Top Picks of April – Film/TV

As much as I’m excited about the upcoming easing of lockdown restrictions, I’m going to miss the time I have spent in front of my TV.

So maybe this is why over the last month and a half, I’ve spent a dizzying amount of time consuming content like it’s March 2020 all over again. From the old and new of Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney Plus, and Sky, I watched so much stuff that I forgot to write individual reviews for them over the last month.

So instead, I thought I’d compile them in a list of what I’ve watched between March and April 2021, and recommend the good and nullify the bad of my content consumtion in the last month.

Palm Springs

Lets start with something very, VERY good.

Palm Springs stars Andy Samberg and Cristian Milioti (both of whom hold special places in my hearts from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and How I Met Your Mother ) in an interesting new take on the time loop genre (i.e. Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day).

The film dominated at Sundance last year and received rave reviews, but it was a fair while until we finally got it in the U.K. by way of Amazon Prime recently, and oh boy, was it worth the wait.

It goes without saying at this point that this is a film I highly recommend. Andy and Cristian have tremendous chemistry to deliver not only one of the best comedies in recent memory, but also a surprisingly heartfelt and emotional connection.

The twists and turns of the plot make for some intriguing developments that make you question why you even like these characters despite them being so infectiously loveable. On top of that, for a film centred in much of the same locations (because y’know, time loop), its visual style is a great benefit. Its colourful and bright settings compliment the bombastic comedy with ease.

Maybe I set the bar too high too early, as this is perhaps my favourite thing I’ve watched in the last month, but as a fun and entertaining must watch comedy, I feel it was the possible introduction.

Watch it.

Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry

On International Women’s Day, ENRG Music and Arts put out an article detailing women who inspired some of our writers. I didn’t participate, but I would like to say now, that Billie Eilish is who I would’ve written about.

Personal feelings aside, this wonderful and in-depth documentary covering Billie’s rise to stardom even caught me off guard with how heartfelt and honest it was. The doc doesn’t shy away from the dark sides of Billie’s mind, delving just as much into the highs of fame (Billie meeting Justin Bieber is a hilarious highlight) as it does the shocking emotional lows. The documentary captures everything I love and respect about Billie as an artist, and develops that into respecting her as a person.

Before the doc started shooting, Billie requested it be filmed like The Office, a show she is an avid fan of. The filmmaker was initially taken aback by this request, given The Office is a fictional series. However it is clear in execution what Billie meant, as this captures EVERYTHING people should know about Billie Eilish, and it’s a heart wrenching watch.

Wandavision

Everyone and their mother’s has watched Wandavision by now, and with good reason.

Some may have also doubted the MCU’s (Marvel cinematic universe) staying power after the departures of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr from the franchise post-Endgame. These new MCU series are often seen as nothing but a shameless cash-grab to boost streaming service subscriptions with the reliability of recurring MCU stars trying to move past in the films.

Yet on their first attempt, ‘Wandavision’ knocked it out of the park and re-established the MCU (as if it needed it) as the big dog in the film and now TV industry. The move to a series format did wonders for the cast too, as it allowed adequate time for the characters to be explored in a post-Endgame world, something this show uses to it’s full advantage.

You won’t know what’s happening for the first couple episodes, and that’s half the fun (if you’ve managed to avoid spoilers this long). Piecing everything together at the heart of this sitcom tribute/comic book film/mystery thriller/family drama is a great time, and the acting depicts an absolute tour de’ force from Elizabeth Olson with Paul Bettany and others (you’ll know who) acting up a storm as well.

Controversy and discussion has surrounded the ending ever since, but whether you think the finale lives up to the hype, the ride has never been fun.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Not to be outclassed by the MCU and Disney Plus, HBO Max and Zack Snyder’s Justice League was another highly anticipated but equally scrutinised arrival with the purpose of selling a streaming service, but came with an important side of fulfilling an artists vision.

I wasn’t all aboard the toxic ‘Snyder Cut’ train when it first seeped onto the internet in 2017, but as the hate died down and the movement became more about allowing Zack to finish his vision, I jumped firmly on board.

Nevertheless, my faith in the ‘Snyder Cut’ wasn’t yet at it’s peak, as I remembered the likes of Batman vs Superman and it’s rushed approach to world building and overtly-dark down. So the jury was out on whether Zack could stick the landing on a franchise that by all accounts wouldn’t be continuing behind this point. Plus that 4-hour runtime was daunting man, jeez.

But once you get beyond the initial hour and a half of building that feels very similar to Whedon’s disaster, when you get to a normal films runtime, that’s when Snyder’s vision really comes in fully formed. Here the pace begins to quicken and the film builds towards a wonderful, striking crescendo that’ll leave you wanting more from a franchise that seems all but over.

At least Snyder, as well as the mistreated cast, got to end their Justice League journey on the right note. Give it a watch.

The Act

Not all new releases, I decided to give the 2018 Starz programme The Act a long overdue watch, and I’ve never been more angrily and unsettlingly glued to a TV screen in my life. It’s also a show I really didn’t want to finish, that’s how disturbing it got at times.

Based on a true story about Gypsy and Dee Dee Blanchard, the show follows their intensely abusive mother-daughter relationship between 2009 and 2015, detailing their life and ultimately, mother Dee-Dee’s death.

All of this is brought to life by some STELLAR performances by Patrica Arquette and Joey King (of The Kissing Booth fame no less) with some solid side performances from the rest of the cast as well.

While still highly recommending this absolute gem, tucked away on the extra to pay ‘Starz Play’ section of Amazon Prime, it’s a show that comes with a warning, as it’s a show that will hurt to watch.

Have fun.

Paradise City

Back to the new stuff, Amazon Prime series Paradise City hurts, for a whole different reason. The first on a personal note, I paid £15 for the series, that was right onto Prime days later with the subscription. Tragic that.

On a serious note though, this is the last show to feature the late Cameron Boyce, a crying shame given he is one of the best parts of this otherwise lacklustre series revival of the 2017 film American Satan.

There’s a lot to like about this show in theory. Devil worshippers using dark magic to become rockstars, while simultaneously dealing with the demons that comes with it, is a fresh take on the whole ‘tortured artist’ story in films, and the additions of real artists like Andy Biersack (another major highlight) and others helps with the story being told.

However the story never really finds focus and is cluttered by a lack of focus on some meaningful and important sections and subplots that should’ve been a major focus. It’s a frustrating watch, definitely if binging, but some may get more out of it than I did through the devilish ascetics, solid performances and bombastic soundtrack alone.

Others, like me, may find this hard rock drama a difficult one to embrace.

Promising Young Woman

Rightly acclaimed as one of the best films of the year and set up deservedly with an Oscar nomination, the behind the scenes of ‘Promising Young Woman’ is just as important as the on screen.

For years tales of vengeance and trauma for women who have suffered through sexual assault have been left in the hands of male writers and directors, often used as an instigation for a revenge plot. The irony of this being written by a male writer is not lost on me, but a recent rewatch of The Crow along with my viewing of Promising Young Woman made me feel it was important to say.

Nevertheless, Promising Young Woman (under the guidance of director Emerald Fennell) is dark, comedic thriller that tackles the questions of assault, misogyny, addiction, and revenge in timely manner, that happens to be both upbeat and bleak at the same time.

This largely stems from the fantastic lead performance by Carey Mulligan, who portrays striking vulnerability in hand with deft comedic timing and sheer badassery to give a performance that only added to PYW’s Oscar nominations. Starting her journey by teaching ‘nice guys’ the meaning of consent by pretending to be drunk at clubs, Casey’s unrelenting focus on the demons of her past (an assault on her best friend) lead her down a path of vengeance when she finds the perpetrator is set to be wed.

The rest of the cast is largely spaced out between chapters (or people lead character Casey is crossing off a list), and features good performances from the likes of Alison Brie and Bo Burnham who drop in for a cup of tea.

This is a film that surprises though, not only in it’s upfront and brutal exploration of it’s themes and events, but in how everything changes before a finale that again leaves you both heartbroken, and delighted in equal measure.

By Brandon Bethune

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