Is CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH better than that terrible title?
Plus some Quick Bites and the long-delayed Media Diary
It’s Sunday, June 12th, and here’s where we are…
School’s out, and that means there’s a whole lotta Film Nerd 2.0 coming up soon.
It’s such a cool era for the boys right now. Allen’s 14 and Toshi turns 17 in a month. They’re both excited by movies aimed at adults, but they’re also still more than willing to enjoy something purely because it’s silly or crazy or wild. The things we’re watching these days cover a wide range of styles, subjects, and ratings, and it makes it a lot of fun for all of us.
Toshi’s getting ready to take a trip to Europe with his school, something they do between junior and senior year, and they’ll be going to London, Rome, Switzerland, and Paris. He’s absolutely out of his mind from excitement, and I don’t blame him. This coming weekend, I’m going to show Before Sunrise, which I figure is the perfect movie to screen before I send him to Europe. His favorite movies are films like Her, The Fisher King, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I figure this one’s going to torpedo him right in the feels.
Programming the summer as a whole is going to be a treat. Toshi’s birthday marathon is going to be all about the boundaries of the R rating, since he’s turning 17, and we’re tackling some titans he’s wanted to see for a while now. We’re working our way through Game of Thrones as a family, so I’m tucking in episodes of that around movies we’re going to watch, and more than anything, it’s great to see how much excitement there is for Movie Night every single time. It’s not really about the movies, of course. It’s about spending that time with them, talking to them before and after, and enjoying the time I have with them while we still have it. This trip to Europe is a real reminder that independence is right around the corner, that adulthood is a moving train and they’re already on it, and that time is short. This might be my last real summer with the boys in the configuration. I hope it’s a great one.
It was an expensive week, medically speaking, but a productive one. I have been wrestling with the same issue for over a month, and it feels like yesterday was a turning point. It’s hard to get out of your head when you’re constantly dealing with the same issue, and I can only imagine how much harder every single thing is when that’s a daily reality for you. I am fortunate that I think I am on the mend but more aware than ever that for many people, that temporary state I hated so much is their baseline. I really want to try to lead with empathy these days because it feels urgent as a way of counteracting what feels like an overall coarsening of the world. So much discourse today feels like people are shrieking at each other, and one of the reasons I still consider film culture important is because, at its best, it can be about learning to see through someone else’s eyes.
I have to remind myself sometimes that my own annoyance with certain things is not universal. They announced this week that both E.T. and Jaws are headed back to theaters, which is exciting. I’d love to see both of them in IMAX. They also announced that they’re releasing a 3D version of Jaws, and that excites me far less. In general, I don’t care about post-converted versions of older films. I don’t really see the point. Yes, it’s novel, but even when the filmmaker is involved, it feels to me like a ViewMaster version of something familiar. Film is a language, and when you’re making a movie, you’re using all of the tools at your disposal to tell that story. If 3D is one of those tools, great. I am fascinated by the process. But I don’t think it’s something you apply later, any more than I think you should colorize a black-and-white film. I said as much on Twitter, dismissively, and I was surprised by the vigor of the pushback. That’s my take. Clearly, there are plenty of people who actually like these novelty versions of older films. I may not get the appeal, but as long as Universal’s willing to put both versions out in theaters and give people the choice, there’s no harm.
Watching people get angry at that tweet reminds me that there is an implied weight to an opinion I share, even if I think it’s a casual comment on my part. In the end, the primary reason I write about movies is to impart my love of the overall medium, and any time you find yourself making people angry with the way you’re imparting that love, it’s probably worth taking a step back to look at how you said it.
Just a few more days before the December edition of The Last ‘80s Newsletter (You’ll Ever Need) kicks off. I’m excited to get the first year of the project in the books, and if you’re not already subscribed, you’ve got until the 15th to make sure you get this one in your inbox. Subscribers have access to the full archive of the newsletter, of course, and there’s plenty there for you to read at this point.
Let’s jump right in today with a speed round…
I was quite taken with Host, Rob Savage’s pandemic-era horror film in which Zoom became a truly terrifying storytelling tool. I wish I could say I feel the same way about DASHCAM, his follow-up. Instead, I found this new film noisy, annoying, and desperate, a found-footage horror film in which we’re stuck with a conspiracy-theory-spouting ding dong as she drives through a bunch of aggressive haunted house scenarios. Annie Hardy is a singularly unpleasant central figure, and the real horror here is having to spend the entire running time trapped on her live stream. I could try to summarize the film for you, but that’s sort of beside the point. Savage and his collaborators aren’t particularly interested in narrative. It’s more like they just want to hammer you into submission. If you’re a fan of high-decibel nihilism and love spending time with that one QAnon dipshit in your family, DASHCAM is the film for you. All others beware.
Eskil Vogt is a wildly talented writer whose work on Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, Louder Than Bombs, and Thelma is urgent and alive, and his script last year for The Worst Person in the World was one of the best in any language. I liked Blind, which he wrote and directed, but I think The Innocents is a big jump forward for him as a director. This time, it feels like he’s just as in control behind the camera as he is on the page, and the result is one of the most quietly upsetting horror films I’ve seen in a while. It’s all about the inherent cruelty that children are capable of and the ways that can bloom in the places where parents are not watching. The performances by the young actors are remarkable, natural, and often chilling. I love that the film is set largely in the day, in mundane spaces, and that there is little here that signifies horror in the traditional sense. There are few things that scare me more than someone utterly incapable of empathy, and while the film doesn’t really throw a ton of narrative at the audience, the way it takes tropes that are largely used in superhero fiction to examine the nature of evil and the ways in which it takes seed is fiendishly effective and hard to shake.
You’re going to hear a lot this week about how sweet Cha Cha Real Smooth is, including in my review below, and all of that talk is accurate. What’s wild to me is how Dinner In America, which kicks off with the most abrasive first act in recent memory, is equally sweet while also feeling punk rock as fuck. It is a rude middle finger of a movie built around two great performances by Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs. She plays Patty, a 20-year-old who is treated like either a child or garbage or both by everyone in her life. When she meets Simon (Gallner), she is drawn to the way he leaves pure chaos in his wake. She has a secret life involving her fandom for a punk band and its mysterious lead singer, and she opens her home to Simon when he needs to hide out from the police, unaware that he is the person she’s been sending fan mail to for years. The film can be deeply abrasive at times, but the way Gallner and Skeggs play the transformative impact they have on one another is fantastic. I can see why this was a challenging film to place with a distributor, but I think the people who fall in love with the film are going to fall hard. This is the kind of movie that becomes someone’s favorite movie, the kind of movie people are irrational about when they talk about how much they love it. And let’s be clear… the first one of you sonsofbitches who are mean to Emily Skeggs, we’re throwing hands. I love Patty in all her weird, eccentric, edgy little oddness. She makes me feel the way I did about Dawn Weiner in Welcome to the Dollhouse or the way I did about Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. These are characters who could only be played by one person, and that combination of character and performer creates something indelible. Emily Skeggs gives one of those performances here, and the real miracle of the film is that Kyle Gallner’s just as good. I can’t wait to see what writer/director/editor Adam Rehmeier does next.
If there’s ever been a clearly defined conflict of interest, it’s me talking about a streaming series from David Fincher that appears on Netflix, but here we are. I can’t stop watching Love Death + Robots Vol. 3, the latest season of the animated anthology series. The Boss directed his first animated film, the short Bad Traveling, and it’s a wicked Lovecraftian piece that gets super-gory and super-dark. His isn’t the best of the season, though. There’s a short called Jibaro that I have seen five times now and that I’m sure I’ll see five more times at least. It is a haunting folk horror story about a siren, conquistadors, and gold. It may be the most distressingly photo-realistic computer animation I’ve ever seen, but they’ve heightened it in ways that make it more expressive than reality. It’s kind of the dream of what you can do with this stuff. It’s as real as they want it to be, but exaggerated and dreamlike at the same time. I think this may be the strongest season overall for this show, which can be hit and miss like any anthology. It feels like they have definitely become the thing that Heavy Metal always wanted to be, and I hope the service keeps renewing this one for many seasons to come.
Finally, it seems almost silly to review Marvel product at this point. You’re either going to see it or you’re not and reviews seem pointless. I’ll simply say that I find Ms. Marvel absolutely delightful, and Iman Vellani could not be better cast as Kamala Khan. I found the character instantly likable when she made her debut in print back in 2013/2014, and I loved her ongoing series. They’ve made some big choices in adapting the character for her new Disney+ series and having seen two episodes, I’m good with the choices overall. She has a slightly different power set and it appears to come from a very different source, but at heart, Kamala is Kamala. What really matters is her culture, her family, and the way she gets to leave this dream of hers. She is deeply relatable, and I would imagine for a generation raised on Marvel, this must feel like they’re finally seeing themselves join this sprawling fictional universe they’ve been watching for their whole lives. I am excited to not only see the rest of this series but to see how they incorporate her into the larger Marvel landscape. She feels like an immediate perfect fit and as smart a casting choice as Robert Downey Jr. was for Iron Man.
BUT THAT TITLE, THOUGH…
By now, we all know the cycle. Sundance kicks off, critics go apeshit for some twee little thing they see, twee little thing gets wildly overhyped and sells for a ton of money, twee little thing finally hits theaters to near-total indifference, rinse, and repeat.
It’s unfortunate, and some really lovely smaller films have been sacrificed on the altar of expectation as a result of that. Last year, Apple TV+ purchased CODA at Sundance and then rode that low-key charmer all the way to a Best Picture win, and they’re hoping to do it again this year. That seems like hubris, but whatever ends up happening with it, I’m glad they picked up Cha Cha Real Smooth because it’s one of the most satisfying movies I’ve seen so far this year. It doesn’t have to be an Oscar contender to have enormous value, and I suspect the film’s fans are going to be many, loud, and deeply passionate.
Cooper Raiff, who is the writer, director, co-producer, and co-editor of the film, stars as Andrew, a young man who has just graduated college with absolutely no idea what’s next. Everything that unfolds hinges on that, the terrifying uncertainty of a new graduate who doesn’t have it all figured out, and Raiff gives an enormously winning performance. That’s key because Andrew falls into a summer career as a party starter after he is the life of the party at a Bar Mitzvah. All of the parents see how good he is with the kids, and in particular, single mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) sees him talk her autistic daughter Lola (Vaness Burghardt) onto the dance floor, something she would have sworn was impossible.
Raiff’s first film, Shithouse, was a shaggy first effort, but sincerely made and smartly observed. It was promising the way a good first film should be, and the most impressive thing about Cha Cha Real Smooth is how accomplished and controlled it feels for a second movie. This is a big jump forward, both in terms of writing and direction. Raiff’s terrific with his ensemble cast, and this may be one of the most appealing overall performances Dakota Johnson’s given. She’s no Mrs. Robinson, toying with some kid like a bored housecat with a mouse. Domino is engaged to a lawyer named Joseph (Raúl Castillo), and he’s everything Andrew isn’t… successful, mature, focused. The one thing Andrew’s got going for him is this sweet boyish charisma. You can tell the world hasn’t really had its way with him yet, and when he lets himself, he can just effortlessly charm everyone in a room. But there’s this anxiety and this fear about the future that he’s trying to constantly stuff down out of view, and Raiff does a great job of showing how it’s constantly eating at Andrew behind that smile that he wears like armor. Domino responds to Andrew’s kindness, the way he genuinely connects to Lola, and the way she opens up to him.
You could make the case for this being Raiff’s riff on The Graduate, and he’s certainly not the first filmmaker to take his shot at that Mike Nichols classic. This doesn’t feel like a lazy reaction to a better film, though. Beautifully shot by Christina Dunlap, this is an expressive, deeply-felt film, and I love that it doesn’t try to paint everyone in broad terms or to put a simple bow on everything. Leslie Mann is terrific as Andrew’s mom, and I really love Eva Assante’s performance as David, Andrew’s younger brother. There are plenty of films that use autistic characters as shorthand for the emotional development of the main characters, but it feels like Lola is respectfully written, and Vanessa Burghardt brings her own experience on the spectrum to the role. She is great, and her chemistry with Raiff is just as important as Johnson’s.
Ultimately, this isn’t the “forbidden romance” that the trailers are selling, but it is a wonderful story about how important the people that come into our lives can be, even if they don’t play the parts we expect or even want. I found it sweet and affecting, but it’s small. It’s already being positioned as “this year’s CODA,” and that’s the wrong kind of pressure to put on it. I hope Raiff makes small personal films for as long as he likes and that his small personal films are allowed to be small and personal. Maybe if we stopped overhyping things, audiences would stop feeling let down. Instead, encourage them to try on this filmmaker and his voice and to enjoy this simple human story told just right.
Having said all of that, I will close by saying that I hate the title of the film. I hate it. I hate typing it. I hate saying it. It’s weirdly embarrassing to recommend. I don’t think it describes the film, and I don’t think it captures anything of the film’s attitude. It is a weird miscalculation, and I suspect it will cost them some potential audience. It doesn’t tell you anything about what to expect, and having thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I would never describe it using that title. Titles are tough, no doubt about it, but this is one of the few times I’ve ever felt compelled to point out a title so specifically or to feel such a difference of opinion between the title and the film itself.
The film is available in some theaters and on Apple TV+ on Friday.
It’s going to be a big week here at Formerly Dangerous Headquarters. There is something I’ve been chasing for a while and I feel like I might actually be close to taking a significant step forward with it. I’ve also got that December 1980 edition kicking off. Remember, that’s just $5 a month to support one of the craziest ongoing film projects anywhere.
These days, I spend more and more time thinking about how to get some books out of my head and onto your shelves, and I hope I’ll have good news for you on that front soon.
Today’s newsletter was a rare freebie. If you aren’t subscribed to Formerly Dangerous, it’s just $7 a month to get full access to everything I publish here as well as the full archives.
I’m also doing short daily audio content over at my Patreon now, where I’m ranting and raving about 4K physical media as I get ready to launch a new podcast.
I appreciate whatever support you’re able to offer, and I am excited by all the projects I’ve got brewing right now. I hope I’m entering a very creative and productive era after a fistful of frustrating years, and you guys are all obviously a huge part of that.
You know what I haven’t published in a little while? A media diary. I think this is a month’s worth of media at this point. Or three weeks? Whichever the case, it is an almost embarrassing amount of media that I’ve ingested.
As usual, anything in bold was particularly enjoyed.
THIS WEEK’S BOOKS: Condominium by John D. McDonald; Medallion Status by John Hodgman; Skitter by Ezekiel Boone; Perry Mason: The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Earle Stanley Gardner; Movies (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano; The Cannon Film Guide Vol. 1 (1980 - 1984) by Austin Trunick; Sicker in the Head by Judd Apatow; Trailing The Pink Panther Films by John LeMay; Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg; qntm by Ra; The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente; Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone edited by Rich Handey and Jim Beard; Billy Gillis: 7-Year-Old Screenwriter by Frank Conniff; The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis; To Everything That Might Have Been: The Lost Universe of Space: 1999 by David Hirsch and Robert E. Wood; Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore; If This Book Exists, You’re in The Wrong Universe by Jason Pargin; Sex, Better Zen, Faster Bullets by Stefan Hammon & Mike Wilkins; Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick; Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison; Consumed by David Cronenberg; X by Sue Grafton; Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen; Wraith by Mark Wheaton; The Road to Toontown by Gary K. Wolf; The Island by Adrian McKinty; Sausages: The Making of Dog Soldiers by Janine Pipe
THIS WEEK’S COMICS: Justice League #75; Hulk Grand Design: Madness; The Department of Truth, Vol. 3: Free Country; Star Wars: Crimson Reign #4; Saga #58, #59; Alien #11, #12; My Bad #5; The Nice House on the Lake #8, #9; The Good Asian #10; The Secret History of the War on Weed; Reckless: The Ghost in You; Star Wars #22 - #24; Darth Vader #22, #23; Eternals #11, #12; Sandman Presents Nightmare Country #1, #2; Batman ’89 #5; Maggie the Mechanic: A Love & Rockets Book; I Hate Fairyland Vol. 1 - Madly Ever After; I Hate Fairyland Vol. 2 - Fluff My Life; I Hate Fairyland Book Two; Twig #1, #2; Oz: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 - Vol. 3; Star Wars: Obi-Wan #1; Eight Billion Genies #1; Star Wars: Halcyon Legacy #3; The Madmaniverse Library: Madman Vol. 1; Strange Adventures; Once and Future Deluxe Edition - Book One; Adventureman #; The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S.: A Love & Rockets Book; Star Wars: Han Solo & Chewbacca #2; Fables #151
THIS WEEK’S PODCASTS: I’ll be honest, folks, I can’t even begin to go back through a month’s worth of podcasts. I can tell you what shows I listen to, of course. The Dana Gould Hour. Doughboys. Blank Check. How Did This Get Made. Boogie Monster. TV Guidance Counselor. My Brother, My Brother & Me. Did You Get My Text? High & Mighty. Screen Drafts. You Must Remember This. The Always Sunny Podcast. Films To Be Buried With. Pure Cinema Podcast. With Gourley and Rust. I dig all of them, and they all have great episodes you should enjoy. The one podcast that really surprised me over the last month is Dead Eyes, though. I have only one episode left, and it’s the big one. It sounded like a gimmick when I first heard about it, but it is a moving and profound exploration of how we have to learn to cope with failure and rejection in life and in work. I am very late to start the show, but I am glad I finally got around to it. It’s fantastic.
THIS WEEK’S TV: Bob’s Burgers S12 E18 - E21; American Idol S20 E14 - E20; Our Flag Means Death S1 E9, E10; Better Things S5 E8 - E10; Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty S1 E6 - E10; Slow Horses S1 E1; Bridgerton S2 E2 - E8; Central Park S2 E9, E14 - E16; Single Drunk Female S1 E8 - E10; Survivor S42 E9 - E13; This Is Us S6 E14 - E18; Upload S2 E4 - E7; Minx S1 E5 - E10; Married at First Sight S14 - E17; Cursed Films S2 E1 - E5; Ozark S4 E8 - E11; The Flight Attendant S2 E2 - E4; Made For Love S2 E1 - E3; Atlanta S3 E7 - E10; Kids In The Hall: Comedy Punks S1 E1, E2; Kids in the Hall (2022) S1 E1 - E8; Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story S1 E2, E3; Barry S3 E1 - E7; Home Economics S2 E18 - E22; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver S9 E9 - E13; Old Enough S1 E3; The Offer S1 E1 - E5; Girls5Eva S2 E1 - E5; The Pentaverate S1 E1 - E3; DC Showcase: Constanine - House of Mystery; Christina P: Mom Genes; Chris Distefano: Speshy Weshy; Star Trek: Brave New Worlds S1 E1 - E6; I Love That For You S1 E1 - E3; Maid S1 E7, E8; Schmigadoon! S1 E1 - E6; Love on the Spectrum (US) S1 E1 - E3; Voir S1 E3; Love Death + Robots S3 E1 - E9; Prehistoric Planet S1 E1 - E5; Hacks S2 E1 - E5; Somebody Feed Phil S5 E1, E2; Love Death + Robots S3 E9; Game of Thrones S2 E3 - E6; Love Death + Robots S3 E9; Cowboy Bebop (2022) S1 E3; Mystery Science Theater 3000 (2022) S13 E03, E04; George Carlin’s American Dream S1 E1, E2; Killing It S1 E1 - E8; The Quest (2022) S1 E1; The Man Who Fell To Earth S1 E2, E3; The Time Traveler’s Wife S1 E1 - E3; Norm MacDonald: Nothing Special; Obi-Wan Kenobi S1 E1 - E3; Love Death + Robots S3 E9; Stranger Things S3 E1 - E3; The Boys S3 E1; Obi-Wan Kenobi S1 E1 - E4; Love Death + Robots S3 E9; Russian Doll S2 E1; Everything I Know About Love S1 E1; For All Mankind S3 E1
THIS WEEK’S GAMING: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga; Elden Ring; Jedi: Fallen Order
THIS WEEK’S MOVIES: Portrait of Jeannie; Evita; Falling In Love Again; The Quick and the Dead; Danger: Diabolik; A Change of Seasons; The Golden Voyage of Sinbad; Time After Time; The Rocketeer; Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Top Gun (4K); A Simple Plan; The Quick and the Dead (4K); Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; An American Werewolf in London (4K); Heavy Metal (4K); Under the Skin; The Bad Guys; Beyond Atlantis, Octopussy; First Family; The Competition; Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (4K); Solo: A Star Wars Story (4K); Ocean’s Eleven; Ocean’s Twelve; Octopussy; Heaven’s Gate; Tell Me A Riddle; Stir Crazy; The Lost City; The Jazz Singer; Top Gun: Maverick; Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers; Dinner in America; Firestarter (2022); Any Which Way You Can; Monstrous; Shark Bait; The Innocents (2021); New Year’s Evil; Stardust; Barton Fink; Avatar; The Philadelphia Story; Harold and Maude; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Pineapple Express; Metallica: Through the Never; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; Legend (1985); Lawrence of Arabia; Fear No Evil (1981); Rollerball; RRR; Jackass 4.5; Men (2022); Popeye; Roadgames (1981); Star Wars: The Last Jedi (4K); Pacific Rim (4K); Blade Runner 2049 (4K); A Scanner Darkly; Seems Like Old Times; Flash Gordon (4K); Saboteur (4K); The Matrix Resurrections (4K); Deep Red (4K); Annihilation (4K); Ready Player One (4K); Labyrinth (4K); Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (4K); Kiki’s Delivery Service; The Apartment (4K); The Empire Strikes Back (4K); The Bob’s Burgers Movie; Emergency; Mission: Impossible - Fallout (4K); The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (4K; extended cut); Man of Steel (4K); Casino (4K); Heavy Metal (4K); 1776 (4K; extended director’s cut); Munchie; Spider-Man 2 (4K); Double Indemnity (4K); Dashcam; A View to a Kill; Crimes of the Future (2022); The Automat; House Party; Beverly Hills Cop II (4K); Jurassic World (4K); Jurassic Park (4K); Hook (4K); The Sum of All Fears (4K); Mulholland Drive (4K); Bumblebee (4K); Fire Island; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (4K); Tanya’s Island; Hustle (2022); Bad Lieutenant; Last Summer; Shaft (4K); Inside Moves; Bad Luck Banging and Looney Porn; Top Gun: Maverick