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the bald witch from the witches Image: Warner Archives

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The Witches, Bill and Ted, and the best things we watched this weekend

That terrifying movie from when you were a kid is still terrifying

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As usual, we started off the week by surveying the Polygon staff to see what people have been watching — whether they’re on top of the latest cultural controversy about a virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem ahead of the latest season, or educating themselves in older genre classics.

And as usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. Here are some thoughts on what we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.

The Witches

anjelica huston under her witch makeup in the witches Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

There was no question back in 1990: The Witches would be scary. Adapted from a book by Roald Dahl, whose bitter sense of humor delighted in endangering human souls, the “children’s movie” was the brainchild of Nicolas Roeg, who had directed the chilling psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, and Jim Henson, who had his own dark streak after Labyrinth and The Storyteller. Clearly the pedigree did not dissuade anyone from showing their kids this movie — The Witches became a staple of ’90s youth. I have vivid memories of renting the VHS and fending off nightmares for weeks. The image of the Grand High Witch stripping away Anjelica Huston’s movie-star beauty to reveal craggy purple skin and a jagged nose that would make the Wicked Witch of the West wince was instantly iconic and horrifying.

I assumed that, 30 years later, I was strong enough to brave Roeg’s dark fantasy. The movie could only go so hard without scarring children.

Well, I was wrong. The Witches is deeply effed up. And not just by the time we watch a convention hall full of witches transform two kids into mice. The very first seconds find the elderly Helga (Mai Zetterling) tucking her grandson Luke (Jasen Fisher) into bed, and lulling him to sleep with a horrific story about a little girl kidnapped off the streets in broad daylight. Good night, kiddo!

The combination of Dahl’s bleak plot turns, from the offscreen death of Luke’s parents to a witch who lures the grieving young boy out of his treehouse with the promise of a pet snake, Roeg’s in-your-face camerawork and Henson’s creature effects make every second of The Witches unencumbered, gleeful torture. Huston and her fleet of bald sorceresses (a few played by stodgy men, who probably disappeared in the crowds in the pre-HD days) hold up as much as my childhood memories would hope. The half-human/half-mouse animatronics are somehow even more gruesome. How was this allowed??? I’m so glad it was allowed. —Matt Patches

The Witches is streaming on Netflix.

And everything else we’re watching…

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in Bill & Ted Face the Music. Photo: United Artists Releasing

The conclusion of the Bill and Ted trilogy was one of the films playing in re-opened movie theaters this weekend, but that’s the wrong place to see it. One, no film (and especially not this one) would be worth the risk of contracting coronavirus. Two, the film works far better on a small screen with similarly sized expectations. The story splits in a dozen directions, like a bowl of narrative spaghetti. The special effects — tons of unusually obvious green screen — called to mind the Star Wars prequels. And for the first time, a movie convinced me that, yes, even Keanu Reeves can’t escape the passage of time.

But sitting on the couch on Sunday night, needing a boost of positivity ahead of the work week, Bill and Ted struck the Goldilocks-degree low chill. The movie feels like great fanfic (a high compliment), and everybody involved appears to be having fun. It feels more like a TV reunion than a film. One more chance to hang out with old friends. Combine that with a sugar-sweet ending about the power of humanity, and my friends, you have a perfect 90-minute distraction from this godforsaken pandemic.

A bonus thought: If you also watched the film this week, you might like Maria Dahvana Headley’s pseudo-translation of Beowulf, which reads like classic literature recited from a dude to all his bros. I began the book immediately after Bill & Ted 3, and it felt like surfing the same frequency for an entire evening. —Chris Plante

Bill and Ted Face the Music is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and many other streaming services.

Da 5 Bloods

a group of men kneeling together in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods Photo: Netflix

After skimming a handful of reviews, I sat down Saturday night with Spike Lee’s latest, Da 5 Bloods. I went in expecting something poignant and noteworthy. What I got instead felt incredibly uneven and muddled.

There are three movies in here, at least.

The first — and the most exciting one, in my opinion — is a politically tinged action film. It stars five Black men trying to stay alive in the jungles of Vietnam while the race politics of the late 1960s play out in the background via North Vietnamese propaganda broadcasts. For that film, Lee’s team needed better military consultants and more ammunition. The rest of it would have jelled nicely.

The second movie is much more dramatic, and tells the story of Delroy Lindo’s character and his son on a tour of Vietnam. It’s an emotional tear-jerker, where two men realize how they’ve skipped over the part of their lives where they develop an emotional connection with each other. Father spills his guts about ’Nam and the buddies he lost. Son comes to grips with father’s conservative politics and develops a stoic respect for him. Fin. I probably wouldn’t have showed up for that film at all, but it would have reviewed well, I think.

The third movie stars a group of five fit-but-aging veterans who go back to Vietnam to find a cache of gold. The big-bad is Leon from The Professional, who plays a double-crossing criminal with a legion of corrupt cops and gangsters. There’s a big shootout at the end, and someone jumps on a grenade. It would do well if it had come out in 2004.

How all three of these storylines got crammed together into the same film at the same time is anyone’s guess. I almost turned it off once Lindo started wandering through the jungle, screaming directly into the lens of the camera. —Charlie Hall

Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

Full House

the full house cast and a donkey Photo: ABC

There is no greater comfort watch for a ’90s kid than Full House. I spent most of Saturday turning off my brain and being lulled into a feeling of nostalgic security by the sweet sounds of “Everywhere You Look.” Every episode is streaming on Hulu, but I highly recommend checking out the “Lessons Learned” collection, where Hulu has compiled all of the Very Special Episodes, like when Stephanie learns to say no to smoking, DJ learns that she doesn’t have to wear so much makeup, and Michelle learns about gender roles.

And for a bizarro version of Full House that will leave you wondering who, exactly, this is for, check out the rebooted Fuller House on Netflix. It’s … a lot. —Emily Heller

Full House is streaming on Hulu.

The Owl House

The Owl House characters hug Image: Disney Channel

In an era full of plot-driven streamable animated shows available on Netflix and other services, it’s easy to miss the gems that are only available on cable. Which is why I’m here to wave a giant flag that says “If you like all-ages animated shows like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and The Dragon Prince, you will love The Owl House.”

The season 1 finale aired this weekend, and I decided to binge most of the season in one weekend. I couldn’t stop.

The premise of The Owl House sounds familiar: a plucky young girl named Luz finds herself in a fantasy world called the Boiling Isles, where she starts training to be a witch, under the guidance of sassy sorceress Eda the Owl Lady. There’s a magic school full of young witches, but it’s far from a Harry Potter derivative. In fact, part of what makes The Owl House so fun is that Luz is obsessed with young adult fantasy novels and keeps attacking her problems head-on in the same way her favorite book protagonist does — only to realize that maybe emulating a fantasy adventure series isn’t the best way to approach real life.

The episodes are a little more episodic than streaming shows tend to be — think Steven Universe, with its one-off focuses on the residents of Beach City, or Gravity Falls, where each adventure slowly built up to an overarching story that culminated in season finales. Some focus on Luz’s friendships, as she finds her way in this unfamiliar world; others are adventures with some fun magic. But creator Dana Terrace slowly sprinkles in heavier plot elements, expertly pacing the world-building, until it culminates in the first season’s final episodes. And man, what a high-stakes, emotional turmoil those episodes were.

Also, did I mention the 16th episode has this ADORABLE and beautifully animated dance sequence between Luz and former mean girl Amity? Because it does. —Petrana Radulovic

Season 1 of The Owl House is available to purchase on Amazon Video, and is streaming on some on-demand cable platforms.

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