Monday morning kicked off in a huge way with the seismic announcement that AT&T struck a deal with Discovery to spin off WarnerMedia into a brand-new media company, combining HBO and CNN with the likes of HGTV and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. BBC announced that Steve McQueen, hot off the release of his five-movie anthology Small Axe last year, would be producing a three-part documentary series titled Uprising, exploring three major events in British race relations that transpired and intersected with one another in 1981. That’s not even mentioning the new trailers for the G.I. Joe reboot/spinoff Snake Eyes and Netflix’s Sweet Tooth adaptation, which just debuted!
Meanwhile, the fine folks at Polygon HQ have been busy this weekend whittling down our watchlists. Here are a few of the shows and movies (and manga!) we’re currently watching (and reading!) right now, and what you might enjoy watching (and reading!) as well.
The Kid Detective
A couple months ago I joined Letterboxd, a social media platform for film nerds that lets us review movies, share lists, and see what our friends have watched. I was skeptical of another social app, at first, but figured I could use the database to track my viewing habits.
A funny thing happened on the way through my backlog. I noticed small films I’d never heard of gradually accumulate reviews from my friends. Curious by their sentence or two reviews, I found myself trying old films like Midnight Run and new films like The Empty Man — despite both having next to zero marketing and minimal press, at least not recently.
As a result, my Letterboxd-inspired viewing has felt akin to a film festival experience, where I select movies by word of mouth, starting each film “fresh-eyed” without having seen a trailer or even read a summary. The latest of these adventures is The Kid Detective, a pitch-black comedy starring Adam Brody as a former kid detective turned downtrodden adult aspiring to be a legitimate private investigator. If it hadn’t been dumped last year amidst the pandemic, I imagine this film would have had a legitimate moment. And that’s all I’ll say.
There’s something precious about the opportunity to see a well-made movie without any of the hype cycle. After all, how often will you get to watch a mystery without knowing a thing before the opening credits? —Chris Plante
And everything else we’re watching ...
I find myself mostly over “coming-of-age stories” that all seem to hit the same beats, whether positive (“I found a mentor who helped me understand self love and creativity”) or negative (“I did a bad and maybe broke the law but now I see the error in my ways and I’m on the good path”). Girlhood renewed my faith.
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma (A Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Girlhood finds 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) at a breaking point. With her mom working at all hours to make ends meet, Marieme’s abusive brother commands the house with an iron fist while she cares for her two younger sisters. The situation at home takes a toll on her academics, and despite pleading for another track, her school kicks her out on to a vocational track. This isn’t the life she wanted ... and when a gang of girls invites Marieme to run with them, she finds purpose and support that the traditional systems never provided.
Sciamma, a white woman, could easily stumble here, exploiting her young Black leads and seeing the project as a source of misery needed to be overhauled. But Girlhood never undervalues its characters or the world around them. When the head of the gang, Lady (Assa Sylla), anoints Marieme with her own gang name, “Vic,” it’s an ascendance. The group celebrates by dancing and lip-syncing to Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” When they find themselves in a fist fight against another gang, it’s not so Sciamma can trigger an act of violence that will define Marieme, but to show her as fully empowered, and knowing when to stick up for her friends. The men in their orbit are toxic — her brother won’t allow Marieme to date his friend because she might earn a reputation as a skank — but they can be outmaneuvered. With the help of her friends, Marieme pushes back against the forces that, in other movies, society would ask her to settle for or assimilate into in order to survive. By believing fully in Touré’s performance, and rendering her action with flowing photography and a prism of colors, Sciamma delivers a coming-of-age alternative that’s just a total knockout. —Matt Patches
Godzilla vs. Kong (in a movie theater!)
This past weekend was the three-week mark since my second vaccine shot, so on Sunday, my (also fully vaccinated) wife and I celebrated that milestone the best way we knew how: We went to a movie theater, for the first time in something like 15 months. It was definitely weird, but it was definitely wonderful.
Dimmer-than-usual lighting lent the lobby an almost funereal atmosphere. A moviegoer said that he actually preferred this to dealing with crowded theaters in the Before Times; a concession stand employee shrugged in response. Discussing the remark, my wife and I thought how odd it must have felt for the person fetching that guest’s popcorn and soda to hear that some people might like it better if his job continued to be threatened by low attendance. But perhaps the saddest part of the experience, for the two of us personally, was the realization that Regal Cinemas had — since the last time we visited one of the company’s theaters — switched from Coca-Cola (and our beloved Coke Zero) to Pepsi products. (It’s almost enough to make us consider declining to renew our Regal Unlimited subscriptions.) And of course, we had to keep our masks on whenever we weren’t actively eating or drinking.
All of those concerns left my mind the moment I saw a haymaker from Kong connect with Godzilla’s jaw, and let out an involuntary “YES!” as the two “alpha titans” duked it out on a flaming aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Is Godzilla vs. Kong a work of cinematic art? I dunno. Could I utter lines such as “Kong bows to no one” with a straight face? Certainly not. Why does the home of the titans — at the apparently hollow center of the Earth — feature a throne room, complete with a Kong statue hewn out of rock and a titanic ax that can be charged with radioactive energy? Beats me.
But of course, those are the wrong questions to ask. For 113 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I emptied our brains and had an unbelievably good time at the movies. Because despite the undeniable convenience of streaming the latest blockbusters at home, nothing quite compares to seeing a cinematic spectacle on a big-ass screen. —Samit Sarkar
Godzilla vs. Kong is currently in movie theaters.
Great Pretender Season 1
If you’ve seen a pitch for this show, it’s probably been “Ocean’s 11 but anime” and it’s not an inaccurate simplification. A group of international confidence men and women plan and execute elaborate heists involving drug lords, air racing shows, and art forgeries. But The Great Pretender contains multitudes. For starters, it’s the kind of show that would make its credits theme song Freddie Mercury’s rendition of The Platter’s song The Great Pretender.
The show’s main characters all display that effortless sort of cool that Steven Soderbergh deftly exploits in his movies, aided by an impeccable dubbing on the Netflix release. The mini arcs of the first season each focus on the backstory of one of the main characters, which completely reframe your understanding of their motivations for living the life of a con artist. Even the side characters and marks involved in the heist are given some depth.
The show’s backgrounds are also notable for their use of a strikingly bright color palette, a direct contrast to Wit Studios other recent works like Attack on Titan and Vinland Saga. They evoke the neon skin of a poisonous animal: gorgeous to look at while simultaneously broadcasting the dangers within.
The main character Makoto is often left in the dark about all of the heists’ plans so the audience can simultaneously be surprised right alongside him when things seemingly spiral out of control. Even though you know the crew is probably going to find a way to pull off their heist in the end, you’ll still be thrilled by how it’s pulled off. Even more surprising are the emotional packed storylines weaved into these conclusions that make the show feel like way more than just anime plus Ocean’s 11. —Clayton Ashley
Great Pretender seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on Netflix.
I had dismissed Jennifer’s Body without much thought when it released back in 2009, knowing next to nothing about the film aside from the fact that it starred Megan Fox of Transformers fame. What can I say, I was a teenager and had other media I was more interested in at the time (Halo 3 and The Orange Box being chief among them). Now, as an considerably older, wiser, and far more generous cinephile, I decided this weekend it was well past time to give Karyn Kusama’s comedy horror satire a chance. Turns out yeah, it’s pretty good!
Aside from being a solid horror flick about a self-involved cheerleader who transforms into ravenous succubus-like demon after being sacrificed by a secret Satanist boy band with aspirations of stardom, what most stuck out to my partner and I while watching it was how much of an inadvertent time capsule the film was of that first decade of the twenty-first century. From low-rise jeans and clamshell phones, Fallout Boy posters and 9/11 tribute shooters, I felt myself uncannily drawn into the psychic space of a time period I had long since locked away in the darkest chasmic depths of my mind palace. Man, high school fucking sucks. Anyway, Amanda Seyfried was great in this as Jennifer’s unfortunately name BFF Anita “Needy” Lesnicki, a shy yet stalwart young woman who both defies and defeats the demon-possessed Jennifer while ultimately avenging her murder during the end credits montage. If you, like me, had ignore this film before now, I highly recommend setting some time aside and giving it a shot. —Toussaint Egan
Jennifer’s Body is available to rent on Amazon.
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster
This weekend I finally started reading some manga for the first time as an adult. As a kid, I’d read some Shonen Jump, which had just started to pop up in supermarkets when I was growing up, but I never kept up the habit, since other manga wasn’t readily accessible to me. But manga is everywhere now, and the only thing keeping me away was my own trepidation — there was just so much, you know? But I also don’t let the sheer amount of books being published keep me away from the novels I really want to read. (Shoutout to the Lauren Groff hive, this fall belongs to us.)
So thanks to the dual recommendations of a critic I follow on Twitter and Polygon’s own Toussaint Egan, I picked up the first volume of Naomi Urasawa’s Monster, a slow-burn thriller about a doctor who saves the life of a child in post-war Germany, only to find years later that the child has grown up to become a serial killer. What I like about Monster is that, despite the pulpy hook, it takes its time to sink into protagonist Dr. Tenma’s moral universe — like the petty office politics of working in a hospital, and the way the business interests of a hospital can clash with a doctor’s mission to value every life equally.
Right from the start, Monster has a little bit of everything — drama, horror, and political intrigue — and Urasawa’s cartooning is top-notch, with panels that expand in your head to let readers sink into the texture of a scene, judiciously flowing from more minimal linework to richly-detailed moments that stop me in my tracks. There’s a lot of comic left to go — the edition I’m reading is the first in a nine-volume set — but I’m absolutely hooked. —Joshua Rivera