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Courtesy of Amazon Studios

This week in streaming: ‘Annette’s musical puppet strings

Plus a review of 'Nine Perfect Strangers' and a look at 'Shang-Chi's marketing.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 18, 2021   Updated on Aug 18, 2021, 1:36 pm CDT

Hello! Every week, our internet culture staff will discuss the world of streaming entertainment in this newsletter. In this week’s edition:

  • Untangling Annette’s puppet strings
  • Nine Perfect Strangers is too many different shows
  • Has Marvel not marketed Shang-Chi enough because of racism?

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Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Trying to make sense of Annette

Out of the many movies set to come out this year, Annette was easily one of the ones I’d most been looking forward to. Even though much of the plot had been kept under wraps—it centered on the relationship between a comedian (Adam Driver) and an opera singer (Marion Cotillard) and how that changes once their very special daughter Annette (who, for most of the film, is portrayed by a literal puppet) is born—Annette had a lot going for it.

It’s helmed by French director Leos Carax, whose last film Holy Motors is a captivating love letter to cinema and came out to universal acclaim. The music and screenplay were penned by Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers who make up the band Sparks (aka “your favorite band’s favorite band”)—and if you’ve seen Edgar Wright’s very good documentary The Sparks Brothers, you know just what seeing one of their films finally get made means to them.

It starred Driver and Cotillard, two surefire actors who both have some experience with music film. Cotillard won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose (although her performances as singer Édith Piaf was lip-synced) and was in the movie version of the musical Nine. While Driver hadn’t flat-out starred in a musical before, his career is scattered with those numbers: There’s his scene-stealing performance of Please Mr. Kennedy in Inside Llewyn Davis (which is even more enthusiastic in a live concert featuring music from the film), his heartbreaking take on Being Alive in Marriage Story, and although it’s been more than two years since I saw it on Broadway, I still think about his brief a cappella rendition of “I’m On Fire” from the 2019 revival of Burn This.

The fact that Annette wasn’t a reboot, a revival, a remake, a prequel, a sequel, or even based on any previously existing piece of intellectual property (many of which I do enjoy) was also a bonus.

Last month, Annette debuted at Cannes to divisive reviews and an extremely viral quote from Cotillard that Driver’s character sang while performing cunnilingus. (Spoiler: That’s not quite accurate; in that scene, he lifts his head long enough to sing a line before lowering it again.) A few weeks later, I got to see what Annette was all about for myself at an early press screening. For some time, I struggled to put how I felt about the film into words apart from liking Driver’s performance and needing the soundtrack in my ears ASAP.

Was Annette a work of genius? Was it bloated and overly pretentious? Were Sparks’ songs great—or were they an incoherent mess? Watching Holy Motors on my own made a lot of Carax’s idiosyncrasies click in a way I can’t quite describe, but with enough leeway between my screening and the film’s Amazon Prime Video release on Aug. 20 (it’s currently playing in select cities), I went and did something that I don’t always have the luxury of doing before writing the review: I saw it again.

Even though I knew exactly what to expect this time, it was a lot. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s too much movie. It’s beautiful and fantastical, a film that breaks the fourth wall and doesn’t try to pretend it’s set in any kind of reality, and one that knows just how to weaponize a melody; I think I admire Annette more than I love it. Driver is great, of course, but that’s no surprise; he’s reliably great even in bad films. Meanwhile, Cotillard’s character is barely a person and operates more like a specter. Simon Helberg, the third member of Annette’s main trio, can easily hold his own. And between the rewatch and the fact that 15 of Annette’s 40 songs are now streamingdon’t listen beyond the first few numbers if you don’t want spoilers—I will probably never get the music out of my head. (My current earworm: Sparks’ Calm Before the Opera,” which is one of several pre-existing Sparks songs sampled in the film.) 

I’ll have a full review of Annette coming later this week, but know this: It’s only a matter of time before the out-of-context memes start arriving on our Twitter feeds.

Michelle Jaworski, Staff Writer

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Ready to sell your art digitally? Time to learn Procreate

If you’re an artist interested in selling your work, you have to check out Procreate. It’s a highly versatile tool that many professional creators recommend. But it does have a learning curve, which is where this handy Skillshare class can be of help. It covers everything beginners to the app need to know in a few hours. From how to use its expansive selection of tools to how to prepare your art to create your own merchandise, this class is a comprehensive tour. In addition, Skillshare also offers an excellent selection of art classes covering just about every medium you can think of.


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Vince Valitutti/Hulu

Nine Perfect Strangers is too many different shows

Nine Perfect Strangers, the new David E. Kelley series adapted from Liane Moriarty’s 2018 novel, is a light satire of wellness and guru culture. It’s also a “things are not as they seem” kind of show. But as you inch closer to what that might mean (I saw six of eight episodes), you get that creeping feeling that writers Kelley and John-Henry Butterworth didn’t know how to back out of that corner

The cast of Nine Perfect Strangers is great: Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Shannon, Regina Hall, Samara Weaving, Luke Evans, Grace Van Patten, Melvin Gregg, and Asher Keddie play the (mostly) strangers, who are all at Tranquillum because they’re broken or stuck at some point in their lives. (And, ostensibly, have the money and resources to stay at this posh retreat for 10 days.) McCarthy’s Francis, an author who’s reeling after being scammed by a man online, is given the most backstory and romantic potential with Tony (Cannavale), a man haunted by his past and hooked on pills. 

And then there’s Nicole Kidman as Masha, the intense, mysterious Russian owner of Tranquillum. Masha looks like an alien (and a little like her Aquaman character), gliding around the grounds and sitting silently in her surveillance lair. Are we supposed to embrace her or fear her? The way she uses vague therapy speak and manipulation suggests the latter. 

Nine Perfect Strangers is now streaming on Hulu.

Audra Schroeder, Senior Writer

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings/Marvel

Has Marvel not marketed Shang-Chi because of racism?

Shang-Chi held its premiere on Monday, Aug. 16, with a theatrical release on Sept. 3. That’s three weeks from now, and while the cast and director have done sporadic interviews over the past year (and appeared on August’s cover of Empire magazine), they’re less visible than the aggressive promotional push for Marvel’s Disney+ shows. Director Destin Daniel Cretton has only done one major interview in the past month (Empire), whereas the director and lead writer of Loki are a ubiquitous presence in relevant media outlets. Shang-Chi‘s big-name stars—Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai—have also been relatively low-profile compared to the Disney+ actors.

This slow rollout is leading some TikTokers to accuse Disney of failing to promote the movie due to racism. “The fact that Shang Chi is like the least hyped marvel movie I’ve ever seen feels racially motivated…” said one TikToker in a video with over 275,000 likes. As the first MCU film with an Asian star, why isn’t Shang-Chi as visible as its predecessors?

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Staff Writer

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*First Published: Aug 18, 2021, 1:32 pm CDT