Film & TV

Editors Picks: December 2019

This month, we wanted to switch things up slightly and help you get to know the three people that run Quench’s Film + TV section a bit better. So here are a few editor’s picks: no guidelines, no strict word-count or writing style; just 3 recommendations from us to you.

Laura Dazon – Searching for Sugarman

One of the most exhilarating stories I have heard of in my life came under my radar recently, and I need to share it with you. Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary retracing a mystery that animated a nation for decades. It is the story of how Sixto Rodriguez, an American musician and construction guy, unknowingly became a superstar in South Africa, and a symbol of rebellion during the apartheid. And ultimately, it is the story of finding that man whom everyone thought was dead.

I know, sounds crazy. And it is. Now, this documentary was released in 2012, and the process of its realisation is not any less crazy. It was made almost entirely by one person, Malik Bendjelloul. From directing, to drawing animations, to editing and even composing the soundtrack for it, Malik devoted years of his life to this project. It is the achievement of a lifetime, the only film he made, and it was rewarded with a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

Searching for Sugar Man is a captivating quest that will immerse you in historical dilemmas and musical passion.

Listening to Sixto Rodriguez’ music might be exactly where you want to start to give you a taste of what this documentary is like:

Because if you don’t get to watch the documentary, I at least want you to discover a new artist in case you didn’t know him before.

And for those of you who will watch it, not only will it become an anecdote you will want to share with everyone (the same way I am doing it now), it is a lesson a humility and humanity.

Cynthia Vera – The Bizarre World of It’s Always Sunny’

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a lawfully chaotic, jet-black comedy that follows a group of mean-spirited, selfish, miserable and overall despicable people—Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Charlie (Charlie Day), and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), with Frank (Danny DeVito) – who spend almost everyday binge drinking … I mean running and working at Paddy’s Pub, a derelict bar in South Philly.

Throughout the 14 seasons of Sunny, these character never really learn anything or develop into responsible grown-ups. Blinded by their own self-destructive tendencies and gripping loneliness and resentment for the world, we watch them practically manifest into sociopaths.

Created by Rob McElhenney, the show’s politically incorrect bubble and absurdity still makes audiences laugh 14 years later, even after modern cultural developments like the #MeToo movement, and that’s because the show was never meant to be a political sitcom.  The show revels and basks in its raunchy and absurd political incorrectness and continues to subvert the formulaic structure of supposedly ‘sentimental’ sitcoms like Friends, or worse, The Big Bang Theory.

Although it’s no different from most situational comedies, (i.e best friends who hang out at a bar/ café shows) it’s always utilizing many of the obscurest qualities for a black-comedy: we’re talking satire, shocking and ridiculous behaviour, strange running gags and of course, chaotic characters.

It’s quite fascinating watching yourself get engrossed in show that blends delirious, pointless ‘post-comedy comedy’ with a group of deranged degenerates. Exaggerate these characters and their weirdly questionable traits far enough and you get comedy gold.

Caleb Carter – No Country for an Old Irishman

If you thought end-of-year-blues were bad, imagine end-of-career blues.

I watched The Irishman the other day and it’s sad. Though the prestigious filmmaker directed the coke-eyed, hedon-epic, Wolf of Wall Street at the opening of the decade, Scorsese has closed it with a film that feels like a misty-eyed revision of the pictures he is best known for. Where Goodfellas revved up its engines to burnout, The Irishman takes a matter-of-fact stroll down memory lane; where Henry Hill refuses to be called anything less than the saintly “gangster”, Frank Sheeran is a retired “working stiff” who painted houses for a living. The film is about memory and lost, irreversible time and friendship and regret and conclusively: old age. The Irishman is a movie about an old man by an old man who has made movies about young men his entire life.

What I’m trying to say is that it feels like a Last Film. Not that it will necessarily be Scorsese’s last (please don’t leave yet, Marty), but that even if it isn’t, it will probably be his career swansong – a farewell note. And it got me thinking about directors and old age. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood also came out this year and it’s his slowest, most optimistic and nostalgic film to date. Reservoir Dogs Tarantino would probably look at Once Upon a Time Tarantino and think he had gotten soft. And maybe he has… The director has said on record that he only intends to direct 10 films and this year marks his 9th; it would make sense to relieve the pressure of the last (especially if it does turn out to be Kill Bill 3) by sending out a closing statement now, instead. Also, like The Irishman it feels like The Last: a love letter to the art form that the director loves most.

The Irishman is as much of a farewell hug from Scorsese to Deniro as it is to gangsters. As Little White Lies’ review pointed out, it is poignant to watch the esteemed actor grow old under the lens of his most frequent collaborator; but as our own review points out, his elderly stoop remains even after the CGI “de-aging” process. It’s apt, although melancholy. Both Scorsese and Tarantino have tried not only to relive, but to re-imagine the past in their films, vicariously through the characters that they depict. In that way it feels intensely personal; intensely old: though nostalgic for what has passed, they wish even more to be able to change it, to switch it up just a little bit and see what could have been. The reality that Martin Scorsese confronts here, at 77 years old, is that he will never be able to.

(Conversely, Spielberg is still cranking out one a year at 73 and his most recent was set inside a virtual reality headset…. so there’s that. )