What I Watched in April 2017

MOVIES

The Imitation Game – This is the please-give-us-awards biopic about computer scientist and WW2 codebreaker Alan Turing that was fictionalized enough to upsets purists but not enough to make it truly interesting.  ***

The Cold Light of Day – You’ve got a Taken knock-off with Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis and Sigorney Weaver, you really don’t expect Cavill to be the the only bright spot. Sure, at this point Willis has given more than his fair share of phoned in performances, but you usually get better from Weaver.  Cavill, though, is working his ass off.  Too bad the movie doesn’t really justify it.*1/2

Pompeii – This might be the best Paul WS Anderson movie, a statement which is meant to damn with faint praise.  It is not especially good. In fact, it is often flat out bad.  But there is an enjoyable enough energy to its mash up of Gladiator and Titanic to make it not feel like a complete waste. **1/2

I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore – An odd, idiosyncratic exploration of despair. I don’t have a lot to say about it; it is very good. It is simultaneously darkly humorous and kind of uplifting. I really liked it. ****

Sicario – I really liked Arrival, so I checked out the director’s previous movie. This looks at the war on drugs in the south and Mexico and it pretty scathing. It is also beautifully shot. It is a great movie. ****1/2

The D Train – There is basis for a pretty great comedy here, but it kind of gets muddled. Jack Black’s character is too much of a loser to take seriously as a person, and his sitcom-esque plan to meet an old classmate is too silly for the rest of the plot.  It is a lot of interesting ideas done not very well. **1/2

10 Things I Hate About You – This is one of those movies that was always around when I was in high school, but I never actually watched it all the way through. I thought it was worth going back to thanks to its cast, which includes both Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a perfectly fine teen comedy, but it really isn’t more than that. ***

Midnight in Paris – This ranks up there as one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It is kind of indulgent, but that doesn’t matter when it is indulging in things that I want to see indulged. ****1/2

Fate of the Furious – see review here. ***1/2

Furious 7 – I needed to get prepped for F8, so I popped in this Blu-ray.  It is still highly enjoyable, but it also pushes the ridiculousness a little too far into cartoonish-ness.  The ending is cheap emotional manipulation, but it is also highly effective emotional manipulation. ***1/2

Sandy Wexler – There is more effort on display here than in the last half dozen or so Sandler movies.  It still isn’t good, but at least it appears like he cares.  If you cut about 30 minutes out and tighten up a lot of it’s sloppier moments it might have been decent. **

Win it All – This was good enough.  I didn’t love it, it seemed to spend a lot time just sort of meandering. I’m not familiar with Joe Swanberg, but this is good enough.  It is often funny and frequently heartfelt, but it doesn’t feel like it adds up to much. Still, it is definitely worth a watch. ***1/2

The Man From UNCLE – Every time I watch this movie I like it more and more.  It is just so much fun, with charming performances from all three of its stars.  I hope the only slightly rumored sequel happens. ****

Deidra and Laney Rob a Train – a pretty solid comedy about poor black youths trying survive. It combines a fairly dark look at how even bright kids can get trapped in poverty and a funny caper. It is a lot of fun. ***1/2

Akira – I finally had the opportunity to watch this anime classic.  It is still an amazing looking movie.  There are tons of impressively animated shots.  The story is overstuffed and nearly incoherent at times.  It is still really good and there is a lot to unpack, but it also feels like it was vastly edited down from a longer version.  ****

Sand Castle – This is a movie about the Iraq War; it is every movie you’ve seen about the Iraq War. That is the real problem, while this is a perfectly fine movie it doesn’t have anything you haven’t seen before. **½

The Discovery – This thing is so bleak and dreary.  It really wasn’t the movie I wanted to watch right now.  It raises some interesting questions, but I don’t think it really followed through on them. **½

Crank – Watching Fate of the Furious reminded me of how much I love Jason Statham, so I’ve started working my way through all the Statham movies I own.  Crank is nuts.  It is all insane energy that last just as long as it can keep it up. ***½

TV

Five Came Back – This series of documentaries about five Hollywood directors who volunteered during WWII and were put to work filming the war. It is really good. They interview five modern directors and use a lot of the footage from the time. It gets rough at times, especially when they uncover Dachau, but it is overall a really great exploration.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – The second season of Legends came to a close and while the show lost its most compelling character, Captain Cold, it managed an unthinkable turn around this season. I watched it last season thanks to how good the premise was, but there was too much dead weight in the cast and the show seemed unsure of what tone it should have. This season fixed nearly all those problems, with fun villains and dumping the Hawk people. It was the show it always should have been. Vixen was a good addition, and the rest of the team really found their roles. They jumped around time and went for big moments that nearly all landed. It was really great. Right now this might be the best of DC’s superhero shows.

The League S1-7 – I like a lot of the people involved in this show, and pending Netflix losses left me searching for new background noise comedy, so I gave this a watch.  The League is fine.  It really demonstrates how hard what Always Sunny in Philadelphia does is.  This fellow FX and FXX show does a lot of the same things, being a hard R show about a group of asshole friends, but it misses a lot more often than that true sitcom classic.  Too often, The League forgets that its characters are terrible and seems to want the viewer to sympathize with them.  That is not to say that the show isn’t frequently enjoyable and funny, but it also often seems mean just for the sake of being mean and can get hung up on unfunny bits that never seem to end.  As I said, it’s fine.

Documentary Now S2 – Another season of this great documentary spoof series. I don’t know that this season had quite the highs that season 1 had, but it was still excellent all the way through.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Return – I’m not quite completely through this, I’ve still got the last few episodes to go, but I have really liked it so far.  I don’t know that it is quite as good as old MST3K; they riff a lot faster which moves along a lot faster from bad jokes but also keeps good jokes from having time to land.  Still, even sometimes not excellent MST3K is better than no MST3K. I’m a latecomer to this series, but I am glad it is back.

Riverdale – This show just keeps getting crazier. The season ending is coming soon, but the show just keeps getting better. It really knows what its doing, so it is no surprise when an adult feeds a pregnant teenager a drugged milkshake.

Fargo S3 – The new season has started and it is great.  I don’t have a lot to say only two episodes in, but it is building something interesting about the characters and their relation to technology. It is really great.

What I Watched March 2017

Movies

Kong: Skull Island – read review here. ****

The Hateful Eight – I still really like this movie. It isn’t my favorite Tarantino, but he has never made a bad film. This one has a lot of great moments and a ton of great performances, but it doesn’t quite delight me like Inglorious Basterds or Kill Bill. *****

Logan – read review here. ****

Far From the Madding Crowd – This is a competent, enjoyably literary adaptation. It isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it is well put together and well-acted and just all around enjoyable. ***1/2

Beauty and the Beast – read review here. **1/2

Sucker Punch – My thoughts haven’t changed much from when I saw it years ago, but I remained very impressed by it. Zack Snyder might have failed with this movie, but it audacious work. He turns intentionally turns the exploitation up to a disgusting degree, daring viewers to be titillated by an undeniably gross scenario. He doesn’t quite bring it all together in the end, but the intent is clear. **1/2

Pete’s Dragon – Calling something boring is a lazy criticism, avoiding actually engaging with a fictional work, but I can’t really think of any other way to describe this than dull. It has great actors and good special effects, but it all just sits on the screen, lifeless. It elicited no emotion from me. **

Ghost in the Shell – read about it here. **1/2

TV

Riverdale – This show really came into focus as it neared the halfway mark. Archie is still kind of a doofy hole in the middle of things, but I guess that is why the show isn’t called Archie; he isn’t the main character here, but just another piece of the ensemble. I don’t know that this show is good, but it is compelling.

Iron Fist – The reviews for this show weren’t kind, but after watching I have to say they weren’t wrong. It is the weakest of Netflix’s Marvel shows, but not by that great a margin. These shows started strong, with the solid first season of Daredevil and the excellent Jessica Jones, but Daredevil Season 2 was a muddled mess and Luke Cage hid its weaknesses behind a strong central performance. This one is just as much of an amorphous blob as most of these shows have been, but without that one terrific element to bind everything together. It takes itself way too seriously for a show about a man who does magical kung fu, it barely deigns to grapple with its central premise by not even showing Kun-lun, and it wastes so much time on the squabbling of the Meachum family. It is simply a mess. I’ll still come back for Defenders

Legion – As much as I like shows like The Flash that strive to put a superhero on screen in all of his comic book glory, there is something to be said for the approach FX and Noah Hawley have taken with Legion. They have taken a few X-Men characters and concepts and instead of trying to make them comic book accurate they have built a show around those concepts with just a handful of ties to other X-Men stuff. They have identified the essence of the title character, David Haller who occasionally goes by Legion, and of their villain, the mental parasite that has taken root in his brain. It shows the same strengths as Hawley’s Fargo, with a bunch of really well realized supporting characters. It manages to be a mind bending mystery that is shockingly comprehensible and straight forward. It fools the viewer with apparent misdirection, but the show never lies to the viewer. It really shows how mediocre the Netflix shows have been. The CW shows are operating on a different model and budget, but Legion does prestige superheroes and blows the likes of Daredevil and Luke Cage out of the water.

Snatch – I really shouldn’t like this show as much as I do. I really like the movie Snatch, but tries to ape its energy and ends up as kind of a pale shadow. It has the quick cuts and the zooms, but it employs them haphazardly. The stars, including Rupert “Ron Weasely” Grint, are having fun, though, and the show is actually structurally very strong. It might be lacking in dialogue, surprise and budget, but each episode is built on a solid structure. Each episode tells a story and builds logically from one place to the next. It is also light enough that its flaws don’t really hold it back. It is an enjoyable gangster/heist show that doesn’t really aspire to greatness, so it is fine when it doesn’t reach it. It is a solid bit of light fun that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

CW Superheroes – Somewhere during this season, Legends of Tomorrow has embraced its premise and become the best of the CW’s four shows. That has something to do with a little back half faltering from The Flash and Supergirl. The Flash has gone to the evil speedster well one too many times. It still shines on one off episodes, like the recent musical Supergirl crossover, but the central storyline is kind of a bust. Supergirl has been essentially coopted by Mon-el, turning him into the focal character at the expense of everyone else on the show. Both shows are still quite enjoyable, but only Legends of Tomorrow is really firing on all cylinders. As for Arrow, I’ll catch up when it hits Netflix in a month or two.

What I Watched in Feb 2017

Movies

Good Will Hunting – This movie is really, really good. It is easy to see why both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became stars off of this and Robin Williams is both amazing and restrained. I wish I had seen this a long time ago. ****1/2

Ocean’s Twelve – The plot of this movie is overcomplicated – not confusing, just somewhat pointlessly circular – and it doesn’t have the oomph of its predecessor, but sometimes all you need to be enjoyable is to have a truly stellar cast apparently having a good time, as well as at the very least competence in other aspects. ***1/2

Immortals – I wanted to like this movie, I really did. There are few things I like more than gaudy fantasy epics. But Immortals is mostly a slog. It trudges along for most of it runtime and then when it finally gets fun at the end it feels really unearned. It just isn’t very good. **1/2

Lost in Space – The most notable thing about this movie is the astoundingly terrible CGI. It is really trying, but it is a contemporary of The Mummy Returns and it shows. Otherwise, it is a movie that can’t quite find its tone. Oldman is playing everything really campy while Matt Leblanc is trying to be Han Solo, making for an awkward mix. **1/2

John Wick 2 – Read review here. ****1/2

LEGO Batman – Read review here. ***1/2

The Princess Bride – Yep, it’s still great. *****

Predator – It is a solid combination of horror and action, everyone knows. Predator is good stuff. ****1/2

Raising Arizona – This fills in a gap in my Coens watching, and it is another of their more comedic movies. It is really good, though I don’t know that it will be the go to that some others have become for me. ****1/2

Robocop – I wish I liked this as much as other people do. I see it and recognize what is good about it, but I don’t much enjoy it. ****

The Monster Squad – I am sure I saw this as a kid, but I barely remembered and watching it again, along with the previous 4 movies on this list as part of the really fun FThisFest twitter film festival, reminded me that it was pretty great. It is kids fighting classic monsters. It has some weak points, but overall is a lot of fun. ***1/2

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – The Lonely Island boys have another underrated gem here. I don’t know if I like Popstar quite as much as I liked Hot Rod, but it is still a ton of fun. The fake pop songs that Conner4real sings are perfect. Really, this is a constant delight. ****1/2

Trainwreck – This movie got rave reviews a few years ago, but it didn’t really do anything for me. I’m not saying it was bad, but I didn’t connect with the characters and it was only intermittently funny. I have similar problems with most Apatow movies; their funny moments are offset but an equal number of tedious sections. ***

What We Do In The Shadows – This movie is great. It is a mockumentary about a group of vampires living in the same house. It is just them going around dealing with regular and vampire problems. It is hard to explain, but it is great. *****

Oscar – Stallone was not the right choice to play the lead in this adaptation of a French play, but other than his sometimes cumbersome performance this movie sings. It was pretty well hated upon release and almost forgotten since, but I really liked it. It doesn’t quite reach Importance of Being Earnest levels, but it is close.****

Rocknrolla – I still like this movie. Some days I feel like I’m the only one left on the Guy Ritchie bandwagon. This is a lesser movie than Lock Stock or Snatch, but it is still highly entertaining crime stuff. There are a ton of threads and they don’t come together as well as things did in his other crime movies, but each of the plots are pretty fun. ****

Heathers – A classic from the 80’s that I had never seen. It is some kind of weird anti-high school movie, like a much darker take on Mean Girls, but it is mostly enjoyable. ****

David Brent: Life on the Road – Ricky Gervais returns to the character that made him famous, but he doesn’t really have anything new to bring to things. This is essentially an extra-long episode of The Office, only without the good parts. There is no one to root for, just a despicable man being oblivious and awful for 90 minutes. Brent works when he is the boss because people are forced to listen to him. Now that he’s knocked it is just watching him be terrible and pathetic. **

The Great Wall – Read review here. ***

Sour Grapes – This is a documentary I watched on Netflix about selling high priced wines and how one man fooled a ton of the buyers. It is really slow getting to the good part, the actual scam, spending a lot of its run time setting up the people who play a part in this drama. Still, it is a decent story, with a cunning guy running a not particularly well thought out scam, but a scam that worked because no one really looked into it for a few years. ***

The Lost World: Jurassic Park – I love Steven Spielberg, but this movie is an incompetent piece of crap. It is everything that could have gone wrong with first Jurassic Park. I hate it. *

Girlfriend’s Day – I like this movie a lot in theory, it is a comedy noir starring Bob Odenkirk, but it is only about 70 minutes long, not a problem on its own, which doesn’t really give enough time to explore its weirdness to a satisfactory conclusion. Still, it is entertaining if a little unfulfilling. **1/2

Laura – I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this one, other than it is an old noir movie with Vincent Price in a supporting role. It is strange, but compelling. For a 70 year old movie it is really enjoyable. ****

TV

A Series of Unfortunate Events – This was certainly something. It is a children’s show, though one that is both very dark and very literate. It certainly isn’t for everybody, but it is just about perfect at being what it is. The children have surprisingly strong performances, as do all the adults, played mostly by highly recognizable actors. The story so far is fairly simple: the Baudelaire parents are killed in a fire and their three children are sent to a series of guardians. A series of guardians because they all prove unsuitable, in the case of series villain Count Olaf, or end up dead. It settles into a pattern early on, but breaks it by the end and the second season should change things up some more. It is a really solid series.

Santa Clarita Diet – The man behind this show, Victor Fresco, was also responsible for Better off Ted and Andy Richter Controls the Universe, two shows I like a whole lot. I didn’t like Santa Clarita Diet as much in this first season. It was starting at a disadvantage, because I don’t much care for zombies. It leans into the zombie stuff hard early, with some off putting gore and gross out moments, but in the second half the family stuff comes on stronger. The family of characters is very believable, especially for a sitcom. They actually feel like a family. There is also some great humor; really, the show is just solid.

Better Off Ted – I’ve written about how much I like Better Off Ted before. Watching Victor Fresco’s new show (see above) made me want to take a trip down memory lane. It holds up and Portia di Rossi is an underrated comic actress.

Taboo – I am toying with a full post on this show, but it is safe to say that I really liked how this show turned out. The middle part did have some extended Tom Hardy doing Tom Hardy things for no apparent purpose, but in general I really liked it. At the very least when I get a chance I am going to rewatch the whole thing to see if the themes work. Hopefully it gets a second season, especially now that the show has dispensed with a lot of the mystery around Hardy’s character and let the viewer in a little more. As long as more of this show has good actors clearly having a lot of fun I will be there.

CW Superheroes – Quick check ins here: Supergirl has been mostly really good, though I’d be happier without the Mon-El romance subplot, The Flash continues to be strong even when its reach exceeds its grasp and Legends and Arrow are both much stronger this year than last.

Riverdale – I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but this is teenager soap opera trash at its finest. I want to let it get a little further in before I make any real judgements, but they are on the right track.

What I Watched in January 2017

Movies

Ant-Man – I’ve seen and reviewed this before, but my brother hadn’t seen it. It holds up to repeat viewings. Most of the jokes still land and the action stuff is good enough. I really can’t wait for that sequel. ****

John Wick – I’d heard good things about this and the trailer for the sequel looked great, so I rented it from Amazon for a dollar and gave it a watch. It is a barebones, nearly perfectly executed action movie. It does a great job of building up John Wick before letting you see him in action, and then making that pay off. It also does a good job of hinting at this elaborate underworld that it only barely shows, making this seem like it comes from a world that exists outside of this movie. It is just really well done all around. ****

Duck Soup – This is maybe the best comedy ever made and even now, more than 80 years after its release, it remains relevant. When Rufus T Firefly (Groucho Marx) sings “The Laws of My Administration” it is hard not to see its similarities to problems in the current day. *****

Horse Feathers – I don’t like this one quite as well as Duck Soup, but it is similarly hilarious and relevant, though the problem of colleges making sports more important than education is much lighter than resurgent fascism. *****

Boogie Nights – Paul Thomas Anderson is a master. There is a lot going on in this movie, including a star making performance from Mark Wahlberg, but I don’t really have time to unpack it. It has a completely awesome soundtrack as well. *****

The Last King – This is a Norwegian historical action movie about the real rescue and a child that would eventually be king. It is basically Game of Thrones but with more skiing. It isn’t great, but it more than enjoyable. ***1/2

Ratchet & Clank – I had high hopes for this, but it didn’t play near me. It ended up being like most video game movies; not especially good. It feels a little like a Ratchet and Clank game with all the gameplay taken out. It needs just a little more. It isn’t bad, but it never really rises higher than mildly amusing. Still, it isn’t pure excrement like Angry Birds. ***

Alice Through the Looking Glass – I expected this to be a lot worse, but while it isn’t good was it an abomination either. It is just a mess of CGI and affected performances that occasionally manages to be interesting. **1/2

Live By Night – review here. ***

Cloud Atlas – I skipped this when it came out because the Wachiowskis tend to be more miss than hit with my, but I listened to a great podcast about it (fthismovie) that convinced me to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did. Cloud Atlas interweaves 6 stories in different time periods that all tell one giant story. It is kind of clunky at times and melodramatic, but it is so earnest that the whole thing ends up working. I loved it. *****

Trainspotting – I see why this movie is so well regarded, but I found it really hard to watch. It coats a frank look a drug addiction and hopelessness with a pop aesthetic to make it moderately palatable. It deserves its reputation, but I doubt I’ll watch it again. ****1/2

Fruitvale Station – This is an amazing and harrowing look a specific example of a real and extant problem in the country. This movie follows that last day of Oscar Grant, who was shot by BART police officers on New Year’s Day nearly a decade ago. It is just heart breaking to watch. *****

Small Soldiers – This is not my favorite Joe Dante movie, but there is still a lot to like here. It is a little pseudo-horror movie for kids; it mostly works. It’s central toys fighting toys conflict is only marginally interesting, but there are quite a few nice performances, including one by the late, great Phil Hartman. It is no Gremlins or The ‘Burbs, but isn’t bad. ***1/2

Flowers of War – This wants to be something important and profound, but it ends up feeling a little cheap and awkward. There are some really good scenes and shots, and this is a story that needs to be told, but this is not the best telling. The Asian side of WWII is not one that gets told a lot, especially not about Japan’s atrocities in China rather than US military exploits in the Pacific, but this just feels like it kind of got away from director Zhang Yimou.**1/2

Gone Girl – I am coming to terms with the fact that I am just a Ben Affleck fan. I like watching movies he stars in and I like it when he shows up in bit roles (see the next entry). This is a messed up movie and I’m not sure I like what it has to say and I know I don’t like seeing Rosamund Pike hit herself in the face with a ballpeen hammer, but it is a well-made film. ****

Shakespeare in Love – This was a lot of fun. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but this is pretty much the movie that The Knight’s Tale wants to be. It is a romantic comedy that just happens to star Shakespeare as he writes Romeo and Juliet. It takes some liberties with historical accuracy, mostly because that is far from the point. It is a fun movie with a lot of fun performances. ****

Scoop – I tend to prefer Woody Allen’s straight comedies, like this one. It’s got Scarlett Johansson playing a flighty would be reporter, Hugh Jackman being charming, Ian McShane being irascible and Allen himself playing an ineffectual stage magician. It is only rarely laugh out loud funny, but the whole thing is just kind of pleasant to watch. ****

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – read review here. **1/2

The Three Musketeers (2011) – This movie has so many things that I like, such as fencing and airships, that I really wanted to like it. But it just isn’t any good. It isn’t horrible, but the sword fights are mediocre and it is stuffed with bad effects. **1/2

Iceman – I love Donnie Yen. He’s stolen two blockbusters in the last couple of months (Rogue One and XXX) and I’ve been binging on his films available on Netflix, like the Ip Man movies. This one is a giant mess. It relies on mediocre CGI over Yen’s considerable martial arts talents. Yen is great, but this movie is not. *1/2

La La Land – Review coming soon. *****

Dragon – Another Donnie Yen vehicle. This one starts out great. Donnie Yen as a small town laborer who takes out a couple of bandits in a butcher shop. A police investigator determines that he must be a master martial artists and they engage in a cat and mouse game as he tries to prove it. But the ending is kind of nonsense, bringing the whole experience down. ***1/2

TV

Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 11 – It is amazing to see that this show remains so good after more than a decade. I don’t know that Season 11 is my favorite season of the show, but it has its share of excellent episodes. All of the stars continue to do excellent work exploring the unique ways that all of these characters are really just completely awful.

Turn Season 2 – An improvement over the tepid first season, but it still struggles with an unlikeable protagonist and way too much emphasis on stupid stuff rather than on actually spying. It isn’t Jamie Bell’s fault, but the central character is just completely unlikeable. He seems neither skilled nor principled; simply leaping from one blunder to the next. Even its villains, like the frequently despicable Captain Simcoe, get more of chance to seem sympathetic than the shows protagonist. While Abe Woodhull is a black hole at the center of the show, his allies Ben Tallmadge and especially Caleb Brewster are a lot of fun, but they get too little time.

Tarzan & Jane – It takes way too long to get up to speed and never stops looking ugly, but Netflix’s teenage take on Edgar Rice Burroughs famous jungle man isn’t terrible. In fact, the back half of the season gets quite good. Its mixed race, highly active Jane is a highlight. I can’t help but wish this show came in a better looking package, because I think it is up to the level of some other well liked action cartoons, at least over its first dozen episodes, but its blocky 3D look is simply unappealing.

Sherlock Series 4 – There is a real sense of diminishing returns with this show. It has almost always been better when the stakes were smaller, but now it doesn’t seem to know how to lessen the stakes, or how to tell a compelling mystery. That is offset by just how much fun it is to watch Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. And Mark Gatiss, who has been equally good as Mycroft. There is still enjoyment to be had from this show, but two out of three of this series’ plots were duds.

Danger 5 Season 2 – I liked the first season of this show, but I found it best taken in small doses. Somehow they managed to amp up the craziness in season2, but while I found it easier to binge, it just wasn’t quite as satisfying. Some jokes were overused and while the switch from the 60’s to the 80’s was great, things ended up feeling kind of scattered. Still, there is nothing else like this.

The Man in the High Castle Season 1 – This show is not unlike Turn in that it has a great premise, but it doesn’t know how to build its characters. Does it want the viewer to root for the Nazi spy? That’s not a good direction to go. But it doesn’t succeed at making anyone else compelling. Their actions only vaguely make sense and any time they seem to be making progress they seem to spin off in a completely different direction. After 10 episodes I couldn’t tell you what any of the characters want. They have no goals; they merely exist in the nightmare alternate reality. Everything else is good enough that I am going to keep going, but this show better find some direction if it wants me to watch past season 2.

Voltron The Mighty Defender Season 2 – I thought the first season of this show was fine, but with all of the origin stuff from season 1 out of the way season 2 shines all the way through. It is the Voltron that exists in the memories of the show’s fans, a spell that would be broken by actually rewatching the original, a lesson I learned from going back to TMNT as an adult. It is just the sort of show I would have loved to be able to watch as a kid.

Taboo – This Tom Hardy vehicle as me enthralled, but it is all mysteries and no solutions so far. I’ll be back next month with my overall thoughts. Maybe it gets its own post.

What I Watched in December 2016

It should be noted that this week’s posts were written under the influence of strong sinus medication. So forgive me if I just trail off in the middle of a

Movies

Allied – see review here. ****

30 For 30 Catholics vs Convicts – Another solid 30 for 30 effort, this one looking into the rivalry between Notre Dame and the University of Miami. It touches on a lot of things, from the racism inherent in the Catholics vs Convicts moniker to the landscape of branded apparel at the time that made it possible for a student to print up the t-shirts from the title. Like most of these movies, it is a very enjoyable look at a brief window of sports history. ****

Kung Fu Panda 3 – Not bad, not bad at all. This movie doesn’t do anything with the movies larger cast, but Bryan Cranston as Po’s long lost father was a lot of fun. The storyline doesn’t break any new ground, but it is mostly enjoyable. Other than a few impressive flat colored sequences, there isn’t anything great about this movie, but it is largely enjoyable. ***1/2

Angry Birds – What a miserable excuse of a movie. There were a lot of good animated movies this year and Angry Birds was not one of them. It isn’t funny, it doesn’t look good and its message – almost certainly accidental – is gross. Don’t watch this. *1/2

True Memoirs of an International Assassin – This isn’t quite as bad as one would guess. It’s not good, but it’s also not as lazy as a Happy Madison Production. There are sporadic laughs and the glimmer of a good idea here. None of that comes together in any sort of satisfying way, but at least it seems like people put effort into it. **

Tai Chi Master – This is a good time. Jet Li plays a disgraced Shaolin monk whose friend betrays him in a never ending quest for power. It isn’t the best kung fu movie I’ve watched, but Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are great as always. ***

Man of Tai Chi – Keanu Reeves directs this movie about a kid who gets pulled into a dangerous underground fighting league. Reeves plays the villain, who runs the league and sets out to deliberately corrupt a good but headstrong kid. It has some really good fight scenes, but the story is a fairly bland morality play. Still, it is more than worth watching. ***

Rogue One – read review here. ****1/2

Neighbors – I didn’t really expect to enjoy this as much as I did. I still didn’t love it, but it has its moments. The movie tends to focus on lesser jokes and slip right by the genuinely good ones, but some of the good ones would suffer from extended focus. Still, it has more than enough good laughs. ***

TV

The Office (USA) – I revisited this after watching the original version last month. I am even more convinced that the American version is the superior version. Especially in the first three seasons. After that it mostly settles into comfortable sitcom stasis, but the early seasons have most of the original’s bite and longing while having more and more interesting characters. I would rank it among the best TV comedies.

The Grinder – I skipped this show when it aired last year, and now I deeply regret it. It is damn near great television, and now it is cancelled. Rob Lowe and Fred Savage have some great chemistry as brothers and after about a half dozen episodes the show gets into a pretty great self-referential groove that calls to mind shows like Community and Better off Ted. It is a minor tragedy that this show only got one season. I suspect it will remain in my Netflix comfort viewing rotation for a good long time.

Turn S1 – This is kind of … not good. The production values are there. The cast is there. But the writing is not. Everything feels muddled and unfocused. A lot of time is spent on stories that are completely uninteresting, or on stories that seem to exist only to make the protagonists look bad so viewers won’t sympathize with them(?). There is a lot here that is good, but unless season two starts telling a genuinely interesting story I am going to be out sooner rather than later.

Columbo S1-6 – I saw this was leaving Netflix and made a mad dash through it. Columbo is great. He is a character that is rightfully considered one of the greatest TV characters of all time. Nearly all of this show’s feature length mysteries are well-crafted, with guest stars doing good work against a nearly perfect Peter Falk. I think I have a lot more to say about this show, maybe about how the show deal with class and wealth, but I’ll save that for a full post about the show. It’s worth it.

What I Watched November 2016

Movies

Hacksaw Ridge – read review here. ***1/2

Dr. Strange – read review here. ****

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 – This isn’t very good. The first Hunger Games movie was solid, exactly what it needed to be, but this adaptation of the first half of the last book is nothing. It is nearly two hours of absolutely nothing. When Harry Potter pulled this trick at least the movie was well shot. **1/2

Arrival – read review here. ****1/2

O Brother Where Art Thou? – The Coen Brothers are great, and this might be the best of their comedies. (editor’s note – It’s The Big Lebowski) All three of the protagonists are great, plenty of the side characters are a lot of fun and Man of Constant Sorrow is a delight to listen to. Just an all-around excellent film. *****

Stonehurst Asylum – An adaptation of a Poe story that I was unfamiliar with, this movie is okay. It has a lot of talented actors, with Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, David Thewlis and Kate Beckinsale, but it is kind of muddled in the middle and not especially good. Still, there is something good in there, even if it is only intermittently visible. ***

Unforgiven – This is an amazing movie. Maybe Eastwood’s best. It is a movie about many things: guilt, fame, time. All of them are woven together perfectly for this somber look at the dying days of the old west and the toll that life can take on people. Just amazing. *****

Hero – I greatly enjoyed this. It has some beautiful shots and some wonderfully choreographed fight scenes, as well as a story that twists just enough to be interesting. It is just really well made. ****

Goon – A dim witted bouncer stumbles into a job as a hockey enforcer, even though when he starts he can barely skate. Finally having a place to belong, he grows to be an integral part of his team even though he is only there to fight. It mostly works, but isn’t anything great. ***1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – read review here. ****

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – This has always been my least favorite Harry Potter story, both in book and movie form, and this viewing didn’t do anything to change my mind. Kenneth Branagh almost saves it with his perfect turn as Gilderoy Lockhart, but it loses some of the magic in trying to capture all of the book. Still, I wouldn’t call it bad, just a little too long and a little too dull. ***

ACOD – This movie has a really talented cast and a good idea, but it is a comedy that is only intermittently funny. For long stretches it isn’t funny at all. **1/2

ARQ – This is basically Edge of Tomorrow on a shoestring budget. It kind of works, though the small budget shows. Some of its concepts could use more fleshing out, but the idea of a house caught in a repeating loop with only a few of the people there aware of is at least an interesting concept. **1/2

Batman The Movie – This is a great comedy and as long as it is looked at through that lens it holds up. Batman is a silly idea, and this is that idea at its silliest. The gleeful goofiness of this movie makes it simply a delight. Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb. *****

Moana – read review here. ****

Burn After Reading – Not the best Coen Brothers movie. Stupid people do stupid things for 90 minutes. Some of them die, some get rewarded. Life has no meaning. There are some good scenes and it is pretty amusing, but it feels fatally slight. ***1/2

How to Steal a Million – Wow. Audrey Hepburn is amazing. Peter O’Toole and Eli Wallach are no slouches, but you watch this movie to watch Hepburn and it is worth it. It is a romantic comedy heist movie, and while the heist is a little undersold, the rest of it is great. ****1/2

London Has Fallen – What a miserable film. It is just ugly and bad in just about every way. There is absolutely nothing to recommend here; this is complete and utter dreck. *

TV

The Office (U.K.) – I sat down and watched this all the way through for the first time. It is still very good. You have to hand it to Ricky Gervais, David Brent is one of the most despicable characters to ever appear on TV; he is wholly unlikeable. At every opportunity he shows himself to small and petty, but he is wrapped in so much delusion that he casts himself as the wronged party. Since his constant faux pas come from ignorance, not malice it can be tempting to forgive him, but even when given the chance to be the thing he thinks he is he fails to do so. That really made the Christmas special at the end ring false; he gets something of a happy ending that he hadn’t earned. Still, it is a great show, though I would argue even more strongly now that the American version is better.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – A solid adaptation of a book I loved that can’t really bring over all of the things I loved about the book (there is no way to do footnotes on film). Still, it is a delightful look at a version of the early 19th century but with magic. It really made me want to reread the book, so I guess it was a success.

Ascension – Euggh. This starts with such a great premise, a generation ship traveling through space that has developed its own customs the longer they have been separate from Earth. It starts with a murder mystery on that ship, but every episode seems to change its mind about what kind of show it was, leading the viewer down some dull, inconsequential and poorly thought paths. This could have been something good, but instead it is nothing.

Curb your enthusiasm s3 – This show is one of those near perfect comedies, like Arrested Development. There is something perfectly relatable and detestable about the fictional Larry David. I’ve never really sat down and watched this show all the way through, but my brothers and I saw most of the 3 season one morning and every episode was hilarious.

CW Superhero Round-Up – This continues to be a strong season for Supergirl and I still like Flash more than most people. I have dropped off Arrow almost completely, though I did come back for the crossover. Legends is junk, but it is fun junk. That crossover, which was misleadingly called a 4-parter even though Supergirl’s episode only barely tied in, was impressive if not completely satisfying.

What I Watched in October, 2016

Movies

The Prisoner of Zenda – This is one of the classic adventure tales. It is really old, from the 30’s I believe, but it is still a lot of fun to watch. It feels its age, but it is also very apparent why it was popular in the first place. ****

They Came Together – A charming spoof by the guys behind Wet Hot American Summer, starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. It plays out with all the beats of a romantic comedy, but with a layer of complete ridiculousness. Very funny. ****

Looney Tunes Back In Action – Joe Dante is great and this is the movie that Space Jam should have been. Too bad Space Jam had already shit in the pool by this point. It has some great slapstick action and Brendan Fraser is a lot of fun. ****

Sweeney Todd – This is the perfect musical for Tim Burton’s talents, but that doesn’t make this movie any more enjoyable to watch. The production design is excellent, but I couldn’t make out the lyrics for most of the songs. ***

Jaws – Amazing exercise in tension and pacing. Just a great movie overall. Jaws doesn’t need any defending. *****

Spotlight – This is an altogether excellent movie. There are strong performances and riveting subject matter. I don’t really have more to say. *****

Sum of All Fears – Ben Affleck plays Jack Ryan in a movie that is mostly pretty dull until it goes balls out crazy and drops a nuke in Baltimore. It isn’t especially good, but it is nuts. ***

Redemption – This movie has aspirations of being more than just a Statham action movie, but it really isn’t much of anything. Statham is always fun to watch and it really isn’t like anything else, but neither is it particularly good. **1/2

Mascots – see review here. ****

The Nice Guys – Of all the movies to come out this year, this is the one I most wanted to see in the theater but missed out on. After taking advantage of a 99 cent rental deal with Amazon, I finally got to see it and am even more upset that I missed it. This is easily one of the best movies of the year. Both Crowe and Gosling are fantastic. Really everything aobut this movie is great. Perfection. *****

Tucker & Dale Versus Evil – A largely amusing horror comedy that leans too hard on the gore. There are some good bits and jokes, but it never really rises about amusing distraction into something really memorable. ***1/2

The Accountant – see review here. ***1/2

Jack Reacher – A perfectly competent action movie starring Tom Cruise. It is baseline action movie, nothing too spectacular but completely watchable. ***

Amanda Knox – It is amazing to watch this, to see the filmmakers get a lot of the major players to appear on camera and two of them just damn themselves with what they saw. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered someone as scummy as Nick Pisa, or at least as he comes across here. It also gets across how flimsy the case against her was. This isn’t the most informative of documentaries, it assumes the viewer has a basic understanding of the case already, but it is riveting. ****

Godzilla 2014 – I liked this movie a lot more in the theater. I still like it now, but without the big screen spectacle the flaws stand out more. There really isn’t enough Godzilla action and some of the stuff with Ford doesn’t work at all. Still, that climax redeems it for the most part. ***1/2

Dazed and Confused – I have liked a lot of other Linklater movies, and when this one showed up on Netflix I jumped at the chance to finally see it. It is one of those perfect coming of age comedies. Most of the characters are at least partly sympathetic and it manages to capture the feeling of being in high school. ****1/2

Addams Family – This is one of the great horror comedies. The cast is great: Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd especially. I don’t know that I like the actual plot, but all of the jokes and scenes play. ****

Addams Family Values – A much better plot than the first movie, with a lot of good stuff for this game great cast. I love camp stuff, seeing Wednesday and Puggsley being forced to interact with something like the real world. It is just so much damn fun. *****

Young Frankenstein – An all-time classic. It is not my favorite movie by either gene Wilder or Mel Brooks, but any collaboration of theirs is worth seeing. While I don’t love horror movies, I do like horror comedies and this might be the best. *****

Sisters – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a great comic duo, but this movie doesn’t quite stick the landing. All the elements are there and there are some genuinely funny jokes, but there is also a lot of flab. It doesn’t nail the character stuff or the comedy hard enough, though all of it is roughly good. Still, Fey and Poehler are too good to not at least like. ***1/2

The Cabin in the Woods – A pretty great meta take on slasher movies. I don’t much care for any horror movies, but this seems like it was doing something really smart with the genre.

Shaun of the Dead – Still excellent. It is layered and well considered and very funny. I like the other Cornetto movies a little better, but this one is still great. *****

TV

Poirot Series 13 – I finally worked my way through the last series. It is the same as it ever was; largely very well executed mystery movies built around a great performance with its lead. Still, it always manages to feel a little cold. It is never the less completely enjoyable. I am glad I soldiered through.

Detectorists Series 2 – The more I watch this show, the more I love it. It nails this perfect pastoral feel, with its characters gradually revealing themselves, never rushing to state its points. The characters are perfectly human; their struggles are wholly relatable. It is just everything I want in a show.

The Ranch S1 Part 2 – More of the same from the first part; a comfortingly terrible sitcom. Terrible is too strong, it isn’t good but it is well executed and the cast has some chemistry. There just isn’t a lot here to recommend unless you are a big fan of the stars.

Luke Cage – I’ve already written about this here.

The Get Down – I don’t really know how to evaluate this beautiful mess. There are some great scenes, but the show is just all over the place. Again, some of the musical numbers really work, but a lot of the dialogue is insultingly on the nose. I liked it on the whole, but it isn’t really all that good.

Quick Draw Season 1 – This show has essentially one joke, that the over-educated Harvard graduate sheriff doesn’t get the old west, but it manages to wring quite a few fun bits out of it, especially since they actually let him be an expert shot. Still, I watched the first season during a slow afternoon and likely will never come back to it.

Flash S3 – It hasn’t rebounded to the soaring heights of the first season, but while it has been a little slow so far, it does feel like they are actually building to something worthwhile. Unlike last season when the first third of the season was mostly set up for Legends. I’m really enjoying all the different Wells and Draco Malfoy as Barry’s work rival. I hope it pays off on all the promising stories it is setting up.

Arrow S5 – I think this season is shaping up to be stronger than last, but no less weird. They’ve brought in Ragman, Mr. Terrific and Wild Dog. Freaking Wild Dog. Still, it is staying closer to the street level stuff that Arrow works better with. I don’t know that I’ll keep up with it past the crossover, though.

Legends of Tomorrow S2 – The show is slightly stronger through three episodes than it ever was last season. Maybe that is just my innate love of the JSA showing through. It is still too ambitious for its effects budget, but Vixen is better than Hawkgirl. Of course, Commander Steel is no match for Captain Cold. Still, they are being set up to fight a time traveling Injustice League, which is much better than last season’s tepid take on Vandal Savage.

Supergirl S2 – The show is going through some pretty big changes in its move to the CW, but it overall feels a lot more confident with what it wants to be. Superman in the first few episodes was great and most of the new additions are fun so far. This might end up being as good as Flash S1 at this rate.

What I Watched September 2016

Movies

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – It’s not bad. I never went as crazy over the first How to Train Your Dragon as some people did, but this follow up is adequate but definitely lesser. There is nothing really wrong with it, but it just feels kind of unnecessary. ***

Saving Private Ryan – This isn’t quite one of Spielberg’s absolute best, but it is very good. The war scenes are to this day amazing to watch. Other parts of it drag on just a bit too long; I could do without the framing scenes, which I don’t think are effective or add anything to the film. Overall, though, it is just great. ****1/2

The Big Short – This is a great movie. It starkly and humorously lays out the circumstances that lead to the recent financial collapse. It manages to combine a very important history/economics lesson with a funny, entertaining movie. It is just really, really good. *****

Bonnie & Clyde – There is a lot of great moments and performances in this movie, but I don’t know how well I like how it came together. It is certainly very watchable, with a lot of great scenes. I really like the brief appearance by the late Gene Wilder. ****

Joe Dirt 2 – I liked Joe Dirt. Maybe I was just young and stupid, but I found it largely entertaining. This is just stupid and mean spirited; it is certainly not funny. A more unnecessary or unwanted sequel I couldn’t imagine. 1/2

The Last Samurai – I think I like this movie a lot more than I should. There are some real problems, like the white savior stuff this movie indulges in and the historical inaccuracies, but I still find it to be a very entertaining film. Tom Cruise is usually good and Ken Wantanabe is great. ****

Chasing Amy – Kevin Smith writes some good dialogue, but unless you are as fascinated with the idea of lesbians as he is this movie hasn’t aged particularly well. There are some fun scenes and some good ideas, but it feels a little flat to me. ***1/2

The November Man – Pierce Brosnan plays a spy that is more like Daniel Craig’s Bond than his own. It isn’t terrible, but there really isn’t much here to recommend. **

Always – One of Spielberg’s lesser known movies, this romantic comedy/drama about the ghost of Richard Dreyfuss helping his ex-girlfriend move on almost works. I love nothing more than movies about planes, and this is one such movie, but it struggles with tone for most of the runtime. It does some slapstick and some tear jerking, but mostly it just meanders around trying to sell a romance that only intermittently works. It is still largely entertaining, but it is easily among the director’s lesser works. ***

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – This is a gorgeous movie, but it is also kind of melodramatic and overblown. The production design alone makes it worth watching, but I wouldn’t say it is especially good. **1/2

Sully – see review here. ****

The Usual Suspects – The whole movie is its twist, which makes me want to keep lowering my score the more I think about it. This a plain story told in an interesting way. That first time through it is amazing, but there isn’t much there for repeat viewings. ****

The Finest Hours – A perfectly fine disaster/ shipwreck movie. Chris Pine is good, but the actual rescue is dwarfed by some numbing search scenes. It just lacks the necessary spark to be at all memorable. ***

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – Still great. It takes the same characters and set up of the first movie and does something completely different with it. It is just a lot of fun. ****

Ip Man 2 – This is like two different movies mashed together. It starts with Master Ip building up a new martial arts school after relocating in the last movie, but about halfway through it turns into Rocky IV with a less likeable villain. It is decently entertaining, but that split in the middle is hard to reconcile. ***

Ip Man 3 – This starts much like the previous movie, but this time the split in the middle makes for a better story instead of an inexplicable one. It starts with Ip fighting off some gangsters who want to demolish the school his son attends and builds into a rivalry between Master Ip and another Wing-chun master. I really like how that rivalry was dealt with; it is not what would normally be expected. ***1/2

The Good Dinosaur – This is one of the few Pixar films I missed in the theaters and I don’t feel like I’ve missed much. It has an interesting look; with nearly photorealistic backgrounds mixed with very cartoony looking characters. The story is simple, with shockingly little going on for a Pixar movie. There is a base level quality that it doesn’t drop below, but it doesn’t really rise above a certain ceiling either. ***1/2

Underworld & Underworld Evolution – How do you make werewolves fighting vampires movie and make it this completely boring? These movies are unspeakably dull; the only thing of interest is Kate Beckinsale in skintight clothes. *1/2

DEBS – I watched this after happening upon Roger Ebert’s scathing review. I don’t really agree with him, but that doesn’t make it good. It is a kind of flabby comedy spy spoof. There are some good moments, but it mostly just looks cheap and not especially well constructed. **1/2

Coffee Town – It has a fun cast in Glen Howerton and Ben Schwartz, but it doesn’t really feel like it has a purpose. It is at its best when it is embracing that lack of purpose. Until its main plot comes into focus, it is a lot of fun watching this goofballs mess around a coffee shop. ***1/2

The Boxtrolls – I loved Kubo, but this was more like the Laika films that I more admire than enjoy. I can’t deny the craftsmanship that is apparent on screen in this movie, but I don’t much care for the aesthetic or characters. It is perfectly good for what it is, it just really isn’t for me. ***1/2

Big Trouble in Little China – I feel like I don’t have the words to talk about how much I like this movie. I really wish I had watched this as a kid. It is everything you could want out of a mystical kung fu movie starring Kurt Russell from the 80’s. It is amazing. ****1/2

13 Assassins – I wanted something Seven Samurai like before seeing Magnificent 7 and this was the closest I could find on short notice. It starts with the usual gathering the team scenes, along with some to establish just how awful the villain of this movie are. But about an hour in it gets to the big fight scene and that doesn’t disappoint. It is a nearly hour long fight scene that just keeps shifting and growing. It is great. ****1/2

Tomorrowland – This is a weird movie. One of its central plot’s is a love story between George Clooney and a tiny girl. She is a robot, but it is still awkward. It is called Tomorrowland, but only the last act gets to that place. Also, it is a rather pessimistic movie about optimism. Still, Brad Bird can make a fine movie. ***

Aloha – This is in a lot of ways wrongheaded and ill conceived, but it is also well acted and intermittently entertaining. **

Magnificent 7 – See review here. ***

TV

Galavant – I gushed about this show when the second season aired, but I will do so again now that the entire series has been added to Netflix. Galavant is only 18 half hour episodes long. Each episode has at least two songs. It ends up being about a 6 and a half hour long fantasy musical. It has some great characters and great songs. The second season is especially good. Timothy Omundson is particularly good as the inept King Richard. This is a show everyone should take a look at.

Psych – I know I’ve written about Psych before, but I felt the need to do so again. I watched as much as I could of this before it left Netflix. As this is one of my background noise staples, I hope it returns sooner rather than later. The more I watch this, the more I feel comfortable saying that this is a great TV show. It starts as a straight formula, but as it gets more comfortable with its characters it grows in some interesting ways. Psych’s loving homages to all kinds of classic movies and TV shows are mostly very well done, and honestly more true to their inspirations than I initially realized. It does falter in the last season or two, as the show loses sight of its mysteries and kind of falls apart, but other than that it is great.

What I Watched August 2016

Movies

Crimson Peak – I skipped this movie last year because it was advertised as a horror movie. It isn’t; it is a gothic romance. There are some horror elements, but it is more slightly spooky than in any way scary. I loved it. The performances by Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska are all excellent. It also looks great, with Del Toro’s usual mastery of effects. This is everything I could have wanted it to be. I have learned my lesson about missing out on Del Toro movies. *****

Transporter Refueled – This movie shows just how much Jason Statham brings to the table. Ed Skrein is fine, but he lacks Statham’s charm and presence. This movie is fine, but it isn’t anything more than a competent action also ran. **

Blitz – This is Jason Statham doing more with less. There isn’t a lot original or great here, but Statham makes it just enjoyable enough to watch. **1/2

Suicide Squad – See Review here ***1/2

Star Trek (2009) – I picked this up out of the $4 bin at Wal-Mart after seeing Star Trek Beyond. I remembered it being a lot of fun and it is. The movie is very much about establishing the new cast as these characters, leaving little room for anything else. Still, like most JJ Abrams movies it is slick and enjoyable, even if it is a little shallow. ****

Cinderella – This is the Kenneth Branagh directed live action version of Disney’s animated movie. After seeing this and the Jungle Book, maybe these just aren’t for me. I never really like Disney’s Cinderella, and this version keeps all of the things I didn’t enjoy, such as the talking animals. It certainly looks great. **1/2

The Little Prince – This is two completely different movies smashed together. There are the amazing stop motion scenes out of The Little Prince, and then there is the thoroughly adequate CG animated movie filled in around it. I would rather this was just a straight adaptation of The Little Prince in the style of the scenes already in this movie, but what is here is disappointingly fine. ***

Hellboy – I didn’t much like this movie when I first saw it years ago. I don’t know what was wrong with me. It is a little slow to get going, spending a lot of time on the origin of Hellboy and setting up how the BRPD operates, but once it gets going it becomes a delight. ****

Back to the Future Part 2 – I know I’ve written about this movie before. It is great. *****

The Princess Bride – I know I’ve written about this movie before. It is great. *****

The Battered Bastards of Baseball – This documentary about Portland’s short lived independent minor league baseball team is a lot of fun. It’s got underdog stories galore and manages to be both sad and heartwarming. ****

Batman v Superman Ultimate Cut – Earlier this year I came away from BvS mildly positive about it. Still, I wasn’t rushing out to get the Blu-Ray and see it again, only this time 30 minutes longer. Still, I happened to see the Ultimate Cut and I am glad I did. The thirty minutes of added in fixes almost all of the movie’s plot problems. It actually lets the viewer into Superman’s head, so they can see how he came to goaded into this fight instead of just seeing Batman’s near deranged fury that got him there. It more strongly establishes Lex Luthor’s hand in setting all of it up. Why this stuff was cut instead of shortening the last fight scene or taking out some of the Easter eggs I’ll never know, but this three hour long version is a nearly great movie. ****

Blade 2 – Yeah, after watching Crimson Peak I went a little Del Toro crazy. This has some very Del Toro feeling moments, but it doesn’t quite work for me. I like a lot of the elements of this movie, like the vampire hunters – the hunters that are vampires – teaming up with Blade and some of the action scenes are great, but it moves to the end without doing much to play with the toys it painstakingly show off early. Still, it is reasonably entertaining. ***

Pacific Rim – This is another Del Toro movie with a lot of set up, but this time I find all of that interesting. I am already sold by the time it moves to the big battle scenes. I get the feeling that this is something of a love it or hate it movie, and I definitely fall on the love it side. It does a better job than most big action movies of establishing its world, even if that does come some at the expense of establishing its characters. *****

Kubo and the Two Strings – see review here. ****1/2

Before We Go – Chris Evans and Alice Eve are entertaining actors, but this movie is a slightly pleasant bit of nothing. **

The Lone Ranger – How is the train scene at the end of this movie so ridiculously good when the rest of the movie is so damn tepid? That scene is amazing, with the energy of the first Pirates movie, but the rest of the movie is just … there. **1/2

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Much like the first Hellboy movie, but this one doesn’t need to spend the time on the set up, it just gets right to the action. Del Toro really outdoes himself with the action set piece and strange creatures here. All of the characters are just on point from the start and the team feels more natural than they did the first time. This movie is just a blast from start to finish. *****

Hot Fuzz – Still one of my favorite all time movies. There is never a bad time to put this on. *****

Sahara – Ughh, this is a mess. I think it was supposed to be fun, but it just misses the mark all over the place. It is an uncomfortable combination of other action movie ideas that just doesn’t work on its own. It is like a Bond movie where Bond has no mission or reason to be there. Also, it is just kind of dumb. *1/2

Jane Got a Gun – There is a good movie here somewhere, but it didn’t quite end up on the screen. The characters don’t connect to each other in what should be a very personal story. It hurts that the way it is told, mostly through flaashbacks, robs most of the emotional moments of their possible impact. **1/2

TV

Doctor Thorne – A reasonably well made adaptation of not especially well known 19th century novel. It isn’t great; it is not the sort of show to garner effusive praise. But it is a solid exercise that fans of the genre will enjoy. I certainly don’t regret seeing it. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? Honestly, though, it’s pretty good.

Poirot Series 12 – The second to last handful of Poirot mystery adaptations. They are still well made, though I don’t know that I like all the adaptation choices on the stories I know. This is still really good stuff, I hope to finish the series up next month.

Home Movies Season 4 – This isn’t the best season of this amazing show, but I really like the journey that Brendan goes on through this season. It is Brendan, at least somewhat, moving away from making movies. He is still working on them, but he is often distracted or disinterested. As much as I wish we had gotten more of this great show, the last season does a great job of tying things up and ending.

Marco Polo Season 2 – This show has a good cast, great production values and a fertile subject matter but doesn’t manage to tell a satisfying story with any of it. It has become clear that the title character is the least interesting part of the proceedings, but the show only rarely manages to capitalize on the dramatic potential of Kublai or his sons. Some parts, like Hundred Eyes, are great on their own but don’t really fit in with the rest of the show. I hope it gets a third season, but I hope that season is dramatically improved in the writing.

Stranger Things – I initially dismissed this due to my apathy toward anything horror related, but consistent good reviews got me to try it out and I am glad I did. It is a wonderful synthesis of all the things I love from the 80’s, but isn’t just that. It works with similar themes and subject and aesthetics to stuff like ET and It, but it is definitely its own show. Unlike most of its inspirations, Stranger Things has a lot of space to work with, which allows it to build more fully formed characters than that stuff. It gets to develop two sets of kids and several adults, leaving room for a handful of intriguing tertiary characters. It does a great job of slowly building tension but never feeling like it is wasting the viewer’s time. I have nothing but praise for this show.

What I Watched in July 2016

Movies

Iverson – Allen Iverson is an interesting, talented, controversial athlete. He is the perfect subject for a documentary. Too bad this movie in not really interested in engaging with its subject in any meaningful way. It skirts into hagiography. I don’t think Allen Iverson was a villain, but this movie seems to exist as an attempt to explain away all of his various controversies. Iverson is/was a man with problems; he wasn’t always the good guy either on or off the court. I wish this movie would have done more to show his complexity. **

Lethal Weapon – There is something undeniably propulsive about this film. It constantly ramps things up higher and higher. Also, it is also understandable that Gibson’s Riggs is called a lethal weapon; he really seems dangerous to everyone around him here. The calming influence of Murtaugh is really felt. I just love something about a movie that hits ludicrous heights and just keeps going up from there. This movie does just about everything right. ****

Legend of Tarzan – see review here. ***

Lethal Weapon 2 – The second movie doesn’t quite have the same impact as the first, but it still works. They are already sanding the edges off Riggs. He is becoming more a charming rogue than a dangerous maniac. Part of that is just character development; part of it is losing what made the character interesting. This movie doesn’t really ramp up to craziness so much as it starts at crazy and stays there. It doesn’t have to introduce the characters so it can get right to firing machine guns in downtown LA. ***1/2

Hudson Hawk – I know this movies reputation, but I love it. Nearly all of the complaints people make about the movie are true, but the largely seem misguided to me. This movie is basically a Looney Tunes cartoon as a live action movie. No idea was too silly, nothing too absurd to be included. It doesn’t all work, but it is an amazing madcap action comedy. It is just so much fun, and everyone involved seems to be in on the joke. ***1/2

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial – This movie is pretty much perfect. I needed to see this after The BFG disappointed me so much. The relationship between Elliot and ET is so wonderfully done. I don’t know what else to say, it is too good. *****

The BFG – see review here. **1/2

Hot Pursuit – This movie is a complete waste. It has a decent set up for essentially a buddy comedy, but other than a few scenes it never really does anything. Vergara and Witherspoon are both funny, but this movie doesn’t really give them much to work with. It is just a bad movie.*1/2

2 Fast 2 Furious – This is the low point of the Fast & Furious movies. It does have its moments of charm, but it is mostly just a less engaging retread of the first movie, a movie that itself wasn’t all that great. The thing is, I liked a lot of the movies new additions to the cast, even the ones that didn’t reappear after this movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing Eva Mendes back, or some of the other street racers. **

Lethal Weapon 3 – This is where things really start to go downhill. Joe Pesci is still around, though he doesn’t really have a reason to be. The comedy has a overwhelmed the action to a great extent. Still, it is a fun movie to watch, but it lacks all but the merest spark of energy that suffused the first of second movies. This one is merely fine. ***

Lost Soul: the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau – This is just a fascinating story about one of the biggest train wrecks in movie history. It sets up Stanley as the sympathetic visionary, but you can still see why he might worry the studio. Seeing a man get his dream job, only for it to kind of morph into something else and then be snatched away from him is hard to see. That’s not even getting into the nonsense that Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando perpetrated on set. It is amazing to see, as everything gets further and further away from the promising film that it began as. ****

Ip Man – Part kung fu movie, part biopic; Ip Man is pretty darn entertaining. It tells the story of Ip Man during the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. He ends up in conflict with a Japanese general thanks to his kung fu mastery. It is really pretty entertaining, a little more somber than most Kung Fu movies I’ve seen, but the fight choreography was excellent and I really like the more serious story. This is a really entertaining film. ****

Star Trek Beyond – see review here. ****

Back to the Future Part 3 – I know I’ve written about this before, but it showed up on Netflix. I love the whole series beyond the point of examining it critically. *****

Lethal Weapon 4 – All of the energy of this series has been expended by this point. There is some enjoyable camaraderie apparent in the cast, many of whom have been here for 3 or 4 movies at this point, but it just feels really flabby and spent. As one last look in on some old friends, this is a decent excuse. As a buddy cop movie, it is a tired retread. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it really feels like more of a footnote than another entry in the series. **1/2

Ghostbusters – see review here. ***1/2

Fast & Furious – I got this whole series on DVD during a sale on amazon, and this being the one I’ve never seen it was the first one that I put in. It isn’t anywhere near as good as the last three, but it is certainly better than first three. There is certainly something to it being an actual sequel to the first movie. There is energy seeing those characters back again. It is also the first movie that feels like a movie that was intended to have sequels, not just a movie that had sequels forced upon it because it made money. It isn’t the best, but it is entertaining enough. ***

The Holiday – I watched this because it had Jack Black in it, which he barely was. It’s not bad, I guess, though I am no expert on the romantic comedy. It certainly feels too long, clocking in at over 2 hours. It could really stand to lose twenty minutes or so, probably in its very relaxed opening. Still, I was moderately entertained throughout. Mostly by Eli Wallach. ***

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian – This is a bad movie. The first Night at the Museum was pointless kiddy fare; this is just a diminished returns version of that, with one exception. This movie has Amy Adams in it. That is the reason I watched it; I can’t change the channel on Amy Adams. She is too adorable. I would watch her in absolutely anything. **

TV

Fargo S1 – I watched the second season when it aired, but I hadn’t seen more than a little of the first until I picked it up on DVD. It is unsurprisingly great. There are so many great performances in this season. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, and Allison Tolman are all amazing. The slow revelation of just how awful Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is is a great reveal. He starts out kind of pathetic and just gets worse and worse as the show goes along. Meanwhile, Thornton’s Malvo is a diabolical force of nature. They are a great pair of characters to watch. I was also struck by how many comedians, or at least actors primarily thought of as comedians, are in this cast. Glenn Howerton from Always Sunny is here, as are Key & Peele. They fit perfectly into the darkly comic world of this show. This is just a near perfect show.

Fargo S2 – This show is still great, but I might like the first season better. While the first season is focused, this one is sprawling. There are so many characters with separate stories going on in the first half of the season. They are all so good, but they sort of distract from the central story. Which is part of the point, I believe. This is a show as much about the characters as it is about the crime. This time through, including the first time through some of the early episodes, I was stuck with how much I liked Bear Gerhart. He seems like a man who has no illusions about what his family does, which is a big reason why he is so insistent on his son staying out of it. It isn’t until things are finally falling apart, and he feels forced to take out his niece, that he fully engages in the war with Kansas City.

The Shannara Chronicles – MTV’s trashy fantasy show that does its best to channel GoT, Hunger Games and LotR all at once is actually rather delightful. I don’t know that I would call it good, but I certainly enjoyed it. It takes some rather extreme liberties with its adaptation, often in service to actually nothing from a storytelling perspective, but there is just something compulsively watchable about the show. Manu Bennett as Allannon is a lot of fun, and the central trio are good, at least they are by the end of they are. It is cheesy and trashy and at times nonsensical, but it never stops being fun to watch.

Outlander S2 – The last episode aired at the start of July and it capped off a really great second season for Starz’s time travel romance adventure show. The last episode finally gets to the frame story that the book it is adapting started with, making the introduction of Brianna and Roger a little abrupt than the book. I have some problems with the extra sized finale largely that it cuts back and forth between the past and the more recent past fairly rapidly with no connection between the two time periods. Still it is an effective episode and finale. Outlander’s second season is definitely more rushed than first season, having fewer episodes and more plot to cover. You could really feel the what was left out of the book, but it was still a highly entertaining show week to week.