"Possessor" and "Cracking the Cryptic" are this week's selections.
There's so much going on in my real sports beat world that I don't have time for a typical intro, but I hope everyone is doing well. And even though it is not one of this week's Binge Blog picks — because I already wrote about it — I urge everyone to watch "When Harry Met Sally …" this weekend. Nothing says fall is here quite like that (perfect) film.
Here's two more selections, one that is fun for the whole family and one that will keep the family up with night terrors, maybe.
Vudu, rated R, 104 minutes
Don't fact check me on this (says the journalist), but I think "Possessor" might set a record for amount of stabs in a movie. At least ones that I've seen.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary sci-fi/horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, "Possessor" is less surface-level scary than its title and bona fides (and the lede of this section) might imply. That doesn't mean its an easy watch. Far from it. "Possessor" takes a microscope to the mind, examining what personal identity really means in a world more connected than ever, often through gruesome means.
Some time in the future, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) works as a mercenary-like figure for a large-scale tech company (think Google or Apple). Using the company's tech, Vos sends her mind into the body of someone expendable, kills whomever the company wants her to kill, then commits suicide in the body she's inhabiting, an act that kicks her mind back into her own body. The film doesn't spend too much time explaining how it works. It's more interested in the repercussions of such actions: Vos' mind begins slipping, her memories mixing with the memories of the people she inhabits.
This comes to a head when she inhabits the body of Colin (Christopher Abbott), a low-level tech worker (at a different company) who is dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of one of the company's higher-up (Sean Bean). As Vos begins to lose herself, Colin's mind begins to fight against the invasion, turning the film into a tête-à-tête war.
The film is gripping, but an unfortunate consequence of its premise is that even though the film is about Vos, we don't see Riseborough on screen too much. Thankfully, she's in Colin's body most of the film, and Abbott gives a great performance as a dude dealing with this weird situation. He's going to blow up in the next few years, I think. Definitely a talent on the rise. And Riseborough makes the most of her limited screen time, as she always does. The pair have a few scenes together (kind of, through tech effects), and those are killer.
Cronenberg definitely does some cool effects here, especially in the transitions from body to body, making the process of mind infiltration seem like a nightmarish Windows 95 screensaver. Unfortunately, the effects eventually take over the movie, and the thematic elements get lost a bit. I don't have a great grasp on what Cronenberg is trying to say here, other than making people think about identity and technology in a general sense. That's usually a fairly big negative for me, but here, everything looks so cool that I'm willing to give it a pass.
"Possessor" is 104 minutes and feels even shorter, so you might as well give it a chance. You'll either see a newfound gem from an up-and-coming director, or you'll have only wasted an hour and 40 minutes or so of your life. Pretty good trade off!
(N.B.: "Possessor" was released by Neon, which also released Best Picture winner "Parasite" in 2019, and other Binge Blog films like "Palm Springs," "Shirley" and "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." They and A24 are studios to watch in the next few years, ones that still make big, bold films with something to say.)
"Cracking the Cryptic" (2017-present)
YouTube, no rating, various video lengths but usually between 25-50 minutes
It started with a tweet from "James Corden" head writer and "All Fantasy Everything" podcast leader Ian Karmel:
I, too, was skeptical. How interesting could it be to watch someone fill in numbers on a grid for a half hour? But I implicitly trust Karmel's taste, so I decided to watch it.
Reader, listen to what I am about to say to you: The video is amazing. It's not just the logic on display from Simon Anthony, a jovial English man who is apparently a quite prolific Sudoku solver, even though the way his mind works is spectacular. It's the pure joy he radiates whenever he figures out how to sidestep the roadblock in his way. Anthony appreciates the craft that went into this puzzle like art lovers appreciate an authentic van Gogh, breaking down the brilliance into ways normal people (read: me) can understand.
Watching this video led me down quite a rabbit hole, and long story short, I am now considering contributing to the "Cracking the Cryptic" Kickstarter to get their new book. I say "they" because the channel is not just Anthony; it's also Mark Goodliffe, the reigning Times Sudoku champion in England, though admittedly I find Anthony to be the more compelling on-screen presence. (No offense, Mark. You're brilliant, too.) They do more than just Sudoku, too. Hashi puzzles, cryptic crosswords, pentomino puzzles, they're all fair game.
There's not a ton more to say. Either watching a dude with a British accent get exited about puzzles is compelling to you, or it isn't. I can't get enough. These videos, of which there are at least two each week day, sometimes more, have become what Bon Appetit videos were to me in the early days of the pandemic, 15 years ago or whenever that was. They're comfort food, something to watch on my lunch break or when it's 1 a.m. but I'm not tired enough to sleep. It also feels like I'm working my brain while I'm watching, so I feel less guilty watching this than I do some rom-com when I have a lot of work on my plate.
It's brilliant stuff and an endless supply of it. Can't ask for more than that.