What’s your worst nightmare? | First watches: May 2024

Big worms, Nicolas Cage, drag queens, or a full blown civil war?

6 min readMay 27, 2024

Dream Scenario (2023)

Compelling and revealing dialogue.

Don’t fall for the marketing, which paints this as a harmless, quirky comedy. Some scenes certainly are played for laughs, but to my surprise, much of Dream Scenario is deep and searching, even a little depressing. Nicolas Cage plays a nobody: Paul Matthews. That is, he sees himself as a nobody, but he’s actually doing quite well at life — albeit unceremoniously. He’s an accomplished biology professor with a stable job, lovely wife, big house, good kids. Except, he feels he deserves more. And then he starts popping up in people’s dreams. Everyone’s. Friends and strangers alike.

He does nothing — no matter the scenario — he just looks on. He never offers help, never shows any initiative, and doesn’t intervene in any way. Which is sort of how he feels in real life. We know this because Kristoffer Borgli writes compelling and revealing dialogue: when Paul chats with a frenemy in the field about publishing, we can see his frustration at his own inaction. He wants to write a book, but doesn’t. And after feeling insignificant due to a run in with his ex, he finally takes action — pointed, deliberate, embarrassing action.

Straight away, people’s dreams of him change. He attacks them, abuses and tortures them — and he hates himself even more for it, unfurling a long held, deep seated rage. In trying, desperately, to recover his image and diminish the impact of these dreams (or nightmares), he comes off as clumsy, insincere, self-centered, and dangerous. What’s appalling is that we can relate; at times, we are also hapless, callous, and selfish — and we know we can do better. The central premise never really gets a full explanation, nor does it need one. As it is, this serves up a fascinating character study worthy of a rewatch.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

If this was made today it’d be called WOKE TRASH.

It’s plain to see why this film has been considered a classic by queer people since its release in 1994. Aside from an odd and racist middle portion, this is a loud, proud, and relatively forward-thinking rainbow-waving spectacle. Priscilla is the name of a big silver bus, later painted pink and driven through the Australian outback by two drag queens—Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Adam (Guy Pearce) — as well as a trans woman called Bernadette (Terence Stamp). They’re on their way to a performance and — shockingly — to meet Tick’s estranged wife and son.

They encounter brutal homophobes, but also Bob, who’s surprisingly accommodating for such a burly, manly man. These queens are at each others’ throats throughout, but they tend to set aside their differences for the sake of a good show. And we’re treated to plenty of them! Many different outfits and dance numbers feature along the way, even when they’re seemingly lost, without fuel, in harsh and endless desert sands. It’s basically Mad Max in drag! And I’m crushing hard on Guy Pearce — I never had him down as a “hot twunk”.

Tick grows increasingly concerned that his son will eventually shun him (dressed head to toe in sequins, miming the Abba back-catalog). He even tries to fake some machoism, which is especially amusing. But “acceptance” runs through Priscilla as a theme — we are all humans with peculiar quirks, stories to tell, and songs to sing along to. It’s particularly interesting to see how it handles what divides gay men in drag and trans women, 30 years ago. If this was made today it’d be called WOKE TRASH. Whereas it’s actually quite sweet and edgy.

Civil War (2024)

It lacks character depth.

Is it morally right to buy a bag of popcorn and watch a pretend war while real atrocities occur elsewhere? Is this film goading the U.S. into conflict? Would Texas really align with California? All valid questions. We never actually find out why Civil War is happening or what the stakes are, which would help justify its existence. We do know, roughly, who’s on which side, but it lacks the character depth to provide an intimate or moving experience. One half is quiet and slow, the other bombastic and explosive. All the while, its focus is on analog photography.

But there’s a total absence of A.I., which is wholly unrealistic. In a future conflict like this, misinformation campaigns would likely engulf us. This, as a matter to juggle in the heat of chaos, would provide a real “theme” arguing in favor of traditional journalistic values. I’m not sure what Civil War seeks to convey, except: by showing beautiful black and white photography at integral moments, we never know what images or imagery will be embraced (or manipulated) to represent an entire conflict until long after that conflict has been resolved (or forgotten).

Jesse Plemons does eventually offer some tension. Otherwise: I was mostly bored. He’s in one landmark scene that is, admittedly, brilliant — but it could have been lifted from any movie with a conflict at its core, or even a particularly grim episode of Breaking Bad. Point is — this is overall largely forgettable. It’s a real shame that the journalists — characters we are supposed to be rooting for — come off as aloof and dull. And despite director Alex Garland’s unending supply of explosives towards the end, Civil War still encourages a light nap. At least it looks pretty.

Dune: Part Two (2024)

Your friendly neighborhood false prophet.

Denis Villeneuve outdoes himself here; he’s previously brought us 2016’s Arrival (aliens show up in a giant contact lens and teach Amy Adams how to time travel) and 2015’s Sicario (Emily Blunt vs. the Mexican drug cartel), neither of which I cared much for. To me, they seemed drab. Whereas, paired with Hans Zimmer on the score, Dune thundered onto our screens in 2021 with ambition as massive as Peter Jackson’s original The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Part Two is not a step down as some had feared — rather, it cements itself as a true classic of the sci-fi genre.

In my Wonka review earlier in the year, I said I’d had enough of twinky Timothy to last me a lifetime, and here he is again, as worm-riding boy wonder Paul Atreides — your friendly neighborhood false prophet. I must say I’m impressed, because his all singing all dancing, chirpy as fuck, happy-go-lucky Wonka persona didn’t once enter my mind while watching this. So he’s clearly very capable. Here, he’s playing a more active role in misleading his “people” and, opposite his black, white, and bald nemesis, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), it’s easy to root for him.

Chani (Zendaya) stays wary, however, and has clearly been instructed to frown a lot by Villeneuve. But she does it well. And with good reason, as we’re teased with brief flashes of a disastrous, apocalyptic future. Could that be what we see in Dune: Part Three, Part Four, and all the upcoming films in the Dune-iverse? Lord, I hope not. We have been starved of this kind of movie. It takes itself seriously, feeling like heyday Game of Thrones… in space! The visuals, vibe, and music sit together so smoothly. It’s utterly absorbing. But also — a little too easy, no? Paul just keeps on winning.

Dune: Part Two (2024)

Also recommended:

  • Scoop (2024) — A cringe-inducing closer-look at Newsnight’s infamous Prince Andrew interview.
  • Like It Is (1998)—A fun but trashy gay flick that feels like an early noughties episode of Eastenders.
  • Wicked Little Letters (2023)—Mostly harmless, at times a bit too camp, but oddly thrilling.
  • Zone of Interest (2023) — Superb sound design. And an urgent reminder. A total horror show, truly.

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