Bill & Ted Face the Music

I loved this movie. Probably more than it deserved, but I don’t care. It is easily one of my favorites of the year and I am glad to set it next to its excellent predecessors.

It is something of a miracle that this kind of late come sequel actually manages to stand alongside the originals. Most of the time, a late coming sequel like this, especially to a comedy, is a recipe for disaster. Look at Dumb and Dumber to, Blues Brothers 2000, or Zoolander 2. Whether the people behind them were returning for money or if they wanted to return to some of their most loved characters, these movies haven’t really worked at all. Bill & Ted Face the Music, despite being even further removed from the heyday of the originals, doesn’t have this problem. For lack of a better word, Face the Music bucks that trend by just being incredibly genuine. Yeah, it has been nearly thirty years since Bogus Journey, but Face the Music feels like a natural extension of the previous movies.

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves step right back into the shoes of these characters and it just feels right. Winter does a better job than Reeves of feeling like his younger self; Reeves seems a bit too thoughtful to slip seamlessly back into the shoes of the dopey Ted. For the most part, though, they feel like the same dim but positive buddies you know and love. Death returns, and William Sadler is as much fun as he was in Bogus Journey. As far as new additions go, Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine are great as Thea and Billie, Bill and Ted’s doppelganger daughters. Those two do an excellent job of echoing their parents without seeming like they are doing caricature.

The plot manages a similar balancing job; feeling like an echo of the first two movies without being a carbon copy. At the start of the movie, Bill and Ted have fallen pretty far from the fame they rose to during the credits of Bogus Journey. They have started to crack under the pressure of creating the song that will unite humanity. Even their wives, princesses from Medieval England, are growing concerned. Then they are whisked to the future and told that they have to have the song in a few hours. The duo gets the bright idea to nab the time machine and go to the future, where they have already written the song. That sets them meeting up with increasingly farcical future versions of themselves as they get more and more desperate. At the same time, Billie and Thea travel backwards in time on their own mission to help their fathers, a mission that is highly reminiscent of the first movie.

There are some flaws. The movie feels rushed at times. It comes in a brisk 90 minutes and feels like there is another 30 that were cut. Splitting time, somewhat, between Bill and Ted and Billie and Thea means that at least one of those stories doesn’t get quite enough time. There is a third prong with the wives that is barely worth a mention. The movie also looks kind of cheap. It feels more charming than anything, but there really isn’t hiding it in some situations.

That said, Bill and Ted traveling through time meeting different versions of themselves is absolutely delightful. Winter and Reeves appear to be having a great time with these variations on the characters and most of the jokes land.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is about as much fun as I remember having with a movie in ages. It is just heart warming and joyous. Most of these late coming sequels reek of sweaty desperation; Face the Music feels like the intended culmination of a long journey.

****1/2

Palm Springs Review

Comedies seem to have become a hard sale lately. I can think of few recent ones that are legitimately good, and even those are either not strictly comedies or actually commercial failures. While I don’t know how Palm Springs did commercially, being a direct to hulu release, it is certainly one of the best comedies I’ve seen in some time.

Although Palm Springs uses a similar time loop concept to Groundhog’s Day, it takes things in significantly different directions. Groundhog’s Day is a cosmic morality lesson; he is trapped in the loop until he becomes a better person and earns his release. Palm Springs is more of a science experiment; no amount of self-betterment will free them from the loop; only understanding the nature of reality and crafting an experiment to get out of it. Compared to Groundhog Day, Palm Springs’s characters are more aware of the kind of story they are in. By the time the movie has started, Nyles is already trapped in the loop. Even he can’t remember how long he has been stuck there. But he has tried a bunch of ways to end the loop, failed, and resigned himself to solipsistic nihilism.

Palm Springs is largely a two-hander. Andy Samberg plays something not too far from his usual goofball character. He charms his way through the movie, appearing frivolous but not stupid. His counterpart is Cristin Milioti, best known to me for playing tragic, yet supportive wives on tv shows, as Sarah, the sister of the bride at the wedding that is every day. Here, she proves every bit a match for Samberg in both the comedy and the romance. He is already defeated at the start of the movie, using the repeating wedding as a playground to satisfy is every absurd whim. Sarah is the more dynamic character, going from disbelief to attempted escape to resignation, to renewed determination. Her desperation has more poignance than Nyles’. He is an interloper at this wedding, she is there for her too perfect sister, waking up to her greatest failure of a person every morning, not able to move on. The chemistry between the two of them is also excellent. You see what draws them to each other, and also what splits them up in the usual rom-com third act separation. Palm Springs feels both very familiar and also delightfully original. Combined with winning central performances, it results in a very entertaining movie.

While other attendees of the wedding filter in and out of the film, the biggest role outside of the protagonists is JK Simmons as Roy, who adds another layer to the already complex time loop problem. He is alternately scary and fatherly, with his own perspective on the predicament Nyles and Sarah face.

The humor in Palm Springs tends to the dark, despite the bright color palette. The movie deals with hopelessness and despair, and mines that for laughs that sometimes hurt. That lack of hope leads to the characters to do reprehensible things, to just treat the world like a pointless playground. And that sort of attitude is funny for a while, but the movie maintains its humor while also showing the emptiness of it.

Palm Springs is not an especially complex or profound movie. What it is is charming, well considered and outright funny. It is the perfect antidote to quarantine.

****1/2

What I Watched August 2020

Movies

American Pickle – This whole movie rests on Seth Rogan, playing a modern character and his ancestor miraculously preserved in pickling vat for more than a century. It is about the past and present meeting and about honoring family. It is fine. ****

Class Action Park – I have some qualms about how positive this seemed about the subject of the documentary at times. This is a horrifying story presented as a “those darn rascals” romp. It has fun with all the crazy things people did and the wacky dangerous rides they made. Then it gets to the part where a handful of people died from the negligence and outright flouting of safety regulations. It is fun, but it feels a little glib when it gets to the actual consequences. ***1/2

Drunk Parents – God, this movie is terrible. Just nothing about it works, despite a cast that keeps bringing in ringers for a scene or two. It is just not funny. *

The Sleepover – This honestly works better than it should. A lot of it is stupid kid stuff that maybe kids will enjoy, but the rest works pretty well. Ken Marino, always welcome, shines as a somewhat dim, well-meaning dad who doesn’t quite know what is going on. He is a lot of fun. ***

Project Power – This feels like Netflix trying to jump on the blockbuster train and it doesn’t quite work. Stealing from another review (if I could remember I’d link to it), the movie tills some fertile narrative soil and proceeds to plant nothing. It sets up a lot of interesting ideas to explore with superheroes, and then tells a pretty conventional action movie story. Still, it is well done enough, more disappointing for missed potential than actually being bad. ***

TV

Umbrella Academy S2 – A new season, a new time period, but the same dysfunction. At the end of last season the family was tossed back to 1960’s Dallas. Unfortunately, they all landed there years apart, with no knowledge that the rest of the team made it. So they all go their own separate ways to deal with the fallout from last season. It is mostly some good stuff. You want to see them get things together and get it at least a little figured out, but the magic of the show would be lost if the team operated with any sort of coordination. Since this season doesn’t really have to introduce everyone it seems to have more time to let them all bounce off of each other. It is really good.

Last Chance U S5 – Less completely dysfunctional as the last season, but still as compulsively watchable. Not much to say.

Cursed S1 – This one kind of missed the mark. It isn’t really badly done, but it feels a little muddled. I also hate how it uses Arthuriana. Some things feel like legitimate counterparts to the actual legends, some parts feel like they wrote this story and then just haphazardly added an Arthurian name to a character. Still, it feels like more of a near miss that a complete misfire. There are some good and interesting things here. If it gets a second season, hopefully it can refine those things.

Teenage Bounty Hunters S1 – I am not sure what to make of this. Like I honestly don’t know if it is good or not. There is a lot of soap opera nonsense, but also some good character work. It has a laugh out loud moment or two every episode, but other parts just fall flat. I think I liked it? There is some really good stuff here. This show deals with Christianity better than most shows, or at least in a way that is familiar to me as a person who went to a close enough to southern high school. The Christian doctrine you are taught is treated as a given, even if the kids don’t follow or really even understand it.

High Score – I feel bad, because this is a great story for people who are not experts in video game history. It presents a handful of important moments from that history and explains them effectively. It adds in some important and less well known personal stories. But despite being a big fan of this kind of history, this is really not for me, because I knew most of this already. In many cases in more depth. Still, it is very good for what it is.

Columbo S9 & 10 – A full Columbo post is in the works. Columbo looks older with this return episodes, but the show is just as good as ever. There are some really interesting episodes here, and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of watching Peter Falk.

Doom Patrol S2 – I absolutely loved the first season of Doom Patrol, but season 2 seems to have gotten a little lost. Maybe that is because it lost its season finale due to coronavirus. Perhaps that last episode would have tied all the disparate threads of this season together into a coherent story. That is possible; the characters’s storylines all share some common themes. I still don’t think it would be enough to pull this season up to the level of the first, and that episode does not currently exist. Still, there is a lot to love about this show. All the fundamentals remain strong.

Stargirl S1- I was ready to be disappointed by this show. I really like the comic it is based on and honestly, this is the first time one of my absolute favorite comics characters gets a show. It mostly knocked it out of the park. The two leads, Brec Bassinger as the title character and Luke Wilson as her step-dad, are great. It does a good job of building the characters and their relationships. It might have jumped into the JSA stuff a bit too fast, not giving quite enough time to either the team or to the Whitmore family, but it mostly just worked for me. I can’t wait for season 2.

Inuyasha – Man, was this a throwback to Freshman year at college. Every night I would watch adult swim, from the American comedy shows through the anime. Inuyasha was never a favorite, but it was watchable. It still is. Effective and mostly fun, if never outstanding. I ploughed through the first 50 or so episodes and mostly enjoyed it. I don’t know if I am going to keep going, but this was fun.

Wizards: Tales of Arcadia – This Arcadia series, not just a miniseries, focuses on magic and brings in some time travel. This superseries continues to be very entertaining. This feels a little rushed, but what is here is pretty great. This one ties in more closely with Trollhunters, leaving 3Below feeling a little like the odd man out. I need to write a full wrap up on these series, hopefully before the movie that should tie it all together comes out.

Da 5 Bloods

Whatever else one might think of Spike Lee as a director, he is not one to under deliver with his films. Da 5 Bloods is no exception; it has a running time of more than two and a half hours and manages to explore an array of facets of the African American experience, largely as it relates to the Vietnam War but also just existing in America. There is no way that Lee could have known it would be such a timely release, except that many of the problems and fissures it explores have existed as long as this country. Da 5 Bloods is one of Spike Lee’s best films.

Da 5 Bloods is about a group of war buddies going back to Vietnam to bring back the remains of their friend who died there. While that is their legit mission, they have an ulterior motive; to find a secret cache of gold they hid during the war. The four of them are joined by the son of one of the four. Each of the old guys has a different perspective and experience during and after the war. Former medic Otis has connections with people who can launder the gold for them; he also discovers that he has a child in Vietnam. Eddie did fairly well after the war, running a car dealership. The driving force of the movie is Delroy Lindo’s Paul, a cantankerous, combative man who still has nightmares about the war and has aged into an angry reactionary. The movie takes its time setting up these characters, letting the viewer get to know them and their struggles as the group begins their trek into the jungle to find their treasures.

Interspersed are scenes from their time in the war. An interesting choice, seemingly at least somewhat forced on the movie, was doing flashbacks to the war and using the same actors in both time periods. There, the fifth member of the Bloods, Chadwick Boseman’s Norman, provides guidance to his friends. The flashbacks not only play with the ages of the characters, they also play with aspect ratio, color and contrast. They are very interesting looking.

Eventually, things start to go sour and the movie goes in a pulpier direction. The group starts to splinter. There are betrayals and misunderstandings as plans go awry. It almost feels like a completely different movie, but one that is equally entertaining as the largely character based drama that proceeds it.

Weaved throughout all of this are insights on history and how African Americans have been treated in this country, about the systemic injustice that still exists. There are also references and comments on the history of Vietnam war films, from specifically calling out trash like the Rambo sequels or the Missing in Action movies, to referencing Apocalypse Now.

While there is not a bad performance in the film, it is hard to overstate just how good Delroy Lindo is in this movie. He is not a likable character; he’s a MAGA hat wearing asshole who manages to insult or irritate everyone else in the movie. But while his anger is misdirected, it is not unwarranted. And Lindo brings the viewer along as he goes further and further off the rails.

There was a lot of warranted adulation for BlackKklansman, but I think Da 5 Bloods is the more entertaining film.

****1/2

The Old Guard

The Old Guard was a pleasant surprise. Netflix tweeted out descriptions of movies they were planning early in the year, and this sounded good. Then the trailer hit, and it seemed like the most generic attempted franchise starter I’d ever seen. Still, it starred Charlize Theron, so I was going to give it a try. I am glad I did; The Old Guard turned out to be a lot better than its bland trailer suggested it would be.

Charlize Theron stars as Andy, the leader of a group of immortal mercenaries who heal and spring back to life whenever they are killed. A new such immortal, a US Marine named Nile, appears, and Andy goes to recruit her. While still integrating Nile with the team, someone who has learned her secret captures the team with the hopes of figuring the secret to their longevity through medical experiments, leaving only Andy and Nile to rescue them.

It is not the most complex plot, but the movie more than makes up for it with the care it invests in its characters. The movie spends its time giving the characters history, showing their pasts and how eternal life has worn them down. It also takes the time to show more of Nile’s life before her awakening. More so than most action movies, The Old Guard really seems to care about who its characters are outside of what motivates them for the action scenes. It is an investment that pays off, making it easy to invest in an otherwise flimsy plot because you care about who it is happening to. Andy and her team are weighed down by history. They have lived through countless years and countless battles. They have long, not always pleasant histories with each other. Newcomer Nile still has connections with the present day, a family that will miss her when she turns up missing. The movie makes sure you feel the weight that all of these characters feel, the tiredness and the struggle. It really works to make what would be fairly rote action fare feel like it has more depth.

The advertising positioned this movie as Netflix’s answer to superhero movies, but that really isn’t the vibe it exudes. It does not have the slick, pop feel of the Marvel movies. It is more like John Wick than Iron Man; a little darker and a little meaner than one would look for from a superhero movie. Another impressive aspect of The Old Guard is the action. The team may be unkillable, but they use very human fighting tactics. Though nothing in the movie reaches the heights of action sequences in the masterful John Wick movies, there are several impressive sequences in The Old Guard. Teamwork and a combination of old world and modern day fighting are the order of the day. Andy frequently reverts to using an old school battle ax when she has to lay down her machine gun.

The Old Guard isn’t quite like anything else. And once again, Charlize Theron proves that she is a premier action star if she wants to be.

****

What I Watched July 2020

Movies

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – I don’t think my thoughts have changed since first seeing this last year. I find it delightfully ludicrous. ****

Scoob – This certainly was a choice. I would be more than happy to watch a Scooby-Doo movie. It has a brief origin story, unnecessary but inconsequential. The stranger choice was to use the Scooby-Doo characters to try to springboard a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe. Not just bringing in some other HB characters, but making it as much a Dynomutt and Blue Falcon movie as a Scooby-Doo movie. It doesn’t quite work, but there are still things to enjoy about it. **1/2

Ford v Ferrari – Another rewatch. This is still a very entertaining film. Just a solid and well-made movie; proficient in every way. For me it lacks the tiniest thing to take it from a movie I really enjoy and respect to one I love, but I was more than happy to watch it again. ****1/2

Hot Rod – Still one of my favorite comedies of the 00s. I can watch this any time. *****

Palm Springs – review coming, I swear ****1/2

The Old Guard – review coming, I swear ****

Three Musketeers – This is the 90’s Disney version of this movie. It is not as good as I remember it being. The fencing is not as good as I remember and the movie, though it tries very hard, is not as ‘cool’ as it wants to be. Still, I generally enjoyed it, and it is hard to not enjoy Tim Curry having as much fun as he was here. ***

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace – I think I liked this movie on this watch more than I ever have before. All it took was challenging some of the common criticisms I’ve seen of it and actually experiencing a truly bad Star Wars movie. I am thinking of doing some Star Wars posts, maybe one for each of the trilogies, but for Episode 1 two things stood out to me. The first is how great a character Qui-Gon Jinn is and how tragic his death is at the end of this movie. The other is just how much of a discordant miscalculation Jar Jar is. I see how Jar Jar is intended to be this replacement for C-3P0 and a bit of Chewbacca, but there is simply too much of him and he constantly draws negative attention to himself. Still, I really liked the movie. ****

Jaws – This is a perfect movie. I can always watch Jaws. *****

TV

Star Trek Deep Space Nine S3-4 – I was not fully in on this show early. It was darker than I wanted out of Star Trek and honestly, the cast did not grab me initially. But the show really finds some depth as it goes on, and through three full seasons has continued to get better and the addition of Worf in season 4 brings in a well liked old friend. The Past Tense two-parter in Season 3 is among the prescient sci-fi I’ve ever seen. I hope to get through the back half of this show pretty quickly.

Better off Ted – An old favorite. This is a show that should be rated up there with Arrested Development and 30 Rock as great shows of the 00s, but I don’t think near enough people have watched it. I’ve written about it before, and I don’t have anything new to say. It is a great show.

Home Movies – HBO Max has Home Movies. That almost justifies a subscription for me. This show, something of a predecessor to Bob’s Burgers. I know I’ve written about this show before. It is one of my all-time favorites and was really easy to just put on in the background as I did other things.

Brave New World – Peacock’s prestige launch show seems to have gotten a pretty mixed reaction, but I really enjoyed it. It does its best to stay true to the source material while both adapting it to a new medium and making its future fit a little more sensibly with the now. It takes a little bit to find its grove, but eventually it really finds itself. I think I need to do a full rewatch to make sure I fully understood what I watched, as much because I watched while distracted as because of any real complexity of the show, but there is complexity there. I especially like Alden Ehrenreich, who is the closest thing to an audience stand in as the newcomer to New London, but is far enough from any real connection to the viewer. His is not the greatest journey on the show, but his relative relatability works to compare the journeys of the other against. I think the show works really well, and hope it gets another season or so to tell its story.

Columbo S6-9 – Yeah, Columbo is great. I’ve transitioned from the original run to the revival, but the show doesn’t miss a step. I could watch Peter Falk as Columbo forever.

What I Watched June 2020

Movies

Blow the Man Down – An interesting little black comic thriller, something like a lesser Coen Brothers work. Two sisters in a small northeastern fishing town get mixed up in a murder plot, which leads to airing a lot of the towns dirty laundry. It’s pretty good. ***½

The Vast of Night – It’s hard to describe the movie without spoiling it. It is a very old school alien invasion movie, following a couple of young people looking into a possible alien sighting. It is very low budget but entirely captivating. ****½

Sukiyaki Western Django – A delightful mix of western and samurai movies. It is basically just Yojimbo/Fistfull of Dollars. An unnamed gunman wanders into a town that is at the mercy of two warring gangs. Things escalate and a lot of people get shot. It is a lot of fun. ****

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – I still love this movie. I can’t wait for the sequel. *****

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn – I did not like this at all. Someone else described it as absurd but humorless, which is pretty accurate. That is doubly disappointing because it is full of people who generally do stuff I like, but this was a misfire. *½

The Nice Guys – yup, it’s still great. *****

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade – I watched a lot of comfort food movies this month. It felt necessary. *****

The Night Clerk – A would be erotic thriller starring Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas. It doesn’t quite work. Sheridan is a man with Asperger’s who works as a night clerk at a hotel. He ends up as the lone witness to a murder in the hotel, as well as possessing video evidence of the crime. He is transferred to another hotel and meets a beautiful woman. Thriller things happen without any particular verve. **½

Da 5 Bloods – Review coming soon. (Hold me to this) This movie is pretty great. ****½

13th – This should be required viewing for everyone.  Just an amazing film. *****

The Disaster Artist – My thoughts on this haven’t changed. It is largely enjoyable. ***1/3

Back to the Future Part III – Nothing new to say. I love this series. *****

Hail, Caesar! – This movie rises in my estimation every time I watch it. I think it is the most underrated Coens movie. *****

For Love or Money – Michael J Fox and Gabrielle Anwar are charming to sell this movie, but it feels like a setup without a story. I guess it works, I enjoyed my time with it, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. ***

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – There is a lot of Ferrell’s work in stuff like The Spoils of Babylon and Casa de mi Padre in this, while also not being too far from his more commercially successful stuff like Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory. Rachel McAdams is again excellent. This is a sweet, largely funny movie. Definitely worth a watch. ****

The Last Days of American Crime – I hated this movie; it is ugly and incompetent and I don’t want to say anything more. *

TV

The Great British Baking Show – I have watched everything Great British Baking Show related available on Netflix. I wish there was more; I love it.

Community – This might need its own post. I planned on it having its own post, but I also assumed that I would enjoy watching this show. I have liked watching it when I’ve caught episodes here and there, but I never really sat down and watched Community during its run. It showed up on Netflix recently (I know it’s been streaming elsewhere, but it showing up on Netflix was my motivator to get to it.) I really did expect to enjoy this. There was that prime era of NBC sitcoms in the late aughts and early teens when they were airing The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community all at the same time. People whose opinions I respect told me that Community was the best of the bunch. I was deep into The Office at the time, slowly warming up to Parks & Rec and 30 Rock, and mourning the loss of My Name is Earl. I only ended up catching Community on repeats of just the occasional episode. Watching it all in order did not do anything to make me like the show. It’s fine. It has a great cast. There are some really funny bits. But overall, the show seemed really impressed with its own cleverness. It was trying to be clever not to be funny, but to show off how clever it is. And it wasn’t actually that clever. Fans of the show hate on the fourth season, but I ended up liking it more than the surrounding seasons. Season 3 felt desperate, with actively not funny recurring bits like Professor Spacetime becoming more and more prominent. Season 5 came back spiteful, eager to settle grudges that led to the change of showrunner in Season 4. Season 4 meanwhile, seemed happy to just execute the premise of the show, that a motley group of community college students had formed a study group. I feel like the show bought its own hype.

Arrested Development – I am sure I’ve written about this show before; for a long time it was my absolute favorite show. I don’t know that it still is. That is not because I think less of the show or because the Netflix seasons (which I like quite a but) but because I think some of the shows that came up in its wake, like 30 Rock, are maybe just a little bit better. Still, rewatching it from the start for the first time in a couple of years was fun. This show hits the ground running and maintains a high level of excellence throughout its original run.

What We Do In the Shadows S2 – This show somehow got better. It is managing to build on the mythology of the show and have some forward progress for its characters while still being largely an episodic sitcom. Everyone on the show is great, but I am really growing to enjoy Colin Robinson. This is probably the best show currently running.

Columbo S4-6 – I have a partially written long post about Columbo and how much I love the show. I promise to finish that soon. These three seasons were 15 or so very good episodes of Columbo. Some really memorable murderers, like William Shatner, Patrick McGoohan, Dick Van Dyke, Patrick McGoohan, and Janet Leigh. Good stuff.

What I Watched May 2020

Movies

Dangerous Lies – A thriller about a young couple who inherit a home from an old man that the wife had been a nurse for. There is a lot that is strange going on, and the couple has secrets to keep, since the husband was also secretly working for the old man as a gardener. It is a largely competent movie, but I largely forgot about it as soon as it ended. **1/2

Turbo Kid – Still a delightful romp. I am still a little grossed out by the excess fake blood, but otherwise this movie is just great. ****1/2

Wrong Missy – Lauren Lapkus is giving it her all in this movie, which isn’t quite as bad as many Habby Madison releases. It still feels like a movie where they hit on a premise, that a man goes on dates with two women of the same name and accidentally invites the wrong one on a trip, and then just sort of stopped instead of actually writing some jokes. It just feels like a huge missed opportunity. **

The Lovebirds – This is a pretty fun rom-com. Or maybe it’s not a rom-com; maybe some kind of action comedy. Except there really isn’t any action. The two lovebirds are in a relationship that has gotten stale. On their way to a party, they end up embroiled in some kind murder conspiracy involving fake cops. The titular lovebirds, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, feel like they can’t go to the police until they clear their name, so they set about trying to get to the bottom of the murder using the killer’s phone, which they have. Hijinks ensue. The movie largely succeeds on the charm of its two stars, who really work well together. It doesn’t quite reach the heights it could; some segments fall a little flat, but for the most part it is enjoyable. ***1/2

Back to the Future – Still great. Just a fantastic movie. *****

The Death of Stalin – Another rewatch. This movie is still fantastic. *****

TV

Hollywood – For the most part, this is a pretty enjoyable show. Just really easy to watch and largely entertaining. It also feels like the show is taking a victory lap for a race it lost in real life. This is celebrating diversity and inclusivity in Hollywood that to this day does not exist in its output. I get that this is part of the point of the show, but something doesn’t sit right. Still, as just a little fantasy show it is pretty entertaining.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend – This is another of Netflix’s choose your own adventure specials and I still really like them. None have been as ambitious as The Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, but Kimmy Schmidt uses the format to really have some fun with its story. This plays like an extended episode of the show. While I have not explored every nook and cranny of this special, what I have seen kind of forces it to follow one primary shape. There are right and wrong answers, not always obvious one, and the show will gently nudge you back to the right one after you see the wrong one. Still, it is more Kimmy Schmidt and a lot of fun to ‘play.’

Never Have I Ever – Really solid. A coming of age show about a young Indian-American girl. She has to deal with the differences in the two cultures she is growing up with, as well as deal with the recent death of her father. It is a struggle for her. Despite her experience being nothing like mine, the show works. It manages to turn some really difficult personal problems into solid comedy fodder. It nails both the humor and the drama.

Tales from the Loop – A powerful aesthetic in search of a show. It looks good and a few of its episodes are moving, but for the most part this show failed to engage me. I am sure some people really loved this show, but I was mostly just kind of disinterested.

Outlander S5 – I am feeling less and less enthused by this show. They are getting further and further from the books, which is fine, but that also means that following the books is no longer an excuse for some of the more troubling storytelling choices. So while there is still a lot to like about this show, at lot it does really well, the warts are growing more prominent. The prevalence of rape as a story motivator is getting tiresome. It doesn’t seem to be as big a factor when spread out across 800 page books, but it often becomes the focal point of the show. I am still in for the next season, but this show is feeling a bit long in the tooth.

Batwoman – The first season is done and with the announcement that Ruby Rose is not returning to the show, pretty much anything I had to say is immaterial. There was stuff to like with this show, much of it was related to Rose as the title character. Honestly, the show bungled much of the rest of it. I liked Alice, but they pushed her too far, so that there was nothing redeemable about her. By the bid midseason stopping point, there was no hope that Kate would be able to save her sister. That hope is a strong part of the comics, but for the show it would need her to somehow not be responsible for the most heinous acts. I guess the show could be applauded for not following that route of making it easy, but the show spends a whole lot of time with a character that is impossible to like. There is little nuance possible; she is a killer. It also has the problem of Kate’s dad running a privatized police organization, basically a private army, in the city. The show seems to want to frame them as good guys, when the very existence of the Crows is an evil thing. It can’t seem to bring itself to condemn them, though. Since the whole show has to be pretty much rebooted, I would keep Luke and Mary and dump the rest of the show.

The Flash S6 – a middling season of the show. I liked that they split the season between two villains, since they haven’t really nailed the season long arc since the first season. The second half of the season didn’t quite work, but some of that might be on getting cut short. I did like everything with Elongated Man; hopefully there is more of him and Sue next season.  (Holy shit, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I did not foresee the revelations about that actor coming.)  Hopefully they recast him and continue that story.

Supergirl S5 – I think this one mostly brought the Lena story home. I’ve got to be honest; I sort of lost track with this show. I enjoy it week to week, and the more the show features Lex Luthor, the better it seems to be. This season was solid.

Homecoming S2 – There is a lot to like about the second season of Homecoming. It is well written, excellently acted, and beautifully shot. That makes it kind of disappointing that it plays like a strange coda to the first season instead of its own thing. It feels a bit like watching someone solve a mystery a second time; the spark just isn’t quite there. Homecoming S2 doesn’t feel like it is expanding on the first season, merely replicating it. Still, it’s only about three hours long and it is really well made. I feel some disappointment from wanting more, but this is far from bad.

Columbo S4 – I will try to write a full post on this series once I finish watching it. Season 4 of Columbo has a handful more really well done mysteries. This is just an all-time great show.

The Great British Baking Show – I gave this a shot and just kind of fell in love with it. I am very annoyed with how Netflix has arranged the series for streaming, but there is just something comforting and relaxing about watching this show. I don’t have much to say, other than I now kind of wish I could bake.

Trial By Media – This was a real disappointment. There is a lot of good material here, but the show doesn’t seem to know what it is saying. There is no thesis to draw from these six stories. It is just six different times that media reporting on a story has affected the ability to get justice. One is a pure creation of the media, as a murder occured after a confrontation on the Jenny Jones show. One shows a man cynically manipulating the media to achieve his ends. The sheer variety of ways that the media affects these cases makes it impossible for something coherent to come out of this series. Other than the idea that the media report on cases can change how those cases are perceived and whether and how justice is achieved.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power S5 – This has the usual problems that Netflix shows seem to, even when coming to their intended end. She-Ra S5 is 13 episodes long, but feels like 18 episodes worth of content. It just feels incredibly rushed at the end. Still, these are 13 really good episodes and it does seem like it told the whole story with few compromises. This has been a good show the whole time it has been airing; a show that started with a clear vision for what it wanted to be and largely succeeded in realizing that vision. I am going to miss it.

Bosch S6 – I like mysteries and procedurals. This show continues to be what it has long been, a perfectly serviceable cop show. I am not currently interested in writing about a cop show.

What I Watched April 2020

Movies

Uncorked – A largely enjoyable movie about a man who wants to be a sommelier, but his dad wants him to take over the family’s BBQ restaurant. It is mostly about a father and son struggling to connect, that the son does not really want to follow in his father’s footsteps. It is solid. ***

Coffee & Kareem – Ed Helms gives it his all, but this movie just isn’t funny. The concept is solid, a buddy cop movie with the buddies being a cop and his girlfriend’s son, who hates him. The elements are all there, it’s sad that so much of the humor falls flat.**

Wayne’s World – I tend to forget how enjoyable this movie is between viewings. I remember the Bohemian Rhapsody scene and the Scooby-Doo ending, but this is a really solid comedy. Mike Myers has always had a way of creating very strong comic characters, and Wayne is no exception. He is both something of a straight man and a source of humor. It is a fairly referential movie, but somehow doesn’t feel dated despite being about 30 years old. In fact, Wayne’s basement shot tv show still seems pretty relevant in a time when everyone has a youtube channel. *****

The Willoughbys – This animated movie is about a group of siblings having to deal with their awful parents. It is unsettling how little of reason is given for their neglect, but it makes you side with the kids as they plot to remove their parents from the equation and their efforts to find a life without them. For the most part, it works. ***

Extraction – Chris Hemsworth stars in a John Wick like action movie. It tries really hard, and Hemsworth is pretty great, but the story varies from non-existent to bad. The action is good, at least. This movie just didn’t do anything for me. **1/2

A Secret Love – A sweet and interesting documentary about two women who have been together for sixty or so years. One of them even played for the women’s baseball league seen in A League of Their Own. I don’t know that it quite pulls everything together as well as it could, but it is solid. ***1/2

TV

Star Trek TNG 3-7 – I’ve watched this show before, and the current situation felt like the time for a rewatch. I didn’t really consciously choose to skip the first two seasons, my Netflix was left at the season 2 finale and I just started watching from there. I underestimated how much I like this show. I mean, I would tell I like The Next Generation, but I didn’t realize how easy it is to just put on and let play. I also underestimated how many episodes that I just completely forgot about. I last watched the show half a decade or so ago on Netflix, generally as I went to sleep. So there were quite a few episodes that I remembered the opening of, but not how it ended. There are a lot of ways this show shows its age, but for the most part it is still really good.

Star Trek Deep Space 9 Season 1 – I have not watched DS9 before, at least not more than a couple of isolated episodes. I know these shows take some time to find their footing generally, but I don’t know that Deep Space 9 is doing it for me. That isn’t to say I am not liking it; it is just that the cast is taking some time for me to connect with. Maybe it is just that this show was hyped up to me by friends as the best Trek show, but it just isn’t working as well as it could for me. Even this early it is noticeably darker than other Star Trek shows. (I am given to understand that this aspect gets more prominent as the show goes.) There is a lot of potential here, but I do not think the show reaches it in the first season.

The Innocence Files – It is kind of sad that Tiger King is the docu-series that has taken the world by storm, because this is the better series. The Innocence Files deals with people who were wrongfully convicted. Its nine episodes deal with three different categories of wrongful convictions. It looks at junk science evidence, at faulty eyewitness testimony, and at prosecutorial misconduct. All three can lead to putting innocent people behind bars. The first looks at bite-mark evidence, which it largely unconfirmed (or outright debunked) results and inconsistent methodology. However, when the state puts a man with Dr. before his name on the stand and he says the evidence proves someone did it, it is powerful for the jury. Eyewitness testimony is known to frequently be unreliable, but our criminal justice system is very reliant on it. It just shows all the ways the system can fail, and how hard the system fights against admitting its failures. Amazing show.

How to Fix a Drug Scandal – This is just a shocking look at institutional incompetence and neglect. It shows the different ways that the Massachusetts drug testing labs have failed. There are two separate scandals here. One is about a lab technician who started dipping into the evidence, eventually smoking crack at work. The other is about a lab worker who falsified results to go through the evidence faster. Both undermine the credibility of the criminal justice system. I was not as over the moon with this show as with The Innocence Files, but it is an amazing story.

Little Fires Everywhere – This show finished up and it was mostly strong. Reese Witherspoon has created one of the great TV villains on this show as a nice (white) lady who is just trying to help, and she just keeps digging and trying to force things to be exactly what she wants it to be and becoming more monstrous as the show goes on. She is not the only flawed character on the show, almost all of the characters make mistakes. But she is unique in how she keeps doubling down on those mistakes and refusing to learn from them. This show isn’t really my thing overall, but it was really well done.

The Big Show Show – There is no reason to watch this. I mean, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The Big Show is reasonably good as the affable patriarch to his family. But the show seems to be aiming straight for the middle and coming up short. The kids are that too precious type that tend to show up in a lot of bottom tier sitcoms. They can work; the youngest daughter is not too different from Louise from Bob’s Burgers. The difference in the quality of the writing around them. I think there is an audience for this type of thing, but it isn’t me.

Brews Brothers – This is another new Netflix sitcom from veteran writer/producer Greg Schaffer and his brother Jeff. It is about two brothers who brew beer, with diametrically opposed views on how it should be done. As things tend to work in sitcoms, they are forced to work together to operate a brewery. It’s pretty raunchy and intermittently funny. I think it started to find itself near the end of the season. I would watch more.

Ozark S3 – This season has got a lot of positive reviews, but I think this show is really starting to lose me. Laura Linney is great. So are Jason Bateman and Julia Garner. I don’t know, I just find myself progressively less interested in the moral decay of this family. I can’t really say why this is. I am not, as a rule, a big fan of this kind of show. I have never made much progress into Breaking Bad. I don’t have a problem with the craft of the show, it just isn’t the kind of story that really interests me. Ozark drew me for its proximity to where I grew up, a relatively short drive from Lake of the Ozarks, but that isn’t enough to carry me through anymore.

Letter for the King – I ended up liking this quite a bit. It is a story about a young kid who wants to be a knight. In the midst of a ceremony raising him to the knighthood, he stumbles onto a quest, which can be guessed from the title. It is a solid fantasy series. Aimed at a somewhat young audience, but still reasonably enjoyable for anyone.

Brooklyn 99 S7 – It was a short season, but Season 7 of Brooklyn 99 continued to be really good. It had a solid set of guest spots for Vanessa Bayer. The demoted Captain Holt was fun for a few episodes. Just some good stuff.

Always Sunny S14 – That this show is still going strong this deep in is amazing. I don’t know that the 14th season is the best, but this show hasn’t really lost a step. The Janitor Always Mops Twice and Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool are both great episodes of television. This is just a great show.

Columbo S2 & 3 – I’m working my way through my DVDs of this series. There are some really good episodes in these two seasons. There isn’t a lot of say about individual episodes. I haven’t run into a bad one yet. And Columbo pretty quickly has all the characteristics he’s famous for. Watching him work never gets old.

What I Watched March 2020

Movies

All the Bright Places – A fairly well done, teenage romantic tragedy that is mostly about mental health. It is a real downer and not really what I want right now. Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are really solid as the stars, I just didn’t like it that much. **1/2

The Coldest Game – Bill Pullman plays an alcoholic US chessmaster caught in the midst of Cold War spy stuff. He has to try to win a chess match against a Soviet master while helping a Soviet spy deliver information relating to the Cuban missile crisis. It’s mostly pretty good. **½

Emma. – read review here. ****½

The Way Back – read review here. ***1/2

Goodfellas – Yeah, this movie is just about perfect. I don’t really have anything to add to the Goodfella discussion; it’s great. *****

Tremors – Okay, this movie is much better than I remember it being. Cheap and goofy, but a lot of fun. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are great as an odd couple of handy men who find themselves stuck in a monster movie. It is a lot of fun. ****

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I am always shocked at how well this movie holds up. It is legitimately good and the turtles still look great. I love this movie. ****

Dick Tracy – This movie is kind of all over the place. Most of the cast is in a live action cartoon, Madonna is in an erotic thriller. Most of it actually works, but it still feels kind of disjointed at times. ***

Hard to Kill – I don’t think I like Seagal and I did not really care for this at all. **

Spencer Confidential – This had all the makings of being really fun, but it kind of doesn’t work. Wahlberg and Duke are good. But they are kind of stuck in a movie that isn’t really sure what it is. Wahlberg’s character has to constantly be the best at everything and be beaten down by the world. **

Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – A cgi remake of the original Pokemon movie. It isn’t great, but it is entertaining enough. As someone who hasn’t seen the Pokemon movie since I took my little brother to the theater for his birthday, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. It is definitely nonsense, but there is something remarkably enjoyable about a video game movie that sets out to tell one story and tells it, even if it is just a small chapter of a big story. ***

Lost Girls – An incredibly well made and frustrating movie about a young woman who goes missing. It is really about the incompetence and inertia of the police who are supposed to be investigating the disappearance, but do not really care because the girl was an escort. The roadblocks that Amy Ryan’s mother continually runs into are viscerally frustrating. It makes for an amazing, difficult movie. ****1/2

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – This was actually a fun stop motion take on E.T., mixed with all kinds of other movies. I have not previously been much of an Aardman fan, but this was pretty delightful, even if low key. ***1/2

To All the Boys P.S. I Still Love You – A really solid teenage rom-com sequel. It really does a good job of building on the characters from the first movie, not just redoing the first movie. It actually makes the characters deeper and more well rounded. It is really good. ****

Altered Carbon Resleeved – An anime movie that takes place before the Altered Carbon show, or at least season 2, that fills in some backstory and is about some Yakuza line of succession in a world where people are functionally immortal. There is some fun to be had here, but I thought it looked ugly, which is a big problem with an animated film. **1/2

Night Hunter – A thriller starring Henry Cavill and Alexandra Daddario. It executes its formula pretty well. It isn’t going to blow anyone’s doors off, but if you want something in the vein of Silence of the Lambs, there are worse choices. **1/2

TV

Locke & Key – An adaptation of a series of comics created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. A trio of kids move back to their recently deceased father’s childhood home and start to find magic keys. This starts a game of cat and mouse with an evil entity that is also trying to get the keys. It is okay. Nothing special, but good enough.

The English Game – This feels like a show made only for me. It is a late 19th century period piece about the development of English football. It has a kind of upstairs/downstairs set up, contrasting the wealthy, upper class players of the established game against the lower class factory workers, with some of the factory workers even stooping to being paid to play. It isn’t the best thing ever, but presses a lot of my buttons. I loved it.

The Pale Horse – A lesser known Christie about a seemingly supernatural mystery. The show really plays up the unreliability of its protagonist. It is pretty entertaining; I don’t have much to say.

Hunters – This show goes places. I am not sure they are all good places, but they are places. Set in the late 70s, Hunters deals with a group that finds out Nazi’s relocated to the USA after WW2. Logan Lerman plays Jonah, who after the murder of his grandma falls into the orbit of Al Pacino’s Meyer and his group of Nazi hunters. The show tries to both be a mediation on how to deal with loss and grief, and a sort of exploitation movie. The two halves are never really adequately combined. It is certainly flawed, but even with all of its flaws it remains largely entertaining.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez – This one is a rough watch. Just the vilest of humanity on display, and the complete failure of every level of a system that is supposed to prevent things like this. It is a revealing look at personal and systemic failures, but it also simply turns the stomach.

Tiger King – I don’t have time for this. This documentary is impossibly to look away from, and just keeps getting crazier and crazier as it goes along. Judging by the internet from the last couple of days, everyone has seen it. I do have some qualms with how it treats Carol Baskin. The doc makes a convincing case that she killed her husband without any real evidence that she killed her husband. I don’t like that a bunch of internet weirdos are going to be harassing her for the rest of her life based on innuendo and the ramblings of a meth addict. Still, this is impossibly entertaining.

Castlevania S3 – I think I came to the same conclusion with each season of this show, but I do not like it all that much. It seems to revel in the parts of Castlevania story that I don’t like, or to reimagine parts I do in ways that I don’t. Each season I find that I am very much not on the same page as this series. Season 3 had a decent story with Trevor and Sypha fighting a town of cultists, but I kind of hated everything around that. I am not saying this show is bad, I am saying it is aggressively not for me.

Altered Carbon S2 – I remember really liking the first season of this, but the second season kind of lost me. It wasn’t the change from Kinnaman to Anthony Mackie as the main character. I liked Kinnaman, but Mackie is really good. There is a lot of interesting stuff in this show, but this season focuses more on a bigger plot than the first season, which started as a something of a murder mystery before morphing into something greater. The production values are still amazing, but writing does not quite work.

Sanditon – This is a show based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel. You can almost tell, sometime near the end of the first episode or beginning of the second, where the show runs out of book. It then goes in some pretty non-Austen directions. Mostly in having character be a lot more complex in terms of morality instead of just personality. (That sounds like a dig at Austen, but at the end of an Austen novel, you know who is good and who is bad) Until the last episode, it still mostly works. I think it kind of fell apart in the end; maybe setting itself up for a second season. There are some problems that seem to stem from how much it departs from Austen’s, admittedly incomplete, set up. Still, it looks good.

The Office – Trapped in my house led to me watching a lot of The Office in the background. It still sucks me in when I watch it.

Black Lightning – The third season of what has been one of the better CW superhero shows wrapped in a largely satisfactory manner. The big problem I had with the end of the season seems likely to be fixed sooner rather than later and is hopefully just a story hook for next season. This season went big. Not only did Jefferson get involved in the Arrowverse as a whole during Crisis, but it also replaced the largely street level, local conflicts with an international story with larger ramifications. In the end, I think it pulled things back together pretty well and managed to bring a sprawling story that at times seemed to get away from the writers home. I hope next season sees a refocusing on the matters that the show started with, as I liked the first two seasons better.

Star Trek: Picard – The Next Generation is the version of Star Trek that I’ve always liked best. I felt a little trepidation hearing that Patrick Stewart was coming back to star in a Picard focused tv series. I was also excited, doubly so because Michael Chabon was involved. The show is not quite the home run I wanted it to be, but it is largely very good and ultimately pretty satisfying. I think the show did itself a disservice with its central plotline, which went too big and too urgent to really let people get to, in my opinion, the parts of Star Trek, which are when the crew has a little downtime. I like to see the ship’s crew interact, and this show didn’t really get to that until about halfway, and even then only did it about half way. Still, I liked it,