Now Playing! August 2023

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Janet Gardner, Vixen lead singer, in I Wanna Rock
Janet Gardner, Vixen lead singer, in I Wanna Rock

It’s a pivotal time in Hollywood and the movie industry at large. Since July 14, 2023, actors have been on strike for reasons very similar to Hollywood’s writers (higher wages, residuals in the streaming era, and the looming threat of AI). With the writers’ strike still ongoing, this makes it the first simultaneous strike since 1960. The strike’s longstanding impact is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: things will have to change in the film and television industry if studios want writers and actors to return anytime soon. 

What else is new in film and television? Paramount+ released an illuminating music documentary that covers metal in the 1980s, appropriately titled I Wanna Rock: The 80s Metal Dream. The film captures the triumphs and struggles of life as a musician in a competitive, sometimes grueling industry. After watching the series, I got the chance to speak with Janet Gardner of the legendary metal band Vixen. Keep reading for her thoughts on making the series and life as a musician, along with my picks to stream and see in theaters this August.

I Wanna Rock: The 80s Metal Dream

2023, Dir. Tyler Measom – Music Documentary – Paramount+

I Wanna Rock captures a defining moment in music history: the rise and fall of hair metal. What made this music so special, and why did it take over the airwaves with such velocity? When speaking with one of the film’s stars, Janet Gardner, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of the band Vixen, she says, “What attracted people to it was that it was rebellious, but fun. It didn’t have a lot of darkness to it.” Indeed, the mini-series first two episodes explore the exuberant early days of hair metal, when bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Quiet Riot dominated the charts and the Sunset Strip. Of that time, Gardner says, “We had nothing and we didn’t care. All we needed was a couple guitars and a roof over our head.” 

Though the future was exciting and arena tours soon followed, there was an inevitable comedown. The film’s final episode showcases the many reasons the party had to end. Some major culprits? Nirvana, grunge, and (surprisingly) Garth Brooks. But the biggest one? Hair metal itself. Gardner hypothesizes, “I think it just got so saturated that people wanted something different. That’s kind of how it started its own demise after awhile.” 

Though the mini-series may lean a little too hard into romanticizing the genre at times, its third episode captures the turbulent and disheartening moments of life as a musician with grace. “We were doing about 200 shows a year,” Gardner says, describing the exhausting schedule of touring musicians. “There were times where it was incredibly weird and lonely.” Gardner’s experience mirrors many of the other musicians featured in the doc, who describe the extreme highs and lows of life as a rockstar. It’s the final episode that makes the mini-series avoid glamorizing the scene. Ultimately, the series is well worth a watch, whether you’re looking to revisit old memories or discover the genre for the first time!

Barbie

2023, Dir. Greta Gerwig – Comedy – In Theaters Now – PG-13

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has broken countless box office records since it opened in late July and for good reason. The movie is funny, sincere, and remarkably complex. When Barbie (Margot Robbie) begins to malfunction, she must leave the safety of Barbieland for the real world. What she finds is that life there is far more complicated, confusing, and at times, beautiful. Gerwig’s film manages to tackle Barbie’s more murky influences on society (beauty standards, mindless consumerism, etc.) while also celebrating her impact. That celebration is likely why Mattel signed off on such a unique, absurd, and oddly life-affirming film.
If you’re not able to catch the film while it’s in theaters, the film is likely coming to streaming on Max (formerly HBO Max) by the fall.

Oppenheimer

2023, Dir. Christopher Nolan – Drama/Thriller – In Theaters Now – R

Oppenheimer often feels more like a thriller than a biopic, which is how it gets away with its 3-hour runtime. The film moves at a sharp, unwavering speed towards the nightmarish and world-altering conclusion we all know is coming. Viewers may be surprised to learn as much as they do about J. Robert Oppenheimer’s personal life in the movie, as the film explores his many relationships as well as his complex, at times contradictory views. I was struck by Cillian Murphy’s performance, as he manages to capture so much of Oppenheimer’s inner world with just the look in his eyes. The film may not be perfect, but it’s certainly one of Nolan’s recent best.
If you’re not able to make it to the film while it’s in theaters, the movie is likely coming to streaming on Peacock by the fall. 

My Neighbor Totoro

1988, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki – Family/Fantasy – Max (Formerly HBO Max) – G

This Studio Ghibli classic follows two sisters who move with their family to the countryside. They soon discover their house and the forest surrounding them are haunted by spirits, but not of the malevolent sort. As the two face the grief and anxiety surrounding their mother’s illness, the beauty of nature and the spirits surrounding them help guide them through an uncertain time. The film’s beautiful animation and sense of emotional depth are true to Miyazaki’s uniquely profound stories. Each seems to explore life’s mysteries with a sense of reverence and appreciation, making the unknown less scary one movie at a time.