Staff Picks: ‘Under the Sun,’ ‘Victor/Victoria’ and Mitski’s “Happy”


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks below.

The La La Land Trailer

It’s been a while since a trailer has given me the chills; and maybe it’s just because Flavorwire Film Editor Jason Bailey’s headline for the La La Land trailer was “enjoy some goosebumps” and I’m a pushover — but regardless, it happened with the teaser for the musical directed by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle. I’m definitely in a cynical headspace about the state of movies, especially following this interview with Charlie Kaufman where he talks about how impossible and unprofitable it is to get his work made, but this trailer gave me a bit of hope, and I’m also hoping it’s not just expertly selective editing that’s making this thing look so peculiar and mesmeric. Since Chazelle’s last film — Whiplash — perfectly accomplished what it set out to do (with a vivid portrayal of the torture and amoral exhilaration of artistic ambition), perhaps I shouldn’t worry. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

The Unpop Sound — Candy Anne

Dreamy and droned-out electro-pop/psych songs about Anne Frank from The Unpop Sound (members of The Partridge Family Temple) on lime-green vinyl. A bubblegum-bizarro six minutes and 25 seconds. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Three (dir. Johnnie To)

The latest from Hong Kong action master To has been playing here and there for the past couple of weeks (it begins a run at NYC’s Metrograph Friday) and it’s a fascinating piece of work, less a shoot-‘em-up than a pressure cooker. To situates an overworked doctor, a charismatic bad guy, and a square-jawed cop in a busy hospital, and studiously avoids conventional action scenes – until the point, just over an hour in, when it’s time to dance. If you’re gonna try and do a Hong Kong action movie climax in a hospital when Hard Boiled exists, you better come correct; To, unsurprisingly, does just that, reveling in his showy, baroque style, all the way up to his gloriously over-the-top finale. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Cassavetes/Rowlands at New York’s the Metrograph

Cassavetes/Rowlands is the Metrograph’s must-see retrospective about husband-and-wife indie filmmaking team John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands that opens Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 24. Rowland’s will be in attendance for a Q&A on Friday, following a screening of the 1977 film Opening Night. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Under the Sun (dir. Vitaly Mansky)

Ever wanted to get a glimpse of what life is like in North Korea? Under the Sun, a new documentary from Russian director Vitaly Mansky, is probably your best chance. The doc, now playing at Film Forum in New York, is an illuminating look at life in the highly secretive country (which, incidentally, just closed its last diplomatic link to Washington) — despite the fact that the government of North Korea cast the film, wrote its script, and presided over every scene, demanding approval over the final cut.

But Mansky managed to work within those confines to produce a fascinating example of covert journalism, letting his cameras roll between takes so we see just how manufactured the “real life” scenarios are. Under the Sun follows eight-year-old Zin-mi as she prepares to join the Children’s Union (basically North Korea’s Hitler Youth). We also see her parents in their places of work, a soy milk factory and garment factory, although cheeky text on the screen informs us that her father is really a journalist and her mother a cafeteria worker. You’ll leave the theater with a newfound appreciation for the ability to speak and act freely. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor

Victor/Victoria on Blu-ray

Blake Edwards’s 1982 gender-bending musical sex farce – newly available on Blu via Warner Archive – tells the story of “a woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman” with the intricacy and knockabout spirit of a great screwball comedy, all the while taking advantage of the delicious comic possibilities the classic comedies could only hint at. Julie Andrews is terrific in the title role (not the last bit convincing as a man, of course, but we must grant these things their premises) while James Garner is wonderfully game as the tough guy attracted to him/her. The discourse isn’t always tip-top (this was the early ‘80s, after all), but there’s something wonderfully free about its flexible take on sexual “norms”; the production numbers are marvelous (“Jazz Hot” still scorches) and the supporting players all kill, from Robert Preston’s cheerful dandy to Alex Karras’s closeted bodyguard to Leslie Ann Warren’s purring sex kitten. All in all, a little flabby, but a lotta fun. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Finding Dory

Yes, I went to see a kids’ movie. In a cinema. And not one of the “this is really really good” Pixar movies like Up or Inside OutFinding Dory is a middling and genuinely child-focused film, one that throws in the occasional joke “for the adults” but largely gets by on the appeal of its characters, the visual splendor of its animation, and a sort of general adorability factor. And you know what? I enjoyed it! Thoroughly! So there! If you’re looking for a two-hour vacation from reality — and let’s face it, the way the world is at the moment, that’s something we could all do with — then you could do a lot worse. That’s it. The end. — Tom Hawking, Editor-in-Chief

Mitski — “Happy”

I’ve been late to the Mitski train, but I can certainly, as the lyrics of “Happy” go, “hear it rumble.” I’ve been listening to Puberty 2 a lot, and rarely have I heard such a strong opening song that so wholly embodies what the rest of an album aims to do — while also totally standing on its own. “Happy” of course isn’t really a happy song — and you know it from the second the track opens with what sounds like a nail-gun perfunctorily pounding out a rhythm and Mitski’s voice sounding like its underwater — indicative of just how removed she feels from the fleeting sentiment she’s describing. The metaphor of a visitation from happiness unfurls as a one-night-stand, and as she vividly describes the trajectory of the emotion’s/lover’s abandonment, her voice takes on a gorgeous self-assuredness and clarity. It’s a stunning sonic rendering of the clichéd — but accurate — notion that happiness is clearest in its absence. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor