Wow, so this month really got away from me, huh? When I wanted to do this “weekly” watch review I had the plan to do a lot of watching during the week and a lot of writing on the weekends. It was a pretty solid plan, considering that I very much consider myself a homebody, and typically use weekends to recover from the week and my shitty day-job.
But in a pretty insane plot twist, the last three weekends in June I actually had shit to do. Like, what? How’d that happen?! I’m assuming it’s because most people who are not me enjoy doing things in the warmer months, and somehow I obliged to all kinds of plans with the lovely people in my life.
So, yeah, I slipped a bit, and a lot of this isn’t going to be as in-depth as I’d like it to be. But here it is, anyway! And here’s to carving out some more me time…
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
It might be unoriginal to say that movies are a thing with my brother and me; movies are something that most families do together. But Dan and I bonded over movies at a pretty seminal point in our collective lives, so it really is a thing. I probably see more movies with him than I do with anyone else (maybe even including my boyfriend, with whom movies are also a thing) and we see them often. The funny thing to me over the last fifteen or so years of our movie-going lives is that we’ve developed into very similar movie-goers: we like to experience a movie surrounded by as few people as possible. So it’s pretty natural that, on a bright and sunny Saturday, Dan and I find ourselves in the fourth row of a documentary at 11 o’clock in the morning. No, documentaries are not our usual fare, but with little else to see, there we found ourselves with popcorn for breakfast.
In this #MeToo era, Mr. Rogers seems like a figure that one should approach with caution and from the side, like a bear in a public setting. To confront this man head-on is dangerous, because there are no more heroes (especially white male ones) with whom you can neatly package your nostalgia. To attend a screening of a documentary of his life is to knowingly put yourself in the way of possible nostalgic destruction. Surely he had sordid affairs, or was an alcoholic, or worst of all, he was actually a pervert all along. You sit down, and cringe in anticipation.
But, of course, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? acknowledges your cynicism, and gently shoos it away. Because cynicism has no place in Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood. It is the opposite of who he was, so there’s little surprise at how quickly the documentary soothes away your worries.
The film is made in Fred Rodgers’ likeness: it’s tender in tone and light-handed in narrative. (There’s little doubt that if he were still alive, this would be the same film.) It focuses mainly on the professional career of Mr. Rodgers, and clearly has no interest in delving into the personal life of its subject. So we can’t be completely certain of any private shortcomings (except that he was Republican, which, yeah… saw that one coming), but with your nostalgia at its mercy, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? confirms what you already knew: Mr. Rogers was a really great man. It’s a 134-minute sigh of relief.
There Will Be Blood
I don’t know if there’s a line that has stuck with me in recent times more than Pete Holmes in Crashing, admitting, in his basically trademarked amiability: “There’s no good way to tell someone you haven’t seen The Wire.” Because I use it. All. The. Time. Not just with The Wire, though it does apply (oh my god, I knooow), but with pretty much anything else. “The Wire” in that sentence should just be one big empty space that anyone can fill anything into. Anything you lie about seeing just to get out of the onslaught of judgment, fill that on in there!
So, specifically for a cinephile in 2018, There Will Be Blood is one of those movies that there’s no good way to tell someone you haven’t seen.
I hadn’t seen it mostly for reasons regarding a general not-in-the-moodness, but also because I have seen the last three Paul Thomas Anderson movies, and my relationship to his work is fraught. I see The Master or Inherent Vice or Phantom Thread (all in the theaters, I’ll have you know) and I’m on board for the first hour or so, and then my attention totally runs out of steam. The narrative threads (ugh sorry) are so weak and/or convoluted. They take either totally nonsensical turns or completely obvious ones, and then they fall right off a cliff. He’s clearly trying to say something that is either going totally over my head OR he’s saying nothing at all, and then when every critic I respect and admire is in love with it I’m left wondering why they’re all full of shit pretentious. But of course, that can’t be right! I know they’re not pretentious and that’s why I love and admire them! I’m never a part of the general PTA consensus, so whenever I see his movies I’m left full of self-doubt and confusion and annoyance. I just don’t get it.
So, no, I hadn’t seen There Will Be Blood. Until last Friday. The stars and streaming services aligned, and I was finally able and ready to watch this freaking movie.
And I really fucking loved it.
Admittedly, I was sucking down White Claws at a pretty steady rate, but I trust my instinct underneath that inebriation. And looking at PTA’s last four movies as a cohesive unit, There Will Be Blood is the simplest, and therefore most effective, of the unit. The best move was keeping the story strictly at Daniel Plainview’s side, making those Eli Sunday flourishes throughout create incredible punctuation. This is a film that relishes in the beauty of its own medium. There is so much that is said in complete silence, with only camera angles, edits, and light and shadow to tell the story of a scene.
I found it also oddly and surprisingly political. Once I realized his son’s name was H.W., for the rest of the film I was thinking about what republican capitalism does to a man, and by extension, a country. Its callow, vapid consumption spreading like a virus, affecting the masses without giving a single fuck about consequence. And then you wither away all alone, in your empty, sprawling estate, bludgeoning a man to death with your own bowling pin. Yyyep.
There Will Be Blood was so good that it’s making me rethink those last three PTA features. Is he experimenting with style so much that I should have absolutely seen There Will Be Blood before The Master to get it? (I don’t believe I will ever get, or remotely like, Inherent Vice, but that’s for another time.) Or, is There Will Be Blood like the English seasons of Black Mirror? You only watch the others because of the hype, and they never really live up to their predecessor.
Cameron Esposito’s Rape Jokes
My dear friend Jacquie turned me onto Cameron Esposito’s comedy with the greatest period joke of all time, which yields the most amazing line that, yes, I do repeat in agony every month: “My body is smashing my body out of my body using my body.”
Now, that line doesn’t have much impact when written out. It’s clever, sure, but funny?
What you have to imagine is Esposito’s immaculate mid-western accent undulating with emphasis not unlike a Shakespearean tragedy. Half of the fun of her comedy is a delivery that she uses like iambic pentameter: she shouts when she gets really riled up about something, but it sounds like singing.
And – you guessed it – she does a good amount of singing in Rape Jokes. A one-hour special basically thrown together over the span of a few weeks, Rape Jokes was something born from the #MeToo movement and Esposito’s desire to speak her specific truth, specifically the way she internalized her own experience of sexual assault. And, ostensibly, to take back rape jokes for the survivors.
The most revelatory part of her special is the idea that comedians (mainly the male ones) are falsely reinforced of their own funniness by using rape jokes because of how taboo the topic of rape is. It becomes a sort of microcosm of the patriarchy: men want to force women to laugh at their jokes, and they mistake nervous laughter for genuine laughter. Yeah. Mind blown.
On top of speaking her piece in a super honest and vulnerable way, Esposito’s also using the special to raise money for RAINN, and to date has successfully raised $50,000 for the organization. There were times when the special felt its thrown-togetherness, but it’s pretty impossible to be cynical at it when it accomplishes way more than a comedy special usually does.
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette
In some ways I’m disappointed to say that it’s nearly July, and Nanette is the first thing I’ve seen on TV this year that’s really blown me away. (Could we really be feeling the loss of Game of Thrones that hard?) In other ways, I’m confident that no matter what the context, Nanette would be the best thing I’ve seen on TV this year. Because Nanette is a shocking piece of comedy that is about how destructive comedy can be to its creator.
Like Cameron Esposito (also: Tig Notaro, Chris Gethard), Gadsby is using a comedy special to dig deep into very personal issues. She details her experiences of hate crimes, internalized homophobia, and sexual assault, and how she used those experience previously in her comedy. And sure, laughter is the best medicine and all that, but Gadsby realized that turning her pain into comedy actually forced her to create a specific narrative of her own life that she repeated night after night until it became her reality.
Gadsby’s grappling so hard with reconstructing her life’s experiences in the wake of that realization that she’s quitting comedy. I would say that losing her as a performer (even though I’ve only just heard of her) would be a real loss, but then you watch her fluctuate between goofy bits and profound, intense bouts of anger, and you know that she’s not going away completely. She has so much more to say.
And for the rapid-fire portion of this post:
Harlots – it kept me in it for five or six episodes before it lost me. There’s something in these women having a palpable sense of autonomy that I really appreciate, but that’s all it has going for it. The conflict is a bit dull and very repetitious, and I have no idea where or what the moral compass of this world is. Too many characters, too little set-up, and nothing propelling it forward.
Girls – various episodes from season two. Their low-level millennial ennui just feels like the kind of show to watch during the first heat wave of the summer.
Big Little Lies – impeccably structured, high brow bitchiness, beautiful style. The murder mystery is fun for the first watch, but even when you know the end this show is a blast to watch.
The Affair – only a few episodes while there’s a promo period on Hulu. Such a great concept, and an overall disappointment. The best, most interesting part of this show is its opening credits.
Community – nearly done the series. I never watched the sixth season all the way through (only the first and last episodes) and I’m glad I never wasted my time. The last two seasons are just sad reminders of what a great show used to look like.
Problem Areas with Wyatt Cenac – a delightful casual watch that feels like Last Week Tonight‘s chiller sibling. Its stance on policing in America was clear, but it also gave a lot of consideration to the concept as a whole. Always as funny as it is considerate and informative.
Great Shows to Nap To: all of the British vacation-house-hunting shows on Netflix. Those accents really lull you into a slumber.
Great Shows to Multi-task To: Encounters with Evil, also on Netflix. If you’re reorganizing your closet, like I was, and just want something you can frequently ignore, this is a solid one. At any point in it you can tune in and discover a gruesome tidbit about a real crime, and promptly tune back out.