'Desus & Mero' and 'Blown Away' are this week's picks.
So, last week I told you I was hours away from viewing "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood."
I did, and I loved it as much as I hoped I would. You can read Pam Nadon's review for more on the film itself, but I wanted to take a second and touch on the discussion surrounding the film.
The social media discourse, always loud and bad, has been especially loud and bad this week. Some people are mad that Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) doesn't get as many lines as Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), even though she gets plenty of screen time (and, in my opinion, steals the movie with a scene set in a theater). Some people are mad about something Cliff is alleged to have done, deeming it unnecessary to the plot, while others believe it adds levels of complexity to the film and the character. Still others are upset about the portrayal of Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) as arrogant, while the scene's defenders argue the context of the scene (a flashback in someone's mind) has the portrayal make perfect sense.
And some just think he shows close-ups of too many feet.
I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of any of these debates. (Except the feet one. There's … a lot of feet.) I only want to say: Thank God movies that generate this much discussion still exist.
For once, it seems like people are going beyond "this film is good" and "this film is bad" to say "I like/love this film, but it has flaws." Because to me, imperfections are what make films interesting. Perfect is boring. It's why I prefer college football to the NFL and Spiderman to Superman. I want to see filmmakers take big swings, even if they whiff. I want to be thinking about what I just saw for days, if not weeks, afterwards, peeling back a film's complexities to think about what its saying, not just about its themes but about its creators.
When two people watch a scene and take away completely different meanings, that's art. That's bringing our experiences and perspectives to the surface. That's learning about each other, in a sense. If that isn't vital in today's society, what is?
The funny thing is, "Once Upon a Time …" is Quentin Tarantino's most empathetic film, or at least his most since "Jackie Brown." The fact that this discussion is happening with this and not, say, "Django Unchained," is at once extremely 2019 and makes the movie a must-see, if only to keep up with the zeitgeist.
Say what you want about him, but the guy creates a fervor, and makes films that back that fervor up. What a wonderful thing that is.
“Desus & Mero” (2019)
Showtime, TV-MA, 30 minutes
If “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” is made for boomers who spend too much time on Facebook, “Desus & Mero” is made for millennials who spend too much time on Twitter and Instagram.
Desus Nice, real name Daniel Baker, and The Kid Mero, real name Joel Martinez, host the best late-night show on television, twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays). You can stream it online with a Showtime subscription, so it counts. The two hosts got their start at hip-hop and culture site Complex before getting their own show on Viceland. The show moved to Showtime in February. Both Desus and Mero are known on Twitter for their quick wit and willingness to piss off people, usually racists or boneheaded sports personalities, by giving them a tongue-lashing.
The show takes the familiar late night format — monologue, celebrity interviews, musical/comedic guest — and flips it. The show opens with Desus and Mero reacting in real time to the show’s producers showing them the best viral clips or stories of the week/weekend.
This is often the comedic highlight of the show. The duo’s brand is so well-defined — brash and biting, often over-the-top, but never lacking empathy — that they flow into and out of bits with ease. They are New York, born and raised, and let you know it. They also laugh a lot at their own jokes, something I find relatable. Not sure what that says about me, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Their celebrity interviews take place either in their studio (in front of an audience) or in “The Basement,” which is a different studio in a warehouse (?) that apparently has no air conditioning. To be honest, I don’t know what dictates the location change; the questions seem of the same ilk in both. They keep things fun and get good guests, ranging from Megan Rapinoe to Bill Hader to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They offer guests water or a cup full of rum. Sometimes the guests aren’t even plugging anything, they just show up to chat. It feels less like an interrogation and more like a podcast. Unsurprising, considering Desus and Mero also host the popular “Bodega Boys” podcast. They also offer up extended interview clips on the show’s YouTube Channel, alongside digital exclusive clips, a smart way to keep their audience engaged on days the show doesn’t air.
The third segment can be any number of things. Sometimes it's more viral clips, or one long clip they take their time roasting. Sometimes it's a man-on-the-street segment. Sometimes it's a pre-taped travel segment with another celeb guest. Sometimes it's a comedy sketch.
The sketches can be hit-or-miss, though they have noticeably improved since the show began. Everything else hits the high bar of quality they have set. These guys are the future of late night, especially with the market as fractured as it currently is.
You might not rock with them. I promise you, they don’t give a shit either way. They are going to do what they do, the only way they know how to do it.
“Blown Away” (2019)
Netflix, TV-PG, 25 minutes
The biggest endorsement I can give “Blown Away” is it made me research if any glass blowing workshops existed in the area, and how much one would cost to attend.
“Blown Away” is a competition show, not unlike “MasterChef,” where artists follow prompts to create works of blown glass art and are eliminated one-by-one by a panel of judges. The last one standing wins $60,000.
I do mean they are creating art. This isn’t people creating, like, a gift store vase. These are people who have blown glass for decades and create things like an interactive collection called “Shared Breath” meant to signify the relationships we have with each other, or a sculpture of a hand holding the Earth in its grasp.
The show is smart enough to know that most people watching it, myself included, have no idea how glassblowing works. A cooking show I can figure out, even if I’m not familiar with all of the ingredients. Not so much here. “Blown Away” takes the time to explain a facet of glassblowing at the top of each show, after the intro. It also reminds you of the equipment names and materials, etc. For example, the big molten oven the contestants stick their glass in to keep it warm and moldable is called the “glory hole.” (Laugh all you want, that’s the name.)
The appeal of the show is three-fold. One: Molten glass simply looks rad. Watching it get molded and pulled apart and put back together is relaxing on the eyes. Two: The prompts the contestant are given are unique. One judge wants them to create art inspired by food. Another requests art inspired by robots and the tech-heavy future inching toward us. At the end of each competition, the works are placed in an exhibition and given proper lighting. This is an art show as much as it is a competition. It’s this mix of highbrow and lowbrow that gives “Blown Away” a distinct tinge.
And three: Glass is fragile and weird, and sometimes it breaks for no reason. This happens a lot on the show, and while it is devastating for contestants, especially when it occurs late in a competition, it is funny as hell for viewers.
“Blown Away” is the definition of binge-able. You can easily watch three or four episodes in a row, then pick it up another day without getting lost. It’s a bite-sized bit of pretty colors and cool shapes perfect for winding down the day, even if you aren’t moved to research glassblowing studios afterwards.
Quote of the week:
Neither of these program are quotable in a traditional sense, so I'm going to leave you with something from "Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood." This is Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), portraying a soldier infiltrating a Nazi stronghold in some movie he did long before our movie begins. And no, this is not a spoiler.
*Jumps from behind a curtain*
"Anybody order fried sauerkraut?"
*Kills a bunch of them with a flamethrower*
Yeah. It's still a Tarantino flick.