What To Watch, with New Improved ⭐s!

"Bros" in theaters, "God's Creatures" on demand, and a load of theatrical titles hitting streaming.

What To Watch, with New Improved ⭐s!

The Nut Graf Returns! Billy Eichner’s “Bros” (in theaters,  ⭐⭐⭐) is a rudely funny gay rom-com that begs to be seen with a crowd. Streaming on demand is “God’s Creatures” (⭐⭐1/2), a tautly acted Irish suspense drama. New-to-VOD titles include the antic “Bullet Train” (⭐⭐1/2), with Brad Pitt; the snarkily amusing “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (⭐⭐⭐); and a delicate desert rose called “A Love Song” (⭐⭐⭐1/2). Plus, “Travelin’ Band” (⭐⭐⭐), a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert documentary, prompts thoughts about this most loved, least idolized rock group. But first, some more “Blonde” bile.

Whatever remaining respect I had for Andrew Dominik, the director of “Blonde” (now streaming on Netflix, freshly downgraded to ⭐ out of four), flickered out upon reading Christina Newland’s just-published interview with him for the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight & Sound. Under Newland’s diplomatic prodding, Dominik reveals his thoroughgoing disinterest in any actual person named Norma Jeane Mortenson or Marilyn Monroe – indeed, he pooh-poohs the idea she had any sort of inner life at all, saying that his Monroe (as played by Ana de Armas) was “essentially living an unexamined life.” Other assumptions at variance with biographical reality: “I think Marilyn was a guy’s girl. I don’t think she was a woman who had a lot of female friends. But then I think she was a woman who didn’t have a lot of friends … She wanted to destroy her life.”

And yet more: “I think the film is about the meaning of Marilyn Monroe. Or a meaning. She was symbolic of something. She was the Aphrodite of the 20th century, the American goddess of love. And she killed herself. So what does that mean?” (Beats me. Isn’t that why you made the movie?)

Newland also tweeted out a passage from the interview that she didn’t include in the published piece, showcasing Dominik’s dismissal not only of Monroe’s entire body of work but the idea that anyone in 2022 might even be interested in that work.

Look, fidelity to the facts can be an enemy of art, and we understand when we watch Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan fantasia “I’m Not There,” or even a hyperactive slab of Baked Alaska like Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” that we’re getting a poetic meditation on the truth. Dominik, by contrast, has one shopworn notion in his head — Marilyn the Universal Victim — and all the technique in the world can’t make up for a fundamental incuriosity that looks more like misogyny the closer you get. The movie’s just the latest load of hooey dumped on her grave, as callous to Monroe as anything done to her in her lifetime.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, what are the new movies out there this weekend? “Bros” (⭐⭐⭐), the romantic comedy starring Billy Eichner, opens in theaters today, and it is relentlessly witty without ever bothering to reinvent the wheel – this really does play like “When Harry Met Sally” with two men, a ruder sense of humor, and a million catty pop culture references and cameos. I wrote about the film in detail when I saw it in Toronto, and I will reiterate that if you are hungry for the long-lost sound of a packed theater in full howl, mask up and go see “Bros.” Its energy is so infectious and the momentum of its jokes so dynamic that to watch it alone at home would be to cheat yourself of the full experience. It’s produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), and their distinct comic sensibilities combine with Eichner’s to create sparks that may not last long but spin pleasurably while they do.

“God’s Creatures” (in theaters and on demand, ⭐⭐1/2) is a moody, bruised slow burner set in a wind-tossed Irish coastal village, where fish factory forewoman Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) welcomes home her prodigal son (Paul Mescal, the young lover of “Normal People”) and becomes so blinded by mother love that she refuses to see his darker side. The co-directors are Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis, and they create an atmosphere of unbearably tense, close-knit mistrust, with a village of women quietly taking sides when one of their own is brutalized. This is Holmer’s second film after a miracle of a 2016 debut called “The Fits,” available as a streaming rental and most highly recommended. I wish I could say the same for “God’s Creatures,” which suffers from a gratingly astringent musical score and a resolution that swerves to avoid cliché and goes straight into the ditch. Still, the beautifully rough-hewn locations, excellent performances from Watson, Mescal, and Aisling Franciosi, and a sustained air of simmering unease make this worth a look.

If you’re looking for a movie that does a great deal more with a great deal less, “A Love Song” (⭐⭐⭐1/2) is now available on demand as a six-buck rental. I wrote about this desert two-hander when I saw it as part of this year’s Sundance and again when it came to theaters in July, so no need to go into detail again. A spare and tender experience, attentive to the lines in a woman’s face and the lines in her life.

The Brad Pitt action vehicle Bullet Train (⭐⭐1/2) is now available as a premium video on demand rental; it’s fast, jokey, heartless fun, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Pitt engagingly punches the clock here; the one you’ll remember is Brian Tyree Henry as a sweet-natured hitman with Thomas the Tank Engine on the brain.

Similarly, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (⭐⭐⭐), that Gen-Z locked-mansion murder comedy I wrote about a month or so ago, can now be had for a $20 VOD rental. It’s amusing, moderately bloody, rather less pleased with itself than “Bullet Train,” and MVP Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby”) is extremely funny as an entitled twit.

Finally, I’d like to call your attention to “Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall” (⭐⭐⭐) on Netflix, a concert doc that apparently was lying around unfinished for a half century until someone got it together and hired Jeff Bridges to provide growly narration. (The success of last year’s “Summer of Soul” seems to have jump-started more than one dormant music project.) It’s a rough-and-tumble affair that could have used modern-day interviews with the band members, but what the film does well is to remind a viewer of how anomalous this band was in 1969 and 1970 and how unique they remain today. At a time of psychedelic excess and strained lyrical exhortation, John Fogerty and company rekindled the torch of the classic three-minute rock song. Not pop song; Fogerty’s roots were in ‘50s R&B and its white idolators, and he could scream like Jay Hawkins and swing like Buddy Holly. The film obliquely makes the point that Creedence had been around, under various names, since the late 1950s; like the Beatles – and unlike many of their rivals on the American rock scene – they knew the music almost subatomically because they had come up through it.

For that reason, their songs sounded eternal the moment they came out of the radio, as if they’d been laid down in the collective unconscious before Fogerty even had a chance to compose them. “Proud Mary” could be a lost Stephen Foster tune by way of Jerry Lee Lewis; “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River” were compact swamp-rock singles harnessed to a fearsome rhythmic engine. “Fortunate Son” was the closest the Top 40 came to a working-man’s revolt until Bruce Springsteen came to town; that the song’s been overplayed in every Vietnam War movie does nothing to dilute its fury. In the documentary, the other three band members – guitarist Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, drummer Doug Clifford – wax thoughtful and articulate, while John Fogerty struggles to put a coherent sentence together. Not that he’s dumb; quite the contrary – he just seems to be one of God’s naturals who can pen a song for the ages while having little to say about how he does it.

Those songs are nigh indestructible and, unlike the music of many of the band’s peers, they were meant to be performed live. This is why the Netflix special, once you get to the actual 1970 concert footage, is so pleasing yet so unsurprising – the boys just get up there and play the hits, with maximum electricity and little to no frills. (The exception proves the rule: a wearying 10-minute closing jam to “Keep On Chooglin’.”)

The other value of “Travelin’ Band” lies in reminding a viewer of how refreshingly uncharismatic this group was in a time of posturing lead singers and phallic guitar gods. The late, great rock critic Ellen Willis wrote with insight about this in her essay on Creedence Clearwater Revival in “The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll,” saying of Fogerty:

“He had no affinity for the obvious image-making ploys: Flamboyant freakery, messianism, sex, violence. Nor was he a flash ironist. Instead, he projected intelligence, integrity, and moderation – not the sort of qualities that inflame either fans or journalists. In certain respects, he resembled the solid, sustaining husband who is forever being betrayed for the dashing, undependable lover.”

Willis writes further about finding herself drawn to Fogerty after “chasing Mick Jagger’s mysterious soul through the mazes of fun-house mirrors he had built to protect it … I craved a simpler, more direct, more human connection to rock & roll, and I connected with John Fogerty in a way I never could with Jagger … The switch happened gradually, easing into my subconscious without the customary zap – which says something about the difference between Creedence and the Stones.”

The Stones still roll on, of course, a never-ending corporate enterprise that has strayed far from its roots. John Fogerty was last seen this week on TikTok, pumping his own gas and smiling as “Proud Mary” came strutting out of the filling-station speakers.

@johnfogertyToday while pumping gas my song “Proud Mary” came on the radio! I worked at a gas station and “pumped a lot of ‘pane down in New Orleans” It’s still so great to hear my song come on the radio!  I’ll be coming down to Gretna, Louisiana next week on Saturday, October 8th for the Gretna Fest! Looking forward to playing this song and some swamp rock for you all! #JohnFogerty #ProudMary #fall

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