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.
I wasn’t sure there was room in my heart for another narrative prank movie after the Oscar-worthy success of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm last year. Well, my brain should shut up and stop making decisions for my heart, because Bad Trip is a riot.
Starring Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, and Tiffany Haddish, the movie gives a basic rom-com premise — guy reconnects with the girl that got away, guy embarks on quest to profess his love, hijinks ensue — an Adult Swim twist thanks to Andre’s Chaotic Good energy. As in Borat, the scripted beats featuring road-tripping BFFs Chris and Bud (Andre and Howery) are wrapped in hidden-camera goofs with real-life onlookers. But whereas Sacha Baron Cohen infiltrated and blew up American conservative society through extreme caricature, Andre and director Kitao Sakurai (The Eric Andre Show) wind up highlighting the kindness of strangers through more Punk’d-like vignettes. From Andre bursting through the glass door of an unsuspecting stranger’s house to a dance sequence fail staged among food-court diners to a full-on zoo attack by a horny ape, the 90-minute comedy is a master class in how production value can be used to pull off high-impact pranks. Bad Trip is the Mad Max: Fury Road of fucking with people, and it didn’t surprise me in the least to see Jackass mastermind Jeff Tremaine’s name among the producers.
On top of all the mayhem, Bad Trip also works as the story of a schlub making genuine human connections. Maybe I’m still reeling from watching a vacuum suck off Andre’s clothing and watching the actor flail naked in front of a guy who thought he was getting a car inspection, but ... there’s some shared DNA between Bad Trip and Nomadland. In the current Best Picture frontrunner, director Chloé Zhao pairs Frances McDormand with RV-driving non-actors whose lived experiences and reflective monologues render fictitious scenarios with authenticity. It’s beautiful! And Bad Trip’s “cast” brings the same weight to the “drama.” While Andre shocks drunk Atlantans by falling from three-story scaffolding into a bar table, and nearly gets stabbed by a barbershop owner who wants nothing to do with Andre’s and Howery’s penises (which, naturally, wind up stuck in a Chinese finger trap), the film finds most of its prank targets stepping up as heroes. One elderly man caught in Andre’s web offers genuine advice on how to live and love. A man who watches Haddish’s Trina climb out of the bottom of a prison bus in her orange convict jumper sweats under the moral pressure of the situation, but makes every right decision in the end. As much as I was cackling through Bad Trip, I also saw a glimmer of hope: There are good people out there, and they will help their fellow man, even if that man is on acid and burying himself in the freezer section of the grocery store. —Matt Patches
Bad Trip is streaming on Netflix
And everything else we’re watching...
This weekend I was missing Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse film festival that showcases new genre films and old cult classics. So I finally got around to checking out Alamo On Demand, the company’s streaming rental website, which showcases similar films curated with the same mentality: wild old movies, and new movies that might someday be considered wild old movies. My husband and I sat down to The Crazies, George Romero’s 1973 film about an accidentally released bio-weapon taking over a small down and driving people insane.
With that description, it seems natural to expect The Crazies to center on zombie-horde-like destructive behavior from a town turned feral. But the film is much more about the government response to the outbreak it causes. The military lands and launches a haphazard and erratic response. Soldiers start shooting any civilians deemed to be acting erratically, even if they’re acting out because they’re scared of the gas-masked soldiers brutalizing them without explanation. Time-consuming military protocols get in everyone’s way and interfere with the people trying to cure the disease. And the film spends a lot of time with a small group of civilian escapees trying to evade the military. It’s ramshackle and often not very well-acted, in a 1970s indie kind of way: there’s a lot of over-the-top strident emphasis in place of acting. And the characters aren’t very interesting or well-drawn. But Romero does build some intense tension around the scenario, and the questions of who’s going to survive it, and whether they’ll deserve to. —Tasha Robinson
The Draughtsman’s Contract
This strange, next-to-unwatchable movie comes from the early part of Peter Greenaway’s career. My movie club friend group is doing a round where we all pick 1982 movies, and this was someone’s pick. Anyway, it’s a murder mystery (sort of) set in 1694 England, and it features all number of terrible things, repeat with a gang of supremely unlikable characters (intentionally so). It’s pretty fucked up but not nearly as interesting as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which is the only other Greenaway movie I’ve seen. I’d recommend that one if you’re curious about his work. —Russ Frushtick
As someone who’s defended this movie since it came out in 2014, I can confidently say that we don’t give Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla remake as much credit as it deserves. That may sound like a strange thing to say about a movie that will release its third sequel in the United States later this week, but it’s true. In fact, Godzilla’s status as a franchise starter actually undermines some of the potential reputation. It simply gets tossed in the pile of endless IP-driven movies rather than being seen as one of the best modern blockbusters, which is exactly what it is.
The movie features a tremendous score by Alexandre Desplat, one of the simplest “good” lead characters in recent memory, and Bryan Cranston doing some top tier movie-yelling. But what really separates Godzilla from other modern blockbusters is just how good it looks. There are dozens of gorgeous shots of the monsters, like the MUTO rising from the pitch blackness behind the train in Honolulu, or Godzilla’s tail illuminating a cloud of ash and dust. But director Gareth Edwards’ real feat is making the moments in-between look great, too. There are scenes of nameless soldiers running into rooms or talking on phones that look better than most modern movies ever try to.
And that’s all before you get to the HALO jump that kicks off the movie’s third act. With its operatic score and beautiful red smoke trails, this sequence is probably the best-looking blockbuster scene this side of Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, Fury Road is really the only blockbuster that beats Godzilla when it comes to pure visuals. And if the only movie it loses to is also one of the best movies of the decade, then that probably means we aren’t giving Godzilla enough credit. —Austen Goslin
Godzilla is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
With WandaVision wrapped, I’ve missed my weekly serving of Paul Bettany’s grin. I finally made time for the 2003 overlooked gem Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a tale of friendship disguised as a relentlessly detailed naval period piece. Bettany plays the ship’s doctor with an affinity for scientific discovery. He’s besties with the ship’s captain played by Russell Crowe, who was riding high on back-to-back-to-back Oscar nods for A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, and Inside Man. They love each other more than most romantic comedy leads.
Despite the setting (a Royal Navy ship off the eastern coast of South America during the Napoleonic Wars) and the gore (blunt limb removal, exposed brains) the film is tender and poetic, the nearly two and a half hour runtime leaving room for shots of shadows against the ship’s sails and episodic detours into the personal lives of over a dozen crewmates.
One problem: I swear I’d added this film to my watchlist on nearly every streaming service and yet I couldn’t find it anywhere last night. Lest I be like the captain forever chasing his enemy’s through the violent seas, I accepted my fate and paid for the rental on Amazon. —Chris Plante
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is available for rent and purchase on Amazon Prime.
The Prince of Egypt
I think a lot about what the landscape of American animation would be like if Dreamworks continued to make traditional 2D animated films. The studio’s second movie, The Prince of Egypt, is a sweeping epic that threads a very human struggle amidst the plagues and miracles. Along with an amazing soundtrack and stunning visuals, The Prince of Egypt never dips into the standard “but we gotta make this funny… for the kids!” that so many animated movies before and even more after relied on.
Even at the Disney Renaissance’s most mature, the studio still threw in a bone for the #merch opportunities (cough, the gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, cough). But The Prince of Egypt is a taste of what mainstream American animation might look like if it had a chance to break free of those kid-pandering expectations and expand to a wider audience.
As director Brenda Chapman told Polygon in 2018, “At that time we were trying to make films that weren’t feeling like they were just for children. We wanted to make films that everyone would go see ...We wanted to do something that reached more adults.”
Also, they didn’t have to make Moses that hot, but they did that for us. —Petrana Radulovic
The Prince of Egypt is streaming on Peacock.