Netflix’s Brand New Cherry Flavour

It’s always neat when a major streaming service takes a devilish gamble on something completely deranged and ‘out there’ for their original shows, and Netflix’s Brand New Cherry Flavour is about as WTF as you can accessibly produce without going into full fledged David Lynch surreal arthouse realms. It’s based on a book by a dude called Todd Grimson who I’m not familiar with but the creator/show-runner is Nick Antosca who is responsible for my favourite horror tv show of all time Channel Zero (which can be seen on Shudder) so it’s safe to say his creative output here is also a unique, otherworldly game changer. This tells the story of Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar, the Battle Angel in Alita), a film student who has brought her horror short to LA in hopes of signing a feature deal, which starts by garnering the interest of fast talking, knowledgeable, well connected producing guru Lou Burke (Eric Lange). Unfortunately, as is often the case with Hollywood bigwigs, Lou is a sociopathic, sleazy piece of shit who not only comes onto her and gets petty when she rejects his advances but then steals her short film for his own purposes and even assaults her. What to do? Well, you could sell your soul to a weird cat worshipping witch deity in exchange for revenge most foul. I wouldn’t recommend it but in this case Lisa is a bit naive and doesn’t heed the obvious warning bells when she’s approached by mysterious Boro (Catherine Keener), who promises her retribution in return for a vaguely Faustian bargain. Well after neglecting to read the fine print Lisa finds her life and that of everyone around her turn into a full on hellish supernatural nightmare complete with flesh eating zombies, inter dimensional hallucinations, angry phantasms, peyote induced mania, pissed off Latino mob hitmen, hiccups, extreme violence at every turn and a strange affliction where every so often she’ll dry heave and vomit up a newborn kitten, and I mean that in the lost literal, explicit way possible, she straight up chundies little tiny demonic white cats covered in barf and it’s nasty af. But that’s what you get when you tangle with a mischievous witch I suppose. Catherine Keener hasn’t had a role this great in years and she’s a diabolical wonder as Boro, the least trustworthy being you’ve ever met, full of quips, quotes and scathing verbal roasts with the bizarre black magic to back her talk up, it’s truly a wondrous villain performance that she has a lot of fun with. This isn’t necessarily the most… succinct or airtight vision and it’s sometimes feels like paint just hurled at a canvas there are so many elements at play, especially in the back half of the season. But oh, what elements they are. This is dark, fucked up, no-chill storytelling with some of the blackest humour imaginable, laughs that catch in your throat on the way up like a barfed kitten and some of the most acidic, punchy, sizzling writing I’ve ever heard, full of impossibly colourful language and brimming with delicious, often very niche Hollywood references. It’s messy but it’s a beautiful goddamn mess and has so much jaw dropping, unbelievable content that I was transported along for the ride that resembles something like Mulholland Dr tossed together with Cronenberg, Raimi’s Evil Dead films with a dash of Entourage and something even intangible thrown in for good bloody measure. Be careful with this one if you’re content sensitive because it’s… punishingly perverse, overbearingly intense and unforgivingly willing got plumb the dark, demented depths of the collective storytelling psyche and puke up whatever it finds onto the screen. Like a kitten, or a self removed eyeball, cannibalistic zombies, metre long tapeworms pulled slowly out of human eye sockets, those are all but a taste. Buckle up.

-Nate Hill

Jay Roach’s Dinner For Schmucks

Jay Roach’s Dinner For Schmucks is an ironic title for this film because the ‘schmucks’ therein are more interesting and charismatic than most of the people I’ve ever shared a dinner table with. A psychic medium who talks to dead pets? A dude with a pet turkey vulture? A ventriloquist with hella marriage issues? A guy who taxidermies dead mice into gorgeously elaborate dioramas? A fucking blind fencer are you kidding me?? These are the people I want to party with. Anyways this film rocks and is built around the ludicrously funny but unfortunate premise of a rich asshole CEO (Bruce Greenwood) who hosts a dinner once a year where each of his smarmy junior execs pick the most outlandish person they can find to bring along to dinner, and whoever’s guest they make fun of the most is invited into his dumb little rich boys club. Paul Rudd is a golden boy employee looking for that perfect dinner guest who he finds in Steve Carell, who is the mouse taxidermist, bordering on the spectrum and is a laugh riot the entire film. Rudd’s art-world girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) thinks the whole dinner idea is reprehensible (she’s right of course, it’s legit the meanest fucking thing ever) and tells him not to go but it could potentially mean a huge promotion so he’s torn in the classic ‘angsty but funny conflicted Paul Rudd’ way that he’s almost patented these days. He’s also relentlessly pursued by his psycho bitch of an ex girlfriend (we’ve all got one), constantly dealing with the bizarre sexual advances on his current girlfriend perpetrated by larger than life performance artist Jermaine Clement and doggedly shadowed by Carell and his kindergarten asylum antics that cause mess after mess. If my review seems like it’s taking a long time to get to the dinner itself, well the film does the same thing and you begin to wonder if it’ll ever happen… then it does and trust me it’s worth the wait. The film has a stacked cast including Octavia Spencer, Chris O’ Dowd, Ron Livingston, Lucy Punch, David Walliams, Jeff Dunham, Patrick Fischler, Rick Overton, Nicole Laliberte, Alex Borstein and a reliably bizarre Zach Galifinakis who somehow manages to be even weirder than Carell himself, which trust me is an achievement here. Much of the humour is improvised and not all of it lands squarely (Clement overdoes the elemental, sultry musk of his oddball artist and can be a drag) but Carell fires on all of his certifiably insane cylinders for a character that’s lost in his own abstract world and for long periods of time is only able to communicate in bursts of eyebrow raising verbal and physical eccentricities which are just too funny. I’ve seldom laughed harder than I did at him trying to speak gibberish Austrian and sounding like the Swedish chef in front of a literal Austrian couple who do not look amused. There’s also an inherent sweetness to the film as it evolves and Rudd’s character realizes what his boss is doing is not okay in any universe and takes steps to both derail it and connect better with Carell’s whirlwind of unorthodox behaviour, who is actually a really decent guy underneath all of his issues. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Mike Judge’s Idiocracy

I finally got around to watching Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (I know, shame me) and I couldn’t believe how hilarious and scarily on point this fucker is. Luke Wilson plays the most painfully average dude (life imitates art in terms of his onscreen charisma) who is frozen by the military along with a hooker (Maya Rudolph) and following one hell of a clerical error, wakes up five centuries into the future where it seems that stupid people have been breeding like rabbits and humanity has become a lot… stupider.

This is obviously a satire with a heightened sense of reality, but the themes, jokes and visual representation of dumbed down culture are just somehow so terrifyingly prescient that one has to squirm in equal doses as chuckle. The future has become a polyester soaked, energy drink saturated, lowbrow humour wasteland of mammoth Costcos, gladiator level monster truck rallies that serve to ‘rehabilitate’ dissidents and all intellectualism has been deemed too ‘faggy’ by the general population. The highest rated television show is called ‘Ow My Balls’, the film to sweep the Oscars is ‘Ass’ and it’s just that for two hours although in the golden age of indie surrealism that may be close to the mark in a way that Judge didn’t intend lol. People have names like Beef Supreme, Frito and, in the President’s case, ‘Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho’, and if I for any reason ever need a formal name change, it’s going to be that. He’s played by Terry Crews by the way, who actually would be a decent choice to run for real.

I keep describing the future here because the world building and lampoonery that Judge traffics in is so goddamn fucking funny and engaging that that’s really all you need to keep the momentum of this thing going, and plot be damned. There is a plot though, as soon as everyone figures out that Wilson is pretty much the smartest dude on the planet, and they rely on him to fix a world run amok. Wilson is in a sense the perfect actor to headline this story; there’s this wide eyed, childlike incredulity he exudes in every situation that is almost funnier than anything he’s gawking at, plus he’s just this side of likeable. Rudolph is hysterical as the braindead hoe who takes advantage of their situation and eventually learns a thing or two as well, but not how to paint. Dax Shepard does a comedic turn for the ages as Frito, a ‘lawyer’ who tags along with Wilson & Co. and acts as guide to this underworld of asininity, giggling at toilet humour and scarcely uttering anything past a few blunt syllables. Watch for cameos from Justin Long, Patrick Fischler, Thomas Haden Church and Judge regular Stephen Root.

So, *is* this film a documentary? Lol not quite, but I can see the angle from which that lament comes from. But you know, one time I was staying with friends in the Fraser Valley, which for those who don’t know is the more rural regions outside the big city where much of the ‘monster truck’ crowd have settled. I was in the kitchen asking my friend’s mom where I could find a glass for water, to which she laughed, opened the fridge that was stocked only with pop and said “we’re not really a water drinking household.” I feel like it’s that mentality that Judge skewers here and maybe what feels so close to home, as well as the overall collective forces of dumb that pervade our world every day, from the news to pop culture to entertainment media and everything in between. I’m not sure why this got so buried on release, I remember noticing it in Blockbuster way back when and noting that it went straight to video. That sort of relegated it to being a cult classic instead of an outright classic but that’s okay too. In any case this is a detailed, brilliant, hysterical farce on humanity at its most extreme and pitiable, laced with Judge’s trademark droll deadpan, a dazzling visual mood-scape and lively performances from all. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake is for sure going to repel, frustrate and test people’s patience as I can already see by the hordes of nasty reviews, but I loved this thing. It’s one of those scintillating, fractal LA neo-noir flicks like The Big Lebowski that seems somehow well oiled and deliberately scattershot at the same time. Mitchell marched onto the scene five years ago with his acclaimed horror debut It Follows, but Silver Lake is a brand new bag and shows he can switch up tone, setting and genre pretty adeptly.

Andrew Garfield plays against type as Sam, a meandering loser who seems more interested in following a never ending path of hidden clues that only he seems to be able to make sense of than worrying about his heinously overdue rent. He plays the role like one of Neverland’s lost boys out on the skids, a sheepish, constantly perplexed flunkee who just can’t seem to get his shit together. After catching feels for a mysterious girl (Riley Keough) in his motel complex who promptly disappears the next morning, he believes he’s onto a secret society of people who leave cryptic messages in plain sight, on wall graffiti, stadium score screens and within popular music tracks. Is he actually onto something big, or is he just as crazy as the conspiracy theorizing comic book artist (Patrick Fischler, whose very presence cements the Mulholland Drive homage) and the paranoid drinking buddy (Topher Grace) whom he associates with? Well, he’s certainly unlocked something, and whether it’s Hollywood’s deepest set ring of secrets and conspiracies or simply emerging mental illness chipping away at his grasp on reality is something that Mitchell maddeningly and deliciously leaves up to us.

This is one unbelievably ambitious and stylized film, so much so that it’s two and a half hour runtime isn’t even enough to bring every story thread, subplot and circus sideshow to a conclusion, but there’s a nagging inkling that Mitchell meant to do exactly that and it wasn’t just because he didn’t know how to cap every idea off. By not telling us exactly what’s up with everything, we wonder more about the deeper layers behind Sam’s journey and the Byzantine forces that are somehow always just out of reach. What’s the point then, you may ask? Well, it’s a good question, and there may not even be one, which has obviously been a deal breaker for many who saw this. The journey, and the episodic silliness is what you come for I suppose, and your ability to deal with the nihilistic senselessness of it all is the barometer on whether you stay, and have positive words after.

Sure, it even irked me a bit that we never learned the identity of the mysterious serial killer of dogs (watch for a freaky Black Dahlia nod), or found out more about the Machiavellian Songwriter (I don’t even know who plays this guy as it’s clearly a younger dude under gobs of old man makeup a lá Jackass) who pulls unseen strings in the music industry, but did that stop me from enjoying and being stimulated by these sequences? No, and they’re some of the most memorable stuff I’ve seen onscreen in a while. The film may be all over the place and certainly trips over its shoelaces here and there, but it’s something bold, unheard of and even feels unique in the sub category of sunny, drunken and dazed out LA noir. There are moments of hysterical comedy and instances of blood freezing horror that both had me in stitches and genuinely spooked me out more than any film this year so far, and when a piece can lay claim to both in the same runtime, you know you’re onto something. This is probably headed for cult status, the marketing hasn’t really been kind and even seems to have tried to bury it (it’s on Amazon Prime) but I hope it finds its audience and endures, because it’s really something unique and special. Listen for another achingly beautiful score from Disasterpiece, who also did It Follows but switch the synths up for something even more retro and inspired by golden age Hollywood, like the film itself. My favourite of the year so far!

-Nate Hill

SyFy’s Happy!

You hear the expression ‘like nothing else out there’ used a lot these days, but I promise you there *really* is nothing else on TV like SyFy’s Happy!, an hysterically haywire slice of hyper stylized pandemonium that doesn’t so much genre bend as it does take out each genre with a firing squad and gleefully blast a trail wholly it’s own.

Now a disclaimer must be made: this is one fucked up, nightmarish, excessively disturbing, deliberately transgressive piece of madness that marches right into zones that are thoroughly taboo and isn’t afraid to get its hands uncomfortably dirty. However, none of it feels doom, gloom or weighty with the subject matter, this story is set around Christmas and for all the horrific, heinous trappings, there’s a deliriously joyous, madcap feel to it and if you are a fan of extremely dark humour, it’s one of the funniest things to come down the pipeline in a while.

Brought to life by original comic book artist Grant Morrison and filmmaker Brian Taylor (Crank, Gamer, Mom & Dad), this is the oddball tale of NYC ex-cop turned mob hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), a sad-sack, hedonistic screwball who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime when the daughter he never knew he had is kidnapped by a meth smoking Yuletide freak show named Very Bad Santa (Joseph Reitman). The girl’s imaginary friend, a animated flying unicorn named Happy (Patton Oswalt) hijacks him into finding her and tackling the deep, scary web of corruption and crime in the city laced with twists, spectacularly violent action sequences, a bang on parody of the Italian American mafia, surprisingly touching character beats, countless film and literary references, sharp, succinct writing and more. Meloni and his rodentia masculinity were born for this role, he’s a cyclone of priceless facial expressions, maniacal physical comedy, growling one liners, cheerful self deprecation and at times is even more animated than the actual cartoon itself, who is gamely voiced by Oswalt as a naive sidekick who eventually finds his footing. Then there’s the villains. Ohhh fuck are there ever some evil bitch ass bottom feeding psychos running about this story. Reitman’s Very Bad Santa is well… bad enough, but then there’s crotchety, old school crime boss ‘Blue’ Scaramucci, played to the grimacing hilt by character actor Ritchie Coster, who has been taking the supporting role digs by storm for years now and really needs his own lead role. Or Patrick Fischler’s Smoothie (you don’t even want to know how he got that name), a deranged mass murdering madman who monologues like there’s no tomorrow and gets sick thrills from inflicting acts I dare not outline here. The eventual main villain is so nasty and perverse I won’t spoil the surprise but what a piece of work. Other brazenly bracing performances come from an unusually subdued Debi Mazar in a cheeky send up of mob divas, Lilli Mirojnick as the intrepid NYPD detective who hassles and helps Nick, Bryce Lorenzo as kidnapped Hailey who proves quite resourceful, Medina Senghore as her dogged mother and Nick’s seething ex wife and uh… Jerry Springer too.

Any review that describes this show won’t do it justice, it’s the kind of thing you just have to see because it doesn’t even sound like it would work on paper. I can’t compare it to anything else as it feels so organic. There’s darkness and horror, but it’s presented in such a way that doesn’t feel overbearing, the vibe is always whip smart, mile a minute jokes and laughter and the relationship between Nick and Happy, one that should feel ludicrous and cartoonish, actually has emotional heft to it and a discernible arc. There’s copious amounts of graphic violence, stabbings, shootings, dismemberment, giant black dildos, menstrual blood used in a marinara sauce (yeccchh), excessive substance abuse, deep seated corruption in law enforcement, children in extreme peril almost every episode and more. Despite all that, it never feels self indulgent or nihilistic; it cares about its characters, the suffering we see in the world and the injustice that goes along with it. Like any all encompassing social commentary, it also sees the bleak, ironic humour that goes hand in hand with all of that. It’s playful, risky, original, stylized to the point of being abstract art at times, gross, terrifying, sad, bizarre, Christmassy, punishingly violent, unique and nothing short of brilliant. Bring on season 2, please.

-Nate Hill