This past weekend was a weird and exciting one, with Tesla/SpaceX CEO and self-styled “meme lord” Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live (weird!) and the announcement of a brand-new Dragon Ball Super movie slated to release next year (exciting!). Also, apparently Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are now back together? (Wild!)
Our weekend media diet was pretty wild too, with the fine folks here at Polygon HQ watching everything from Michael Mann’s 1995 “symphonic crime drama” Heat and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to Shiva Baby, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake. Here are a few of the shows and movies we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.
My last experience watching a movie in theaters before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside-down was an especially annoying screening of Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, wherein some annoying kid and his friends in the aisle across from me played Fortnite on their phones for nearly the entire film at full brightness (yes, I’m still mad about it). So after I got vaccinated, I knew that I wanted— no, needed my first time back in a movie theater to mean something. I didn’t want to watch some mid-tier direct-to-video piece of crap passing itself off as a tent-pole feature; I wanted something moving and transcendent its sheer unencumbered power when rendered on a big screen. And that’s exactly what I got when I went out with some friends this weekend for a screening of Michael Mann’s Heat at the Music Box Theatre.
Mann’s 1995 crime-thriller stars Al Pacino as Vincent Hanna, an eccentric and hyper-competent police detective caught in a tense cat-and-mouse struggle, and Robert de Niro as Neil McCauley, a career criminal. It’s a film made of moments and set-pieces that could comprise an entire third-act finale in a lesser movie. Here, they exist in a triumphant assemblage of carefully interlocking components; working in concert with the precision of a Swiss timepiece.
Pacino and De Niro deliver two of their greatest performances as a pair of obsessive workaholics whose razor sharp proficiency at their trades comes at the cost of all they otherwise love or hold dear. Dante Spinotti’s cinematography transforms the vast cityscape of Los Angeles into a shimmering expanse of lights strobing across the surface a sea of pitch darkness, a den of moral inequity from which no soul emerges wholly clean or unscathed.
Heat is the apotheosis of the genre of crime thriller such that it surpasses said categorization, becoming what Mann himself describes as, “a highly structured, realistic, symphonic drama.” It exists in a rarefied echelon in the canon of popular culture, the platonic ideal by which all other contemporaries aspire to surpass, yet inevitably fall short. I felt a wave of pure exultation wash over me as Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of the Waters played over the final moments of Lieutenant Hanna’s clasping Neil’s dying hand in a expression of mutual admiration between worthy adversaries. I felt like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption who, in an experience not unlike living through a global pandemic and an election cycle from hell, crawled through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness to be met on the other side by a cleansing rain. I felt rejuvenated; reborn. Movies are back, baby. —Toussaint Egan
Heat is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
And everything else we’re watching...
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Even before I started watching anime, one of my childhood friends kept telling me I needed to watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I put it off, because even when I started my anime journey, I was drawn to shows that contained less fantastical action and more everyday events (with the occasional turning into animals thrown in the mix). But after making it through 148 episodes of Hunter x Hunter — and absolutely loving it — I realized that, hey, maybe I actually do like fantastical action?????
As it turns out, I am really vibing with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which has so many things I specifically love: vague steampunk-era aesthetic, seven deadly sins motifs, a magic system with specific rules and caveats, a very cute robot (okay, it’s technically a soul bound to armor, but… c’mon), a deep sibling bond, and really uniforms. It only took a few episodes before I became totally hooked.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my coworkers Ana Diaz and Julia Lee personally egging me to watch FMAB because of — and I quote — “the characters … you will die. You, specifically, will pass away.” They were right! —Petrana Radulovic
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is available to stream on Netflix.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
If you told me a year ago that I would unironically enjoy a movie based on a Final Fantasy game, I would have not believed you. But, life can sometimes take some unexpected turns and as I watched the 2005 spin-off of the original Final Fantasy VII game, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, I hooted, hollered, and even cried while watching it.
Don’t get me wrong. The movie is thoroughly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t played the original Final Fantasy VII video game released in 1997. The driving plotline is so thin it might as well not exist. I think it deserves the 33 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, to my newly Final Fantasy indoctrinated eyes, watching the gang get back together — some dressed in all leather fits — to fight a giant, flying, dragon-like demon-creature was a roaring good time. There is something indulgent in watching what is essentially, one and half hours of pure, unadulterated fan service dedicated to your latest obsession.
The movie follows our good boy, Cloud Strife, as he fights the children of his prior nemesis, Sephiroth, as they try to revive their alien mother. Even the short summary begs further explanation, so you start to see how the movie makes little sense if you haven’t played the game first.
Advent Children is a difficult movie because it truly is the perfect follow up to playing the 2020 version of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Remake. The 3D animation style still holds up, and there are cinematic parallels between it and the Remake. But the Remake doesn’t have the same story as its predecessor, so watching Advent Children would mean spoiling a lot of plot points for the original FFVII. (Seriously, if you at all care about the longer story behind the first Final Fantasy VII, do not watch this movie.) Still, if you have played both the original and the Remake, and you’re looking for something to hold you over until Intergrade comes out, it is easily the perfect way to scratch, and further provoke, that Final Fantasy itch. —Ana Diaz
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Two weeks to the day following my second vaccination dose, I celebrated my newly juiced-up immune system by immediately buying the first movie tickets I saw: an evening showing of Shiva Baby, right after work. I didn’t even know what Shiva Baby was about. Sure, I’d seen the name kicking around on social media, but I couldn’t tell you if it was a book or song or painting. Turns out, it’s the feature film debut of writer/director Emma Seligman, and the best comedy I’ve seen so far in this strange and lousy year.
It’s also a deeply uncomfortable movie, with an ingeniously cringe-y premise: Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a directionless college senior, attends a shiva with her parents, only to find her sugar daddy Max is also there with his wife and child. Set almost entirely during the shiva, the film is shot and scored like a horror movie, with tight, claustrophobic shots, very little negative space, and an ear for making the rhythms of a Jewish-American family gathering both familiar and foreign, mining comedy out of the smothering oppression of familial affection and horror from the dissociative alienation that comes from living a life wholly different from the one you’re now revisiting.
But again: It’s funny. Part of the genius of Shiva Baby is how, in its brisk 77-minute runtime, it gives you a whirlwind tour of this family’s many, many, petty grudges and expectations, and how family ties are often taken as a license to be rude as hell. Lucky for us, we can take the fun and leave the mess, because we don’t have to go home with these folks when the evening’s over. —Joshua Rivera
Shiva Baby is currently playing in theaters and available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
With all the accusations piling up against Joss Whedon, and so many other recent ensemble superhero and supernatural shows piling up and confusing any potential audience, maybe it’s no surprise that so few people seem to be discovering or discussing The Nevers, which was Whedon’s latest show before he “departed the project” back in November 2020. The series starts off a bit lackluster, as a kind of Victorian-era X-Men, full of supernaturally gifted (or “Touched”) people with mostly minor powers enduring growing prejudice and banding together for comfort. I was extremely dubious about the first two episodes, especially when they introduce Maladie, the first season’s seeming Big Bad, a mentally ill mass murderer whose sing-song cadences and dreamy, gothy babbling far too heavily recall Drusilla from Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and to a lesser extent, River Tam from his series Firefly.
But then episode 3 (the first one not directed by Whedon) featured a spectacular super-powered fight sequence that finally brought the series into focus for me, and this weekend’s installment, episode 5, changes the show’s rules of engagement. And I have advance screeners, so I also watched next week’s episode, the last of the initial scheduled batch. By this point, the show is coming into focus as something more ambitious and challenging than it originally appeared to be, and certainly something more unpackable and discussable. There’s a lot of promise there, if the series survives COVID and Whedon’s departure and the “act break” between the initial planned six episodes and the still-unscheduled back half of the season. I hope people watch episode 6, it’s a doozy, and it answers a lot of the questions viewers have been asking. But it still doesn’t really address who the hell Maladie is, and why every writer for the show seems to have a completely different concept of her. —Tasha Robinson
The Nevers is streaming on HBO Max.
Under the Silver Lake and Cléo from 5 to 7
I’d planned to watch Gia Coppola’s new film Mainstream, a riff on influencer culture starring Andrew Garfield. Then I read a few reviews. So, I decided to instead watch a different critically-mixed Andrew Garfield film about toxic men in Southern California who see themselves as the protagonist: 2018’s commercially dumped Under the Silver Lake.
Garfield plays Sam, an aimless and entitled millennial who stalks the streets of Los Angeles, searching for clues to a missing woman he tried to sleep with the night before she disappeared. Imagine Chinatown through the eyes of a twenty-something who believes the secrets of the universe have been hidden in his video game magazines, masturbation material, and cereal box toys. His hobbies can’t just be hobbies, they must have a grand, interconnected purpose that centers around him.
Director David Robert Mitchell wrote an early draft of this modern-noir in 2012, and yet the story may be the closest we get to a dramatization of 2014 GamerGate brain rot and 2020 QAnon delusions.
I also watched Agnès Varda’s 1962 masterpiece, Cléo from 5 to 7. I love when random double features make for unexpectedly potent pairings. Cléo is an up-and-coming singer with a history of anxiety. The film takes place in “real-ish time” from 5pm to 7pm as our heroine ventures through the streets of Paris, awaiting word from a doctor on a possible cancer diagnosis.
Cléo is more sympathetic than Sam and her neuroses hurt nobody but herself — at least not physically. But their films echo in unusual ways. Both trap us inside the mind of a protagonist in the midst of a mental health attack. Both films follow their leads through real world locations, making the mundane surroundings absurd in contrast with the high personal stakes inside our protagonists’ heads. Both journeys build to similar, paradoxical conclusions. They poke at anxiety, self-aggrandizing, fame, and the mistreatment of women in the arts, albeit from different angles.
They’re not perfect parallels, but that would be boring! My favorite film pairings spark surprising ideas. A decade ago, I saw a double feature at Film Forum of Do the Right Thing and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It opened my eyes to alternate ways in which films can converse with each other. I’ve been chasing that high ever since. —Chris Plante