Sunday, January 22, 2023

Mid(ish) January Ramblin’ Recs

I made some noise earlier this month, back in new year’s resolution season, about updating the blog on a more regular basis. Trouble is, you need to have something to talk about. Expect semi-regular posts like these, where I jabber about what I’ve liked recently.

The Menu
. Once you’ve heard the premise of this pitch-black comedy, you’ll have a fairly good idea of where it’s going. But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with heading to a recognizable destination, particularly when you travel there in style. The Menu serves up savage satire courtesy of a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy studded with sharp lines, committed performances from the entire cast, and direction from Mark Mylod, who has been behind the camera for many of the best episodes of Succession and knows his way around the foibles of the super-rich. Some critics have carped about the obviousness of the film’s targets, but the news about the shuttering of fine-dining landmark Noma has only given The Menu added topicality. (Also, hat tip to that article for teaching me that “luxetarian” is apparently a word.)

Complicit, by Winnie M. Li (2022). Jordan Harper, whose new novel Everybody Knows wowed me, cited this book as part of the new L.A. crime canon. It’s a powerful and powerfully honest look at the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, told from the perspective of a woman compelled by an escalating #MeToo scandal to revisit her derailed career as a producer—and, as the title implies, to confront her own possible culpability in perpetuating the system. Li, who is sadly all too familiar with many aspects of this story, writes about it with clear-eyed force. The perspective makes for a marked contrast with the adaptation of She Said (2022), about the New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein, a dutiful film that lacks the crackle of great newspaper dramas and only comes to life when Weinstein’s victims are given voice. (One minor caveat: much of the late action in Complicit revolves around an independent film nominated for a Golden Globe for editing, when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has never given such an award. But then the HFPA has never cared about the technical aspects of filmmaking; after all, this is the outfit that split the lead acting categories into comedy and drama so they could double the nominees and pack the house with stars, which is the only thing it gives a damn about.)

Slow Horses (Apple TV+). I’m a huge fan of Mick Herron’s scabrously funny spy novels; read this recent New Yorker profile for a taste of his skewed sensibility. The debut season of Apple’s adaptation improved as it went along, and its sophomore outing, based on Dead Lions, builds on that momentum. Christopher Chung seems to have been set loose to make Roddy Ho as obnoxious and oblivious a character as he is in the books; my favorite bit of backstory is that while Ho’s MI5 colleagues have been exiled to Slough House because of mistakes they’ve made in the field, he’s there simply because nobody likes him. Gary Oldman is understandably having the time of his life as shambling wreck Jackson Lamb, and I’m fairly sure that in season’s two first episode he lapses into his George Smiley voice from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) as an in-joke.

(Acorn TV). The release of a special Christmas movie (OK, a 75-minute episode) reminded me of how much I love this show. Mackenzie Crook of the original The Office created the series and stars alongside Toby Jones, the duo playing amateur historians and metal-detector enthusiasts. (As the show points out more than once, a detector is a piece of equipment, a detectorist its operator.) Its meditative rhythms and its celebration of hobbies and camaraderie as necessary balms against the grind of daily life give it a healing quality, so much so I looked into buying a metal detector myself. The movie isn’t the place to jump in—better to experience the full series in all its glory—but it was great to revisit these characters and it features one honest, boozy heart-to-heart between Crook’s Andy and his wife Becky (played by the fabulous Rachael Stirling) that prompted Rosemarie to say that if the lead characters on Fleishman Is in Trouble had engaged in one such conversation, neither Fleishman would be in trouble.