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Akira, a Coens gem, and the best things we watched this weekend

Now is the time to play catch up

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Kaneda skids his motorcycle in Akira Image: Funimation

We live in a world where Jurassic Park, The Goonies, and Back to the Future are the top theatrical releases of the week — and drive-in theaters are the most frequented venues to see them. It’s a weird moment!

But picking up on the nostalgic moment has us catching up with backlogs of recent hits and certifiable classics. Below, we’ve collected our other favorites from the weekend, in hopes of offering a suggestion or two of what you should watch this week. Be sure to let us know in the comments what you enjoyed over the weekend, too.


Akira: tetsuo transforms into a blob Image: Funimation

Akira is the gold standard of anime feature films, having paved the way for mature storytelling both in Japan and around the world. There’s no Matrix, Metal Gear Solid, Shin Godzilla or post-’80s post-apocalyptic fiction without Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal cyberpunk saga. Thanks to a driven director and skyrocketed budget, the film is meticulous and hyper-detailed. Animated films literally can’t afford to be as intricate as Akira.

But after being cannibalized by admirers and exalted by critics for 30 years, does it stand as more than a spectacle? Frankly, this might be the most urgent moment to watch Akira since it’s original release. Exploring oppressive governments, violent police, a rebellious-but-lost generation, and a society driven to create a perfect weapon to defend the last failed weapon, Katsuhiro Otomo says the awful part of our current circumstance out loud. Things can get worse, can get more violent, can end it absolute catastrophe. As young motorcycle gangster Kaneda races through the streets of Neo-Tokyo to save his pal Tetsuo, warped by destructive psychic powers, he beholds every kind of human failure, from slobbering misogyny to systematic fascism. Katsuhiro Otomo renders his story in a city’s glow and nightmarish surrealism. I’ve seen the movie four times, and this go-around my jaw was lower on the floor than ever before, somehow. —Matt Patches

Akira is available to stream with subs or English dub on Hulu.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019)

Are You Afraid of the Dark 2019: the new midnight society sits around the campfire Photo: Nickelodeon

I didn’t watch much Power Rangers growing up (I thought it was for boys!) so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2017 Power Rangers film. Though the tone doesn’t always feel balanced, I liked that it took time to establish the charismatic teen leads’ personalities and relationships before the mighty morphin’ started.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is another ’90s kids show that I missed (I was a scaredy cat!) but sometimes my husband will throw on an episode of the Nickelodeon horror anthology while we’re eating our Saturday morning cereal and watching TV from our childhoods. This weekend we decided to check out the 2019 reboot, shot by Power Rangers director Dean Israelite, and, holy crap, is it a delight.

Rather than an anthology, the three-episode reboot focuses on one girl’s introduction to The Midnight Society storytelling group that served as the framing device in the original series. But the scary story she tells on her initiation night — a tale about a creepy carnival that abducts children — starts coming true, and she’s the only one who can stop it.

I loved it for many of the same reasons I liked Power Rangers: I’m a sucker for charming kids who are put into extraordinary situations and work together to defeat evil. The miniseries format is a little more forgiving to Israelite’s inclination to focus on personalities and relationships before it gets to the action. Nickelodeon greenlit a season 2 of the reboot, which I will happily consume over a bowl of cereal when it airs. —Emily Heller

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019) is available to purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital services.


Hannah Gadsby crouches down to touch the floor with a mic in her hand in Douglas Photo: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Hannah Gadsby’s second comedy special for Netflix, which she describes as a “difficult second album,” follows the smash success of her revealing and introspective Netflix comedy special debut, Nanette. Nanette was a criticism of comedy itself, as well as Gadsby’s own work; she looked back on past jokes she told about coming out and her struggle with queer identity, then interrogated those jokes in tangents that were often uncomfortably joke-free. The special resonated with many queer people (including yours truly) because of its daring to discomfort its audience, its refusal to fall into the easy and safe mode of deploying a joke to diffuse the tension of Gadsby’s raw retelling of, for example, the time she was on the other end of a hate crime.

Douglas goes ahead and acknowledges the specter of Nanette’s success and the way it changed Gadsby’s life. The result is a very different show and a much more traditional comedy show, which comes as some surprise given that it’s the follow-up to a show in which Gadsby repeatedly said she was going to quit comedy (and yet also, as she acknowledged in Nanette, she’s hardly suited for anything else, with an art history degree and no job experience outside of comedy). One of the running themes in Douglas involves Gadsby claiming to have no idea that her personal traumas (as shared in Nanette) would be so popular. I don’t buy that bit, though. I think she knows that people eat this sort of thing up, which is probably why Douglas is also about her autism diagnosis, positioned here as yet another hurdle between Gadsby and the “normals”.

After finishing Douglas, I went back and revisited Nanette, which I hadn’t seen since 2018. It made me cry the second time around, just like the first. That doesn’t mean it’s a better special. Douglas shows how Gadsby’s life has changed, as it incorporates several jokes about the difficulty of existing in the public eye and withstanding intense scrutiny from critics after Nanette. While Nanette was about Gadsby’s anger at herself (as well as her quest to move past that in her own work), Douglas is about the anger that others feel towards her — and Gadsby’s embrace of it. She describes eating up haters’ words like a tasty meal, one that nourishes a psyche that — we’re led to believe, at least — can withstand it all with ease.

I’m not sure whether the real-life Gadsby likes the scrutiny so much. I know I wouldn’t. But by making a special about it, it may be easier for her to move past the scrutiny on Nanette and on herself, and for her next comedy special – because, at this point, she’ll surely get a third – will be about something else entirely new. I’m looking forward to it. —Maddy Myers

Douglas and Nanette are available to stream on Netflix.

First Cow

A man stands amidst ferns in a forest. Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

I’ve never been that much of a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s films. They’re beautifully shot and designed and acted, but I’ve always found them a little remote and opaque, prone to asking questions Reichardt doesn’t intend to answer. I enjoy some films with unresolved endings, but Reichardt seems to have built a career on seducing viewers into a story and a set of worldviews, then leaving that audience adrift with a message about how the world is messy and we don’t always get resolution, catharsis, or answers.

First Cow was the first film of hers that didn’t leave me a bit cold or frustrated. The story of two gentle souls trying to get by in Oregon in the 1820s, among cruder, more violent types, it’s strangely sweet, but also gripping and even nerve-racking in places. This time, Reichardt guarantees we won’t be frustrated with the ending by starting the story with the ending, guaranteeing that the whole film will be both a tense question of “How do we arrive here?” and “Is this a bad thing?” The film is, per usual for Reichardt, rich in detail, from the ragged hand-me-down clothing to the mud that gets everywhere and on everyone. But it also finds a warm balance between tension and the pleasure of just watching two kindred types find each other and make a life for themselves in a difficult place. —Tasha Robinson

First Cow is available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital services.

Miller’s Crossing

Miller’s Crossing: gangster stands in the forest with a gun Photo: 20th Century Studios

I participate in a movie club with a few friends where we all agree to watch a movie none of us have seen. This week’s pick was 1990’s Miller’s Crossing, the third movie by the Coen brothers. It’s a super-dense, complex film in terms of plotting, but it’s also amazing to see the Coens’ sense of artistry and humor haven’t changed all that much over the last 30 years. The movie is also stacked with acting talent putting in incredible work, including the lesser-known Jon Polito, a “that guy” actor (I knew him as the detective from The Big Lebowski“I’m a brother seamus!”) who delivers an electrifying unhinged-mob-boss performance. If you’re looking for a movie that rewards intense focus, this one fits the bill. Also there’s a great scene with a chair I won’t spoil. —Russ Frushtick

Miller’s Crossing is available for rent on Amazon and other digital services.


ponyo runs over waves formed by fish Image: Studio Ghibli

I didn’t buy an extravagantly large television to watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie on my laptop screen, so for weeks I’ve been patiently waiting for Roku and Warner Bros. to work out whatever it is they need to work out in order to get an HBO Max Roku app. Then I found out there’s an HBO Max app for the Playstation.

So anyway, I watched Ponyo for the first time this weekend, and I have one thing to report: Ponyo love Sasuke. Thank you for reading.

Susana Polo

Ponyo is available to stream with subs or dubs on HBO Max.

Sunset Boulevard

Norma Desmond is ready for her close-up, Mr. Demille Image: Paramount Pictures

On a wall in the office of my childhood home, there was a poster of 101 Greatest Movie Quotes, which my sister and I would read aloud in different, dramatic voices. At that point in time, we hadn’t seen many of the movies on that list, so we always got a special thrill when one of the lines popped up in a movie (it turns out we were pronouncing the “Louis” in “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” wrong for years).

The most I knew of Sunset Boulevard were the two quotes on this poster (No. 7: “All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my closeup” and no. 24: “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!”) I had no idea how tragic those lines were in the greater scheme of the movie, particularly the close-up one. The story of fallen silent film star Norma Desmond and her desperate clinging to her glory days is still sticking with me days later.

Also, at one point my fiancé turned to me and said, “I’m fully expecting you to start talking in a Mid-Atlantic accent and pretending the apartment is a decrepit 1920s Hollywood mansion” and, frankly, I felt seen. — Petrana Radulovic

Sunset Boulevard is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

bogar in treasure of the sierra madre Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Over the past couple of months, it’s felt like the universe was nudging me to revisit this John Huston classic, in which a trio of vagabonds prospect the Sierra Madre mountains for gold. Everywhere I looked, there it was. I watched Spike Lee’’s excellent pseudo-heist film Da 5 Bloods, which gleefully takes inspiration from the classic. Then the YouTube channel Nerdwriter praised Humphrey Bogart’s performance as the villainous vagabond Dobbs. And when the film appeared on HBO Max, my Twitter timeline filled with GIFs of one of the movie’s most iconic lines. I woke up early Saturday morning and figured, hey, why resist kismet?

Turns out the universe was doing me a solid. What an incredible film. The script is filled with so many great lines, the plotting is lean and tense, and Bogart’s performance is amazing, reminding me of Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon and Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, the latter of whom almost certainly took inspiration from the film. Now I get why the movie kept popping up: tons of modern movies crib from it as if The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an ur-text from which countless thrillers and heist movies sprout. —Chris Plante

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Amazon.

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