Mad for Mads Edition

Featuring: A DC/Marvel showdown, a requiem for a glacier, and a lycanthrope Lana.

My most joyous moment during this cursed year comes at the end of the excellent, newly-Oscar-nominated Danish film Another Round (available on Hulu), starring the inimitable international treasure that is Mads Mikkelson. You’ve seen him around. He’s the one with the bleeding eye and the, um, unconventional interrogation techniques in Casino Royale, the disarmingly charming titular cannibal in Hannibal, and perhaps the most villainous of all, Lightning McQueen’s mustache grilled rival Chick Hicks in the Danish dub of Cars. If he’s in the cast, there’s a good chance he’s the bad guy. In Another Round though, he proves he’s so much more, on and off the dance floor, in the performance of his career.

Here’s the quick pitch. Mads plays a high school teacher stuck in midlife malaise until one of his buddies suggests they start testing a theory that having a slightly elevated blood alcohol level makes you more creative and relaxed. Their lives unspool in comedic and tragic ways from there, culminating in a cathartic and celebratory climax when Mads—once a professional dancer—lets go of all his inhibitions and makes a strong case for reviving the Step Up franchise with him as the lead. It’s my favorite movie ending of the year and right up there with Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho” for top unexpected closing dance numbers. Just try not to smile watching the clip. Then maybe pour yourself your favorite libation, catch the rest of the movie, and try out Mads’ moves for yourself, responsibly of course.

Anyway, here’s what’s new and noteworthy this week!

Movies: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Sigh. Look, I’m big enough to admit that maybe I was wrong on this one. When it was announced that the frankly terrible Justice League was gonna get a very extended 4-hour Snyder Cut, I scoffed at the fan takeover of this lackluster franchise. To be clear, I still don’t approve of how this came about, but the positive hype cannot be denied. The same critics who friggin ROASTED the Joss Whedon version call this a vast improvement, tossing around words like “exciting,” “moving,” “rewarding,” and “thoroughly enjoyable” despite it being bloated af. Did we need another version of this sprawling DC epic? Not really. If it had to happen, though, we could have gotten much worse than this. But please, four hours?? Make that two nights for me. Available on HBO Max.

Other Notable Releases: I swooned for two straight hours watching the literary and deeply felt frontier romance The World to Come (VOD), starring Oscar-nominated Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston as two lonely women drawn to each other in isolated New England. On Netflix, Operation Varsity Blues deep dives into the 2019 college admissions scandal with a mix of documentary footage and dramatic reenactments of how the elaborate scheme all went down. 

TV: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

You gotta love the audacity of Marvel releasing their newest Cinematic Universe offering the same day DC drops their biggest property. I know, the newsletter is a bit superhero-heavy this week, but the brilliance that was Wandavision has me more hopeful than ever that the Marvel formula might be changing for the better. That seems to be the case again for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with the two titular former sidekicks taking center stage to battle a new threat, post-Endgame. Early reviews say it’s far more familiar than Wandavision, but explosive action and surprising emotional depth make this another rousing entry in the Marvel canon. Here’s a handy refresher to get you all caught up. Available on Disney+.

Other Notable Releases: The newest entry in the hit sports docuseries Last Chance U (Netflix) chronicles the lives on and off the court of a community college basketball team in East Los Angeles. In the second season of the meta-comedy Staged (Hulu)—the only COVID-era show featuring Zoom that I’ve enjoyed—the delightful Michael Sheen and David Tennant play exaggerated versions of themselves attempting to put on a virtual play.

Books: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

A battle rages in the fictional African village of Kosawa between the residents and an oil conglomerate hellbent on profit no matter the environmental destruction it entails. The solution? Kidnap the oilmen and hold them as prisoners. A kaleidoscope of narrators narrates this story of greed and exploitation from there, though in a more nuanced way than the David v. Goliath premise suggests. Critics say it’s a “fierce,” “gripping,” and “stirring” follow-up to Mbue’s NYT bestseller debut, Behold the Dreamers, that may even inspire you to take action. Not many novels can do that.

Other Notable Releases: The terror isn’t science-fiction in the “wildly innovative” The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernandez, narrated by a writer/documentarian working to reveal the brutal crimes committed under the “twilight zone” Chile’s oppressive Pinochet regime. In On Time and Water, beloved Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason weaves the story of the Okjökull glacier in Iceland, the first glacier lost to global warming, with personal reflections and world history in a plea for future-thinking as a way to tackle today’s climate emergency.

Music: Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over the Country Club

I’m ride or die Born to Die, but Lana’s last album Norman F****ing Rockwell! was her most complex and ravishing album yet, a perfect melding of her artistic vision and throwback sound. Judging by the first music video, Chemtrails vibes to the same hazy aesthetic of classic cars, sunsets, and...werewolves? It gets kinda weird halfway through. She’s one of our stranger pop stars, seemingly plucked from another era with a sultry voice that harkens back to Nancy Sinatra and never fails to stop me in my tracks. She’s also one of the most talented singers and songwriters out there today, and Chemtrails is sure to prove it yet again.

Other Notable Releases: The prolific Jon Batiste—bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and recent Oscar nominee for the Soul score—brings out the marching band in his new album We Are, full of soulful anthems and jazzy arrangements. Pop superstar Justin Bieber is also back with Justice, featuring an enviable guest list that includes Chance the Rapper, Khalid, and Benny Blanco.

That's it for this week. If you have a friend who might like this, please forward it along, and if you got this from a friend, you can subscribe below!

Have a safe and culture-filled weekend,