Saturday 26 March 2022

What I'm Watching: March 2022

A recap of my month in movies, media and streaming, featuring the recent Scream sequel, Steven Soderbergh's Kimi, Disney Pixar's Turning Red, Best Picture frontrunner Coda and Apple TV series, The After Party. 

Scream (In theatres)

The fifth Scream film – confusingly titled just Scream – is the first to hit cinemas since the series creator, Wes Craven, passed away. Picking up the baton is Ready or Not directorial duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, for a legacy sequel that both continues the story is satisfying ways and, in typical Scream fashion, deconstructs the building blocks of the horror genre and the concept of legacy sequels too.

We're back in Woodsboro once again, 25 years to the day since the events of the first film. A high school student, Tara Carpenter, is stalked and stabbed in her suburban home, causing speculation about the return of Ghostface to run rampant. Tara's sister, Sam, races home to look after her sister, which is where we meet Tara's troupe of friends. Over the next few days, Ghostface attacks multiple times, evoking Woodsboro's infamous past and causing the original survivors – Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) – to sit up and take notice of the killings.

Meta commentary is par for the course in Scream movies, but this fifth film dials it up to eleven. Your mileage may vary on whether that's a good thing – some may find it grating, personally I like that there's something that sets this series apart. The new cast is a mixed bag; Melissa Barrera isn't the strongest lead as Sam, but some of the supporting cast – namely Dylan Minnette from 13 Reasons Why and Jack Quaid from The Boys – are good. 

At the end of the day, the appeal of Scream comes from its core characters (it's nice to see them back!), the kills (which are pretty gruesome) and trying to guess who the killer (or killers) are. In that regard, this new film is another entertaining entry that fans will love. 

C'mon C'mon (In theatres)

Written and directed by Mike Mills, Cmon Cmon is a black-and-white drama about a man, Johnny (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and a boy, his nephew Jesse (played by Woody Norman). 

Tasked with caring for Jesse while his mother cares for his hospitalised father, Johnny must juggle his day-to-day job, as a radio journalist who travels the country interviewing children, and learning how to be a responsible father figure to Jesse while on the road. 

I saw this on a whim, because word of mouth on some movie podcasts had been positive and I was looking for something a little different. 

There's an ambling aimlessness to this film that is quite charming; Johnny and Jesse are thrown together through circumstance and are just trying to suss each other out. Phoenix is an actor I sometimes bump against, but his shaggy, quiet warmth in Cmon Cmon is endearing and his journey – learning how to take children seriously and respect how they're feeling – is a touching one. 

It's a really charming 'man and boy' movie, but also a really nuanced and sensitive sibling story too; the unsaid resentment and lingering sentiment in Johnny's relationship with his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) is explored too, with Mills centring the story on his charismatic characters. The structure – Johnny and Jesse bounce from California to New York and New Orleans – offers a series of picturesque backdrops, with each chunk of the film bookended with Johnny's radio interviews with schoolchildren, who talk about their fears and personal thoughts. 

Kimi (Binge)

A short, sharp tech thriller from Steven Soderbergh, the busiest retiree in Hollywood, Kimi sees Zoe Kravitz play Angela, an agoraphobic who stumbles across an audio recording of an assault and possibly a murder. Angela's anxiety about the outside world is fuelled by COVID, making her mission to report the murder and pull the pieces together even trickier.
Kimi is like Eagle Eye meets Rear Window, with a dash of Contagion in there for good measure. Kravitz is great as someone who is on edge all the time, with anxiety, compulsion and eventually paranoia racing around inside her mind. Soderbergh, as you would expect, brings a dash of panache to proceedings, with slanted angles and close-ups on Kravitz upping the uncertainty. 

A modern take on a classic paranoia thriller, Kimi is an effective look at how the technology in our homes is always listening; something that's even scarier when, for whatever reason, we can't leave. It also goes to show that you can have COVID in your film, without making the film about COVID. 

Coda (Apple TV+)

A Sundance success story that, if you believe the trades, is in with a great shot of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture on Monday, Coda is a sweet and heartwarming story about a teenage student called Ruby (Emilia Jones), who lives with her deaf parents and older brother in a coastal Massachusetts town.

Ruby's parents own a fishing boat, and rely on her to interpret when dealing with clients who can't sign. At school, she likes to sing – and has her sights set on securing a scholarship to a prestigious college, but her parents can't envision a life without Ruby by their side to help.

With terrific performances across the board, a sensitive story to tell and with its heart of its sleeve, Coda would be an interesting pick for Best Picture, because it feels so 'straight and narrow'. It's not particularly provocative or unexpected, with its plot playing out pretty much as you might expect. But it is moving, that much is undeniable. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not feel something or relate to someone, with universal themes of family, frustration, aspiration and young love.

The Afterparty (Apple TV+)

An eight-part murder mystery created and directed by Christopher Miller (y'know, of Lord and Miller fame), The Afterparty sees a group of friends rocked by a suspicious death, during a post-school reunion party. 

So in comes Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish); a talented homicide cop with a penchant for piecing together grisly kills. Danner sets about joining the dots, determined to expose the killer before the night is out. 

The cast is frankly an embarrassment of riches; in addition to Haddish, we have Dave Franco, Sam Richardson, Illana Glazer, Zoe Chao, Ike Barinholtz and Ben Schwartz. The best part of The Afterparty is the way it switches it up, with each episode imbued with the personality of its primary character. Barinholtz's Brett sees himself as a Vin Diesel tough man, so his episode has shades of Fast and Furious; Schwartz's Yasper is an aspiring star, so his episode is a musical; Zoe Chao's Zoe is an art teacher, so her episode is animated; and so on and so forth. 

It's a clever motif that keeps the story feeling fresh, as Danner interviews each guest and we revisit the events of the night from a different perspective over and over. And because this is a Christopher Miller joint, there's a freewheeling irreverence to the humour that feels ever so slightly detached from reality. All told, this is a satisfying slice of 21st century whodunnit storytelling that will leave you guessing right up until the final episode. 

Turning Red (Disney+)

The latest Pixar joint, Turning Red centres around Mei, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who is on the cusp of exiting childhood and entering adolescence. One day, Mei wakes up to discover her that the women in her family are cursed, and turn into a giant red panda when their emotions flare. Distraught, embarrassed and upset, Mei struggles to keep the red panda a secret from her family and friends and peers at school.

The filmmakers – namely cowriter and director Domee Shi – have to be applauded for choosing to centre her film on something that is so often stigmatised and kept a secret. Puberty and menstruation is a fact of life, so to see it tackled with such deftness of touch in a Disney Pixar film of all places is great to see. The way that this dovetails into Mei's Chinese family and culture is awesome too. Turning Red is 100 per cent the kind of film that Disney, Pixar and Hollywood as a whole simply would not have produced 10 to 20 years ago. Stories like this exemplify the outcomes of diversity, inclusion and representation in storytelling.

While I can admire and respect Turning Red on a thematic or metatextual level, I did find it hard to engage with the humour or narrative, particularly in the second half. But Pixar are pushing the envelope here, narratively, thematically and visually, with the film's anime-inspired aesthetic marking a clear departure from previous entries in the canon. I liked it, but didn't love it – but I'm sure it'll endear itself to those for whom this film is for. 

Formula One: Drive to Survive season four (Netflix)

Now into its fourth season, Drive to Survive continues to recap and repackage the Formula One season from the year before, as a little warm-up act before the on-track action gets underway for real. 

This season charts three main storylines - Hamilton and Verstappen's titantic title fight, a resurgent McLaren's tussle with Ferrari and George Russell's journey from Williams team leader to Mercedes' next big hope. The tricky part is telling this story without an exclusive footage or insight from Verstappen, who opted not to take part in the series this year. 

His absence is felt, particularly because the focus shifts to his team boss, Christian Horner, who is quite possibly the most toxic and hateful person in the F1 paddock. His constant talking heads and snide remarks really fuel the drama, but I despise the guy, so it sucks that he's featured so much. 

There's a couple of standalone episodes that widen the net - notably, the Haas-centric episode that pulls back the curtain on behind-the-scenes drama between foul-mouthed team boss Guenther Steiner and Russian pay driver Nikita Mazepin. It should come as no surprise that this episode stood out, given Mazepin recent ousting from the team on the eve of this season. There's also a nice episode that shines a light on Esteban Ocon, a driver who has featured heavily in the series since day one, and rookie Yuki Tsunoda.

Drive to Survive continues to divide opinion among fans; this season won't change that. It's an accessible way in for new fans, but the die-hards will always find something to pick fault with - the editing errors in particular are really glaring this time around. 

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