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🎬 "A bit of madness is key"

🎬 "A bit of madness is key"
By Eric Johnson • Issue #67 • View online

This week in quarantine: A real musical, a fake journalist, and a bat man.
📫 Reply to this email with your reactions and recommendations for what I should watch in the future.
💃 La La Land
La La Land may be remembered forever as the movie that was the Best Picture of the 2017 Oscars for only 30 seconds — and I wasn’t unhappy to see the Oscar get passed to Moonlight that year. In the fury of the two movies’ rivalry, I was reminded again and again of the things I didn’t care for in La La Land on my first viewing.
But revisiting it this week, I saw with fresh eyes all the things I liked the first time and like even more now: The opening number “Another Day of Sun” and big showstopper “Audition”; the dance at the planetarium and famous-for-a-reason epilogue; and the kinetic, gorgeous direction from Damien Chazelle, who also made the excellent films Whiplash and First Man.
The weak spots still stick out to me, including the so-so chemistry between lead actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and the fact that John Legend’s ditty “We Can Start a Fire” is objectively a better song than Gosling’s “City of Stars.” But the good far outweighs the bad here, and although I think it’s right that La La Land didn’t win Best Picture, there’s a lot to love about it.
Another Day of Sun - La La Land Opening Scene
Another Day of Sun - La La Land Opening Scene
La La Land is currently streaming on DirecTV and is available on all the big video platforms —$3.99 to rent, and $6.99 to $12.99 to buy (Amazon and Vudu have the lowest price).
👨🏻 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
It’s been long enough since 2006, when Sacha Baron Cohen starred in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, that I had almost forgotten what a huge cultural phenomenon this movie was. Like Shrek and the Star Wars prequels, Borat has become so deeply entrenched in the internet’s meme language that you could be forgiven for wondering, do I even need to bother with the original?
My verdict after a rewatch is that this is a very hit-or-miss movie, with several scenes that just feel mean with no relief. But the other scenes that hit are really delightful. Cohen is a masterful improviser, creating awkward situations and leaning into the silence of his stunned subjects. My favorites: The joke teacher, the driving instructor, and the all-American rodeo (ft. a fake national anthem for Kazakhstan that boasts about the relative quality of its potassium).
Cohen, who was raised Jewish, also leans hard into satirical antisemitism; in 2006, I understood that he was making fun of ignorant and hateful people who stereotype Jews the way Borat does, and would have assumed that’s how everyone felt.
Today, though … it’s more complicated. Racial and religious animosity have ratcheted up so much that watching Borat is not as much of a comedic escape as it once was. Regardless of the author’s intent, suspecting that some small percentage of the audience earnestly loved his character’s shtick is an awful, parasitic feeling.
Borat - Not Joke | FULL SCENE | HD
Borat - Not Joke | FULL SCENE | HD
Borat is not currently streaming anywhere, but it’s available on all the big video platforms —$3.99 to rent, and $14.99 to buy.
🦇 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
The animated film Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is based on one of the most famous runs in the caped crusader’s history, a 1986 miniseries that rebooted Batman and reclaimed his dark, gritty, vigilante roots.
If you haven’t read the original Dark Knight Returns comics, written by Frank Miller, you don’t necessarily have to; the film is very literally adapted from the book, including its frequent and brilliant cutaways to TV news personalities to help us understand how the events of the story are affecting regular people in Gotham.
That’s hardly from the only big innovation of this series. Robin is recast as a girl, Superman is a puppet of the Ronald Reagan White House, and Batman no longer has his most important ally, a sympathetic police chief at the Gotham PD.
In movie form, the story feels overlong — particularly a prolonged battle with the Joker that ends in terror — and some of the minor characters who rounded out the world of the book are more noticeable and annoying. But the animation and voice acting are solid throughout, and there’s no arguing with the big final fight sequence, which is among the best in all Batman media.
(clip20) "May the best man win" -The Dark Knight Returns
(clip20) "May the best man win" -The Dark Knight Returns
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is not currently streaming anywhere, but it’s available on all the big video platforms — I’d recommend looking for the “Deluxe Edition,” which combines Part 1 and Part 2 of the movie into a single rental or purchase. It costs $3.99 to rent and $12.99 to $14.99 to buy.
👶 Mike Birbiglia: The New One
I have been a longtime fan of comedian Mike Birbiglia, who I first heard when I was in college on This American Life, and have followed him through two movies and several stand-up specials. His latest, fittingly enough, is called The New One, and it’s about how he didn’t want to be a father … and then became one.
Birbiglia’s talent for clever callbacks and reconstructed conversations is as strong as ever, and I loved the way he openly, consciously addresses the perspective of his wife, Jennifer Hope Stein.
But even though there are some incredibly funny moments here, The New One isn’t as thoroughly comedic as past specials, such as 2017’s superb special Thank God for Jokes. And this one gets dark. If you’re already familiar with Birbiglia’s material, you’ll see what he’s doing — but for newbies, there are better entry points.
Mike Birbiglia: The New One | Official Trailer | Netflix
Mike Birbiglia: The New One | Official Trailer | Netflix
Mike Birbiglia: The New One is currently streaming on Netflix.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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