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What I'm Watching: Hello Tomorrow, Junji Ito Maniac, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and More
On six movies, three shows, two books, and a sick week.
Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre, Netflix
A NOTE: last week I didn’t end up writing a newsletter, not because I was abroad but because I finally caught COVID for the first time after avoiding it for three years. I’m feeling mostly better now and I’ve finally made it home to California after an exhausting two-day-long travel misadventure.
At any rate, here’s everything I watched, read, and listened to these past two weeks, and what I thought about it:
The new season of Starz’s sardonic Hollywood catering business comedy Party Down is here over a decade after the last, and it’s just outright phenomenal. Here’s my review for the show, which I think has one of the sharpest comedic casts in TV history.
I finally checked out some of Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre on Netflix, and the anime version of some of the horror master’s most indelible works is just as nightmarish as it should be. Surreal, disgustingly creative body horror mixed with stories of off-putting obsession and strange happenings: don’t watch this before bed!
I also reviewed Apple TV+’s new series Hello Tomorrow! which stars Billy Crudup as a traveling salesman in a retrofuturistic world trying to literally sell strangers a piece of the moon. The show has some fantastic production design and its world is quirky and intriguing, but the ten-episode first season feels like a thin story stretched even thinner.
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I finally caught Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train last week, and really liked it. It’s not top five Hitch for me (at the moment that’d be Rear Window, Rebecca, Psycho, The Lady Vanishes, and perhaps Vertigo), but I thought the concept was wildly original, and both Farley Granger and Robert Walker put in memorable performances as two very different Stressed Out Men With Secrets.
Has anyone else seen the documentary My Old School? I like watching docs when I’m sick and was glad to catch this one about a bizarre con that took place at a Scottish high school in the ‘90s. Alan Cumming is rueful and mysterious in a meta role, and the doc is infused with a lovely colloquial warmth thanks to the director’s closeness to the (admittedly nuts) story.
After hearing about how genuinely great Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is for months, I finally caught up on both the Oscar nominee and its 2011 predecessor. The first Puss in Boots film is straight-up bad (Humpty Dumpty in particular is an abomination), but I think the second one deserves the praise it’s getting. It’s a surprisingly deep story with an A-list voice cast and a resplendent animation style. Seriously, I couldn’t stop thinking about how so many blockbusters these days look like mud if you pause them at pretty much any given moment, whereas this one looks gorgeous frame for frame.
Continuing my mission to watch all the weirdest Alan Alda movies, I caught the 1972 thriller To Kill A Clown, which has an impressively low 128 views on Letterboxd. The movie about a disabled veteran who terrorizes an unhappy couple isn’t horrible, but the grainy YouTube copy of it is, and the movie’s apparently improvised dialogue veers wildly in directions that alternate between interesting and incomprehensible.
Another sick day doc watch, Netflix’s The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker is one of the most morally bankrupt true crime docs I’ve seen in years. This movie opts to miss the points of its own story (about a homeless man who went viral, then apparently committed murder) at every possible turn, instead giving ample airtime to greedy, sensationalizing interviewees who don’t care to humanize or understand the person at its center. Truly not worth your time!
Odds and ends:
I have a review to come of Kristen Lopez’s debut book from TCM, But Have You Read The Book? but for now, I’d like to put it on everyone’s radar. The book about 52 mostly-great books that are also movies is insightful and well-curated, with a rich sense of film history.
I’m also burning through the audiobook for Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six before filing my review of the Prime Video adaptation (more on that next week). The fake rock band’s oral history is an easy-to-read novelty that so far mostly just makes me want to read more about real rock bands. If you plan to read it, I definitely recommend the audiobook: it’s got a great full voice cast including Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer.
I don’t have any of my own writing to share this week (aside from the reviews above), but I did read a few things I enjoyed from other writers. Over at The Huffington Post, Candice Frederick did a great interview with Ellen Barkin, who isn’t afraid to talk shit about the men in Hollywood. Warning: this one has spoilers for her episode of Poker Face, the sixth one.
I stopped watching M. Night Shyamalan’s domestic horror show Servant a couple of seasons ago, frustrated by its vague and seemingly nonsensical narrative loops, but I just stumbled across Joe Lipsett and Terry Mesnard’s episodic discussions over at Queer Horror Movies and I’m pretty confident I’ll finish out the show by reading their insightful coverage of it instead of watching. I tend to like reading recaps for shows I’ve given up on, and they don’t get much better than these ones, which manage to skillfully cut through the more muddled parts of the ever-ambiguous series to figure out what it all might mean.
So there you have it. I’ve only been away one week, but it feels like ages. How are y’all doing? What have you been watching? Share your latest pop culture hot takes in the comments, if ya please. In the meantime, I’ll be throwing back cough syrup and hot tea as I try to decompress and catch up on work post-trip.