Discover more from It's the Pictures
What I've Been Watching: May 2023
Recently watched, links, and more
Welcome to another month of what I’ve been watching. Now that the Boston sports teams have unceremoniously finished their playoff journey, I’ll have a bit more time this month to play catch up with some of the movies that came out earlier this year, as well as, watch some of the summer blockbusters making their way to theaters.
Some of those titles have already made their big splash with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3, Fast X, and The Little Mermaid in theaters already. They’ll be joined this weekend by the new animated Spider-Man feature, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (which has received rave reviews on par with the Academy Award-winning original.)
Another thing that has had my attention in the last month was the final episodes of the hit HBO drama, Succession. Creator Jesse Armstrong called ending the show in its fourth season “kind of perverse” considering the acclaim the show has consistently received. Even if Succession could’ve gone on for another two seasons, there’s something to be said about going out on top. If you’ve never seen the show and want to start now, I’ll mention that the first season takes a little bit to get going, but once it does, Succession is one of the best-written television shows I’ve ever seen. Studios pay those writers.
Outside of all that I’ve been playing the new Legend of Zelda title, Tears of the Kingdom. Whenever I play these giant games I’m always shocked by two distinct things— gamers who complete the video game as fast as possible (known as Speedrunning), and gamers who’ve completed every portion of the game two weeks after launch. As for myself, I’ll be taking my time with it, fully acknowledging that we won’t get another Zelda title like this for another five or six years.
(After I set up this newsletter, I managed to see the new Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse feature. It’s fantastic and everyone needs to go see it pronto.)
Mini-Review: The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid represents Disney’s latest attempt to bring their classic animated features into the live-action realm. Commercially, they’ve traditionally done all right for themselves, as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King dominated the box office. Critically, even those all-time Disney classics have left something to be desired in their transition to live-action*. The problem with many of these new adaptations is that they are perfectly suitable, but not much else. The Little Mermaid continues that tradition with a star-making performance from Halee Bailey as Ariel, but treading water with everything else.
The Little Mermaid follows Ariel (Bailey) as a young mermaid longing to “be where the people are.” The ocean can’t hold her inquisitive nature and Ariel loves to collect human treasures from shipwrecks. These material possessions are only a stopgap to Ariel’s true ambitions though as she strives to get closer to humans. Her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), has other wishes for his daughter. He stubbornly believes humans are not to be trusted and are capable of great atrocities against mermaids. Maybe those orders from her father would’ve been enough to stop Ariel before, but she has fallen for Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), a human who’s searching tirelessly for the mermaid who saved his life from a shipwreck.
When Ariel can’t convince her father of her wish to be with the humans, she makes a careless deal with the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). She’ll have three days to convince Prince Eric to kiss her and then Ariel will be able to live with her love. The catch? She can’t use her voice and if she fails to get the kiss in that timeframe her life will be forfeit to Ursula. Ariel will have to depend on her friends — Sebastian the Crab (Daveed Diggs), Flounder the Fish (Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle the Seagull (Awkwafina) to win over Prince Eric before time runs out.
It’s these CGI friends that represent the biggest problem for The Little Mermaid. They all exist within the uncanny valley of being too realistic, but also not realistic enough. And it certainly doesn’t help that the movie as a whole is ugly. I remember seeing the first trailer during the Oscars telecast and thinking how dark and miserable the whole movie looked. The animated movie was able to convey all this great energy and visuals, and that’s definitely something that was lost in the transition to live-action.
The Little Mermaid isn’t that different structurally from Disney’s original classic. The few differences come from three new songs — one with the backstory of Prince Eric, one from Ariel’s perspective after she’s lost her voice, and a rap from Scuttle. The horrific worm-like things that Ursula turned people into are gone, Chef Louis is gone as well, and there’s some extra sibling rivalry between Ursula and Triton added to the story. By and large, this is the same story. If you came into this expecting something truly different, you won’t find it here.
The reason to see this new Little Mermaid adventure is Halee Bailey. She’s absolutely magnetic on the screen and it’s hard to imagine many others being as perfect for the role as she turns out to be. She’s going to be a megastar and her arrangement of ‘Part of Your World’ ends up being a massive highlight of this adaptation.
Disney has no plans of stopping with their live-action adaptations (Snow White starring Rachel Zegler, and the Barry Jenkins-directed Mufasa: The Lion King are on deck for 2024), but I have zero expectations for them. These aren’t artistic or creative adventures for Disney, they’re solely commercial and nostalgia-based entertainment. I understand there’s a comfort in seeing something familiar. In fact, I hear children are really into that. But outside of Bailey’s terrific performance, there’s little reason to be excited about The Little Mermaid. [C]
One of the best movies I’ve seen this year, Past Lives, is opening in limited theaters this weekend. Monica Castillo reviewed the movie for RogerEbert.com and gave it a four-star rating saying, “It’s the kind of nuanced movie that allows for self-reflection as well as entertainment, following two characters who illustrate how relationships—both fully realized and not—influence our lives.”
With Succession over, it’s time to evaluate the series as a whole. The Ringer Staff got together and ranked every episode of the series and you might be surprised at what they felt was #1. GQ also published a list.
The Cannes Film Festival wrapped up recently and journalists have decided on the must-watch movies of the fest. This write-up in Vogue mentions many of the titles I saw hyped during the festival including Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall and runner-up The Zone of Interest.
Vulture shared an excerpt from “Where Are Your Boys Tonight?: The Oral History of Emo’s Mainstream Explosion 1999-2008” by Chris Payne. I remember that era quite well and this absolutely seems like something I’d read.
Another excerpt from Vanity Fair this one from the book “Burn it Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood” by Maureen Ryan talks about the difficult work environment during the hit show, LOST.
I Think You Should Leave is back on Netflix with 6-new sixteen-minute episodes. After sixteen minutes you’ll be in so much pain from laughing that you’ll appreciate the brevity. Nick Schager for The Daily Beast does a great job of explaining the appeal of the show.
I’ve always enjoyed, but this week Hunter Harris has been firing on all cylinders. Not only is wrapping up her Succession coverage but she’s added her commentary on the Taylor Swift / Matt Healy drama.
Talking about Matt Healy, if you need another Newsletter to subscribe to may I recommend? Ryan Broderick also mentions how AI has been used to change famous paintings.
Netflix is hyping up its Tudum event in June. They’ll showcase a plethora of new shows they have in active development or that will be premiering soon. I note this because Netflix has a backlog of titles to get through before they’re going to feel the effects of the Writer’s Strike, but eventually, they’ll run out. Then we’ll get Love is Blind seasons forever.
It's the Pictures is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Books I’ve been reading:
‘Babel: An Arcane History’ by RF Kuang
‘Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America’ by Abraham Josie Riesman
‘Witch King’ by Martha Wells
‘Some Desperate Glory’ by Emily Hesh
‘Translation State’ by Ann Leckie