The best dumb action movie to watch right now is White House DownMay 4, 2021
This weekend saw Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train (whew, what a mouthful) became the first anime since 1999’s Pokémon: The First Movie to top the box office. Meanwhile, Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury announced a major six-figure deal with Watchmen and V for Vendetta writer Alan Moore for a forthcoming five-volume series of fantasy novels, and Marvel Studios just released the first look at the forthcoming The Eternals slated for release this November, along with release dates for Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever, The Marvels aka Captain Marvel 2, and many more.
But what did we watch this weekend? From an underrated 2013 action movie to the BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and even the NFL draft, here are a few of the shows and movies we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.
White House Down
In 2013 we got not one, but two movies about the White House being overtaken by terrorists. Unfortunately, the overly serious Olympus Has Fallen spawned a trilogy and the goofy, fun White House Down did not.
It’s our loss, really. Only one of these movies has scenes where Channing Tatum pulls a gun on a squirrel, does donuts on the White House Lawn, and has a plucky daughter that saves the day in a scene too ridiculous to spoil here. It’s a ’90s throwback from the king of ’90s disaster schlock himself, Roland Emmerich — and at the same time, weirdly prescient. Because the bad guys in White House Down aren’t foreign, but domestic. It, as they say, makes you think. —Joshua Rivera
White House Down is streaming on Peacock.
And everything else we’re watching…
This weekend I watched a survival reality show called Alone where people are planted in the middle of Canadian wilderness with very few resources. The show is exactly what you think it is, with people getting sick off of eating bad foraged goods and trying to build shelter. But the highlight for me was when a woman started to eagerly lick a tree to drink up the sap. Would I do this if I was also starving and in desperate need of natural sugars? No, I don’t think so. And she really went to town on the tree. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that. —Julia Lee
Alone is streaming on Netflix.
I’m back, baby, and let me tell you, this weekend’s episode was one for the books. Basically, these two ladies bonded on an online grief forum because the people who killed their loved ones got off scot-free and they were like, we gotta take justice into our own hands. One lady’s nephew was killed in a drunk driving accident and his mom committed suicide when the driver only served two months of jail time; the other lady’s young daughter was brutally raped and killed by a group of men — only one served jail time, and because the body was never actually recovered and the murder never proved, he got out after 10 years.
Anyway, after the dude got out of prison, our lady gang decided to get revenge, knocking the assailants out and CHAINING THEM TO THE BACK OF SUVS and DRAGGING THEM TO THEIR DEATHS ON THE ROADS. Honestly, you go, ladies. They ended by killing the last dude — the mastermind of the whole sickening crime who absolutely murdered more little girls since then — by beating him to death with a shovel, and while one of the ladies got caught, the other one escaped. I hope she’s doing well. —Petrana Radulovic
Criminal Minds is streaming on Netflix.
Drive’s induction into the Dorm Room canon and the Film Bro Hall of Fame has unfairly tarnished its reputation. And sure, the fact that director Nicolas Winding Refn has mostly made strange, impenetrable movies and TV shows since hasn’t helped either. But don’t let that stop you from going back to this movie or checking it out for the first time because it’s still really good!
The movie looks fantastic and is still the best-looking example of the 2010s neon-aesthetic renaissance that it helped kick off. Plus it’s got a fantastic score and a killer supporting cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Oscar Isaac. Even if you don’t revisit the entire movie, you should at least watch Drive’s opening scene again because it’s pretty great. —Austen Goslin
Drive is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Great Pretender season 2
I’ve been steadily working my way through the last batch of episodes of Great Pretender, the Netflix heist comedy anime from director Hiro Kaburagi and writer Ryōta Kosawa. I was a big fan of the first “season” of the series (Netflix put up the first two-thirds of the series to watch at the time the anime was airing in Japan and the last third when it concluded) and I’m glad I finally returned to it to see the finale
The climax of Makoto Edamura’s arc from petty amateur pickpocket to master international con man under the guileful tutelage of his sort mentor Laurent Thierry brought all the disparate threads of the series full-circle in a way I wasn’t expecting, with Makoto’s estranged father Seiji Ozaki playing a pivotal role in the pair’s latest ploy to con an international human trafficking ring out of millions of dollars. While the series fumbles the thematic crux of its entire premise for the sake of one or two gotcha cameos in the final moments of its last episode, Great Pretender overall was still wild fun ride that I would happily rewatch in a couple months time if only to bask in the glow of those stunningly gorgeous Brian Cook-esque backgrounds. —Toussaint Egan
Great Pretender is streaming on Netflix.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Here’s something I’ve been meaning to check out for years now: the BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s ridiculously dense and enjoyable debut magnum opus (there’s a phrase you don’t hear often) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The seven-part miniseries stars the perpetually huffy Eddie Marsan as waspish, book-obsessed Mr. Norrell, and Tony-winner Bertie Carvel as his feckless young aristocratic partner Jonathan Strange. They’re both British magicians in a 19th-century era that doesn’t believe in magic, except as part of the historical record, but they come to magic differently and think about it differently, at least until the Fair Folk get involved. Part drawing-room-intrigue costume drama, part straight-faced Terry Pratchett-esque fantasy melodrama, it’s got a sense of humor I wasn’t entirely expecting, but it’s also a pretty dark fantasy, and a good reminder that there really aren’t many fantasy tales about making well-considered, safe, drama-free deals with dark possessive powers. —Tasha Robinson
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is streaming on Hoopla and available for digital purchase on Amazon and similar services.
Mikey and Nicky
In the 1970s, Elaine May was known for laughs. Much like her Nichols and May partner Mike Nichols, May leveraged her sketch comedy career into a life of acting, writing, and directing. She starred in her own directorial debut, 1971’s A New Leaf, opposite Walter Matthau, and soon found commercial success with the Neil Simon adaptation The Heartbreak Kid. So there’s reason to think 1976’s Mikey and Nicky, which pairs longtime collaborators John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, would be a romp across a seedy mob setting. Nope! May’s film is a nuclear attack on toxic masculinity, and among the more challenging films I’ve ever watched.
In the middle of the night, Nicky (Cassavetes) calls Mikey (Falk) and begs for his help. He’s stolen money from a mob boss, and now he’s convinced he’s as good as dead. And he’s right — in fact, Mikey is actually assisting the hitman (Ned Beatty) assigned to take out his best bud by coaxing Nicky out of a barricaded apartment. Something of a coward, Mikey won’t pull the trigger himself, so the two wind up cavorting around Philadelphia for the night. Their exploits are a maelstrom of rancid, brutal, paranoid behavior. A stop at a bar in a predominantly Black part of town immediately gets ugly. A bus driver winds up a target of their misplaced aggression. A meetup with Nicky’s girlfriend turns to sexual violence, even from Mikey, who is, in theory, the clear-headed of the two. It’s a nightmare, and May traps viewers inside it.
Mikey and Nicky is hard to recommend — it’s not enjoyable — but like great art, the film peers into the shadows of everyday life that we all know exist, but rarely see in mainstream storytelling. The film was shot in 1973, around the time Mean Streets hit theaters, and it now feels like the ultimate condemnation of how Martin Scorsese’s films (perhaps unintentionally) glamorized mob violence and life. These are terrible men doing terrible things. They are familiar, and the women in their orbit are trapped. That’s not the kind of character study most people want out of a laid-back night at the movies. But it’s necessary. Seeing is believing. —Matt Patches
The NFL Draft
I spent the weekend in person with my extended family. We drank Great Lakes beers, ate Frickers chicken wings, and watched the NFL Draft on the faded outdoor TVs of some grimy Ohio bars. Actually, we didn’t watch the NFL Draft. The NFL analyst chatter on ESPN merely provided background noise to conversations about how the hell we all got through the past 14 months apart and when the gradual return to something sort of like normal might be.
What an unexpected pleasure to treat television like this: as ambience that fills the little voids, a comforting murmur that reminds you that the world continues to spin. — Chris Plante
The NFL Draft was a live event, so I’m sorry but you can’t not watch it.
YouTube is a wondrous place, a mind-boggling resource full of videos as varied as Let’s Plays, animal antics, movie trailers, ASMR, and … windows into the lives of people living in every far-flung corner of the globe.
I never used to spend all that much time watching stuff from, like, “YouTube creators,” but my wife introduced me to some of her favorite ones, and I eventually found my way to a few channels as well. For years, she has subscribed to a number of expatriates living in Japan — Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians — who produce videos about their day-to-day lives as well as their adventures across the country. We watched a lot of these videos in the run-up to our honeymoon in Japan in the fall of 2019, and they helped prepare us for what to expect, what to do (and not do), and where to go.
Perhaps my favorite creator of the bunch is Norm Nakamura, who goes by Tokyo Lens. Nakamura started his channel a few years ago to make videos about what it was like to learn how to play the shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, and gradually expanded his scope over time. What I love most are his mini documentaries, five- to 20-minute videos in which Nakamura travels somewhere in Japan and interviews people such as restaurateurs and craftsmen to tell their stories.
He’s really upped his game this year with a few recent videos: a 10-years-later look back at the devastating Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami that followed (as well as the jaw-dropping story of an innkeeper who was lucky to survive the disaster), and a trip through abandoned villages in the mountains. Nakamura has the curiosity of a journalist and the intuition of an explorer, and more importantly, he’s got a big heart. He displays great respect and care in sharing these glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, and they’re the kinds of stories that you just wouldn’t be likely to see (or have access to) without a platform such as YouTube to connect viewers like me to them. —Samit Sarkar
The Tokyo Lens channel is available on YouTube.