What I Watched December 2019

Movies

Knives Out – wrote about it here. *****

The Irishman – Martin Scorcese returns to the gangster genre for this contemplative, mournful deconstruction of the tropes of the genre. Instead of showing these organized murderers as strong and powerful, it reveals them as weak and empty. It deftly illustrates the erosion of their souls as things go along. De Niro’s character sitting alone in the nursing home at the end of the movie might be one of the most tragic things I’ve ever seen. *****

Queen & Slim – wrote about it here. **1/2

The Report – Dry as old toast, but this is a well made drama about the Senate’s investigation of the CIA’s torture program. This is an important story that people need to know about, but as well made and acted as this movie is, it is more likely to get casual viewers to turn it off pretty quickly. ****

Dark Waters – wrote about it here. ****

Marriage Story – I see why people are going nuts over this movie. It is a real and grounded portrayal of a family going through a divorce. Grounded except that they have no need to worry about money, which is a big concern for a lot of people. Still, strong performances all around and just truly human. ****

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby – Another Christmas Prince movie. Harmless and light. I see the comforting appeal of these Christmas movies. There just really isn’t anything of substance here. **1/2

American Son – This feels like, and is, an adaptation of a stage play. It takes place all in one location and is just 4 people talking to each other. It’s heart is in the right place, but it is didactic and clumsy. I didn’t like it much at all. **

6 Underground – Michael Bay seems to have watched Fast & Furious and Mission Impossible and tried to replicate it, with a little bit of Batman thrown in. The result is visually incomprehensible and morally reprehensible. It is a movie about giving into people’s worst impulses framed as doing the right thing. As much as it makes sense it is kind of gross and not especially fun to watch. *1/2

Earthquake Bird – A weird little drama about people living in Japan who may or may not be murderers/or causing deaths. It doesn’t really work and I am not sure what I am supposed to take from it. I do like Riley Keough and Alicia Vikander, though. **

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – wrote about it here. I like this movie more every time I rewatch it. *****

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker – wrote about it here. ***

The Souvenir – I saw this on a lot of Top 10 lists and watched it on Amazon Prime. I see why it’s getting praise. I got no enjoyment out of watching it. It is the story of a woman trapped in a relationship with a man suffering from addiction. It is harrowing. ****

How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World – This movie is gorgeous and a lot of fun, but I have always been a little more cold to these Dragon movies than a lot of people. This one, like the other two, is fine. It is enjoyable family entertainment. Toothless is a great fake pet that effectively mimics a lot of true feeling pet behavior. It’s fine. ***1/2

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – I forgot this movie was actually released. It is a big muddled mess. It moves along on the dream logic that is essentially Terry Gilliam’s calling card. Whatever this movie’s problems are, here Gilliam has recaptured his late 80’s-early 90’s magic. This would fit right in with Brazil and The Fisher King. A movie director reconnects with some performers he worked with years ago, one of whom is convinced that he is Don Quixote and the director is Sancho. The director gets sucked into the man’s orbit and I guess learns a lesson. It is certainly not for everybody, but I loved it. *****

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – This was on Amazon Prime. I was in a murder mystery mood after seeing Knives Out (I am always in a murder mystery mood). It’s good. Really good. ****

Jumanji: The Next Level – wrote about it here. ***1/2

Solo: A Star Wars Story – I watched this on Netflix after seeing Rise of Skywalker, and I liked it a lot more than I remembered liking it. I am still annoyed by some small moments, but for the most part is an excellent space western. I think I need to get it on DVD. ****

American Factory – A documentary about a Chinese company opening an automotive glass company in the United States. It really highlights some cultural differences, as well as some ways in which we are the same. One of those ways is that the bosses will do everything they can to squeeze employees and pad the bottom line. The second half is all about the factory attempts to unionize so they can get safe working conditions and fair pay. It is very interesting. ****

The Aeronauts – This movie feels like awards bait that has gotten summarily ignored during awards season. I liked it. It looks amazing. The story is pretty simple, it is mostly just Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in a hot air balloon, attempting to conduct scientific experiments and achieve record elevations. Eventually, they get high enough that they lose air. For a movie as limited in setting as it is, it manages to feel very adventurous. I thought it was a lot of fun. ***1/2

TV

Reprisal – I feel like this show needs more attention. It is a strange noir crime show. It takes a lot of time to build the world building. The plot gets very intricate, and I might have fallen asleep during an episode and got a little lost. There is one scene where two characters have a phone conversation while sitting on the same couch. At times it seems to be set in the 50s, at others the 80s. I think it is set in the present. It is just a weird, stylish, entertaining show.

Runaways S2 – I feel like I should like this show, but somehow it seems to be transfering over little of what made the comics so enjoyable. Also, I am not sure how well those comics hold up, because this season felt more true to them and was no more enjoyable than the first. I will likely get to the 3rd season soon, just to be done with this.

The Movies that Made Us – The people behind the Toys that Made Us switched over to movies, giving us some slight making of documentaries. These were pretty fun.

The Confession Killer – A true crime series about a man who confessed to hundreds of murders and was manipulated by overworked prosecutors and ambitious and obviously corrupt Texas Rangers to keep admitting to murders that it was clear he did not commit. The show does its best to not portray the man as a victim, he did murder at least two people. But he is not the criminal mastermind who murdered hundreds that some Rangers still claim he is. It is a really strange story that mostly just serves to some flaws in the justice system.

The Witcher – I am not especially familiar with the games or the books this is based on, but I had a tremendous amount of fun with The Witcher. It does some things with chronology that are confusing and its three separate plotlines take forever to connect. But the core of the show, Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, traveling from town to town fighting monsters, is delightful. The interplay between the grouchy Geralt and his friend Jaskier the bard is fun. Yennefer is great, and once her story starts to intertwine with Geralt’s the show really gets into high gear. The biggest problem with the show, if you can call it a problem, is the adventures of young Ciri, a princess whose country is overrun in the first episode and she spends the whole season on the run, looking for Geralt for reasons that do not become clear until near the end of the season. She is fine and her plot works, but it never really connects with the others. Still, I loved the show overall. I can’t wait for season 2.

The Mandalorian – My cousin has Disney Plus and I watched this at her place in the days after Christmas. It is good, but I am not sure I am joining the hype train for it. I think the practical effects looked kind of cheap and ugly. While I appreciated the simplicity of the story, I also didn’t find all that much to latch onto. I’ll check in on season 2 and I hope it continues to deepen.

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