What I Watched June 2019

Movies

Backdraft 2 – I don’t know why someone thought we needed a sequel to mid-tier hit from the 90’s; we didn’t. This movie is shockingly competent, if not especially good. I mean, it is full blown nonsense and I can’t recommend it to anybody. But I kind of enjoyed a bit. **

Hot Fuzz – Yup, I still love it. *****

Murder Mystery – I can’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed an Adam Sandler movie. This movie almost leans into the criticisms of Sandler movies being an excuse to take a vacation on the production company’s dime, but it somehow works. There just appears to be more effort put in here, on the scripting and directing, than other movies. It isn’t the best mystery I’ve ever seen, but is just kind of works. This movie isn’t great, but I think it is slightly on the side of good. ***

Good Sam – Just a straight up Hallmark romance movie. I watched it for Tiya Sircar, who I knew from The Good Place. There is no reason to watch this movie. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but I don’t know why you would. **

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – This movie kind of sneaks up on you. This movie does a good job of keeping the viewer’s sympathy in between Martin and Candy. Martin’s character could have been more hateful, but you see from the start that he is actually a good guy who is getting stressed. Candy’s is kind of insufferable, but even early on he seems like a generally decent guy. The whole movie just worms its way into your affections. There aren’t many Thanksgiving movies, but with one this good do we need any others. ****1/2

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – This movie holds up shockingly well. The turtles still look good; those are some excellent special effects. Maybe there is too much nostalgia for me to adequately judge this movie, but I think it is genuinely excellent. ****

Wheels on Meals – Hey, you know who is great? Jackie Chan. You know who else is great? Sammo Hung. One final great thing: this movie. It is just so full of energy, such great fight choreography. The fight near the end it just excellent. I loved this movie. ****1/2

Rocketman – Read Review here.

Yesterday – Read Review here.

Late Night – Read Review here.

TV

Documentary Now S3 – I’ve really liked everything I’ve seen from this series. The third season expands things somewhat. Instead of all of the fake documentaries involving Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, there are a lot of guest stars, from Michael Keaton to Cate Blanchett to John Mulaney. There is also still a lot of Fred Armisen. These are still pitch perfect fake documentaries. They are funny, but there is also a humanity there. Even the subjects that are the source of comedy get a touch of empathy before the end. This show is just pretty much everything I want out of television.

When They See Us – Is this a TV mini-series or a nearly four hour movie broken up into smaller chunks? It doesn’t matter. What it is is one of the best things you can watch on any screen. When They See Us tells the story of the Central Park 5, a group of young black and Hispanic boys railroaded by the New York police and wrongfully convicted of rape and assault. This show digs in and tells the story from their heartbreaking perspective. It shows how the cultural climate of the time, egged on in part by a degenerate con man, a rapist himself, who called for their death before any evidence was shown, helped lead to this miscarriage of justice. It shows the struggles of their families as they try to get through it. It shows how the stigma followed them afterwards until they were able to prove their innocence. It is wonderfully acted, wonderfully shot, and completely heartbreaking. This is just one of the best things of the year.

Good Omens – I really wish I had encountered this book, and more Terry Pratchett in general, when I was younger. I’ve got it on my kindle and expect to enjoy it when I finally get around to it, but judging by this show it is something that would have really made an impact on me as a teenager. If I was prepared to handle it; there is still some part of my very conservative, fundamentalist Christian upbringing existing that recoils at the blasphemy here. I unabashedly love this show. Michael Sheen and David Tennant are great as the central angel and demon who are trying to prevent the apocalypse that is supposedly the plan of both sides, motivated by concerns like how hard it will be to get a good meal when all the humans are dead. Around them are a ton of other interesting, and more vital to the eventual outcome, characters, like the young woman with the book of always correct prophesies or the new witch-hunter who has problems with technology. The central conflict rest on the shoulders of a normal young boy who, it turns out, is the antichrist. It is a perfect combination of cleverness and irreverence.

Jessica Jones S3 – I’ve got a big post-mortem about the entire Marvel Netflix project in the works, waiting only on me finishing the third season of Daredevil, so I will have more to say about this there. For now, I’ll say that season 3 of Jessica Jones is a bounce back after the near disaster of season 2. It does have a complete dud of a villain, but the conflicts between its primary cast are good and believable. I don’t really like where it left things, but that is where it had to leave things after the season that was.

Hanna – I really can’t say why I stuck with this to the end. It’s not bad; it is actually quite well produced, but the show never really clicked with me. The central plot, of genetically engineered super-soldier that just happens to be a young girl, is a lot more interesting in theory than in practice.

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What I Watched May 2019

Movies:

Knocking Down the House – This pretty solid political documentary managed to catch lightning in a bottle. It focused on several left-leaning primary campaigns in the 2016 election, all of which save one ended in defeat for the candidate they were following, save one. That one, though, was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So it follows the earnestness of these progressive primary challenges and just so happens to catch a surprising political upset and the beginning of a political star. It is very interesting, which is what you want out of a documentary. ****

The Hustle – read review here. **1/2

Long Shot – read review here. ****

The Bank Job – A solid Jason Statham vehicle that is based on a true story, though I think that is loose here. Someone is blackmailing the royal family with nude photos, stored in a deposit box at a bank. Jason Statham is hired to rob the bank, but he knows nothing of this other motive; he’s in it because he needs the money. What follows is a solid heist movie. ***

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile – This movie isn’t perfect, but I liked it. Zac Efron does a great job as Bundy, and the movie wisely does not focus on his crimes, but more on his eventual capture. It lets it focus, for a while at least, more on Lily Collins’s character as she deals with not knowing whether the man she is living with is actually a serial killer or if it is a case of mistaken identity. It doesn’t shy away from what Ted Bundy was, either. It is right in the title. Still, it doesn’t quite have anything to say other than what the title says. ***

Wine Country – A sort of hang out movie with a great cast of SNL alums. It is never quite as good as you want it to be, mostly because there are a few too many characters for any of them to get the room they need, but it is still a largely really enjoyable movie with some big laughs. ****

Detective Pikachu – read review here. ****

John Wick 3 – read review here. *****

Tolkien – read review here. ***1/2

Aladdin – read review here. ****

Rim of the World – This movie from McG is trying desperately to ape kids movies from the 80s and it mostly succeeds. It doesn’t succeed on an E.T. level, or even a Gremlins level, but it manages something around Explorers. It is fine, I could see a kid of the right age really latching on to it, but it is a mess in some ways. Still, I enjoyed it. ***

See You Yesterday – This movie is excellent. It is a time travel movie that starts out fooling you into believing you are in for a romp, with a Michael J. Fox cameo that echoes Back to the Future. It then turns into something altogether more thoughtful. The two protagonists have created a working time machine. Unfortunately, they have to test it out to save one of the character’s brother from getting shot by police. So they keep looping the same afternoon, trying to stop it and things keep getting worse before somewhat salvaging the situation. Despite that premise, it never gets too heavy. It is just really good. ****

Take Me Home Tonight – I’ve seen most of this movie before, but I forgot that I actually kind of really like it. I like Topher Grace, and [other guy] is a fun as well. It has some misses and some lulls, but overall I’ve found it to be very enjoyable. ***½

The Last Summer – It’s fine. This is a teen romantic comedy about how a bunch of kids spend their last summer before college. It spreads its attention really thin amongst a lot of characters, but manages to be just on the charming side of things. ***

American Experience: The Island Murder – This is truly an American story. A woman reports being raped and beaten, so the authorities round up the nearest brown people they can find and accuse them of the crime. Even as the criminality of the white family involved becomes not just apparent but blatant, the prosecutors, hounded by the Navy brass who are involved, just keep on going after the obvious scapegoats, despite no evidence and their involvement and plenty of evidence corroborating their alibi. What could be more American? ***

Always Be My Maybe – A pretty solid rom-com starring Ali Wong and Randall Park as high school sweethearts who have grown apart. But they end up meeting back up and a rom-com happens. It is pretty fun, with a great Keanu Reeves appearance. It is just a solid execution of a formula. ****

TV:

Dead to Me S1 – The cast is great. The premise is a little too soapy for me. The twists just get a little too ridiculous. I did like the slow reveal of just how awful James Marsden’s character is, as he comes off reasonable early on and each subsequent time he shows up he looks worse and worse. The heightened stuff in this show doesn’t work that well for me. I still liked the show, but only liked it, not loved it.

The Punisher S2 – There is a really good Assault on Precinct 13 episode early on in the second season of the Punisher. You might as well stop watching there, because little past that is worthwhile. I didn’t hate it, but I really only kept going out of some masochistic desire to watch all of the Netflix Marvel stuff. Only Daredevil S3 and Jessica Jones S3 remain.

Doom Patrol S1 – This show needs its own post. I loved it. I loved every weird, nonsensical moment of it. It is a show about a superhero team of fundamentally broken characters, all in different ways. Their struggles are reflected in their powers. The stand out, to me at least, is Robotman. Cliff Steele was a famous race car driver who was seemingly killed, along with his wife and daughter, in an accident. Except the Chief saved his brain and put it in a robot body. He has super strength and invulnerability, but can’t feel anything. He has also become just as inhuman on the outside as he feels on the inside. Because Cliff Steele was kind of a jerk. He is not really central to the conflict of the season, but he is the driving force on the team. The rest are content with or at least accepting of their exile from the world, but Cliff can’t take it. He wants to do things. He may be trying to be a better person, even though he might not be a person anymore. He is also filled with self-loathing, and maybe does not feel he deserves to live. I kind of love it.

Catch-22 – This show is kind of stuck between two modes. It is both a satire and a straight drama, but it doesn’t quite manage to square its two different genres. Which is a shame, because each of them is great. The heightened stuff is marvelous, with the amoral [], the officers sole focus on getting promotions. The weird bureaucratic decisions made all over the place and the slow break down of the protagonist as he is trapped forever running dangerous bombing missions. Then there is the true drama that deals with the horrors of war that also works, when the two are juxtaposed it all kind of falls apart. I wish it worked better, because this is so close to being something I really loved, but it misses just enough to leave me a little disappointed.

The Flash S5 – I want to do a post going into all of the superhero TV shows, a genre that is kind of getting away from me, so I am not going to say much about this year’s season of The Flash (or the other DC CW shows). I thought it was a step up from the last season. The show still seems to always want to lean into its weaknesses, but this season had some good stuff.

Supergirl S4 – Supergirl bit off more than it could chew early on, but I think it managed to kind of bring things in for a landing. I am glad it didn’t let [bad guy] get redemption. He didn’t deserve it. I really liked the Dreamer and Brainy stuff. I hope the show doesn’t turn Lena into a villain. Solid, but flawed.

Legends of Tomorrow S4 – It couldn’t keep up the excellence of Season 3, but the drop off was slight. This show, despite no longer really being based on anything that resembles the comics origins of a few of the characters, is the best superhero show on (broadcast) tv. I can’t wait for next season.

Brooklyn 99 S6 – Each additional episode of Brooklyn 99 feels like an unexpected gift. I don’t know that this season was anything exceptional, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina S2 – I think this show could benefit from shorter episodes. There is a lot it does well. Honestly, it does almost everything well. But at the end of each episode I feel kind of exhausted. It always feels like a little too much, and that it is a little too slowly paced. The cast is great, and I really enjoyed this season, but it feels like it could be tightened up a little bit. It is no Netflix Marvel show when it comes to bloat, and the overall stories are solid, but if you are not in it for a long haul binge, it is kind of tough on an episode to episode watch.

Bob’s Burgers S9 – I don’t know that I have much to say about Bob’s Burgers. The show is great, it continues to be great. There were some really excellent episodes this season, and some that were merely fine. This show is one of my favorites ever, and though it has been running for a long time it hasn’t started slipping.

Ken Burns Civil War – A solid, long recounting of the major events of the Civil War. It is a Ken Burns documentary, you should know what you are getting. The biggest problem with it is how prominently it features talking head Shelby Foote, who is a nonsense lost-causer. His presence provides “balance” by having someone who is wrong and loves the Confederacy. Otherwise, I really enjoyed it.

She-Ra S2 – More She-Ra goodness, but only a little more. After spending the first season getting to know the world and characters, the second season has started to dig more deeply into those characters. There just aren’t enough episodes here.

Roman Empire: The Mad Empire – A sort of half-drama, half-historical reenactment of the reign of Caligula. It is fine, the history part kind of hampered by the fact that most commonly used historical sources are not especially reliable, which makes telling the “true” story completely impossible. Still, it is fine.

White Gold S2 – I wasn’t a huge fan of the first season of this show, but I think it improved a lot this time around, even if it wasn’t quite as focused. Maybe I just knew a little more of what to expect from it this time around. The problem is that I don’t really like any of the characters. It is certainly possible to have a show were all the characters are monsters, look at Always Sunny, but this seems like it kind of wants you to care about them. Still, it is pretty funny.

Tuca & Bertie S1 – This might just be a little too weird for me. There are a lot of great moments, and it handles some heavy issues well, but it is just strange in a way that doesn’t quite work for me. I don’t know what to say. It is a great show; give it a shot. But one of its strengths is having a specific voice and tone which may not work for everyone.

What I Watched April 2019

Movies

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

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

Hellboy – read review here. *1/2

Shazam – read review here. *****

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

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

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched March 2019

Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Marvel – read review here. ****

Dumbo – read review here. **1/2

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alita: Battle Angelread review here. ***

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Comparative Study

On a whim, I rewatched The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. Afterwards, a bout of curiosity led me to look up the movie on wikipedia, which took me down a rabbit hole that left me shocked to discover that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not a particularly well regarded movie. I was foolish enough to think it would be loved simply because it is great. Instead, it seems stuck in that that weird gray zone where fans of the previous versions don’t like it because it changed some things and non-fans don’t like it for a combination of thinking they are missing too much for not being familiar with the radio/book/tv version or were just never going to like it because Douglas Adams had a particular voice and that voice was understandably not for everybody. I really only understand the last one. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is an excellent movie in its own right, even if isn’t the definitive version of the story.

Part of my disconnect is likely that I backed into The Hitchhiker’s Guide. I saw the movie first. I loved it. Being the reader that I am, the first thing I did after watching it was track down the book. Which I also loved. I haven’t returned to the book much, mostly because nearly all of the best bits are in the movie and it can be experienced in less than two hours. I didn’t get deep into Adams; I didn’t read the rest of the series or any of his other work. I just moved on to other things, and this movie became a pleasant memory from college.

In reading up on the movie’s reputation I found numerous complaints about how the movie missed the spirit of the earlier versions, which I find preposterous. That spirit, embodied by clever wordplay, sly jokes, understated darkness, and general absurdity, is in the movie in spades. The movie translates most of the first book word for word; the first book is just really short. I reread the book after rewatching the movie; I still think the movie got most of it. Not everything translated off the page perfectly, and some portions weren’t really attempted, but the heart of the book come across perfectly.

After reading the book, I watched the 1981 TV version on Amazon, hoping it would provide the Rosetta Stone for understanding why fans of the property were not especially big fans of the movie. It did, in a way. (Here’s the line that would get me hate mail if anyone read my blog.) The TV version reminded me forcefully that nostalgia is a hell of a drug. This version looks cheap and is so shapeless and meandering as to make the book look like it was plotted with clockwork precision. The book already had a tendency to just move on to the next thing when it was done with the joke. The TV show does the same, except the pacing of each scene is bloated and sagging. Structurally, the show is barely a show at all. It feels much like a sketch show, with each episode moving to a completely different setting and concept that just so happens to carry over some of the same cast. A lot of it feels like a radio play set to film. All the acting is done in the dialogue; there is little of interest actually happening on screen. This is not meant to be read as a screed against good dialogue, only to note that TV is a visual medium and maybe the show should have had something worth watching on screen. There are some good creature designs, but it is mostly a lot of people standing and talking. Two-headed Zaphod is a straight up disaster, with his second head being almost as well realized as the one on Michael Scott’s halloween costume. The show simply looks bad.

This. This looks really bad.

A lot of disdain for the movie came from people praising the TV show and I simply don’t get it. I can understand people not liking the changes and additions (more on those later) to the movie from the book, but the TV show praise is baffling to me. A lot of that praise is for the performances, although the reasons for that, other than simple nostalgia, elude me. Again, many of these feel like performances for radio. They recede on screen, leaving the settings to do a lot of the acting. It makes it hard for me to even compare the performances. Zaphod is fine, though he seems to be struggling under the costume to give the character any energy. David Dixon makes Ford the most dynamic character on the show, but even he has a tendency to get lost in the shuffle. Simon Jones as Arthur Dent suffers the most as the show goes on. He is great early, but as the other characters show up, he all but disappears, even when the rest of the cast actually disappears. Trillian is a mess. I guess I see how people who grew up with these versions could prefer them, but they are mostly just fine mouthpieces for good dialogue that bring little else to the table. Honestly, I am glad the TV series was not the first version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I experienced, because I doubt I would have been a fan.

The movie, though, does have quite a few changes and additions from the book. Mostly, those are in the name of giving some form to the shapeless book. Part of the charm of the book—and the TV series I assume—is that scattered nature. It starts big, with the destruction of the Earth, but after that things just sort of happen. Revelations come fast and frequent, usually with little bearing on what came before it or what comes after. That was never going to fly in a movie version. So it added something of a quest to the search for Magrathea, which was something of a fait accompli in the book and show. Now, the crew has to get directions from Zaphod’s enemy Humma Kavula, which leads to a detour to Vogsphere. Those things were added for the movie. Honestly, they fit in almost seamlessly, though some of the humor is a little slapstick. Not significantly more so than stuff like a sperm whale crashing to the ground from outer space, but there is some. Outside of a knee-jerk dislike of everything new, there are two differences I’ve seen get a lot of hate. Understandably is the change in the nature of the relationship between Trillian and Arthur. Adding romance is the one change that really feels like a Hollywood change and not just an “accepted rules of storytelling” change. The romance is not needed to for cohesion or structure, it is just there. It doesn’t ruin the movie or anything, but if feels somewhat unnecessary. Inexplicably, people also hate the opening musical number. “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish” is a delight. Opening the movie with a satirical musical number ostensibly sung by dolphins tells the viewer exactly what they are in for. It is visually interesting, something the couldn’t be done in the book; it does, however, bring in something from the book in a visually interesting way.

I watched the movie again after rereading the book and watching the show. My esteem for the movie is undiminished. I love the cast; they are almost to a person better than the show performances. I guess I understand how people could prefer Dixon’s Ford to Mos Def’s chill version, but I liked Def’s take. It works with what is in the book. Otherwise, movie performances all the way. Especially Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod, who is an energetic mix of George W Bush and Elvis. Seeing people crap on the musical number to start the movie, then watching that musical number again cemented for me the idea the movie was never going to be successful. It had been too long and fans had too strong an idea of what had to be there for the movie to work. So movie gets dinged because some mildly funny dialogue got left on the cutting room floor or a stinger joke just before the credits suggest that the restaurant at the end of the universe is at a certain place and not a certain time. I mean, the movie left out all the jokes about digital watches. How can it purport to be The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy without jokes about digital watches?

The movie is not a perfect translation of the book, which is what it most closely mirrors. But it it certainly a more effective film translation than the TV series. I might track down the radio version some day; I am not opposed to audio only entertainment (note: I should write someday about how I first experienced Star Wars through the radio versions). Maybe that version is the best version. For now, I’ll stick with book as the ideal form and the movie for when I just need to be entertained. On its own merits, the movie is excellent.

What I Watched January 2019

Movies
The Phantom – Oh my God! How is this movie not widely regarded as a classic? It is a near perfect action adventure movie. I need to write something more full bodied about this movie. I loved everything about it. *****

Punisher War Zone – This showed up on Netflix and I jumped on it. It is astounding. This is a movie that realizes how much of a cartoon the Punisher actually is. It plays it like a serious crime drama in some ways, but in others it is more like a Looney Tunes cartoon. It is an appealing mix. ****

Support the Girls – An interesting film, starring Regina Hall (check that) as the manager of a Hooters-like restaurant. It follows her for a day, as she does her best to look out for her employees while dealing with the unreasonable owner and some bad decisions from those employees. It manages to not be completely crushing while highlighting the difficulties faced by its characters. ****1/2

Blindspotting – I’ve reviewed this here. I watched it again and I think it holds up on subsequent viewings. *****

His Girl Friday – A great screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Lots of rapid fire dialogue and witty lines. It is a delight. *****

The Addams Family – I’ve reviewed this before. I might not be able to analyze this movie objectively. I don’t care, I love it. *****

On the Basis of Sex – read review here. ***1/2

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek – read review here. ****

Serenity – read review here. *1/2

Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened – One of two nearly simultaneously released Fyre documentaries. This one, from Netflix, is more slickly produced and takes a close look at exactly how this disaster came to be. It is more of a blow by blow of the disastrous set up for the failed festival. Both of these docs are compromised in some ways, this one was partly produced by the advertising company who advertised for Fyre, and they do their best to ease their culpability. It is an interesting story. ***

Fyre Fraud – The other Fyre documentary, this one from Hulu. It is a little more ramshackle and has a greater focus on how Fyre became a thing culturally and more of the effect on the victims. Again, this one is possibly ethically compromised by paying Billy McFarland, the man chiefly responsible, for an interview, though the doc doesn’t go easy on him. This one takes a much more strident view of the failed festival as a crime. Honestly, they are about equally good and are different enough that they don’t overlap all that much, so watching both gives a really complete look at this mess. ***

Austin Powers in Goldmember – There are parts of this movie that don’t work 15 or so years later. There are lots of dated cultural references, though not the Tom Cruise cameo. The wordplay and genial goofiness, though, hold up quite well. I’ve written before about how there is something comforting about these movies that were big when I was in high school, regardless of their actual quality. ****

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – It has been a long time since I actually sat and watched Fellowship. This is an excellent movie. It really is a journey, and does an amazing job of laying the foundation for the rest of this epic. The most dynamic character, in this film, is Boromir. You get a great sense of his struggle, of how his need to help his homeland causes him to fail and betray his allies, at least momentarily. This is such a great movie, so many unforgettable moments. *****

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – Still great. *****

TV
A Series of Unfortunate Events S2&3 – I should maybe read this books some day. They came out when I was a little too old to be paying attention. Based on this show, though, I really like this series’ sensibility. I love its mix if macabre humor, literary references and meta-textual tricks. I watched the first season when it came out, but skipped the second season for some reason. When the third hit, I sped through both of them. The show is so great. Really solid performances from the kids, and Neil Patrick Harris is clearly having a great time as the villainous Count Olaf. The show is at its best when it leans into it showiness. It does a great job of appearing happy and peppy, while spending the whole time telling the viewer that this is an unhappy story. When the unhappy turns come, they aren’t shocking. In fact, as a viewer you are disappointed in yourself for expecting anything else. This is a really solid show.

Homecoming – I wish I had more to say about this show. It is very good. It is a mystery that plays out across two time periods, with Julia Roberts playing a counselor at a facility for soldiers with PTSD in the past and working as a waitress in the present. I don’t want to say more and risk spoiling anything. It is very good.

Outlander S4 – Season 4 did a lot of good things, but it is adapting a book that is rough to condense into a TV season. It is a transitional book in the series; developing a new setting for the series going forward. The season, at least the back half, chose to focus on the romance between Brianna and Roger. That is the most important thread from the book and it manages to construct a solid enough story. The problem is, knowing how things go in the book I had a hard time accepting a lot of the changes made. Mostly because I know they will frequently have cascading effects. If I could think of a good reason for some of the changes, for example in the book when Roger leaves Brianna after finding her in Wilmington (?) it is with the express promise to meet her later. In the show, he does so after being told to go back to their own time. The change makes the fight more memorable, I guess, but why later is Brianna waiting for Roger, when she doesn’t know he is coming back. There are numerous such changes, and it makes for a sometimes frustrating watch. Still, I am looking forward to the next season. Hopefully it has more Fergus and Marsali.

Future Man S1&2 – This is a frustrating show. Because it is often very close to being very good. If someone told me they loved it, I wouldn’t think twice about it. There is a lot to like. But something about it consistently put me off. It is in how the show mixes humor and science fiction. It pivots from one to the other when it should stick with what it was doing; going from a working comedy bit to a science fiction bit. When the show actually manages to blend the two, it sings. More often they clash, making for a show that feels like it should be better, even though it is already mostly good. I would watch a season 3, but I can’t say I would miss this show much if it disappeared.

Sex Education – This show takes places in nowhere. It seems like it is set now, in the late 80’s in some small British town in Ohio. If you can get past that weirdness, it is a solid teen drama. Otis, a repressed teen with a sex therapist mother, teams up with Maeve, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, team up to provide sex therapy to their classmates. The show introduces a ton of teens who are having teen problems, some of them sexual, some not. Soon, Maeve and Otis are not only helping their classmates, they are also dealing with their own personal problems. That impossible setting gives the show a sort of timelessness; there are elements that are very reminiscent of my own teen years, despite other parts being things I never encountered. It is another show that front-loads some of its harshest content; the show gets a lot more comfortable after a rough first episode that does seems to be trying to do to much. It just gets better as it goes around.

Happy! – This show should not work as well as it does. Chris Meloni stars as an ex-cop turned drugged out hitman. He finds a new partner in Happy, a young girl’s imaginary friend sent to find help after she had been kidnapped. Things start weird, and get weirder. Meloni’s Nick Sax is a force of nature. He is very good at a few things, the most important one, on this show at least, is killing people. It does a great job of showing how deadly he is up front, so it makes sense when people sent to kill him later treat him like he’s John Wick. And Meloni infuses everything he does with a coked out madness that is also somewhat sad. I feel the need to stress that the show is often gross. It works anyway; I really like it. I am ready for season 2.

Golaith S2 – This show completely fell apart at about the halfway point. I’ve loosed my venom elsewhere and I don’t really have it in me to tear into this miserable show again. It is ostensibly a legal drama, but all the legal parts of it go away near the midpoint. That element is replaced with preposterously stupid nonsense about a Mexican cartel. Character’s motivations just switch, making no sense with what came before. It confuses darkness with depth. It is really just bad in every way it could be bad. I know a season 3 is coming, I hope it is more like season 1 than this pile of shit.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego – A new Netflix cartoon take on this classic edutainment character. This show turns Carmen Sandiego into a hero, making her a kind of Robin Hood like figure. It mostly works, and occasionally gets in it history lessons. The back story is very involved, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is pitched a little young for me, but the show seems about perfect for like 8-12 year olds. I was drawn in for nostalgia for old Carmen Sandiego games.

Frontier S2 – I am going to be completely honest; I sort of lost the plot with this show. There are so many characters and I started it long ago enough that I don’t quite remember who they all are. I had enough fun with it, but it a little like watching a show through fog. I almost need to start over rather than moving on to season 3 like I intended to.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S4 Part 2 – These final six episodes of what has been one of my favorite Netflix shows were slightly disappointing. It doesn’t really feel like they were aware they were in the endgame until right at the end and there aren’t quite as many laugh out loud moments as were in previous seasons. That second problem is understandable, since this is only half a season. There are good moments, but nothing touches the first half of the season’s Party Monster episode. The big swing is the alternate reality Sliding Van Doors episode, which doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It has its moments and is a good episode, but I don’t think it is a great one. Still, I am sad to see this show go. With the loss of this and of Great News, there is suddenly a dearth of Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy coming. Maybe I should just be glad I got 4 seasons of this, 2 of Great News, and 7 of 30 Rock. Kimmy Schmidt has been one of the funniest shows on television since it started and I look forward to the possibility of a follow up movie.

The Good Place S3 – This might not be as consistently excellent as the first two seasons were, but if not it is still damn close. The show continues to just eternally upend everything every couple of episodes. It remains one of the funniest shows on TV, capable of getting laughs out of jokes about relatively obscure philosophers. The best show on television.

Top 10 TV Shows 2018

Yes, another Top 10 list. Let’s get to it.

Honorable Mentions – I really like the thriller Collateral, but only barely remembered it until I started looking at things. Netflix had some good stuff, like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Santa Clarita Diet and Trollhunters, that I considered for this list. And I found Snatch on Crackle to be a lot of fun, though I appear to be the only person who is aware of it.

10. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/Great News – Both of these shows are the children of 30 Rock. Kimmy Schmidt had the best episode, in Party Monster: Scratching the Surface, but I think Great News was the slightly better show by the end of the respective seasons this year.

9. Bob’s Burgers – Bob’s Burgers is always good and deserves recognition. I don’t exactly remember which episodes hit in 2018, but even the worst of Bob’s Burgers is better than anything else I watched this year.

8. Howard’s End – A real solid adaptation of the novel. I don’t know how to describe it as other than well made. It is simply a well produced, well acted, well written show. I enjoyed every minute of it.

7. GLOW – Less set up than the first season, more fun. Lot’s of standout performances and a few standout episodes. Alison Brie is a national treasure.

6. Maniac – It hits that perfect kind of dirty sci-fi where it is clearly the future, but it is just as crappy and broken as things are now. Then it goes into some pretty wild “dream” sequences that all adopt the visual language of another kind of story. I’m not certain it holds together, but watching it was an amazing experience.

5. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – This show has figured out what it is. It took it a full season, but since then it has just gotten more and more confident. Season 3 was an out and out delight. It has strong characters and knows just how silly it can be so long as it stays true to those characters. There isn’t a more fun show on television.

4. Dear White People – It is less focused than the first season, but it is also more expansive and playful. It is just so good and so well considered.

3. Black Lightning – I am a fan of DC’s shows on the CW, but Black Lightning is in a class of it own. The first season told a compelling story of a family that just so happened to feature the occasional fight between people with superpowers.

2. The Good Place – Just when you think you have this show figured out, it changes into something else. The fact that it keeps managing to turn philosophy lessons into comic highlights never ceases to amaze me.

1. American Vandal – This show has unfortunately been cancelled, but both seasons of American Vandal are amazing. They are funny, but they are also have heart, finding humor in the problems faced by young people without belittling them.

What I Watched December 2018

Movies

Creed II — read review here. ***1/2

The Kindergarten Teacher — A disturbing look at a sort of obsession. A kindergarten teacher finds what she thinks is a poet prodigy in her class, but disagrees with how to deal with him with the kids parents. Her actions get more and more extreme. I mostly just found it to be a drag. **

The Princess Switch–This movie is nonsense. It isn’t good by the standards of Hallmark holiday movies. That being said, I had a good time, even if kind of ironically. **1/2

The Christmas Prince 2 — Did I just put on some of Netflix’s crappy Christmas movies in the background while I did other things? Yes. Do I remember a single thing about this movie? Maybe one or two. I don’t have anything to say. **

The Christmas Chronicles — Kurt Russell plays Santa Claus. That was the only fact I needed to get me to watch. The movie itself is pretty standard affair as a family movie. There is some mild fun to be had, and Russell is clearly enjoying himself. Its fine. ***

The Living Daylights — I guess I had never actually seen this movie. I thought I had, but apparently thought different parts of License to Kill, as well as small bits from this movie, were The Living Daylights. Know I understand why Dalton’s take on Bond has gotten something of a reappraisal lately. This is just an excellent spy movie. All the things people love about Bond movies, more serious and exciting than a lot of the Moore movies, but still not dour. ****

License to Kill — And just as quickly as the Dalton era of Bond started, it goes off the rails. This movie is bad. It is dark and stupid and just kind of dull. It feels too long, even though it is roughly the same length as the previous movies. I liked almost nothing about this movie. **

Braven — Jason Momoa stars in a tight little action movie. Some drug runners hide their drugs in Momoa’s hunting cabin. He just so happens to visit, with his father and daughter, when they are attempting to retrieve their stash, sparking a stand off. It follows with some solid action in something like the Die Hard mold. Normal guy Momoa fights off a bunch of armed thugs. It works. ***1/2

Robin Hood — read review here. **1/2

Tomorrow Never Dies — Bond fighting with a new media mogul who is trying to use access to information as a way to start wars and make money is still surprisingly topical. Also. Michelle Yeoh is great, if severely underused. This is still on the good side of Bond movies. ***

The World is Not Enough — I don’t know how much this is influenced by this being the movie that made me a Bond fan, but for all of its weakness, like a miscast Denise Richards and some truly weak action scenes, I still really like a lot of what is going on here. Having a supposed Bond girl turn out to be not just a villain but the villain is a great twist. ***1/2

Mortal Engines — read review here. ****1/2

Aquaman — read review here. *****

Mowgli — Reactions to this live action take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book have been muted, at best. It is decent enough, all I really have to say about it is that this movie is much better than Disney’s recent attempt at the same thing. That movie had better effects, but it is a worse movie. ***

Dumplin — I don’t have anything to say about it. The plus sized daughter of a former pageant winner enters the pageant she won and learns a lot about herself and about her recently deceased aunt. Its fine. ***1/2

22 July — This movie tells the story of the deadly 2011 terrorist attack in Norway. It is likely a story that needed to be told, but I was not crazy about this movie. **1/2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — read review here. ****

Die Another Day — I know this is widely considered one of the worst Bond movies. I can’t agree. Not that I think it is particularly good, but it is at least fun once it goes off the rails. And before that moment, which is the when they get to the ice castle, it is actually a pretty solid Bond movie. **1/2

Ralph Breaks the Internet — read review here. ****

The Favourite — read review here. *****

A Fish Called Wanda — This movie is a classic. I first watched it because I was a Monty Python fan. This time I was struck by how excellent Jamie Lee Curtis is in this movie. This is just a great comedy. *****

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — I watched this for the first time since seeing it in theaters and I liked it even more this time. This movie is just so great. It manages to be something new for Star Wars while making a show of being at times both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It is just so good. *****

A Wrinkle in Time — There is a lot to like in this movie. It’s heart is certainly in the right place. Unfortunately, it feels like someone rushing through a book that is too long for one movie. It is filled with ideas that almost certainly worked better on the page. **1/2

TV

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — This Netflix series from the same people behind Riverdale on CW is good fun. It treats the somewhat goofy witch adventures completely seriously, so it is somewhat chilling. It lacks a little of the pop of Riverdale, but it was still mostly a good time.

Snatch S2 — I think I may be the only person who watched this show, let alone enjoyed it. It is worth your time. It isn’t really anything lasting or memorable, but it is a lot of fun. It is a group doing gangster stuff in Spain. They came together in the first season for a heist, and now they are kind of splintering outside of that focus. But all the scheming is connected. It is a lot of fun.

Titans — This is a show that lead with its worst stuff. The first episode struggles a little with tone, being too violent and dark. Soon, it finds its footing and manages to tell a pretty engaging story. There are still flaws, it sometime leans into the violence too hard and sometimes splits off for odd tangents, but it is mostly a very solid drama. That tangent complaint is about a Hawk and Dove origin episode three quarters of the way through the season that could have been better placed. Otherwise, it has a similar tone to Netflix’s Marvel shows and enough plot to make all of its episodes worthwhile.

Outlander S4 — They are making some changes from the book. That is to be expected. But I am having trouble making sense of those changes. They seem to be changes just for the sake of changing things, and they have a cascading effect. A character no longer has a certain piece of knowledge, so their motivations change, so other character’s reactions change and now things are happening for reasons that no longer make sense. That is harsh for a show that is mostly still really good and the season isn’t over yet, so maybe there is a plan. But I knew there would be changes as the story lost some of its propulsion, since Jamie and Claire finally find a place to settle in book 4, and becomes more episodic. Let’s hope the last handful of episodes bring things home in a satisfying way.

3Below — I liked Trollhunters a bunch and this spin-off/sequel/companion piece is just as good. It switches out magical creatures for space aliens, but has them land in the same small town. It can be a little on the nose at times, but it sets up a handful of interesting characters and adds some depth to those returning from Trollhunters. I hope this continues to be good.

Superhero Shows — Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl had a crossover. I thought it was going to be more of a Crisis and not a prelude to next year’s crisis, but it was still really fun. Having Barry and Oliver switch bodies was almost enough to justify the crossover on its own. Also, seeing Superman and Lois Lane was great, and Batwoman was intriguing. Black Lighting finished the year strong. And Legend of Tomorrow finished with an all-time great episode.

What I Watched November 2018

Movies

Bohemian Rhapsody – read review here. **1/2

The Other Side of the Wind – This is an Orson Welles movie that has gone unfinished and unreleased for more than 40 years. It is fascinating, both for how the story of its creation kind of echoes the story it is telling and for how it goes about telling that story. It stars John Huston as an again film director who is showing off his latest movie, also named The Other Side of the Wind, at his birthday party while also trying to secure funding to get it finished. He is surrounded by hangers-on, admirers and former proteges, but is feeling how his career is coming to an end and all of his secrets are being laid bare. It can be a hard watch, but it is nothing if not interesting. ****

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead – this is a companion documentary to The Other Side of the Wind that goes into how the movie came to be made and the struggles Welles faced in the latter part of his career. It is far from essential, but I thought it was pretty good. ****

Chappaquiddick – a dramatization of the incident involving Ted Kennedy in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge. It has some good performances, but it is dramatically lacking. It wants to have something to say about the corrosive nature of power, but it doesn’t seem to get there. **

The Outlaw King – A very solid historic drama. It gets into the grime and gore a bit much, but otherwise is a very solid movie, centered around a really good Chris Pine performance. ***1/2

Sierra Burgess is a Loser – A high school version of Cyrano de Bergerac. One girl poses as another to send messages to a boy she likes. Eventually, real friendships form. Then troubles come out when the secrets are revealed. ***

Private Life – A married couple goes to great lengths to have a child and the strain that puts on their relationship with each other and with their friends and family. It has really solid performances from Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti. ***1/2

Like Father – A mildly amusing look at a messed up father daughter relationship. Kristen Bell’s estranged dad, Kelsey Grammer, shows up at her wedding. When she is abandoned at the altar, she and her dad end up her honeymoon cruise together. Some mildly amusing and heartwarming events occur. It is fine. **1/2

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – This might be lesser Coen Brothers, but it is still an excellent film. It is a collection of essentially six short films. Each part is a meditation, at least in part, on mortality and the fleetingness of life. It starts with the most attention grabbing part, but there are several unforgettable bits. ****1/2

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – read review here. **1/2

Widows – read review here. ****1/2

Paradox – This is a combination of a really long music video and a haphazard collection of someone’s home movies. It is not a film, not one worth spending even a few minutes with. Just awful. *

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – I know some people who rate this very highly among the Bond movies; I don’t really get it. It is kind of a dull outing, pulled down by a genuinely bad performance by George Lazenby. I don’t have much to say about it. **1/2

The Spy Who Loved Me – This one really didn’t hold my attention. It has a reputation as being one of the better Moore Bond movies, but I found it mostly kind of dull and rote. It goes through the motions, seemingly trying to be more realistic but mostly succeeding at sapping the fun from the movie. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood. **

Moonraker – This movie is dumb. It is a big stupid cartoon. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to like her, there is. This is Bond at his silliest. It is kind of worth seeing just for that. But it isn’t good. **

Daddy’s Home 2 – This movie has its moments, but it can’t seem to even attempt to string its various little sections into some kind of coherent narrative. It is just a smattering of plot threads that the movie hopes will lead to jokes. And sometimes they do, but just as often they don’t, or the jokes they lead to aren’t funny. **

The Pink Panther Strikes Again – There is a level of diminishing returns with the Pink Panther movies, but there is also a certain level of fun just watching this farce play out. It is watching a master at work, even if the result isn’t a masterpiece. This isn’t a great movie, but there are some inspired bits. ***

For Your Eyes Only – A solid Bond entry after the disappointing Moonraker. It highs are pretty high, but it also has some interminable low stretches. I don’t really have a lot to say about it; it is a Bond movie. This is the one I would show people who wanted to see a Roger Moore Bond, it might be his best and you get some idea of what was appealing about his take on the character here. ***

Octopussy – This is the second to last Roger Moore Bond and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. It’s depiction of Indian people is not ideal, but it is a fun Bond adventure and one of the bad guys has a buzz saw yo-yo. It is a pleasant watch. ***

Extinction – a little alien invasion movie that at the very least has a starring role for the always entertaining Michael Pena. Pena has visions of impending disaster, and struggles to keep his family together as those visions start to come true. It feels kind of low budget, but is entertaining nonetheless. ***

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – a teenage girl writes letters to her crushes and stores them with her diary. Somehow, all of her letters end up being sent to the boys they were written to. So she sets up a fake relationship with a boy to get the focus off her, but their feelings start to become real. It is a pretty good high school focused rom-com. ***1/2

Last Flag Flying – This Richard Linklater directed movie follows three veterans who haven’t seen each other since their time in the service as they meet up while one of them goes to retrieve the body of his son who died in the Middle East. It is deals with a lot of issues, with death and regret and moving on and grief, through mostly great performance from Laurence Fishburne, a subdued Steve Carell and a boisterous Bryan Cranston. It is really entertaining. ****

Disobedience – Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams star as a pair of women from an Orthodox Jewish community. They had a relationship years ago, which was a factor in Weisz leaving the community. She returns when her father dies, and the women struggle their renewed feelings and their faith. ****

TV

Ozark S2 – I finished season 2. The show it what it is.

Castlevania S2 – This show should be right up my ally, but it really isn’t clicking with me. IT spends so much time with characters and conflicts that I can’t bring myself to care about, then jams all the good stuff into two episodes. It’s just not good.

Schitt’s Creek S4 – I was none too impressed with this show when I first started watching it. It was intermittently funny, but between the terrible title and unlikeable characters I just about quit on it. People I trust gushing over it kept me watching and it transforms rather quickly into something really good. While the title remains terrible, the characters evolve and become some of the more interesting characters in comedy. Season 4 continues that, being both funny and deepening characters that started out as unlikeable and shrill.

Futurama – It has been a long time since I’ve really watched Futurama, not just had it on in the background while I cleaned my apartment. I still maintain that the new stuff is good, but watching this time I realize what the biggest difference between the old stuff and the new. The new Futurama was a lot meaner than the old. It was still capable of the heartwarming stuff, but that was balanced by a deeper cruel streak that changes the complexion of the show. There are moments of cruelty in the early stuff, and those moments usually get laughs because they are unexpected. That almost becomes the default when the show returns, as if the laughs were remembered, but not quite the alchemy that lead to them. Still, I like it all.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 – A great return for this show. Its MST3K, I don’t really know what to say. It’s good; you should probably watch it.

The Romanoffs – The show finished up with some of its best episodes. The second to last one, End of the Line, was an excellent look at a couple traveling to Russia to adopt a baby through a somewhat shady organization, only to be met with the realization that the child might not be what they were promised. The last one is a cold revenge tale that at first appears to be otherwise. Both are well well crafted episodes, as all of these have been. But they also have something more going on. That is more than a lot of these episodes have had. This show has been an exquisitely crafted, but largely kind of pointless and empty. But the episodes where it all works show what The Romanoffs could have been.

Superhero Shows Supergirl is either telling a trenchant political story, or it has bitten off more than it can chew and hasn’t realized it yet. The Flash continues to be fine; not quite as good as you’d hope but not really bad either. Legends of Tomorrow is just distilled fun at this point. Black Lightning is not quite on the same level in season 2 as it was in season 1, but it is still excellent. It is growing in some strange directions.