What I Watched January 2019

Movies
The Phantom – Oh my God! How is this movie not widely regarded as a classic? It is a near perfect action adventure movie. I need to write something more full bodied about this movie. I loved everything about it. *****

Punisher War Zone – This showed up on Netflix and I jumped on it. It is astounding. This is a movie that realizes how much of a cartoon the Punisher actually is. It plays it like a serious crime drama in some ways, but in others it is more like a Looney Tunes cartoon. It is an appealing mix. ****

Support the Girls – An interesting film, starring Regina Hall (check that) as the manager of a Hooters-like restaurant. It follows her for a day, as she does her best to look out for her employees while dealing with the unreasonable owner and some bad decisions from those employees. It manages to not be completely crushing while highlighting the difficulties faced by its characters. ****1/2

Blindspotting – I’ve reviewed this here. I watched it again and I think it holds up on subsequent viewings. *****

His Girl Friday – A great screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Lots of rapid fire dialogue and witty lines. It is a delight. *****

The Addams Family – I’ve reviewed this before. I might not be able to analyze this movie objectively. I don’t care, I love it. *****

On the Basis of Sex – read review here. ***1/2

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek – read review here. ****

Serenity – read review here. *1/2

Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened – One of two nearly simultaneously released Fyre documentaries. This one, from Netflix, is more slickly produced and takes a close look at exactly how this disaster came to be. It is more of a blow by blow of the disastrous set up for the failed festival. Both of these docs are compromised in some ways, this one was partly produced by the advertising company who advertised for Fyre, and they do their best to ease their culpability. It is an interesting story. ***

Fyre Fraud – The other Fyre documentary, this one from Hulu. It is a little more ramshackle and has a greater focus on how Fyre became a thing culturally and more of the effect on the victims. Again, this one is possibly ethically compromised by paying Billy McFarland, the man chiefly responsible, for an interview, though the doc doesn’t go easy on him. This one takes a much more strident view of the failed festival as a crime. Honestly, they are about equally good and are different enough that they don’t overlap all that much, so watching both gives a really complete look at this mess. ***

Austin Powers in Goldmember – There are parts of this movie that don’t work 15 or so years later. There are lots of dated cultural references, though not the Tom Cruise cameo. The wordplay and genial goofiness, though, hold up quite well. I’ve written before about how there is something comforting about these movies that were big when I was in high school, regardless of their actual quality. ****

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – It has been a long time since I actually sat and watched Fellowship. This is an excellent movie. It really is a journey, and does an amazing job of laying the foundation for the rest of this epic. The most dynamic character, in this film, is Boromir. You get a great sense of his struggle, of how his need to help his homeland causes him to fail and betray his allies, at least momentarily. This is such a great movie, so many unforgettable moments. *****

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – Still great. *****

TV
A Series of Unfortunate Events S2&3 – I should maybe read this books some day. They came out when I was a little too old to be paying attention. Based on this show, though, I really like this series’ sensibility. I love its mix if macabre humor, literary references and meta-textual tricks. I watched the first season when it came out, but skipped the second season for some reason. When the third hit, I sped through both of them. The show is so great. Really solid performances from the kids, and Neil Patrick Harris is clearly having a great time as the villainous Count Olaf. The show is at its best when it leans into it showiness. It does a great job of appearing happy and peppy, while spending the whole time telling the viewer that this is an unhappy story. When the unhappy turns come, they aren’t shocking. In fact, as a viewer you are disappointed in yourself for expecting anything else. This is a really solid show.

Homecoming – I wish I had more to say about this show. It is very good. It is a mystery that plays out across two time periods, with Julia Roberts playing a counselor at a facility for soldiers with PTSD in the past and working as a waitress in the present. I don’t want to say more and risk spoiling anything. It is very good.

Outlander S4 – Season 4 did a lot of good things, but it is adapting a book that is rough to condense into a TV season. It is a transitional book in the series; developing a new setting for the series going forward. The season, at least the back half, chose to focus on the romance between Brianna and Roger. That is the most important thread from the book and it manages to construct a solid enough story. The problem is, knowing how things go in the book I had a hard time accepting a lot of the changes made. Mostly because I know they will frequently have cascading effects. If I could think of a good reason for some of the changes, for example in the book when Roger leaves Brianna after finding her in Wilmington (?) it is with the express promise to meet her later. In the show, he does so after being told to go back to their own time. The change makes the fight more memorable, I guess, but why later is Brianna waiting for Roger, when she doesn’t know he is coming back. There are numerous such changes, and it makes for a sometimes frustrating watch. Still, I am looking forward to the next season. Hopefully it has more Fergus and Marsali.

Future Man S1&2 – This is a frustrating show. Because it is often very close to being very good. If someone told me they loved it, I wouldn’t think twice about it. There is a lot to like. But something about it consistently put me off. It is in how the show mixes humor and science fiction. It pivots from one to the other when it should stick with what it was doing; going from a working comedy bit to a science fiction bit. When the show actually manages to blend the two, it sings. More often they clash, making for a show that feels like it should be better, even though it is already mostly good. I would watch a season 3, but I can’t say I would miss this show much if it disappeared.

Sex Education – This show takes places in nowhere. It seems like it is set now, in the late 80’s in some small British town in Ohio. If you can get past that weirdness, it is a solid teen drama. Otis, a repressed teen with a sex therapist mother, teams up with Maeve, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, team up to provide sex therapy to their classmates. The show introduces a ton of teens who are having teen problems, some of them sexual, some not. Soon, Maeve and Otis are not only helping their classmates, they are also dealing with their own personal problems. That impossible setting gives the show a sort of timelessness; there are elements that are very reminiscent of my own teen years, despite other parts being things I never encountered. It is another show that front-loads some of its harshest content; the show gets a lot more comfortable after a rough first episode that does seems to be trying to do to much. It just gets better as it goes around.

Happy! – This show should not work as well as it does. Chris Meloni stars as an ex-cop turned drugged out hitman. He finds a new partner in Happy, a young girl’s imaginary friend sent to find help after she had been kidnapped. Things start weird, and get weirder. Meloni’s Nick Sax is a force of nature. He is very good at a few things, the most important one, on this show at least, is killing people. It does a great job of showing how deadly he is up front, so it makes sense when people sent to kill him later treat him like he’s John Wick. And Meloni infuses everything he does with a coked out madness that is also somewhat sad. I feel the need to stress that the show is often gross. It works anyway; I really like it. I am ready for season 2.

Golaith S2 – This show completely fell apart at about the halfway point. I’ve loosed my venom elsewhere and I don’t really have it in me to tear into this miserable show again. It is ostensibly a legal drama, but all the legal parts of it go away near the midpoint. That element is replaced with preposterously stupid nonsense about a Mexican cartel. Character’s motivations just switch, making no sense with what came before. It confuses darkness with depth. It is really just bad in every way it could be bad. I know a season 3 is coming, I hope it is more like season 1 than this pile of shit.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego – A new Netflix cartoon take on this classic edutainment character. This show turns Carmen Sandiego into a hero, making her a kind of Robin Hood like figure. It mostly works, and occasionally gets in it history lessons. The back story is very involved, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is pitched a little young for me, but the show seems about perfect for like 8-12 year olds. I was drawn in for nostalgia for old Carmen Sandiego games.

Frontier S2 – I am going to be completely honest; I sort of lost the plot with this show. There are so many characters and I started it long ago enough that I don’t quite remember who they all are. I had enough fun with it, but it a little like watching a show through fog. I almost need to start over rather than moving on to season 3 like I intended to.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S4 Part 2 – These final six episodes of what has been one of my favorite Netflix shows were slightly disappointing. It doesn’t really feel like they were aware they were in the endgame until right at the end and there aren’t quite as many laugh out loud moments as were in previous seasons. That second problem is understandable, since this is only half a season. There are good moments, but nothing touches the first half of the season’s Party Monster episode. The big swing is the alternate reality Sliding Van Doors episode, which doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It has its moments and is a good episode, but I don’t think it is a great one. Still, I am sad to see this show go. With the loss of this and of Great News, there is suddenly a dearth of Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy coming. Maybe I should just be glad I got 4 seasons of this, 2 of Great News, and 7 of 30 Rock. Kimmy Schmidt has been one of the funniest shows on television since it started and I look forward to the possibility of a follow up movie.

The Good Place S3 – This might not be as consistently excellent as the first two seasons were, but if not it is still damn close. The show continues to just eternally upend everything every couple of episodes. It remains one of the funniest shows on TV, capable of getting laughs out of jokes about relatively obscure philosophers. The best show on television.

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