To many, Anthony Bourdain was a hero. He traveled the world meeting interesting people and telling there stories over a conversation at a dinner table. A gifted writer, chef, friend, and lifelong romantic, there was some sort of intangible quality that allowed him to relate to so many from many different walks of life. When Anthony committed suicide in 2018, it sent shockwaves around the world.
The documentaryRoadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain combines real footage with interviews from friends. Early on, the director, Morgan Neville, establishes that Anthony was not only a lover of good food, but also of literature and cinema. Clips from some of his favorite movies, like Apocalypse Now are expertly woven in with clips from his own television programs. He was a man who seemed restless. A man who was constantly chasing something and even said himself that he was happiest when life was like a movie.
Make no mistake, Roadrunner is no hagiography. It showcases Bourdain’s flaws just as much as his strengths. That chase and restlessness, while relatable, can drive one to make manic choices, to isolate people you love, and become more controlling in an effort to make the chaos and suffering in the world make sense. In that way, Roadrunner tells the story of one man, yes, but also causes one to reflect at how we personally deal with the inner roadrunner. Throughout the documentary, his friends affirm that despite his flaws, Bourdain “had so much light around him.” Maybe he forgot that towards the end. Maybe we all forget that about ourselves sometimes.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now streaming on HBO Max.
I recently argued Matt Reeves’ The Batman is really about Generation Y’s varying reactions to a corrupt world built by their Baby Boomer parents. Everything Everywhere All At Once, directed by two guys who are both named Daniel, is also about the Millennial-Boomer divide, but it approaches its subject matter from the opposite perspective: that of a Boomer mom trying to keep her family together in a frenetic world she no longer understands.
Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, the matriarch of a Chinese-American family that’s falling apart. Not only is the IRS auditing the Wangs’ family business, but Evelyn’s lesbian daughter Joy (played by Stephanie Hsu) has also nervously resolved to bring her girlfriend to the family’s Chinese New Year celebration. It’s a provocative choice made even more controversial by the fact that Joy’s traditional and judgmental grandfather, Gong Gong (played by James Hong), has recently arrived from China.
To make matters worse, Evelyn’s husband Waymond (played by Ke Huy Quan) is a complete dolt whofiles for divorce in a confused attempt to save their marriage.
But something strange occurs on the family’s way to the IRS. In the elevator, Waymond’s normally goofy and aloof personality is momentarily displaced by that of a Bruce Lee-style action hero. After arming Evelyn with a funky Bluetooth headset, Waymond’s alternate personality gives Evelyn some very specific instructions.
Evelyn reluctantly does as she’s told and is inexplicably transported to another room where she again meets her husband’s alternate, action-hero personality.
This is Alpha Waymond. He comes to Evelyn from the Alpha Universe, the inhabitants of which have developed a method of “verse-jumping” – a technique that enables them to jump from universe to universe and harness the abilities, experiences and even bodies of their alternate selves. For instance, when Evelyn encounters assailants, she verse-jumps to a universe in which she knows Kung Fu.
Alpha Waymond needs Evelyn’s help to fight an evil verse-jumper named Jobu Tupaki. As it turns out, Jobu Tupaki is actually the Alpha version of Evelyn’s daughter Joy. We learn that in the Alpha Universe, Jobu Tupaki verse-jumped so many times and so intensely that she gained an ability to experience all universes at once and can now bend reality to her will. This evil version of Joy is a transgressive whirlwind of Millennial angst with the power to instantaneously leap into one Lady Gaga outfit after another.
When Evelyn finally encounters Jobu Tupaki for the first time, she assumes this Alpha version of Joy is the reason why the Joy of her universe gets tattoos, no longer calls and is gay. In actuality, we learn Jobu Tupaki’s ability to experience everything everywhere has led her to the conclusion that nothing matters. Because life is no more than a random sequence of meaningless particles, she has created a cosmic “Everything Bagel” akin to a black hole that could potentially unravel the fabric of the multiverse.
In the end, Evelyn’s only chance to keep her family together and save reality as she knows it is to become like Jobu Tupaki and experience everything everywhere all at once. If that’s not a metaphor for learning to use the internet, I don’t know what is.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is in every respect a better film than The Batman. It’s original, funny, occasionally moving, and captures the anxiety, unease and despair felt by anyone who’s ever held an iPhone, or grappled with the now mainstream many-worlds interpretation espoused by some of today’s most respected physicists. It’s also an opportunity to see Ke Huy Quan – who hasn’t graced the silver screen since he was a child star in such Spielberg classics as The Gooniesand Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — back in action.
But while the film entertains, it fails to resolve its central conflict in any satisfying way. When faced with a hopelessly corrupt world, The Batman’s protagonist finds inspiration in the next generation. In Everything Everywhere All At Once, Evelyn gazes into the infinite abyss and ultimately comes to the same conclusion as her daughter — nothing matters. The film leaves us with an anticlimactic reminder to be kind anyway.
Everything Everywhere All At Once poses a question as old as Solomon. Why keep going when all is vanity? In response, the audience is subjected to a clueless shrug and a patronizing pat on the head. Don’t get me wrong — the film is worth a watch. But if you are sincerely looking for reasons not to end it all tomorrow, you’re much better off calling a hotline.
Ultrasound: Do You See What I See?by David Buckley
Here’s a burning question: Do you see what I see? The ocean is blue. On that, we can agree, but is your ocean bluer? More vivid? More beautiful? Are you a daily witness to an intensity of color that I have not and will never experience? And is this why you travel and I drink? It’s an age-old question that has, on more than one occasion, kept me up at night.
Rob Schroeder’s 2021 film Ultrasound takes this line of questioning even further.Ultrasound begins as a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.A bad storm (and some conspicuously placed nails) cause a car wreck instead of a shipwreck. Our survivor, Glen (played by Vincent Kartheiser), seeks shelter in a nearby home. It’s no island, but the film makes it feel just as remote.
When Glen knocks on the door, he’s pulled with a handshake into an intricate web spun by a seemingly harmless modern day Prospero named Art. But don’t let Art’s “nice guy” act fool you. This mysterious man (played by Bob Stephenson) may not use magic, but he’s a powerful sorcerer and he works wonders with“his so potent art.”
While he doesn’t have a daughter named Miranda, Art does play matchmaker for his wife Cyndi (played by Chelsea Lopez) who is certainly young enough to be Art’s daughter. Art plucked her at 17, Cyndi later explains, when she was his student and he was her English teacher.
Art tells Glen that the nearest auto repair shop is over an hour away, which leads Glen to reluctantly accept Art’s suspiciously kind invitation to stay the night. That invitation leads to dinner, which leads to alcohol, which leads to a very uncouth proposition. I’ll paraphrase: “I saw the way you were looking at her,” says Art. Glen, of course, denies it. “Well,” Art replies, “I saw the way she was looking at you.”
In the morning, Glen wakes to an empty house, leaves and goes about his life, until months later when Art shows up at Glen’s door to inform him that Cyndi is pregnant. Naturally, Glen and Cyndi decide to shack up.
That’s when Ultrasound takes a disorienting turn. We see Cyndi and Glen playing house while two men monitor them from inside a car. An unforeseen emergency occurs and the men are forced to “extract” Glen and Cyndi before the couple can call an ambulance.
Separately, we see an unknown man in a lab coat (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and an unknown woman in a business suit (played by Breeda Wool) rehearing a very familiar piece of dialogue. It’s familiar because we’ve heard it before. It’s a conversation between Glen and Cyndi.
We also see a completely different woman (played by Rainey Qualley) walk through life totally unaware that she is pregnant. Everyone around her can see that she’s with child, and yet, when she looks in the mirror her reflection is shapely thin. When she struggles to pull her t-shirt passed her pregnant belly, she blames the dryer for shrinking her clothes.
Ultrasound presents all of this without explanation. All we really know is that Art must be behind it all. Eventually, the audience is made to question everything. It’s no longer: ”do you see what I see?” But: “do you remember what I remember?” How did we meet? Yes, I knocked on your door. On that, we can agree, but was it raining? Did I knock on the door of your hotel room or your home? Was I in distress or in pursuit of a drunken hook up?
Ultrasound untangles Art’s intricate web one silk at a time. That is, until the final act when the audience is subjected to a rapid fire of twists and turns, at which point the rest of Art’s web is unspun at a dizzying pace. In the end, I believe all of Ultrasound’s mysteries are resolved. Apart from one: Whether or not I was able to keep up.
I won’t spoil Art’s particular method of sorcery, but I will mention there’s a subplot where we see a politician employing Art’s dark magic. We also learn of Art’s ambition to use his magic on the masses. The film ends with this politician’s reelection and during his victory speech we see Art standing behind him alongside his wife, kids and closest advisors.
In an age where we can’t agree on anything – politics, history, medicine, climate, gender – one can’t help but wonder whether some modern day Prospero has cast his spell. Maybe he’s causing some of us to see a bluer blue, and others a depressing gray. Come next election, maybe you’ll see it my way and I’ll see it yours.