Clarence Avant: he’s the brilliant mind, the visionary who brought people together in exactly the right way for decades. Never famous himself, he knew everyone. Everyone everyone. And was respected by everyone. He was the rainmaker, as they say, in TV, music, movies, business, and politics. He was a mentor to nearly anyone who’s anyone – particularly in the black community. So how is it I don’t even know his name?
Avant is the kind of man who understands that his power lies behind the scenes, but believe me, he is not without recognition. He doesn’t just have a finger in all the pies, he’s baking and selling all the pies. But he’s so humble he can’t even bear to acknowledge the nickname that grateful thousands have bestowed upon him: The Godfather. He’s so humble he never even went looking for half the jobs he ended up with, it’s just that those around him couldn’t help but be impressed by his talent and were smart enough to move Clarence where he could do the most good. Because at his core, he’s a good and decent man. Imagine having all those connections, all that respect and power and influence, and it never going to your head. Well THAT’s what makes Clarence Clarence.
Quincy Jones describes their relationship as “love at first sight” and my favourite thing about this documentary is that rather than just talking-head interviews, these two greats are in a room together, Avant hanging his head as Jones confesses their youthful indulgences. It’s glorious insight. Interviews with his family go similarly, swimmingly. It’s wonderfully intimate, engaging, and fun to watch.
He may have often been the only black man in the room, but he always belonged. And this was at the height of Jim Crow bullshit. And he puts his client, Jim Brown, in one of the first interracial love scenes (with Raquel Welch in 100 Rifles, 1969). He didn’t march in the streets but he lifted up his people.
The documentary consults many stars: Cicely Tyson, Hank Aaron, Bill Withers, Bill Clinton, David Geffen, Snoop Dogg, Lalo Schifrin, Jim Brown, Jamie Foxx, Barack Obama – but to hear them tell it, they may be the stars, but Clarence Avant is their sun.
It cost me some dignity to even click on this film. That’s the first thing you need to know. The dying teen trope is practically my nemesis and it’s truly difficult to picture a universe in which I don’t resent it just for existing. So, not exactly a neutral space for writing impartial film reviews. But Netflix doesn’t pay me to write impartial reviews. Netflix doesn’t pay me at all.
Calvin (Asa Butterfield) and Skye (Maisie Williams) meet at a cancer support group where they’re both working on bucket lists, only they don’t call them that because that movie’s already been done. Their impending deaths lend an air of urgency to these lists – Skye wants to do loads of very general sounding things, like learn a trade and leave a mark, but she imposes only one item on his list: asking out a girl.
He works as a baggage handler at an airport where he’s seriously crushing on a flight attendant named Izzy. Which doesn’t stop Sky for going full manic pixie dead girl on him. That might be a nice farewell gift to a dying teen, only Calvin’s hanging on to a secret. He’s not dying. He’s just a hypochondriac.
Does this mean I only hate this movie half as much, or twice as much, on principle?
Then Came You has some nice moments, mostly because Butterfield and Williams are more watchable than a bag of dicks. Stop with the effusive praise, you say. No shade to Butterfield or Williams – they really are a sweet pair, she not quite convincing as a free-spirited punk, he all too convincing as an awkward, gangly spazz.
The problem is with the words coming out of their mouths. Whoever writes these things clearly thinks dialogue should double as a pancake topping: pure syrup. Skye had cancer, but she died of an overdose of cheese. Which actually sounds like my new top favourite way to die. Too much cheese! But not movie cheese. Cheese cheese. Goat cheese. Old cheese. Soft cheese. All the cheese. But Sky’s fatal dose of cheese came from doing all the tragic dying girl things that tragic dying girls always do in movies. Just once I’d like to see them go kicking and screaming. I mean, how many 17 year olds can possibly be so stoic in the face of the big sleep? I guess anger and fear and bargaining aren’t as photogenic. We like our tragedy porn to be youthful, docile, and composed. Tears are fine, but no ugly crying, it goes without saying.
Then Came You is ten cents out of $1.20 (a dime a dozen – is that how that works?). If you’re adding to your weepies fix, I suppose this one deserves a spot on the list. Otherwise it’s not a super great use of your Netflix account.
Although my sisters and I were massive fans of Labyrinth when we were kids (I was later shocked to find out that David Bowie was some kind of rock star!) and can still sing every word to ever song, The Dark Crystal was never on our radar. But it recently popped up on Netflix (not randomly: they’re actually making a series), so Sean and I thought we’d better give it a go.
And honestly, my life would have been better off without it. I was almost instantly confused, and I was utterly unprepared to be confounded by the complexities of a muppet movie. I told Twitter about my problem, and of the 43 people up at 2am and willing to commiserate, plenty of them simply made fun of me for how high I was (though honestly: doesn’t it seem like the kind of movie IMPROVED by weed???), but lots of them declared that this was among their favourite movies. And I was like: what the heck???
First, a synopsis as told by a lady (me. I’m the lady.) who did not understand the movie for any five second stretch. Some dark crystal was damaged a long time ago and bad things have been happening ever since. For like 1000 years or something, so it’s weird they even remember the precipitating event at this point. Their little felt thumbs don’t look all that opposable but I guess they must be stellar record keepers. The Skeksis are so ugly you just know they’re the villains. They’ve been the evil overloads of their planet ever since. But our hero, Jen, has been raised by peaceful wizards. Jen is not like them though. He’s a Gelfling, the only one – or so he thought, until he meets a second, very pretty Gelfling named Kira, and she helps him on a quest to find the broken piece of the dark crystal, which would restore the universe’s balance.
Jim Henson clearly believed that being scared was a healthy emotion for kids to deal with. The Dark Crystal is a very dark fantasy, with little of Labyrinth’s signature levity. There’s a lot of peril encountered and a lot of responsibility on Jen’s shoulders, and let’s face it: there are lots of scary-looking creatures hatching evil plans. And there are also some drawn-out deaths, like depressing old age shit that most kids movies stay away from.
Conceptual designer Brian Froud dedicated 5 years of his life to the look and feel of this movie, and almost all of it, from the design of the creatures to the world they inhabit, stemmed from his mind. In fact, he ended up changing a major aspect of the film when he came back to Jim Henson with designs that left him perplexed. Henson had intended to call the film The Dark Chrysalis, but Froud misheard and had developed the The Dark Crystal instead, and Henson was so enamoured with those first concept designs that they just went with it.
This movie came out in 1982, the same weekend as E.T., in fact, and went on to be the highest grossing film of the year in both France and Japan. It obviously has its share of fans, and perhaps a bit of a cult following. And I do see the incredible world-building undertaken by Jim Henson and Frank Oz; the ingenuity evident in the different sets and the creativity poured into each creature’s development. I just find that the characters in Labyrinth are friendly entry points into their universe, while the laborious time spent with both the wizards and the villainous Skeksis felt more arduous and less compelling. The Dark Crystal is a fascinating tour of the creature workshop, but I didn’t feel invested in a single character, whereas Labyrinth still feels like a group of childhood friends.
Aside from the fact that I legitimately could not maintain a grasp on the story, The Dark Crystal just feels less colourful, less humourous, less memorable than its counterpart. I get that Henson wanted to just drop us into this strange land, and immerse us in it through showing rather than telling, but it made me feel alienated and cold. We hardly come to know the characters, except through what they’re doing. It just doesn’t speak to me or particularly engage me, but the one thing I’m impressed by is the lack of dumbing down for kids. Not a single fart joke in sight. Jim Henson really trusted his audience to make the leap along with him. Did you make the leap? Do you love the film? Help me understand why – leave comments down below.
The new Netflix series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, will be a prequel, focusing on a lost Gelfling civilization. It will look very familiar to fans of the original as Brian Froud is back, and he’s not a lone. A nifty detail: Brain met a puppet designer on the set of The Dark Crystal named Wendy. They married and had a son, Toby, who went on to play little baby brother Toby in Labyrinth. All three of them are credited in the series. It’s got a LOT of major voice talent: Alicia Vikander, Andy Samberg, Simon Pegg, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keegan-Michael Key, Mark Hamill, Taron Egerton, and a lot more besides. It’ll be available on Netflix August 30.
Lisa (Regina Hall) is the hard-working manager of a tittie bar. She’s a little defensive about it; you might hear her call it a family sports bar “with curves,” but the uniforms leave little room for debate.
On this one day in particular, Lisa is dealing with a thief stuck in the vents after a robbery goes wrong, an undocumented worker in her kitchen, TVs that aren’t working minutes before a big game, an employee who’s dating a customer, a revolt over a missing pool table, and a half dozen new girls who show up for interviews and training. Plus there’s the impromptu car wash she’s organizing to raise money for another employee dealing with a DUI, which she has to hide from her boss, who’s an asshole. Oh, and her marriage is falling apart.
Despite the fact that she’s undervalued and underpaid, Lisa clearly cares about her job, and about doing her best. And she definitely cares about her girls. Usually when your employer starts calling you ‘family’ it’s because they’re about to ask you to do something for nothing. But when Lisa says it, she means it. She’s got misplaced optimism coming out the wazoo but on a day like this, even Lisa’s perky sunshine demeanor will be tried.
Support The Girls is a workplace comedy, but it tackles bigger themes than that. You just might not notice because writer-director Andrew Bujalski has such an impressively light touch. He manages to keep everything witty and bright. His biggest asset is of course Regina Hall, who never stops shining her light. Lisa is doing her best to sell the American Dream, even though it’s not her dream and she’ll never see the profits. Bujalski clearly has compassion for Lisa though Lisa never asks for any. Hall makes sure that her unending kindness is seen as strength, not weakness. These are perhaps tough to pull off amid a cacophony of T&A, but that’s why you buy them. Because integrity is not what you expect to find at your local Hooters, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The smartest thing Bujalski does is that he never, ever underestimates the women in his film.
CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Chrichlow) are the smartest kids in their Bronx high school, and they’ve got the perfect experiment to win a pair of scholarships to M.I.T.: a time machine.
Any time travel movie that makes a bold reference to Back To The Future is all right in my book, but this one’s got an even twistier twist. It’s a time travel movie with a social conscience.
CJ’s brother Calvin (Astro) is one of the dozens of unarmed young black men who get murdered by the police every year. If you were a teenage girl with both a dead brother and the ability to move through time and space, wouldn’t you go back to save him?
But like their high school teacher tries to warn them, time travel has moral and ethical implications that are not just beyond their understanding, but beyond ours. Even the tiniest unintentional change can have unpredictable consequences.
Despite its science fiction premise, See You Yesterday feels very grounded thanks to its social relevance, its community in mourning, and the anger that simmers just below the surface. I really enjoyed this genre mashup, the in-your-faceness of reality interfacing with the fantasy. The world feels believable too – sure there are a surprising number of nawt nerds in one high school, but CJ and Sebastian are experimenting in grandpa’s garage, with grandma’s cheese and cracker snacks. The cast is uniformly strong, but Duncan-Smith is the inevitable stand-out.
It’s the grieving, though, that makes this film exceptional. I had no idea what I was in for when I put this movie on. I didn’t expect to be moved. I didn’t expect such powerful imagery. Plenty of sci-fi has a social agenda, but most have to be set in the dystopian future to make their point. This one is set today. Without ever saying it, the message is clear: if you’re poor, if you’re a minority, today IS your dystopia. But director Stefon Bristol leaves us with a shard of hope: the future is female. The future is black. The future may be a young kid working away in the garage next door. Please don’t shoot her.
John Lennon died before I was born, but that hardly means he’s failed to have an impact on my life. He casts such a long cultural shadow, his musical catalogue has such depth, and his ideas and philosophies linger still, in even the simplest line drawing of his face.
John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky focuses on the 1971 recording of his album, Imagine, at Tittenhurst park, where he and his family had retreated from his swollen, frantic lifestyle as the world’s most recognizable pop star. Imagine stands apart from the work he did with The Beatles, and is in fact very much a collaboration with his wife, Yoko, and the ideas she tested out in her written work – especially 1964’s Grapefruit.
The documentary is replete with never before seen footage and home video. It shows John and Yoko in repose, at play, at work, the midst of inspiration. Lots of session musicians and music journalists are interviewed – director Michael Epstein has literally sought out every and any person who was in or around the Tittenhurst recording studio at that time, including Yoko Ono herself, and son Julian.
Imagine surpasses musical status and has become a cultural touchstone. John & Yoko brings the album back to earth, back to its humble beginnings as bits and pieces inside John’s head. We see the songs mature from ideas to sometimes orchestral pieces, the musicians alive with an excited motivation they’ve probably never reproduced. Still, my favourite moments of this documentary are the domestic ones. It’s thinking about little Julian, who gets to crawl around a legendary recording studio but is bored out of his gourd listening to the same song over and over again. To him it’s just dad’s work. I also really loved watching John record a dis track against Paul – with George! Of course we didn’t know to call them dis tracks yet in 1971, but that’s exactly what it was, and it’s a delicious part of history, and John himself addresses the tension between himself and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney. They were brothers to the end, I think, often fighting because they were simply too close.
This documentary has lots of juicy little moments, literally something for every fan. But it’s also a tribute not just to John and Yoko’s love story, but to their partnership, their meeting of the minds. Because it’s clear that John is not just infatuated – he admires and respects her. She clearly influences his thinking, solidifies his philosophies. They’re changing each other at a cellular level and you can almost see it happening. John & Yoko is definitely worth a watch as it breathes new life into an album that’s hard to picture the world without.
In 2018, there was a big grassroots push to get some fresh blood into the U.S. Congress, where old, rich, white men have ruled things for far too long. That’s not a partisan problem, that’s across the board.
Knock Down The House is about the non-career-politicans who were brave enough to go up against the old guard – women, and people of colour. These are working class people, daughters of coal miners, waitresses, descendants of immigrants and slaves. True Americans who want to see true change. And perhaps most importantly, they are not taking money from lobby groups. They are ordinary people who want to represent ordinary people. But without funds, or name recognition, that’s not just an uphill battle, that’s practically an Everest-sized challenge.
What’s easy to admire about this documentary is that it challenges not a particular party, but the status quo. It confronts voter apathy and cynicism and is a literal breath of fresh air.
In the spotlight: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, Amy Vilela. Not everyone can win, but the truth is, we all win just because they tried. Because hundreds will have to try for a couple to get through. Because even if it doesn’t topple over the kingpins, it makes them scared, and just a little more accountable.