Hey y’all, how have you been? You look great, have you done something new with your hair? Looks great, very fashionable.
How are we doing? Oh y’know, same ‘ole same old. We’ve been watching and playing things, but it’s been a minute and half since we shared. So let’s do that.
We’ve had ample time this past month to catch up and watch tons of new (or at least, new to us) stuff lately. From Nicolas Cage’s latest mesmerizing performance in Michael Sarnoski’s thriller Pig and the Harley Quinn cartoon series to The Great Pottery Throw Down and Netflix’s Blood Red Sky, there’s loads of great TV shows and films to watch either streaming or in theaters.
Here’s the lowdown on what we’ve been watching here at Polygon HQ.
Every so often, an actor turns in a performance so remarkable and compelling that it reminds you why they’re a movie star. Sometimes, it comes when you least expect it — like after reading the premise of Pig, which goes like this: A truffle-hunting hermit named Rob (Nicolas Cage) who lives in a literal cabin in the woods of the Pacific Northwest is forced to return to civilization when his beloved truffle-hunting pig is, uh, pig-napped.
You might assume that Pig would unfold as a relatively conventional action thriller, with Rob resurfacing in society to fuck people up à la John Wick. But the film zags at almost every point where you’d expect it to zig.
Rob slowly comes to life as he spends more and more time in Portland searching for his stolen pig. It soon becomes clear that he has a reputation from his past, and while he is initially reluctant to use it to his advantage in the present, he finds that it (conveniently) unlocks a lot of doors.
The character is a disheveled mess for pretty much the entire film, his face bloodied from the attack on his cabin and from a later assault that he accepts freely. But throughout its taut 92-minute run time, Cage conveys the deeper emotional trauma hiding beneath the surface. No one could ever say that Cage doesn’t go hard in every single performance he gives — it’s impossible to phone it in when you’re screaming, “NOT THE BEES!” — but here, he manages to be just as riveting while playing a man of few words. It’s a subdued performance, yet no less intense for it.
Aside from the skills he deployed in his previous life, Rob’s greatest talent is in being a keen observer of people — a talent that is not diminished even after years spent living as a recluse. When he can bear to engage with his past in dealing with other people, he awakens something within them. Pig is fundamentally a story about the hold that memories have on us: memories of those we’ve lost, of dreams abandoned, of the good times (rare though they may have been). And this story seems to have reawakened Cage himself. —Samit Sarkar
Pig is now in theaters.
Yes, I will admit the thing that piqued my interest in the Harley Quinn animated series was the whole Batman-Catwoman “heroes don’t do that” debate. And I’m glad I did! I wasn’t really expecting much from this show, but once Harley broke free from her toxic relationship with Joker and started to do her own damn thing, it really hooked me. I’ve often lamented about how superhero shows and movies just take everything so seriously, so seeing grandiose villainy given a fun, mundane edge to it (Harley, for instance, goes to a henchman agency to recruit goons)
Also, every single character is hilarious, from villain loser Kiteman and cynical Poison Ivy, to Bane, who ends up being the butt of the Legion of Doom’s jokes despite just trying his dang best, and Frank, Ivy’s talking plant buddy (and arguably only other friend than Harley). It’s just a dang fun time and really highlights entertaining intrapersonal moments between the villains, heroes, and everyone in-between. —Petrana Radulovic
Harley Quinn is available to stream on HBO Max.
The Great Pottery Throw Down
I saw a tweet earlier in July that mentioned The Great British Bake Off and something about a pottery “throw down.” I thought I’d consumed every British competition show that had been made, so I was shocked to find out that The Great Pottery Throw Down, a pottery competition, was hiding away in HBO Max’s catalog. The show is great, and I’ve somehow managed to complete two seasons already and have moved onto the third. (I was very happy to realize there were four seasons available on HBO Max!)
This show has it all, including a judge that cries literally every episode at the beauty of the contestants’ pottery and in how hard they’ve worked. My favorite episode so far is the semi-finale in season 2, where the contestants are instructed to make DIY toilets that must flush. One contestant makes a toilet in the shape of a turtle, so you can peek down through your legs and see its cute little head. (Yes, the judge cried at the sheer beauty of the toilet.) But the best part of the episode is when one contestant — my favorite — created a toilet that accidentally spewed water all over the judges. It’s simply an incredible moment that I can’t stop thinking about. —Nicole Carpenter
The Great Pottery Throw Down is streaming on HBO Max.
All five of the Twilight films
Until recently, I had only seen the first of the films based on Stephanie Meyer’s YA supernatural romance tetralogy. During the original novels’ moment of zeitgeist ascendancy, and the releases of their feature length adaptations starring Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattinson, I had somehow managed to avoid learning any real concrete details about the series’ characters or major events aside from what was obvious through cultural osmosis: there’s a teenage girl who’s in love with a vampire and a werewolf and the two of them are competing for her affections.
That changed little more than a week ago when Netflix announced that the entire Twilight series would be available to stream on the service. My partner is a huge fan of them and, having no compelling argument otherwise as to why we shouldn’t watch them, I finally took the plunge this past weekend to watch all five installments of the Twilight cinematic saga back to back. And holy shit.
I will give credit where credit is due: there are some genuinely enjoyable (see: hilarious) moments sprinkled throughout this all together way-too-long fantasy romance. Let me name a couple: the moment when Rosalie breaks the salad bowl in the first movie; Edward coming to Bella’s rescue in a mom car before peeling out of a parking lot as if he were a long-lost brother of Dominic Toretto; Jacob taking any and every opportunity to take off his shirt just to show off his manly pecs. I have to agree with my boss Matt Patches that Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2 are the most tolerable of the bunch, if only for the fact that they have actual discernible plot arcs and stakes and admittedly interesting cinematography. I doubt that I will ever willingly return to them, but I’m happy to have finally given this series a fair shake and broaden my cinematic horizons. —Toussaint Egan
All five of the Twilight movies are available to stream on Netflix.
The Owl House
Back for a second season (with hopeful plans for a third), The Owl House is about Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles), a human trapped in a funky dangerous fantasy world that’s at least partially inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Luz has been taken under the (sometimes literal) wing of Eda (Wendie Malick), an outlaw, witch, and my life goal for how I want to be as an old lady. Season 1 saw the two of them and their group of misfits coming together and finding their true strengths. Season 2 is challenging Luz to find her way home after destroying the only known portal between their worlds.
Aside from the incredible monster design, great writing, and a fantastic cast of characters and voice actors, The Owl House has quietly started a very sweet lesbian romance between Luz and her formal-rival current-crush Amity (Mae Whitman). While the movie side of Disney notoriously makes a fuss about each new movie having the “first” gay character — inevitably a side character who never actually engages in any romance — I’ve seen relatively little fanfare about this show for just doing the dang thing. It’s a great change of pace to see this romance treated with the earnestness and dignity of any other romance in Disney cartoons. —Jenna Stoeber
The Owl House is streaming on Disney Plus.
Tuca and Bertie season 2
A surreal take on the beloved city-folk sitcom, Tuca and Bertie captures the humor and trauma of just living day to day, with a complexity and joy that few shows have managed. Bertie (Ali Wong) is an aspiring baker who suffers from anxiety, in contrast to her free-wheeling best friend Tuca (Tiffany Haddish). Creator Lisa Hanawalt’s excellent work on BoJack Horseman is turned up to the nth degree in Tuca and Bertie, and it is so good and weird for it.
When the first season aired on Netflix a few years ago, it was one of the weirdest takes on adult cartoons I’ve ever seen. The emotional content is so grounded that I get caught off guard every time the animation twists into a bizarre world-building bit or nonsensical transition. The new episodes continue to explore Bertie’s struggle with the traumatic childhood incident that bubbled up at the end of the last season, which the same thoughtfulness and chaotic energy that makes the show so great. —JS
Tuca and Bertie is currently airing on Adult Swim.
A League of Their Own
Has there ever been a more crowd-pleasing crowdpleaser than Penny Marshall’s dramatization of America’s first women’s baseball league? No, there has not. The joy starts with precision casting: Geena Davis’ too-cool-for-school Dottie, Tom Hanks’ drunken slouch Jimmy Dugan, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna acting like some kind of turn-of-the-century comedy duo, and Lori Petty as Kit, the unsung hero of the movie, who will fight and fight and fight until she hits one out of the park. Everyone gets a golden moment, and Hanks gets about 10. (Jimmy gets a number of grouchy, endlessly quotable one-liners, but my new favorite is him, drunk, at the front of a bus, shouting “WHO IS LOU?”) By all accounts, Marshall put her crew through rigorous training to fake pro-ball skills, and it shows, with every montage and sports set piece delivering the same thrill of real high-speed plays.
The movie is the real deal. It’s also pretty tragic by the end? Though Marshall plays the opening of an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League at the Baseball Hall of Fame like a triumph, in 2021 it’s a sad reminder that (1) the AAGPBL players of the 1940s and ‘50s are still unheralded and (2) there’s still no women’s baseball league. What the hell is that about? Let them play ball! —Matt Patches
A League of Their Own is streaming on Starz and available to rent everywhere.
Blood Red Sky
What if Wesley Snipes played the same character in both Blade and Passenger 57, but it was depressing? What if Shadow in the Clouds was modern ... and depressing? Interview With A Die Hards 2 and 3 but make it depressing? What if Cargo but German (and depressing)? What if Train to Busan wasn’t charming, and instead, was depressing? Somewhere inside this in media res, flashback within a flashback, genre mélange of a movie is a moral about late stage capitalism and xenophobic fear-mongering to benefit it. Plus vampires. It gets a little depressing.
Blood Red Sky’s neck-romancers are a curse passed from person to person that turns them on their fellow humans. Kind of like Fox News. Explicitly like Fox News, in fact, as the plane and stock market crashing terrorists’ plan relies on manufactured Islamophobia.
The movie’s terrorists are well-equipped and prepared to sacrifice a plane full of people to generate a profit. To shift blame from themselves, they create an elaborate distraction based on xenophobia and political unease. But beyond that, Blood Red Sky is the story of a mother desperately trying to avoid passing the curse to her child, and a child going to extreme lengths to save his mother from herself. You just have to wade through six other movies to get to it.
The movie’s vampires were a cool mix of old school Max Schreck and animalistic monsters. It was a new and relatively exciting genre-bending (or maybe genre-mushing) horror film. It just took a lot of work to enjoy. You know how, as a joke, someone will wrap a birthday present, and then put it in another box and wrap that, and then wrap that in another box, and another, and so on until the joke gets old? Like a matryoshka doll of increasing frustration, but at the end you get a present? It’s like that.
The terrorists pretending to be other terrorists don’t want to crash a plane, but to crash the stock market. They just happen to hijack a plane with the cancer patient who isn’t a cancer patient. And one of the terrorists doesn’t believe in the cause, he’s just a Joker-type who only wants to see the world burn (or, more accurately, a Charlie Day “Wilcard!”-type). And then a desperate and self-absorbed capitalist ruins everything right when we had it all under control. There’s a good movie in there, it just takes a lot of effort to get to and often gets lost in the noise. —Jeffrey Parkin
Blood Red Sky is available to stream on Netflix.
Dimension 20’s The Unsleeping City
I went into the weekend craving some Dungeons & Dragons, but my regular group has been on hiatus for a while now. That left me searching for a new actual play series to follow. The latest season of Critical Role is about half-way through, but I simply don’t enjoy that troupes’ languid pacing. The Adventure Zone is kicking off its latest arc, but I’m suffering from a bit of McElroy over exposure after a long road trip. So … I finally made time to check out Dimension 20.
I’m happy to report that, for me at least, this actual play feels just right.
Dimension 20 has been broadcasting extraordinary actual play sessions for years now, most of them led by game master Brennan Lee Mulligan (College Humor). You can find a selection of them archived free on YouTube. I’m currently hooked on The Unsleeping City, which is an unabashed love letter to the city of New York. It stars Ally Beardsley, Emily Axford, Zac Oyama, Lou Wilson, Brian Murphy, and Siobhan Thompson. I genuinely can’t decide which one of them is my favorite. The first episode is so good at introducing its characters that there’s simply no way to do it justice without spoiling it, so I’ve linked it above for you to check out.
What’s so fascinating about this first episode is that it requires literally no prior knowledge of D&D to follow along. It’s just two marvelous hours of expert role-playing and improvisation. Mulligan crosses the line from GM to acrobat with his ability to assume various roles throughout, and each of the players at the table is confident and bold in their characterizations. If you’re looking at starting up your own campaign, I can’t recommend this approach to session one enough. Best of all, The Unsleeping City is brutally edited to make the action as fast and fluid as possible. It’s available as a podcast, but if you’re like me you’ll end up switching to the video version to keep track of the big fights. —Charlie Hall