7 movies by Jane Campion to stream after you finish ‘The Power of the Dog’
This is the Los Angeles Times newsletter about all things TV and streaming movies. This week, we discuss a disappointing season of “Selling Sunset,” draw up a guide to Jane Campion’s movies and much more. Scroll down!
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone performing Vendy Wiccany in the hopes of seeing more “PEN15” someday.
It isn’t a stretch to call the Hulu series, whose second and final season concludes Friday, an epochal comedy: No one in any medium has captured the ups and downs of life as a middle-schooler at the start of the 21st century with as much uncanny specificity as creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. (For many millennials, Season 1’s “AIM,” about Maya’s obsessive flirtation with another user in an AOL Instant Messenger chat room, is both a stone cold masterwork and a personal attack.)
Playing their 13-year-old selves alongside a cast of actual teenagers, Erskine and Konkle transform what could come off as a gimmick into a soulful, funny and often skin-crawlingly awkward exploration of what we call our “formative years.” And though it may be useful to future historians as a primary source about life in an American suburb in the year 2000, the subjects it so deftly grapples with — such as masturbation, body image, slut-shaming, racism and, anchored by Melora Walters’ sublime supporting performance as Anna’s mom, divorce — remain very much with us.
Whether through witchcraft or simply its streaming afterlife, though, there’s little question “PEN15” will be an adolescent cult classic for generations to come.
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Streaming recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
The revamped theme song is the first indication that this isn’t your Auntie’s “Saved by the Bell” (Peacock). And it’s definitely a new class — of sitcom — with the bright colors of sweet Bayside tarted up with fast-moving comedy and timely references that were absent from the Saturday morning iteration. But the reason you came hasn’t changed: Slater (played lovingly by Mario Lopez) is the sensitive dumbbell we always knew he’d grow up to be, and Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, in a performance he wears like one of his old polo shirts) is still an opportunist: At the series’ outset, Gov. Morris’ funding cuts close schools in poorer districts and send their students to others. In turn, Bayside becomes a battleground, with Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) fighting to make her mark among the rich kids while Morris’ son, Mac (Mitchell Hoog), has a scheme for every occasion. Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” may take beats from its predecessor — Jesse Spano (a perpetually tan Elizabeth Berkley) is still on a crusade to rid the world of toxic masculinity — but it’s these new kids and their “Popular”-like swag that help make this remix sing. —Dawn M. Burkes
Set in a fictional small town in Alaska, “The Great North” (Fox, Hulu) is a quirky, comforting animated family sitcom following the close-knit Tobin clan. At the center is 16-year-old Judy, an awkward, artsy teen who is besties with her “Alaskan twin” brother Ham, but all of the Tobins shine — including single-dad and patriarch Beef, newlyweds Wolf and Honeybee, and wise-beyond-his-10-years-but-still-definintely-a-kid Moon. The show follows in the tradition of fellow Fox animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers,” with which it shares some creative DNA (“Bob’s” alums Wendy Molyneux and Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin are creators and executive producers, along with Minty Lewis); much of the comedy stems from each family member’s ultra-specific eccentricities and their fictional Alaskan life. And while there are conflicts, it’s clear everyone earnestly cares for one another. It’s definitely a series worth checking out if you’re looking for more kind and optimistic shows where people value being nice to one another. —Tracy Brown
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
This week’s release of “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix), the brilliant western starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee, marks the return of the great New Zealand writer-director Jane Campion after a too-long absence from feature filmmaking. Lauded at festivals and tipped for Oscar glory, it‘s her best-received work since “The Piano” (multiple platforms). That ravishing 1993 drama became her most celebrated film partly on the basis of its precedent-setting awards haul: She became the first woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and only the second woman to be nominated for the best director Oscar.
But as remarkable an achievement as “The Piano” is, it has cast a long and sometimes distorting shadow over her other works, whose riches seem more apparent now than they did years ago. There were hosannas aplenty in 2009 for “Bright Star” (multiple platforms), Campion’s exquisite romantic drama about the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), but audiences largely stayed away. “In the Cut” (multiple platforms), her disturbing 2003 psychosexual thriller starring Meg Ryan, looks better than ever. So does her magnificent, ridiculously slept-on Henry James adaptation “The Portrait of a Lady” (Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+), starring Nicole Kidman in one of her very best performances.
For Campion in a looser, wilder mode, there’s “Holy Smoke!” (multiple platforms), her 1999 outback adventure starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, which plays in some ways like a companion piece to her still-remarkable 1989 debut feature, “Sweetie” (multiple platforms). And if you’re in the mood for Campion at her most expansive, don’t miss “An Angel at My Table” (multiple platforms), her three-part autobiography of the New Zealand author Janet Frame; or either season of “Top of the Lake” (Hulu), the absorbing crime drama series she co-wrote and co-directed with Gerard Lee. —Justin Chang
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
Onscreen, Alex Newell is belting out holiday songs in the Roku Channel movie “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” which finishes up the emotional, music-infused story told over two seasons of NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre, they’re playing the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol,” opposite Bradley Whitford as Ebenezer Scrooge. Between performances, Newell shared their favorite holiday dishes and movie picks with The Times. —Ashley Lee
You kick off the movie with a sequence filmed in a shopping mall that seems to be entirely one take. What was the toughest part about filming that number?
I think it was remembering to sing the lyrics and do whatever I was supposed to do in a moment, at the same time. I learned it very quickly!
Looking back at your entire “Zoey’s” journey, what is your top musical number?
I think it would have to be Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” [from Season 2, Episode 7]. You know I love me some JLo! Also, it was just a great vocal showcase and a cute little duet with Skylar Astin.
What’s a holiday tradition you’re excited about this year?
I love trimming the tree. And I’m also obsessed with cooking a whole Christmas meal for my family and my chosen family: a glazed ham, some macaroni and cheese and my signature banana pudding.
What’s your absolute favorite holiday movie?
“The Preacher’s Wife.” I’m obsessed with Whitney Houston!
Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between
The fourth season of “Selling Sunset” (Netflix), which follows the glamorous agents of high-end Los Angeles real estate brokerage the Oppenheim Group, premiered Nov. 24. Senior editor Matt Brennan and staff writer Ashley Lee have spent the time since catching up with Christine, Chrishell and the reality series’ other key figures — and are ready to explain why the latest batch of episodes was a big letdown.
Matt Brennan: I readily admit that “Selling Sunset” was my crutch during what could fairly be described as a minor nervous breakdown last year: I remember bingeing the first three seasons (with a red wine chaser) in the wee hours of a single week, after staying up late to edit coverage of the 2020 Republican National Convention. So I eagerly anticipated and swiftly devoured Season 4 only to be left disappointed. Coming off not one, not two, but three must-see seasons of “Real Housewives” — Beverly Hills, Potomac and Salt Lake City, for those scoring at home — this installment of “Selling Sunset” felt dull and disjointed. Am I being too harsh?
Ashley Lee: Not at all. The appeal of “Selling Sunset” is setting the slickly filmed drama of “The Hills” against the L.A. area house porn that blows away any episode of “Million Dollar Listing.” Regardless of the fact that those three “Real Housewives” franchises have raised the bar on how impactful these shows can be on pop culture, “Selling Sunset” fell short of its own standards, which already aren’t that demanding of plot. The everyone vs. Christine setup read as forced and, ultimately, boring!
Brennan: The way Christine is filmed — pregnant and dressed to the absolute nines, in the kind of vertiginous hi-def you might find in “Blue Planet: IMAX” — only underscores the underdevelopment of the other characters. Davina turned full-on villain last season, but her reentry into the Oppenheim Group is an anticlimax. To call poor Maya an afterthought is generous. And the story about the guy who came between Christine and Empanada Emma is Erika Girardi levels of muddy.
Also: They never even show what house Simu bought! Like, you have to tie up some things to call it a season.
Lee: Part of the frustration is in how “Selling Sunset” films, right? Like many other Netflix reality shows, footage for two seasons is collected in one go. So real-life developments that would build drama within the show — like Chrishell’s budding relationship with Jason, which made news six months ago — are held off on until the second batch of episodes. And don’t talk down to me by creating a distraction with this faux Emma mess!
Much of the narrative in previous seasons came from the inherent ups and downs of luxury real estate. Perhaps because the market is so white-hot, that element of the series more or less vanishes in Season 4. (Thankfully, though, it’s all over the next installment in the franchise, “Selling Tampa,” in which a brokerage made up entirely of Black women gets deals done in Florida.)
Brennan: I have another, broader theory about what’s going on here too: That Netflix miscalculated how much of the success of its conversation-dominating unscripted series has been because of Netflix as opposed to circumstance. The streamer has repeatedly tried to recapture the magic, with diminishing returns — see the profoundly cynical “Tiger King 2” and a veritable cottage industry of sensationalist serial killer docs. And “Selling Sunset” is, in its own way, no exception: Its most-discussed season drafted off Chrishell’s bombshell divorce from Justin Hartley and, like many “guilty pleasures” of recent vintage, may have benefited from a semi-captive pandemic audience. Season 4 is proof that the series lacks the fundamentals.
Including, if the real estate is any indication, good taste.
The TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on in the coming week
Fri., Dec. 3
“Silent Night” (AMC+). Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode star in Camille Griffin’s debut feature (also in theaters), which makes literal the proposition that Christmas dinner is a horror show.
Sat., Dec. 4
“A Clüsterfünke Christmas” (Comedy Central). The cable network breaks into the ultra-competitive Christmas movie game with this small-town spoof from “Saturday Night Live” alumnae Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch.
Mon., Dec. 6
“The Forever Prisoner” (HBO). The latest from prolific documentarian Alex Gibney explores the plight of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged Al Qaeda operative imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for almost two decades.
“Landscapers” (HBO). Olivia Colman and David Thewlis star in this British crime drama about a milquetoast couple implicated when two corpses turn up in their backyard. Based, as ever, on a true story.
“VOIR” (Netflix). A collection of video essays about cinema. You know it’s fancy because the title’s French.
Tues., Dec. 7
“Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes’” (ABC). A pair of ’80s sitcoms are revived for a night with star-studded casts. Look out for Jennifer Aniston as Blair and Kevin Hart as Arnold.
Thurs., Dec. 9
“And Just Like That...” (HBO Max). And then there were three. Who will be the killer’s next victim? (Just kidding: “Sex and the City” is back for its inevitable streaming revival, this time sans Kim Cattrall.)
“Anne Boleyn” (AMC+). There’s no shortage of narrative possibilities when it comes to one of history’s most infamous queens, played here by Jodie Turner-Smith (“Queen & Slim”). With “I May Destroy You” standout Paapa Essiedu as Anne’s brother George, who was tried and executed along with his sister and four others during her downfall in 1536.
Want to know more about one of the filmmakers we’ve interviewed? Need a new show to binge now that your fave is done for the season? If you have a question about TV or streaming movies for the pop culture obsessives at The Times, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you may find the answer in next week’s edition.
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