"The Lighthouse" and "American Vandal" are this week's selections.
There's not as much entertainment drama this week as there was last week, but what debate there is stems around the upcoming release of Christopher Nolan's new film, "Tenet." The film is scheduled to be released July 17, and Warner Bros. reportedly will make a final decision on keeping that date or not within a week.
Nolan, ever the showman, is pushing for it to remain, and he has a point. What better way to welcome theaters back open than with what he's calling his most ambitious project yet? Under normal circumstances, "Tenet" — the plot of which has something to do with international espionage and time manipulation — would be a contender for the top box office slot at year's end. 2020 is a different beast, obviously, but it might be the rare film people are willing to risk their health to see on the big screen.
Of course, July 17 is more than two months away. Two months back, we were not even in lockdown yet, so a lot can change in that time period. Will it be safe for theaters to open by then? Will people even go if they are open? Will they wear masks and gloves while watching movies? That would be a sight not easily forgotten. Me? I don't know how I feel. If theaters opened today, I don't think I would go. Maybe I will feel differently in July. Maybe I won't, really, but will drag my ass to the theater anyway because damn if watching a new Nolan movie with some popcorn and a Coke doesn't sound like the best thing in the world right now.
"The Lighthouse" (2019)
Prime Video, rated R, 109 minutes
I briefly mentioned "The Lighthouse" in my 2020 Oscars snubs column in January, but now that the film is on Prime, it's past due for a full-on spot to call its own.
It's the second film directed by Robert Eggers ("The Witch"), which might have you believe that "The Lighthouse," starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, is going to be scary. Outside of a few quick moments, it's not. More than anything, it is a two-handed comedy about the perils of having a bad roommate and what happens when you're stuck with that person too long.
Pattinson is Thomas Howard, a young lighthouse keeper (or a wickie, as the film says) who takes a job learning under veteran wickie Thomas Wake (Dafoe) at a lighthouse on a remote New England isle. That's basically the whole plot. Other things happen, of course, but only to bring out different sides of Howard and Wick. They drink — a lot. They belch and fart. They sing sea shanties and dance in their underwear. They find potentially dangerous artifacts. They curse each other in old English for minutes at a time. And yes, eventually, they get around to fixing the lighthouse.
The more time they spend with each other, the more they learn, the less they like, and the crazier things get. Howard begins seeing visions while Wake takes a peculiar fixation with the light at the house's apex. It becomes unclear which will go out first: that light or the wickies' sanity as they begin to slip in and out of time.
Pattinson and Dafoe are marvelous at portraying these two guys trying to out-tough each other while hiding their insecurities (and true feelings?) from each other, with nowhere to run when tensions run high. These are quite physical roles, and they both nail it. As the movie rumbles along, it becomes clear that one or both of these men will not have a happy ending.
The film is shot in black and white, which would seem like a gimmick if it didn't perfectly fit with the setting and tone of the film. Eggers and his team clearly know they have a gorgeous location on their hands and take advantage of it. The movie feels a bit like a psychedelic episode of "The Twilight Zone," and I mean that as a compliment.
"American Vandal" (2017-2018)
Netflix, rated TV-MA, two seasons, nine hours of content
On Tuesday, word came down that Nic Cage would be playing Joe Exotic in an upcoming series based on the life of the "Tiger King" breakout subject. The series will be produced and written by Dan Lagana, who also produced Netflix's "American Vandal."
Most people have been focusing on the Nic Cage part of the news — understandably so — but I'm focused on the Lagana part because "American Vandal" is simultaneously one of the smartest and dumbest shows I've ever seen. That's a difficult line to walk, but it did it well. What better time to revisit the show than now?
Season one of "American Vandal" centers on Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), a senior high school student who gets expelled for … 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 also Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck), the sophomore best friends making the show-within-a-show 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.
That crime's story wraps up by the end of the season, so season two focuses on a different yet just as dumb/smart one. Although the follow-up might not have the same jokes-per-minute rate as season one, it has a surprising amount of emotional depth. The story goes places I didn't expect a show about high school vandalism to go, and I appreciate that. It's nice to be caught off-guard by a show sometimes.
“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?!”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.