What I Watched October 2020

Movies

Fargo – One of the Coen Brothers’ best movies. It just felt right to give it a watch, what with the new season of the show starting up. The movie remains a complete classic. *****

The Addams Family – This comes on a lot near Halloween, even if there really isn’t anything Halloween related about it. It is one of my favorite movies from the early 90’s. It does just about everything right and is a ton of fun. Christopher Lloyd, Angelica Huston, and Raul Julia are all great. *****

Addams Family Values – The sequel to Addams Family is even better than the first. This is just a great movie. I love everything about it. It is perfect. *****

Hubie Halloween – A surprisingly charming effort from Adam Sandler. It isn’t anything particularly great or particularly funny, but it is amusing enough and overall kind of charming. It is fine. **1/2

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – I really enjoy this movie. It is so quiet and leaves so much for the viewer to suss out on their own. Every time I watch it I find something new. It makes me want to keep watching it. *****

Trial of the Chicago 7 – This was pretty entertaining. I have some problems with some liberties this took with the true story, but as a movie it is pretty entertaining. Good performances, some great dialogue. It is missing something that brings it all together as something better than the sum of its parts. Still, it is a good movie. ***1/2

Moneyball – Pretty solid. I don’t know that I like it as much as some people, but it is really entertaining and an interesting and unique take on a sports movie. Brad Pitts is great. Just a well made movie. ****1/2

Back to the Future Part 3 – Yup, I still like the last part of this trilogy. ****1/2

Rebecca – This is a remake of a Hitchcock classic, or more accurately another adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name. It is gorgeous and mostly well made, but kind of feels a little like the production doesn’t match the story. This is a dark, gothic story, but it is mostly shot as bright and beautiful; it does not really match. Still, the movie is largely entertaining. ***1/2

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – I’m not the biggest Borat fan, and I really didn’t think he needed to come back. But this movie was shocking and shockingly funny. Sacha Baron Cohen is still among the best at what he does, and this time Maria Bakalova, playing his daughter, is there to keep up with him. It gets into politics, which would be better if the people it was shaming were capable of being shamed. ****1/2

The Witches (2020) – This is a weird one; it is based on a Roald Dahl book so I guess that goes without saying. Still, it is an incredibly dark kids movie about a few kids trying to stop a coven of witches who hate kids. The kids all get turned into mice and have to turn the witches transformational formula against them. Anne Hathaway plays the lead witch and really gets into the role. It leans a little too hard on the special effects and not so much on the plot, but it is still decently entertaining. ***

John Bronco – An interesting mockumentary about a fake spokesman for the Ford Bronco that is actually a commercial for the new Bronco. It is pretty entertaining, in large part thanks to Walton Goggins in the title role. It is fine.

Justice League – My brother hadn’t seen this. It is still a mess, and one that I don’t think the Snyder Cut is going to fix, and maybe not even improve. ***

TV

Schitt’s Creek S6 – This last season brought everything to a close excellently. I don’t know what else to say. This was always a low key show that was just easy to watch and generally incredibly funny. It remained that in the last season and got to go out on a high note. This was a very good show and I expect it to remain in my rewatch rotation for years to come.

The Boys S2 – This actually brought it home in the last episode, aside from one sour note it hit right at the end. The show managed to go deeper with its characters and mostly make its satire smarter and more focused. This show is despicable and it revels in its depravity, but there is just enough heart around it to keep the viewer caring.

Carmen Sandiego S3 – This was a short batch of episodes, but they were good. I generally really enjoy this show, and it feels like it is getting more confident in its characters and storytelling. This was a fun block of episodes.

What I Watched September 2020

Movies

Psycho – Peacock has a collection of Hitchcock movies and I am trying to eat my movie vegetables and watch them. Of course, watching Hitchcock doesn’t really feel like eating my vegetables at all. I’d never seen Psycho, but I knew most of it through cultural osmosis. It is really good and entertaining. *****

Marnie – I found this to be significantly less good than Psycho. I like Connery and Hedren, but large parts of this come off as amazingly sexist and the psychological explanations are simplistic. ***

Draft Day – I ignored this movie when it came out, but thanks to some persistent talking up on the podcast FThisMovie and a desire for both some sports related content and Chadwick Boseman performances, I gave this a shot. It is tremendously entertaining. Boseman is great in a small role, Costner is great in the lead. ****

Mr. Right – This sounded like it should be good; I like Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell and the concept sounded good. But almost none of it works. It is just miserable. *1/2

Don Verdean – Another movie I wanted to like, but it just didn’t work for me. There is a lot of fertile ground for comedy here, and a lot of talented people trying to find it, but it just kind of doesn’t work. **

Love, Wedding Repeat – A romantic comedy that plays what if with the seating arrangements and hijinks at a wedding, show several variations of the same basic scenario. There is a really good idea here, but this movie executes it competently at best. I just never found anything to really latch onto as these scenarios played out. **

The Babysitter: Killer Queen – I liked the first Babysitter; I thought it was a clever premise, kind of a reverse slasher, that was presented in a fun, exciting way. The sequel tries to run it back, with a new group of cultists and returning nearly every character from the first. There are parts that work, but it mostly feels like a tired retread of the first. **

Molly’s Game – There is a lot of well written dialogue, but I don’t know that it comes together all that well. It is close, but not quite there. Worth watching, but not all that memorable. **1/2

Sergio – A biopic about UN diplomat and humanitarian Segio Viera de Mello, who died in a bombing in Iraq in 2003. It’s fine. ***1/2

Bill & Ted Face the Music – read review here. ****1/2

Onward – I didn’t hear great things about this movie when it came out, but I liked it a whole lot. It might not rank in that pure top echelon of Pixar movies, but it does land squarely in the middle, being equally enjoyable and affecting. It is just a really good movie. ****

The Italian Job – This is the most 2003 movie I can think of. Just everything about it, from all the Napster jokes to the uncritical sexism. I loved this movie when it came out and still mostly enjoy it, if only because it is the movie that introduced me to Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and Mos Def. ***

American Assassin – Just kind of dull. It doesn’t do anything particularly well, and the politics of the story are kind of gross. *1/2

Cuties – There was a lot of hubbub about this movie supposedly promoting pedophelia, but what it really is is a heartfelt look at the difficulties of growing up, with forces encouraging young girls to act more adult than they are and the struggles of immigrants to adjust to life in a new place. ****

Tombstone – This movie is fantastic. Just a who’s who of ‘that guys’ in the cast, anchored by a thoroughly badass Kurt Russell and an out of his mind Val Kilmer. It is just so much fun. ****

Desperados – The cast tries hard, but there really isn’t anything new or interesting here. It feels tired before it starts. **

I Am Thinking of Ending Things – A very weird movie, with a pov that shits constantly and is just deliberately unsettling throughout. I think I liked it, but ***1/2

Enola Holmes – This was pretty delightful. Millie Bobbie Brown plays Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, who attempts to solve the mystery of the disappearance of their mother. Which gets her tangled in another mystery. It isn’t particularly deep, but it is a lot of fun. ****

The Devil All The Time – Its a movie about how people corrupt religion, or about how people are corrupt in spite of religion. I thought it mostly worked, with good performances all around. ***1/2

American Murder The Family Next Door – A woman and her children disappear and the husband and father is soon pinpointed at the culprit. This whole documentary is constructed out of social media posts, telephone messages and videos taken from police and the court. The fact they can construct a complete story out this is a little distressing. ****

TV

The Great Pretender – A really solid anime about a group of conmen. It starts with its protagonist, a small-time japanese crook, getting taken/recruited by the team and then they do several other heists by tricking other crooks. It is just a lot of fun that looks and sounds great.

Young Wallander – An okay cop show, following Detective Wallander, played by Kenneth Branagh on the previous tv series, on his first case as a detective. It deals with a lot of current political topics, though focused on Sweden, and is pretty well done, but nothing particularly spectacular.

Peaky Blinders S1 – This is fun. I’ve said it before, but the between the world war setting is one of my favorites, and this is just really well done. I want to watch more, and then maybe I’ll have more to say.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 S4 – Season 4 of Deep Space 9 brings Worf onto the station. This show keeps getting better; it keeps getting deeper. I was kind of ambivalent about the first couple of seasons, but I really liked S3&4. I hope the upward trajectory continues.

The Boys S2 – Most of this season aired in September. The second season of this show seems more focused than the first; it knows what it is and is more confident. It also doesn’t really need to explain its characters much any more. It can still be a bit on the nose, like having its neo-nazi character use the name Stormfront, but it mostly uses its sledgehammer satire to smash things that could do with smashing.

Narcos Mexico S1 – Knowing how this ends doesn’t really make it any easier to watch as it gets to that end. Michael Pena is great. The show also does an excellent job of establishing a setting, in this case 1980’s Mexico, and just kind of letting the viewer live in it. I need to get to the second season sooner rather than later.

Challenger: The Final Flight – This is a solid look at the institutional failures that lead to the Challenger disaster. It explores just how it could happen. What’s more shocking are the people who defend the failures that led to the Challenger disaster. This is just well done all around.

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.