What I Watched April 2019

Movies

Observe and Report – God, this is dark. Just pitch black. Seth Rogen is a mall cop with delusions of being a cop. He just keeps pushing things further and further, supposedly towards his goal, but his understanding of everything is fucked up. Just watching how deep he goes just amanges to be more funny that disturbing. ****

The Legend of Cocaine Island – This is a wild ride. In the midst of the recession, a man learns of an urban legend of cocaine buried on an island near Florida. He hatches a plan to go get it. This documentary tells how it all went wrong. It is really enjoyable. ***1/2

Hellboy – read review here. *1/2

Shazam – read review here. *****

Austin Powers in Goldmember – I’ve written about the Austin Powers movies before. I watched this as background noise while studying for finals. ****

Avengers: Infinity War – I liked this better on a rewatch. It is still a two and half hour climax that somehow ends with an anti-climax. It’s pretty good. ****

Thor: Ragnarok – I liked this a lot when it came out, but I think I like it even more now. Like, it might be my favorite Marvel movie. Everytime I watch it, it gets better. *****

Avengers: Endgame – read review here. ***1/2

Snatch – It feels like a long time since I’ve watched this. I have long been a fan of Guy Ritchie, and this is maybe his best. It intercuts between a handful of groups at various levels of criminality in the London underworld. Some are just trying to get by, some are running the game. Their stories collide and intersect in humorous and deadly ways. It is a lot of fun. *****

TV

I Think You Should Leave, with Tim Robinson – I went into this with no expectations, and it might be my favorite TV show I’ve seen all year. It is six short episodes of sketch comedy from Tim Robinson. Most of the sketches start with someone telling a lie and continue as that lie snowballs. It is such a simple conceit, but they take it in so many interesting ways. I am going to spend the next few months gushing about this show to anyone who will listen; telling them about how Scrooge saves Christmas or how skeletons use bones and/or worms for money. There are a few dud sketches, but there are so many great ones it is hard to care.

Santa Clarita Diet – I am really sad this turned out to be the last season of this Netflix show. It has been one of the service bright spots since it started. A zombie sitcom should have been a tired idea, but Santa Clarita Diet made it work. A big part of its success was the perfect comic timing, both in the writing and between its leads. Timothy Olyphant, Drew Barrymore, Liv Hewson, and Skyler Gisondo are all great. Olyphant and Barrymore especially, who are astoundingly believable as a married couple. The fact that it managed to combine the comedy with really solid heart, with making the viewer care about its characters more and more as the show went on is the biggest reason why it was so disappointing to see it cancelled. Another good Netflix show bites the dust.

Doom Patrol – Since this ends next month, I’ll write something more about it then, but this show is really good. I thought DC Universe’s Titans was better than expected, this is one of the best superhero TV shows ever made. It captures something that works for me perfectly in the self-loathing of most of its characters. That is something I’ve always related to, and it is used to great effect here.

Shrill – This stars SNL’s Aidy Bryant as a writer who struggles with having internalized the world dismissal of herself because of her weight. It manages to be pretty funny while only rarely really living up to its title. It is a solid comedy.

The Staircase – A solid documentary series about a man accused of murdering his wife. It originally follows him and his defense team as he goes through trial. There are a pair of coda series that deal with the aftermath. It might be a little too long. The best part is seeing it go into detail of how they plan his defense and seeing how it plays out in court. That is especially interesting to me, since I am currently in law school. This is really good.

The Orville – This show morphed from a comedy version of Star Trek: The Next Generation into just Star Trek: The Next Generation. The crew of the Orville is not quite as competent as that of the Enterprise, but the result is largely the same. This season expanded things from the last season, and was well worth watching for any fan of Star Trek. It isn’t a perfect show, but it is a good one.

Traitors – This was a big disappointment. It is about an English woman getting wrapped up in spying for the Americans on British citizens, looking for Soviet sympathizers. It just never really gets past the starting point. I wanted more. I love Michael Stuhlbarg, and thought the star Emma Appleton was really good, but the show just seemed kind of muted.

Bosch S5 – There is something comforting about this show. It isn’t great; it is just a solidly very good cop drama. The solving of a handful of cases, one major case and a few peripheral ones, play out over the course of ten episodes. It rarely goes too big, and balances its characters various interests. It is just very good TV. This season was no exception.

Advertisements

Avengers Endgame

This is a hard movie to review.  I get why people love it, but it was such an uneven experience for me that I ended up walking out of the theater somehow completely satisfied and a little disappointed.  For more than two hours of Avengers Endgame’s runtime it is easily the best Avengers movie.  It is focused and narratively coherent, while also having a real solid theme and doing great character stuff.  It is everything I could want from superhero movie.  Then the finale hits, and none of the payoff lands.

Endgame is a movie about loss and grief and how people handle it.  The surviving Avengers all deal with it in a different way.  Natasha throws herself into her work, Tony retreats to his family, Steve pushes himself to help others through it, etc.  Thor, who lost more than anyone between Infinity War and Ragnarok, kind of gives up completely.  The movie lets each character process things in their own way and spends time digging into how and why they have reacted the way they did.  It is some of the best character stuff in any of the Marvel movies, let alone the always overstuffed Avengers movies.

I also loved the middle section of this movie.  The time heist was great.  They chose some really interesting scenes to revisit.  Sure, going back to The Avengers was a no brainer; I may personally believe it has aged poorly, but that was when the MCU went from a handful of decent to good movies to a full on phenomenon.  Likewise, jumping back to the start of the original Guardians of the Galaxy makes sense because that is when the movies first really left Earth.  The third drop in for the time heist is the most interesting choice, with Thor and Rocket stopping in during Thor: The Dark World.  While not all the movies have been equal in terms of how important they are to the overarching story of the MCU, the two that have been the most comprehensively ignored since their releases are The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World.  Endgame manages to pull more pathos out of that movie than was in it to begin with.  The time heist overall manages to be both a lot of fun, and really dig down into the core of most of it characters.  Especially the original Avengers, excluding the Hulk.  Tony gets to hash things out with his dad, Cap gets another look at the life he lost, and Thor gets a few precious moments with a world he has lost.  Then there is the big scene between Nat and Clint, which works for both characters, even if I think it doesn’t get quite get to where it wants to.

All is going well until the big climactic moment.  It is a big moment that brings in nearly every superhero to appear in one of these movies.  However, unlike the sprawling battle from Infinity War, this battle didn’t work at all for me.  The geography of the battle makes no sense, its objectives make no sense, there is no flow or feel.  It is just twenty or so minutes of largely pointless violence.  Getting to see some cool hero shots doesn’t really fix anything.  It takes a movie that had fun and entertaining and just lands with a big, deflating thud.

At least the wrap up after the fight scene was suitably emotional and well done.  This movie is definitely an end, and it clears the deck for movies to come.  Movies that, for the first time in like a half decade, we don’t know are coming.  Outside of a few obvious ones, at least.

Someone else, I’m sorry I don’t remember who for attribution, noted that these last two Avengers movies work as a strange pair of inverted expectations.  Infinity War was largely a downbeat, mournful adventure. Endgame, on the other hand, is sparkling light-footed meditation on loss.  The start of this movie is a fitting coda to its predecessor, the middle section is as much fun as any Avengers movie has been, but that ending lets it all down.  I know that is not a popular position to take, but while I applaud the ambition and scope of that last fight, it also worked to disconnect me from a movie that I had been largely in sync with until that point.  The point where when the final climax hits, I felt nothing at what was objectively a very cool line.  This is also a movie that, the longer I think about it, the less I like it.  There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of strange choices.  Still, it is a fitting and entertaining end to more than a decade of good movies.

****

Hellboy Review

If I am being completely honest, I was not too happy to hear that instead of a third Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy movie, we were instead going to be getting a reboot.  However, I tried my best to put my disappointment aside and go into the new movie with an open mind.  It wasn’t like Del Toro’s Hellboy was a particularly close adaptation of the comics, there is certainly room for a different but still good take.  Hellboy (2019) is certainly different, but it is not good.

This movie shares many traits with Del Toro’s Hellboy movies.  As is common with Del Toro movies, his Hellboy movies largely sympathized with the monsters.  Hellboy and Abe Sapien most obviously, but even the one off creatures and the villains are generally portrayed at least partially sympathetically.  This movie does the same.  Again, that almost goes without saying with Hellboy, but also villains like the Gruagach and Nimue get at least some moments of sympathy.  It also features a lot of practical creature effects, though there feels like there is more CGI here.  If only the movie around the these things was enjoyable.

This new Hellboy is focused, almost exclusively, on two things: plot and gore.  The first is not necessarily a problem.  Hellboy is an action movie and those tend to focus on plot. Hellboy, though, crams in enough plot for three movies.  It feels like it is consciously trying not to fall into the trap of that many would be franchise starters do, of spending a lot of time setting up stuff for future movies.  To Hellboy’s credit, it puts as much on the screen as possible.  It tries to tell a story, but the story is just too much, like a trilogy crammed into one movie.  The movie feels like it is sprinting from one set piece to another, without ever taking time to really explore the concepts it introduces.  It starts in Medieval times, with King Arthur defeating Nimue, the Blood Queen.  Then it jumps to Hellboy in Mexico tracking down a lost agent, before shunting him off London to hunt giants, only to be betrayed by his friends.  Mixed into that are scenes of a pig monster, the Gruagach, hunting down the pieces of the quartered Blood Queen in order to revive her.  Then Hellboy gets in on the race for the parts of the Blood Queen, which sends him all over England.  There is just so much.  It is coherent, but it mostly exists as just a bunch of half formed concepts that exist to propel the story along without actually being about anything.

While the story is just a little too much, the gore is definitely a problem. It reveals a big problem with the movie, stressing affect rather than tone. This movie started out with the intention of being rated R, and made sure it had the gore to earn it, whether or not that gore was necessary or helpful.  It wants so bad to be cool and adult that it makes itself appear all the more juvenile.  It is just trying to hard, and the gore is a big part of that.  It feels desperate.  Honestly, if it had just relaxed and been the movie it was, it would have been much more likeable.  It wouldn’t have fixed all of the movie’s problems, but it would have made them more forgivable.

There is stuff in Hellboy to like.  The cast does their best with the material they have; the highlight being Ian McShane.  Hellboy is a great concept.  But the movie is just … bad. All the pieces are here, but not of them seem to fit together right.  Though the plot is almost entirely different, it ends up feeling like a pale imitation of not only the previous Hellboy movies, but of quite a few recent action movies.

**

What I Watched March 2019

Movies

Saving Mr. Banks – It is well enough made, though even though the rosy picture of Disney doesn’t really ring true.  Still, it is hard to argue against Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. ***

Behind the Curve – This is a somewhat tragic documentary looking at flat-earthers.  It is tragic because these sad individuals can’t help buy debunk themselves as they try to prove their theories.  It just stinks of societal failure. ***1/2

Triple Frontier – This is another close thing.  It is kind of a strange heist movie.  A bunch of vets get a plan to rob a South American drug lord, but find a lot more money than they expected.  The early part goes faster and smoother than the usual heist movie, but it is followed by a painstaking escape sequence.  It mostly works, but it feels really close to being something actually special. ***1/2

Aliens – Aliens is great, but you already know that. *****

Big Trouble in Little China – Kurt Russell is amazing in this.  His incompetent bravado is just perfect.  Jack Burton is a sidekick, comic relief character that thinks he’s the protagonist.  It is wonderful. *****

Cobra – I did not like this at all.  It is stupid and mean and not particularly exciting.  It feels like Stallone trying too hard. **1/2

Labyrinth – Yup, it is still a delight. ****

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – I didn’t realize how much of a creep Ferris is in this, but that doesn’t really make the movie any less entertaining.  It is a lot of fun. ****1/2

Invaders From Mars – ehh, not for me. **

Hot Rod – This movie deserves to be remembered as a comedy classic.  It is one of my favorite “recent” comedies. It is so great. *****

Captain Marvel – read review here. ****

Dumbo – read review here. **1/2

The Highwaymen – I kind of loved this.  It is unusual to get a movie about the public enemies era that doesn’t sympathize at all with the criminals.  Here, it is all from the point of view of the cops, who struggle to catch Bonnie and Clyde.  I just liked seeing Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson giving old man speeches. ****

The Dirt – Last year, I didn’t much care for Bohemian Rhapsody; it was kind of a badly made movie buoyed by some genuinely great music.  This is the same, but with not nearly as good music. **

TV

Black Lightning – The second season of Black Lightning is over and while I still think the show is great, it kind of feels like this season started getting away from the creators here.  It expanded in scope, but could not quite wrangle that new scope into a coherent season.  I expect some dropped threads to be picked up in the next season, but some stuff, like the stuff about the new racist principal, was either poorly conceived or poorly explained.  Still, I think the show is generally excellent and look forward to next season.

After Life – I don’t have much to say here. This show is bad. It is an unlikable combination of mean and smug.  Gervais has made quality television before, but he has put together quite the string of misses lately.

The Widow – This has a lot in common with Black Earth Rising, though The Widow adds a lot of action thriller stuff to it.  Kate Beckinsale stars as a widow whose husband died in a plane crash.  Only she finds evidence that he might have survived and she heads to Africa to get to the bottom of things.  She stumbles into many hornets nest and learns some terrible truths.  It is solidly entertaining, largely thanks to Beckinsale and Charles Dance, but feels like it would have worked better if trimmed by a couple of episodes.

Pen15 – This show is well made, but it is hard to watch.  It hits close to home, even accounting for the difference in genders between me and the protagonists.  This is a crushingly accurate depiction of being a teenager at around the turn of the century.

Turn Up Charlie – This show should be bad.  It is strange, with Idris Elba playing a washed up, one hit wonder DJ who is desperate to regain his fame who ends up working as a nanny for his famous childhood friend.  It is an odd set up.  But Elba is great and the show is much more charming than it might first appear to be.  It is definitely worth a watch.

Iron Fist S2 – It says a lot about how bad the first season of Iron Fist was that the second season could improve so much and still not really be any good.  This show is just kind of out there in no man’s land.  The tone of the Netflix  Marvel shows was established by Daredevil and the other characters work, to varying degrees, with that tone.  It isn’t the only choice, but that dark, grounded-ish world works for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and especially The Punisher.  But that it is hard to fit Iron Fist into that mold with its super-powered martial arts masters.  The character needs to be something campier and sillier than the Netflix tone allows for.  This second season pushes things closer that way, but it is still sapping the fun out of Iron Fist instead of forcing the fun onto Netflix.  The big improvement comes from the show realizing how much Danny sucks, and therefore moves a lot of the work off him.  I don’t want to blame it on Finn Jones, who is trying as hard as he can.  But he can’t convincingly fake fight and isn’t helped out by another part of the show to fake it.  In a show that is supposedly about one of the greatest martial artists in the world, him not being able to appear to fight is a problem.  By making him a lovable (or at least potentially lovable) goof, the show is a lot less tedious.  It also cuts things down by about 5 hours, but still manages to have the same ratio of plot to filler, so that isn’t really an improvement.  I intend to get to the rest of Marvel’s Netflix shows, hopefully by the time Jessica Jones hits, but I can’t say I’m sad to see them go.

Arrested Development S5 Part 2 – The word that comes to mind when analyzing this (hopefully) last batch of Arrested Development episodes is timing.  Because the timing of these episodes is terrible.  Timing was one of the strengths of the original run of Arrested Development.  The show just seemed to know when to drop which joke, the actors all seemed to know just how to play off each other.  It was like watching recent Golden State Warriors games. Everything was in sync.  Here, everything just feels mistimed. It spends too long on jokes that don’t work and brushes by good one.  Also, the satire was perfectly poised to deal with the social climate of the early aughts.  However, a lot has changed since then.  This whole season has felt like a once great athlete playing past their prime.  To keep the basketball comparison, it is like watching Jordan on the Wizards.  You can still see what made him special, but it’s not really there anymore.  While it might just be too long since Arrested Development’s heyday for this to really hit.  The huge break between the first half of this season and the second did it no favors.  It loses any momentum it could have built up.  I am going to have to go back and watch the whole season in one go to see if it works better.  I don’t know what to say about this; the show is a pale shadow of one of my all-time favorite shows.  Arrested Development went a long ways in defining my sense of humor.  Stumbling onto the first season was like having everything click in my head, discovering that this is what I like.  But the magic is gone. I’m sad to see this show go, but it really feels like the time.

Shazam! Review

For most people, the DC cinematic universe got started on the wrong foot.  The first two Zack Snyder directed films are controversial to say the least and set a tone that is certainly not to everyone’s taste.  But people seem to be unable to let go of his two and half movies and see what DC has been offering for the last couple of years.  Wonder Woman was one of the best just straightforward superhero movies of the last decade.  Aquaman was a bonkers spectacle that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.  Shazam continues DC’s trend of making individual movies that play the strengths of the characters, with the unifying feature the sincerity with which they approach things.  Shazam is a pure delight.

Shazam manages to find a new niche in the super hero movie genre.  It feels like a throwback, like the 80’s Amblin version of a superhero movie.  What came to my mind while watching it was Gremlins. Gremlins is a weirdo family horror movie.  This movie is combines a sincere, even touching drama about foster kids with strange magic secrets and some moments of terrifying horror.  It is a unique mix, but one that absolutely works.

Shazam starts with the young Thaddeus Sivana, bullied by his father and older brother, being magically transported to the realm of the wizard Shazam.  Shazam is old and his power is fading.  He is tested to see if he is worthy of the wizard’s power, but succumbs to the temptations of the seven deadly sins, who are monstrous spirits trapped in statues.  Shazam returns Sivana to his horrible family; Sivana then spends the next thirty or so years trying to get back there to get the power he feels he was wrongly denied.  Eventually he does, and the wizard is too weak to stop him from freeing the sins.  The story then shifts to Billy Batson, a troublesome foster kid who is searching for his birth parents.  Knocked around by the system, he doesn’t trust anybody and constantly finds himself in trouble.  At the start of the movie, he is assigned to a group home as sort of his last chance.  After sticking up for one of his foster siblings, he is transported to the wizard.  The wizard is unsure of Billy’s worthiness, but he is out of options and grants Billy the power to turn into the superhero Shazam.  The distrustful Billy must learn how to be a hero before Sivana finds him and wrests the power away.

Shazam feels like something from the 80’s because it is ostensibly a kids movie, but it still features some horrific stuff that is sure to scare kids.  The scenes of Billy and Freddie testing Billy’s new powers are delightful and sure to please children.  But mixed in with those are some scenes of the villains committing terrible crimes or one particularly graphic death.  They are these weird atonal elements that mostly get ironed out of kids movies these days.  There is also the a few genuinely heartbreaking scenes with Billy attempting to track down his mom.  It is this idiosyncratic mix of tones that makes the movie feel fully fleshed out. It also doesn’t feel like an accident, the movie wants to vary the tone.  And the mix just works.

It helps that it has some genuinely charming performances.  The combination of Zachary Levi and Asher Angel as Billy Batson/Shazam is perfect.  They manage to echo each other, making it easy to believe that they are the same person just with different outside appearances.  Jack Dylan Grazer has a perfect mischievous air about him as Freddie Freeman.  The two of them carry the movie, really feeling like a pair of teenagers that stumbled upon superpowers and are pushing the boundaries and seeing what they can do and get away with.  Shazam perfectly juggles teenage irony with a touching, childlike naivety with these two damaged kids figuring things out as best they can.

The movie does spend a little too long on the final confrontation.  It is a scene that seems to go on too long, and that time feels like it could have been better spent fleshing out Billy’s interior journey just a little more.  Still, that is a small complaint in a movie that is otherwise a delight.

Shazam treats the genuinely strange magical backstory of the mythos with admirable sincerity.  Shazam is a concept from the 40’s and it feels like it.  Most often backstories like this get sanded down in the adaptation process, Shazam leans into it, to great effect.  It is just a genuinely charming movie.

*****

Dumbo

Disney’s animated classic Dumbo is a slim movie, with a runtime just over an hour and few wrinkles to its story.  It feels among the least likely of their animated catalog to merit the full live action remake treatment.  But other than Marvel and Star Wars movies, live action remakes of animated movies is what Disney does these days.  The live action Dumbo clocks in at nearly two hours long and gives almost no one what they wanted to see.  However, the movie is just charming enough to make it hard to hate.

The story of Dumbo is of a big eared baby elephant who learns to fly.  This adaptation adds plot elements from what seems like three other movies to pad it out to full feature length.  There is a story about Colin Farrell’s Holt Farrier, a circus equestrian and WW1 veteran freshly returned from the war.  He lost an arm in the war and his wife died while he was away.  He has to pick himself back up and keep things together for his two kids.  His son exists and that’s about it, but his daughter doesn’t want to follow in her parents footsteps as part of the circus but instead wants to be a scientist.  Holt’s struggles are exacerbated by the fact that while he was gone, the ringleader, Max Medici, sold his horses to keep the circus afloat.  Holt is the center around which the movie revolves, but there isn’t enough done with his struggles to make it the center plank of the movie.  Medici, played by the always delightful Danny Devito, takes up another chunk of the movie dealing with him struggling to keep the circus viable and eventually going into business with the transparently shady V.A. Vandervere.  Vandervere, of course, is only interested in the flying elephant.  The movie introduces a dozen or so characters and a half dozen plots, all because it is unwilling, for good reason, to focus on the spectacle of a flying elephant.

The problem is that Dumbo flying doesn’t look that amazing in live action.  It looked really interesting in traditional animation, but this CGI realistic facsimile inspires little awe.  Really, the movie is missing so much of what makes the original version so entertaining.  The most memorable part of the movie was the Pink Elephants on parade sequence, when Dumbo sneaks some of the circus laborers liquor and has drunken hallucinations of pink elephants on parade.  That scene does not happen in live action movie, but it is replaced with a “realistic” copy that has none of the weird charm, it is merely there to remind you the think you liked in the old movie without actually giving you that thing you liked.

Somehow, though , the movie manages to be charming despite feeling like a mismatched grab-bag of other movies.  A lot of that is thanks to uniformly strong performers being generally very charming.  Devito, Farrell, Eva Green and Michael Keaton are all doing something.  It is fairly enjoyable to watch them.  Each of the four movies that its feels have been Frankensteined together could have been good if fully fleshed out, Dumbo merely gives you glimpses of them. It is not a good movie, but it is somehow charming despite being bad.

**1/2

Captain Marvel Review

Captain Marvel hits a lot of familiar notes. Like Captain America: The First Avenger, it is a period piece origin story. Like Iron Man it is a movie that works largely due to the charisma of its star. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it frequently leans on popular music. Captain Marvel tries to blend all of this together, but the movie ends up a lot like its heroine; searching for an identity. The movie is solidly good. It has the highly polished sheen that all Marvel movies seem to have. But it ends up being less the start of a bold new era, instead settling in as merely the bridge between Infinity War and Endgame.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. Brie Larson stars as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who somehow ended up in space, with amnesia working to the Kree as the superpowered Vers. After a mission goes awry and she ends up stranded on Earth, her attempts to complete her mission are derailed by her discovering her past. Larson makes the movie work, showing both Carol’s natural headstrong exuberance and the more subdued persona she is urged to take on with the Kree. She manages to be both vulnerable and a super strong badass. Likewise, Samuel L Jackson appears to be having an enormous amount of fun playing a digitally de-aged version of Nick Fury. The two of them make a great combo and it is fun to see Jackson’s usual intimidating persona become essentially the comic relief. The action is solid as well, both the more grounded stuff and the superpowered fights closer to the end. Nothing mind-blowing or really anything you haven’t seen in other movies, but it is executed well enough.

It also has some flaws. The ones that stand out are how it uses the 90’s period setting. All of the events in the movie happen in the mid-90s. The movie uses this for window dressing, with Radio Shacks and Blockbusters around, along with some 90’s fashion and music. Some have complained about the soundtrack not being exactly period appropriate, but it is not as if the music is diegetic, so that is a nonsense complaint. My problem is that the 90’s setting doesn’t seem to inform any part of the movie. It is just a ploy for nostalgia. That in itself is not that big of a problem, but it feels like a wasted opportunity. Also, the movie spends a lot of time trying to plaster over cracks, real, imagined or created by this movie, in the Marvel Cinematic backstory. Do you want to know how Fury lost an eye? Why they are called Avengers? Any of another half dozen pointless questions? This movie has answers. Not interesting answers, but answers nonetheless.

Captain Marvel does not reach the heights of Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther. It never does manage to carve out its own identity, like even movies like Ant-Man or Spider-Man: Homecoming do. Its various ingredients do not blend into a solid of a whole as it could have. It just feels like a Marvel movie. I feel like I’ve been very negative in this review, when my thoughts on the movie are largely positive. I guess I do think Captain Marvel is a bit of a missed opportunity, but only because it is very good and not quite great.

****

Summer Movie Preview

I don’t recall if I did this last year, but here is a list of “summer” movies I am interested in seeing this year. The summer gets earlier and earlier, partially because if I didn’t include April this year’s list would be pretty short. Is there anything I missed over the summer months that I should be excited for? Keep in mind that I will not watch horror movies. I flatly refuse. So here are nearly twenty movies I am at least interested in seeing, if not actually excited to see them.

  • Shazam – April 5 – I am super pumped for this one. As far as this year’s crop of superhero movies (which includes Hellboy because of course he is a superhero), this is the one I am most excited to see. It just looks like so much fun the trailers. Also, it looks like it is doing something at least slightly different than everything else. I am ready to be disappointed.
  • Hellboy – April 12 – I loved the last Hellboy movie, the second from Guillermo del Toro. It makes it hard for me to really look forward to this reboot. Still, the recent trailer looked fine and I like the character and the star, Stranger Things’ David Harbour.
  • Avengers: Endgame – April 26 – I am excited, but not as excited as I would expect to be. I don’t know. There is no chance I am not going to see it, there is little chance I am not going to really enjoy it. But I don’t know that I am really anticipating it.
  • The Long Shot – May 3 – This wasn’t on my radar until I saw the trailer before Captain Marvel. I am not sure of how good it will actually be, but the trailer seemed entertaining enough. I generally like Seth Rogen and I love Charlize Theron.
  • Detective Pikachu – May 10 – People see to be excited for this; I don’t get it. This looks horrible. Maybe not a bad movie, but it looks horrible. That said, I’ll almost certainly go see it.
  • The Hustle – May 10 – I love Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. This gender-flipped remake, with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson looks pretty solid. If it is even half as good as the Michael Caine and Steve Martin version, I’ll be happy.
  • John Wick Chapter 3 – May 17 – It’s more John Wick. I would be there even if the trailer didn’t look awesome, which it does.
  • Aladdin – May 24 – I know the internet freaked out about blue Will Smith, but I am here for this. I mean, I haven’t really liked any of Disney’s other live action adaptations of their animated classics, but it’s directed by Guy Ritchie, who I pathetically still have faith in him (hey, The Man from UNCLE is great).
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters – May 31 – Yup yup, yup. I am here for this. I want more Godzilla, I want Rodan, Ghidora and Mothra. Will this be too much? Maybe. But I am not going to miss it.
  • Dark Phoenix – June 7 – Let’s be honest, Fox has made exactly 3 good X-Men movies in 20 years. I don’t expect this to be the 4th. But thanks to the sunk cost fallacy, I feel like I’ve invested too much in this series to skip it.
  • Men in Black International – June 14 – I’m in for the cast. MiB3 was actually a lot of fun, maybe there is some life still in this concept.
  • Shaft – June 14 – I know little about this movie. I know the character Shaft and I know this is bringing together multiple generations of Shafts, but that is it. I really like Sam Jackson; I’ll give this a shot.
  • Toy Story 4 – June 21 – I don’t believe we need more Toy Story, Toy Story 3 was a pretty great wrap up for the series. But I like Pixar and I’ve liked all the Toy Story movies so far, so I’ll see it. It feels like Pixar is pushing their luck with this one.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home – July 5 – More Marvel. More Spider-Man. I find it hard to be truly excited for either these days, but I rarely failed to enjoy either. (forget the Amazing Spider-Man movies: I try to.)
  • The Lion King – July 19 – I haven’t liked many Jon Favreau movies or any live action Disney adaptations. I don’t expect this to change that. But I’m going to keep an eye on this. I could easily be persuaded to give it a try.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – July 26 – Quentin Tarantino. That is all I need to know to be excited for this. He pops up every three or four years with a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see this movie.
  • Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw – August 2 – Hot take: this movie is combing the best parts of the last few Fast and Furious movies. I am much more interested in a team up between The Rock and Jason Statham than the further adventures of Dom’s family. This looks like glorious nonsense.
  • New Mutants – August 2 – Is this actually coming? I don’t know. Will it be good? Seems unlikely. Is it based on some X-Men comics I actually like? Yes, yes it is. So if this actually comes out, I will be going to see it.

Fighting With My Family

I am not the world’s biggest wrestling fan. I’m not much of a fan of wrestling at all, to be honest. I am conversant in the subject, but other than a few months in 2001 or so, I’ve never really watched or cared about wrestling. I get the appeal, but it was never something that stuck with me. While Fighting With My Family is a wrestling movie, and at times takes the viewers knowledge of wrestling a little bit for granted, it is not a movie that requires the viewer to be a wrestling fan. This is a pretty well executed sports biopic, wherein the sport just happens to be wrestling. Where is truly succeeds is not in the fighting from the title, but the family.

Fighting With My Family tells the story of WWE Champion Paige, real name Saraya or just Raya, and how she came to win the title, focusing on her relationship with her family, especially on her relationship with her brother Zac. It opens with the two of them fighting, only for their parents not breaking up the fight, but instructing them on how to fight better. The two of them grow up participating in their parent’s regional wrestling association. They also train neighborhood kids who want to be wrestlers. When they get invited to WWE tryouts, it is Raya who goes on, while Zak is not chosen. So the newly christened Paige goes to Florida to train and join the WWE’s developmental league NXT, while Zak stays home and stews in his perceived failure. The two both struggle with how to move on from this.

The movie is directed by Steven Merchant, who you might know from his work on The Office or Extras or playing Caliban in Logan. You can feel his touch in the films comedic moments. The comedy is what really makes this worth watching. The world of wrestling is a slightly unreal place, even when you go behind the scenes and look at the real people behind it. There is a circus atmosphere to it. Playing it completely straight would be a disaster, but Merchant leans into the ridiculousness, without ever making the wrestling itself seem like the ridiculous part. It helps that the cast is rock solid, which is not an intention reference to The Rock, who has what is essentially an extended cameo in this movie. Florence Pugh plays Paige with equal parts strength and vulnerability. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) plays Zak and his desperation to succeed is palpable. The parents are Nick Frost, who is delightfully chummy, and Lena Headey who seems to be having fun as well. The last big name is Vince Vaughn, who plays the man heading up NXT and gives his usual glib charm to the tough training coach.

The movie doesn’t shy away from the Knight family’s fairly low class status; they are outsiders even in their hometown. They struggle with money and the law. But it also shows them as a loving family and how they work to help each other and the neighbors. Zak’s training with the local youngsters keeps them out of trouble and their parent’s really seem to want what is best for their kids.

Fighting With My Family is a perfectly enjoyable movie; it isn’t really going to surprise anyone or make any top ten lists, but it is a decent little comic drama that is well worth seeing.

***1/2

What I Watched

Movies
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxysee this post.  I love this movie. Lots of favorites here; Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Martin Freeman. *****

The Salvation – After watching Polar, Netflix recommended this other Mads Mikkelsen movie. It is a Western about a recent immigrant. After he settles in the west, he sends for his wife and son. When they arrive, they are quickly murdered. So Mikkelson’s Jon sets out for revenge, but then the brother of the murderer seeks his own revenge, setting off a destructive cycle. It’s nothing special, but it’s okay. ***

Ant-Man and The Wasp – I still enjoyed this a lot. Charming and fun, if inconsequential.****

Velvet Buzzsaw – I appreciate that this is a movie for somebody. That somebody is not me. This is a horror movie about the modern art world. It doesn’t appear to have much to say about art and it is not particularly scary (it is not scary enough that I watched it) but it is at least interesting. ***

Polar – This is some kind of weird mix of John Wick and Suicide Squad. I can’t fault anyone involved, least of all Mads Mikkelsen, but this movie is mostly not good. It is kind of entertaining in a wild and sort of awful way. Honestly, if it sounds at all interesting give it a try. I don’t think it’s good, but I had a decent time watching it. **1/2

High Flying Bird – Steven Soderbergh directed this movie about a fictional NBA lockout, with Andre Holland starring as an agent who manipulates things in an attempt to end the lockout. It is pretty great, with human characters and understandable viewpoints. It is a great sports movie that actually features very little of its sport. *****

Close – Noomi Rapace stars in a tight little action thriller. Rapace is a bodyguard, hired to protect a teenage girl. She saves the girl from an attempt on her life, but they can’t tell if it came from unknown enemies or from her own step-mother, with whom they have a fractious relationship. It is solid, if unspectacular. ***1/2

Alita: Battle Angelread review here. ***

Hot Fuzz – This movie is an absolute favorite, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. I can watch this movie forever. *****

The Breaker Upperers – I might be being fooled by New Zealand accents, but this is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It is two women who run a business breaking up couples for a fee. For various reasons, they have to reexamine their business model. It is great. ****

Paddleton – This is an touching and occasionally amusing comedy/drama starring Ray Romano and Mark Duplass. The two play friends and neighbors. Duplass’s character gets diagnosed with cancer and Romano helps him navigate the end of his life. It is very much a downer, but it is well made and intermittently amusing. ***1/2

TV

The ABC Murders – There is a lot here to like in the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mystery. They change somethings, in the backstory as much in the actual mystery, that seemed like a strange choice, but it is still really well made. John Malkovich is great as Poirot and I am starting to really like it when Rupert Grint shows up in things. It’s good, especially if you are not a Christie purist.

Russian Doll – Another show I want to really write about, but just don’t have the time. This is a Groundhog day type of story that goes in some interesting directions. It is just about a perfect show.

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes – Its fine. There are better true crime series. The most interesting thing was hearing all the men talk about how irresistible Bundy was to woman and hearing all the women talk about how creepy he was if you spent more than ten minutes with him.

Black Earth Rising – I don’t know. There is a lot to like about this mini-series. The performances of John Goodman and Michaela Coel. I am generally interested in the subject matter of International criminal justice. This show just kind of goes too wide at times, a little melodramatic in ways that doesn’t seem to suit the show. Still, it does a lot well. It focuses a lot on the effects of colonialism and how even well intentioned attempts to counteract them only work to perpetuate the problems. But the show is also just kind of disappointingly all over the place, tonally.

You – I don’t think this show is for me. You follows the worlds biggest creep as he creeps on the object of his infatuation. The show does its best to keep the viewer at least partially on the side of protagonist/psychopath Joe, but I couldn’t forget the crazy enough to buy into anything else. I guess I am little too old for the social media aspect to resonate either. I’m on twitter, but I don’t share life details with people I’d avoid on the street. (to paraphrase Shawn Spencer of Psych)

Hilda – This was recommended to me several times, but it took me a while to get through it. That is mostly because it is pitched at a slightly younger audience than I am used to. However, the further you get into this show, the more its depth and heart show through. It is a fun mix of a modern world with a whole bunch of fantastic and mythological creatures. Hilda is amazingly empathetic towards whatever creature has shown up in any given week. The show’s dynamic doesn’t quite click until she makes friends with Frida and David. Adding those two characters gives Hilda consistent counterpoints to bounce off of, and really shows how she is special. The whole show is permeated with this sense of wonder that is utterly delightful. It is a great show.

One Day at a Time S3 – Another solid outing for this Netflix critical darling. This season digs deeper into its characters, while never losing that classic sitcom format. Previously, I’ve that format restrictive, but as with classic sitcoms, it gets better the longer the show goes on. Sure, eventually it will hit a tipping point where the quality of the writing, mostly due to having to find more stories to squeeze out of the set up, starts to go down, but by then the viewer is so comfortable with the characters and setting that it still feels like a warm blanket. One Day at a Time is hitting that warm blanket stage.

Big Mouth S1&2 – This falls into a similar category as Sex Education from earlier this year. It is a well made show, frequently really funny. It is a show providing good information to people who no longer need it. I don’t know how much it would actually appeal to kids the age of those on the show. I like all the people involved and frequently really like the show, but my reaction is more of a shrug and it’s fine.

The Umbrella Academy – Netflix is moving on from Marvel, but they are staying the superhero business. The first season of The Umbrella Academy is maybe better than any of Netflix’s Marvel shows. I kind of want to write a long blog post about his show, instead of a tiny review, but for now I’ll just say a few things. First, plotting is not this shows strong point. It does great stuff with setting and character, but the plot is chaos. That is partly the point; this dysfunctional family can’t even get things together to face the apocalypse, but sometimes you can lose track of each episode as it goes. Again, the character work is great. You really get where nearly every character is coming from, though I think it is impossible not to side with some over others. It is a delightful sort of weird. The most part most indicative of the overall tone is in the first episode, when all of the siblings dance separately to “I Think We’re Alone Now.” It is almost too on the nose in a perfect way. This is a really good show.

Lorena – A solid docu-series that recontextualizes the Lorena Bobbitt story from the 90’s. It does a really good job of showing how a salacious story like this gets distorted in popular culture. At the time everything was focused on John Bobbitt and his version of the story, and Lorena was largely dismissed as a crazy woman. This series takes a fresh look at the story, and goes further, looking at what has happened since, and creates a clearer look at the incident, which shows Lorena as more of a victim. It also shows how genuinely gross people like Howard Stern, Geraldo Rivera, and Alan Dershowitz were in dealing with this story.