away from “hands and pans” videos — the ones that filled Facebook timelines 18 months ago, teaching boomers how to make ultra-cheesy pastas or overflowing lava cakes — and moving to videos where the chefs’ personalities are the draw. As “It’s Alive” has gone on, it — much like the food it features — has evolved into something else, with entire episodes featuring Brad traveling into nature to see how honey is harvested or learning how to forage for mushrooms in rural Oregon.
The series’ video editor, Matt Hunzicker, also deserve major props. “It’s Alive” features pop-up messages that actually add to the experience. Sometimes they display recipes; other times they add onto jokes Brad makes or make Brad the butt of the joke. There are dramatic zooms, perfectly timed music cues and other innovative graphics, all in the name of making audiences smile. And like in “Gourmet Makes,” other members of the Bon Appetit crew often swing by and make their presence felt for a few minutes. The whole thing is wonderful.