YOUR WEEKLY BINGE: Berlin

It seems I did this all wrong. I found myself browsing Netflix and came across a series called “Berlin.” Well, obviously, I was intrigued. My love of any and all things Berlin (the German city)-related led me to push play on the first episode and I quickly realized that it has nothing at all to do with Berlin, the city. But, by then, I was already hooked. It turns out Berlin the series is a prequel spin-off of a massively popular Spanish series called Money Heist, which aired from 2017 to 2021. Funnily enough, Money Heist has been sitting on my list of shows I’ve been meaning to get to, as I remember hearing a lot of buzz about it a few years ago. I had no idea, as I found myself getting sucked into this charming and addictive little Spanish series Berlin, that it had ties to that massive Money Heist franchise. For me, it was simply a clever and well-made show, appealing enough all on its own.

There were good and bad things about not knowing anything before I started watching Berlin. The bad thing is that I missed all the easter eggs and inside jokes that are obviously littered throughout. There were some key moments that felt like the audience was being winked at and character reveals that are done in overly dramatic ways, so I know the effectiveness of those were lost on me. However, the good part of watching this series before seeing any of the original first was I was able to enjoy it as a blank slate, with no preconceptions, no expectations. I compare it to, say, watching the Breaking Bad movie, El Camino, as a stand-alone experience. How would that movie play to someone who had never seen a single episode of Breaking Bad? Could it stand on its own? Would the audience care? Isn’t that the test of any movie or television series—it’s not about what it is, but how good it is.

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YOUR WEEKLY BINGE: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Prime
It’s hard to forget the 2005 movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which starred Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a married pair of assassins who work for competing agencies. Besides being a great film, with as much humor and charm as action, the film was notable for sparking the real-life romance between Jolie and Pitt, which would turn into a courtship and marriage that would captivate the tabloids for years to come.

Considering the indelible imprint on popular culture that film left, anyone who tries to remake it has a mountain to climb to match the original’s allure and entertainment value, not to mention the chemistry of its two stars. Well, that didn’t stop actor/producer/writer Donald Glover (Atlanta), who, along with Francesca Sloane, created Mr. & Mrs. Smith the television series, which premiered on February 2 on Prime. So, obviously, the big question is: can the series live up to the film?

What’s so great about Mr. & Mrs. Smith the series is that, even though you clearly know going in that it’s an homage to the film, most comparisons are set aside pretty quickly, as the series charts its own path and forges its own identity early on, so the question isn’t as much can it live up to the film, but how good is it when separated from all comparisons to the film. Can Mr. & Mrs. Smith the television series stand on its own?

Absolutely.

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YOUR WEEKLY BINGE: Mr. Inbetween

I had never heard of this show before Ricky Gervais recommended it. It’s rare for Gervais to recommend any show that’s not on Netflix (the home to his many series and stand-up shows), so I knew this one had to be worth checking out. And, boy, is it.

Mr. Inbetween is an Australian black comedy/crime drama that aired from 2018 to 2021 on FX (currently available to stream on Hulu). It claims to have aired here in the States, but I had never heard of it, which is crazy, because once I started watching, I literally couldn’t stop.

Mr. Inbetween was created by and stars Scott Ryan, an Australian actor/writer/producer who has virtually no credits to his name and broke out with this show (at least in Australia), a late bloomer at 50. Whatever life experience Ryan had before becoming an actor certainly informs his performance as Ray, a freelance fixer/hitman by night, a divorced dad by day.

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All of Us Strangers

Searchlight Pictures
Two recent movies about memory and grief have really stuck with me: 2016’s Personal Shopper and 2022’s Aftersun. Personal Shopper was much more about grief and Aftersun about memory, but they each plumbed the deepest depths of remorse, remembering and regret, of loss and love, of grief and healing. And now, writer/director Andrew Haigh has given us a film that surpasses both films, in terms of emotional scope and inner reckoning, and it is All of Us Strangers, one of the best films of 2023.

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Maestro

Netflix
There is a very unfair yet sometimes appropriate term in film commentary circles called “Oscar bait.” For those who aren’t enmeshed in the details of the Oscar race every year, “Oscar bait” is the term not-so-lovingly bestowed on a film that seems to exist only to garner awards attention, especially the Academy Awards. While it can reference films themselves for containing elements that Oscar voters traditionally love, it usually more specifically is reserved for a particular performance in a film, one that so blatantly checks all the Oscar boxes that it feels like pandering to the utmost degree.

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Anatomy of a Fall

NEON
The highest prize awarded at the annual Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or is the French festival’s version of Best Picture and carries with it automatic Oscar buzz. But, historically speaking, the honor hasn’t automatically translated to Oscar success, as only two Palme d’Or winners have won the Oscar for Best Picture, Marty in 1955 and Parasite in 2022. That’s not to say that the Cannes winner doesn’t regularly make an appearance at the Oscars. Just last year, Cannes winner Triangle of Sadness was nominated for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay and this year, the Cannes Festival winner, Anatomy of a Fall, has even bested that with five nominations in total for Editing, Original Screenplay, Actress, Director and Picture.

The reason for so little overlap between Palme d’Or winners and Oscar Best Picture winners likely comes down to the completely different aesthetic between the two voting bodies. Cannes festival goers and judges pride themselves on awarding artists who present groundbreaking elements in storytelling or who are edgy, unique or challenge the boundaries of the medium. Oscar voters, by contrast, normally prefer safe, traditional and accessible storytelling, paired with high production values and performances. Rarely do you find films that can please both groups. But, in Anatomy of a Fall, writer/director Justine Triet has brilliantly created a film that is all at once accessible yet experimental, challenging yet relatable and weird yet traditional, a film for both France and Hollywood, and my favorite film of 2023.

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My Belated Barbie Thoughts

Warner Bros
I’ve been asked a few times now for my thoughts about the alleged Oscar “snubs” of Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig for their work on Barbie. I hadn’t yet reviewed the film, despite having seen it twice, so I might as well provide my thoughts on the Oscars and the movie itself in one fell swoop.

In all the “Barbenheimer” hoopla, Barbie was really the event of the year. A Christopher Nolan film about the man who built the atom bomb feels like a no-brainer (as far as its reception and success goes), but the REAL gamble was in handing Greta Gerwig, an indie critic’s darling, the keys to a franchise in Barbie. Warner Bros/Discovery has made a lot of mistakes lately, but that was not one of them. It was risky, bold and completely unexpected—and even more unpredictable. There are so many ways this could have gone wrong. Think of all the other established brand names or franchises whose film adaptations went horribly wrong and you’ll be here all night. Trusting Gerwig, and allowing her the artistic freedom she asked for, was one thing, but Gerwig delivering in such an impressive way was truly the story of the year.

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Killers of the Flower Moon

Apple Studios
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

It may be shallow, but I have a hard time with a movie being 3 ½ hours long. These are the days of prestige television…if you have that much to say, make a limited series, don’t ask an audience to sit for that long in a movie theater. At the very least, you are begging for your movie to be watched at home, where bathroom breaks can be baked in. But, if you are legendary director Martin Scorsese, studios will let you do anything, apparently. Scorsese’s last two films, The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon, have a combined runtime of 7 hours. SEVEN HOURS for two films. Come on.

I hated The Irishman. I love Scorsese, but that film felt bloated and pointless to me, so I was naturally hoping his new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, despite the same 3 ½ runtime, would be much better.

It’s not.

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The Zone of Interest

A24
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

It is impossible to overstate the emotional impact of The Zone of Interest, a German-language film from director Jonathan Glazer. A Holocaust film that doesn’t show any of the actual atrocities of the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest is a horror film about the banality of evil, an exploration of the darkest recesses of humanity and a siren call about the profound dangers of indifference.

It isn’t an actual horror film, but the feeling you get while watching it certainly makes it feel like one. Tension is the single-most sensory experience of this film, and it never lets up. It is the stillest, calmest and most ordinary film you will ever watch that will literally eat you away from the inside.

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Ferrari

STX Entertainment
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

Director Michael Mann doesn’t make too many movies, so, when he does, people pay attention. Mann’s last film was Blackhat, in 2015, so it’s been longer than usual for the critically-acclaimed director of films like The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Collateral and Heat. As if that wasn’t fodder enough for cinephiles, word was out that Mann’s new film would be called Ferrari, based on the legendary car designer Enzo Ferrari and would star Adam Driver (no pun intended) in the titular role. Fast cars and a former Marine—what better combination for a classic, testosterone-filled Michael Mann picture.

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