What I Watched December 2019

Movies

Knives Out – wrote about it here. *****

The Irishman – Martin Scorcese returns to the gangster genre for this contemplative, mournful deconstruction of the tropes of the genre. Instead of showing these organized murderers as strong and powerful, it reveals them as weak and empty. It deftly illustrates the erosion of their souls as things go along. De Niro’s character sitting alone in the nursing home at the end of the movie might be one of the most tragic things I’ve ever seen. *****

Queen & Slim – wrote about it here. **1/2

The Report – Dry as old toast, but this is a well made drama about the Senate’s investigation of the CIA’s torture program. This is an important story that people need to know about, but as well made and acted as this movie is, it is more likely to get casual viewers to turn it off pretty quickly. ****

Dark Waters – wrote about it here. ****

Marriage Story – I see why people are going nuts over this movie. It is a real and grounded portrayal of a family going through a divorce. Grounded except that they have no need to worry about money, which is a big concern for a lot of people. Still, strong performances all around and just truly human. ****

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby – Another Christmas Prince movie. Harmless and light. I see the comforting appeal of these Christmas movies. There just really isn’t anything of substance here. **1/2

American Son – This feels like, and is, an adaptation of a stage play. It takes place all in one location and is just 4 people talking to each other. It’s heart is in the right place, but it is didactic and clumsy. I didn’t like it much at all. **

6 Underground – Michael Bay seems to have watched Fast & Furious and Mission Impossible and tried to replicate it, with a little bit of Batman thrown in. The result is visually incomprehensible and morally reprehensible. It is a movie about giving into people’s worst impulses framed as doing the right thing. As much as it makes sense it is kind of gross and not especially fun to watch. *1/2

Earthquake Bird – A weird little drama about people living in Japan who may or may not be murderers/or causing deaths. It doesn’t really work and I am not sure what I am supposed to take from it. I do like Riley Keough and Alicia Vikander, though. **

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – wrote about it here. I like this movie more every time I rewatch it. *****

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker – wrote about it here. ***

The Souvenir – I saw this on a lot of Top 10 lists and watched it on Amazon Prime. I see why it’s getting praise. I got no enjoyment out of watching it. It is the story of a woman trapped in a relationship with a man suffering from addiction. It is harrowing. ****

How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World – This movie is gorgeous and a lot of fun, but I have always been a little more cold to these Dragon movies than a lot of people. This one, like the other two, is fine. It is enjoyable family entertainment. Toothless is a great fake pet that effectively mimics a lot of true feeling pet behavior. It’s fine. ***1/2

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – I forgot this movie was actually released. It is a big muddled mess. It moves along on the dream logic that is essentially Terry Gilliam’s calling card. Whatever this movie’s problems are, here Gilliam has recaptured his late 80’s-early 90’s magic. This would fit right in with Brazil and The Fisher King. A movie director reconnects with some performers he worked with years ago, one of whom is convinced that he is Don Quixote and the director is Sancho. The director gets sucked into the man’s orbit and I guess learns a lesson. It is certainly not for everybody, but I loved it. *****

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – This was on Amazon Prime. I was in a murder mystery mood after seeing Knives Out (I am always in a murder mystery mood). It’s good. Really good. ****

Jumanji: The Next Level – wrote about it here. ***1/2

Solo: A Star Wars Story – I watched this on Netflix after seeing Rise of Skywalker, and I liked it a lot more than I remembered liking it. I am still annoyed by some small moments, but for the most part is an excellent space western. I think I need to get it on DVD. ****

American Factory – A documentary about a Chinese company opening an automotive glass company in the United States. It really highlights some cultural differences, as well as some ways in which we are the same. One of those ways is that the bosses will do everything they can to squeeze employees and pad the bottom line. The second half is all about the factory attempts to unionize so they can get safe working conditions and fair pay. It is very interesting. ****

The Aeronauts – This movie feels like awards bait that has gotten summarily ignored during awards season. I liked it. It looks amazing. The story is pretty simple, it is mostly just Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in a hot air balloon, attempting to conduct scientific experiments and achieve record elevations. Eventually, they get high enough that they lose air. For a movie as limited in setting as it is, it manages to feel very adventurous. I thought it was a lot of fun. ***1/2

TV

Reprisal – I feel like this show needs more attention. It is a strange noir crime show. It takes a lot of time to build the world building. The plot gets very intricate, and I might have fallen asleep during an episode and got a little lost. There is one scene where two characters have a phone conversation while sitting on the same couch. At times it seems to be set in the 50s, at others the 80s. I think it is set in the present. It is just a weird, stylish, entertaining show.

Runaways S2 – I feel like I should like this show, but somehow it seems to be transfering over little of what made the comics so enjoyable. Also, I am not sure how well those comics hold up, because this season felt more true to them and was no more enjoyable than the first. I will likely get to the 3rd season soon, just to be done with this.

The Movies that Made Us – The people behind the Toys that Made Us switched over to movies, giving us some slight making of documentaries. These were pretty fun.

The Confession Killer – A true crime series about a man who confessed to hundreds of murders and was manipulated by overworked prosecutors and ambitious and obviously corrupt Texas Rangers to keep admitting to murders that it was clear he did not commit. The show does its best to not portray the man as a victim, he did murder at least two people. But he is not the criminal mastermind who murdered hundreds that some Rangers still claim he is. It is a really strange story that mostly just serves to some flaws in the justice system.

The Witcher – I am not especially familiar with the games or the books this is based on, but I had a tremendous amount of fun with The Witcher. It does some things with chronology that are confusing and its three separate plotlines take forever to connect. But the core of the show, Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, traveling from town to town fighting monsters, is delightful. The interplay between the grouchy Geralt and his friend Jaskier the bard is fun. Yennefer is great, and once her story starts to intertwine with Geralt’s the show really gets into high gear. The biggest problem with the show, if you can call it a problem, is the adventures of young Ciri, a princess whose country is overrun in the first episode and she spends the whole season on the run, looking for Geralt for reasons that do not become clear until near the end of the season. She is fine and her plot works, but it never really connects with the others. Still, I loved the show overall. I can’t wait for season 2.

The Mandalorian – My cousin has Disney Plus and I watched this at her place in the days after Christmas. It is good, but I am not sure I am joining the hype train for it. I think the practical effects looked kind of cheap and ugly. While I appreciated the simplicity of the story, I also didn’t find all that much to latch onto. I’ll check in on season 2 and I hope it continues to deepen.

Best TV Shows of 2019

I did my Top 20 movies, so I decided to do the same with TV. Lot’s of good stuff this year, and a lot of the stuff that just missed the list is as good as the bottom quarter of this list. A lot of it has the problem of not being recent, so I don’t remember it that well. Here is the list:

20. The Boys – This show is dark and cynical and gory, descriptors that would normally kill any interest I have in a work of fiction. However, while The Boys is all of that, there is a surprising amount of heart hidden underneath that. The show, at least in the first season, is ultimately less cynical that it wants the viewer to believe it is. What made the show work for me is the surprisingly heartfelt romance between Hughie and Annie, showing that there are also good and human people in this show, along with all the cartoon monsters.

19. Dear White People – I loved the first two seasons of Dear White People; this third season is still good, but it feels a little more scattered than the previous two. The show has always been an ensemble that alternated viewpoint characters from episode to episode, but Samantha has largely been the axis the show has turned on. This season made a conscious effort to turn the focus elsewhere, and it destabilizes the show somewhat. It is still good, and I am looking forward to the fourth season, but this one was a step down from the previous two.

18. Carnival Row – First of all, and this goes for the next show on this list as well, I am already completely annoyed that any show that is even remotely fantasy is going to be reviewed as though it was trying to be Game of Thrones, even if it shares as little with that show as, for example, Carnival Row does. Carnival Row, with its fantasy Victorian setting and murder mystery set up, is almost perfectly crafted to be something I love. And I did love it, I think. I greatly enjoyed watching the show, I am just not sure if it is actually any good. Still, I enjoyed it enough to put it on the list. I might rewatch it to see if that enjoyment holds up.

17. The Witcher – This is the most recent show on the list, and after I sit with it for a while it might go up or down on this list. Right now, it is resting in a pleasant afterglow. I don’t know that this show made the best use of its eight episodes, taking a little too long to get to what it is setting up as the main plot. However, I was much less interested in that plot than I was in Geralt going around fighting monsters and learning that man is the real monster. I would be into this show if it was just a big budget Hercules The Legendary Journeys, but it is more than that. I am really looking forward to more of this.

16. Santa Clarita Diet – The third and final season of this show continued to be excellent. That excellence was in large part due to the performances of Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant especially. The rest of the cast is good, and there are a lot of solid guest appearances, mostly from stars of other excellent TV comedies, like creator Victor Fresco’s underrated previous show Better Off Ted. I am really sad to see this show go, especially as it didn’t quite appear to be finished. I don’t know that they could have found a satisfying ending to it, but at least it left off at the end of a section of the story, and not a complete cliffhanger.

15. Brooklyn 99 – I really enjoyed the first season of this show on NBC. It is in that solidly comfortable part of the lifetime of a show. Other than Chelsea Peretti, who is both great and whose character was kind of an odd fit for the show, the cast does not seem interested in moving on. The show just continues a string of routine excellence.

14. GLOW – This show has done an amazing job of building up its cast. This season has the crew doing the show as a nightly Vegas show, with the cast getting a little stir crazy stuck in Las Vegas for the time their contract runs, with many of them finding interests outside of show. It is just really entertaining television.

13. Bob’s Burgers – See what I said above about Brooklyn 99. Bob’s Burgers is also routinely excellent. Just shockingly few misses. Each episode adds something or someone new to the show. One offs become recurring characters, one episode obsessions become part of characters. None of it feels like they are doing anything but growing organically. I hope this show runs forever and I hope

12. Unbelievable – I know a lot of people who have this show much higher, and I can’t say they are wrong. This is the lowest it appeared on any draft of this list. This show does a great job of centering a police procedural show around a different kind of detective. It does a great job showing what would cause a rape victim would recant a true account. Great work from Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever and Toni Collette. Just a great show.

11. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 4 almost lives up to the excellence of Season 3. This one starts with the team tracking down magical creatures that have been strewn throughout time. As they collect them, someone comes up with a plan to use them for no good. Added to the team this season is Constantine, whose expertise with magic is needed. The show is wild and silly and possible the most entertaining thing on TV when it comes to just pure enjoyability.

10. Stranger Things – I know some people are down on Season 3 of this show, but I think it works. It turns more to echoing action movies and TV shows of the 80s now; there is a character that is essentially a terminator running around and Hopper expressly dresses like Thomas Magnum for most of the season. It is louder and broader. But the characters remain true. I think I might be more into and more investing in this show than any other currently running series. I recognize some faults, but I just love to immerse myself in this world when I get the chance. I love how the cast just keeps expanding, and somehow each new addition just fits right in.

9. What We Do in the Shadows – What We Do in the Shadows was one of the best comedies of the last ten years. Somehow it seems to work even better as a series. This show takes the set up and the sense of humor of the movie, but leaves the characters. Now it is just a comedy about a group of vampires, living in New York, living their lives. The new characters are great, and the show goes some new and interesting places. It is just a lot of fun.

8. Good Omens – I haven’t read the book this mini-series is based on. I do, however, love Michael Sheen and David Tennant. I like Jon Hamm. I like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This show is a lot of fun; lots of irreverent humor and strong performances. The show really sings when it focuses on Tennant and Sheen; they have wonderful chemistry together. It if was just the continuing adventures of Crowley and Aziraphale it would likely have still made this list. This is just a really entertaining show.

7. Documentary Now! – If it were just the first two episodes of Season 3, I think Documentary Now Season 3 would have a strong case to make this list. I am not sure those are the best episodes of the season. The last episode, Any Given Saturday Afternoon, is delightful. Original Cast Album: Co-op is wonderful. There are no bad episodes. The show breaks from the first two seasons, which largely focused on Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, to feature a lot more guest performances. It is just great.

6. Fleabag – I always feel like I should have more to say about this show. It is excellent from start to finish. Well acted, well written, funny and affecting. It is basically everything you could want out of a half hour comedy. It’s on Amazon Prime; you should go watch it.

5. Doom Patrol – There was a lot of great superhero TV this year. But nothing tapped into the fun and weirdness that I love comics for better than Doom Patrol on DC Universe. While the aggressive weirdness brings a lot of entertainment, it is built on a solid foundation of some wonderfully realized, human characters. It is great to watch this found family come together and solve problems even weirder than they are.

4. When They See Us – Amazing, powerful and heartbreaking. When They See Us tells the story of Central Park 5, a group of young boys who were railroaded and sent to jail for a crime they didn’t commit. Their story highlights some flaws in the criminal justice system. The show is just amazingly composed and acted, and while it ultimately ends on a somewhat optimistic note, is completely devastating. This is the show on my list that feels the most important, everything above it is fun.

3. Russian Doll – This show came out long enough ago that I don’t remember all of the finer details. I remember the feel of the show and the concept, but I am completely unable to bring any details to mind. Natasha Lyonne is stuck in a recurring loop, living the same day over and over. She is trying desperately to find a way out, and eventually finds another person caught in a similar loop. I remember the show being funny and interesting and thoughtful. I need to watch it again.

2. The Good Place – Whether this is Season 3, or the second half of Season 3 and the first half of Season 4, The Good Place deserves this place on the list. It has the tone and jokes of some of my favorite comedies of the last few years, also created by Michael Schur, but also tells a strong serialized story. It frequently strays into schmaltz, but it all works for me anyway. It is unique among sitcoms as a show that completely changes the premise every three or four episodes. Season 3 did this several times, settling into a concept for three or four episodes before shaking everything up. I love this show.

1. I Think You Should Leave – The whole season of this show is less than two hours long. I think I spent more time watching this than any other show on this list. Sketch shows and be hit or miss, but this one cranked out hit after hit. It is aggressively weird on a frequency that just resonates with me. I absolutely love this show. The Baby of the Year sketch, Fenton’s Stable and Horse Ranch, The Night Scrooge Saved Christmas, the car focus group, I could literally go on all day. I am apparently a huge Tim Robinson fan and I can’t wait for more of this.

What I Watched November 2019

Movies

Harriet – read review here. ***1/2

Parasite – read review here. *****

Motherless Brooklyn – read review here. ****1/2

Midway – read review here. ***

Jojo Rabbit – read review here. ****1/2

Let it Snow – This is a pretty solid teen party movie that is also a Christmas movie. It has a bunch of teenagers having teenager problems while also planning to attend a Christmas Eve party. The only thing really novel or notable in it is the same sex romance subplot, which is pretty well done and an interesting development in this kind of movie. It is overall just really well done. ****

The King – I feel like I should like this less than I do. It isn’t really history, it is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad. But it doesn’t really give you what you want from a movie version of Shakespeare; it instead plays it more like real history. It ends up in this weird middle ground. I found it utterly compelling. Great performances, especially Chalamet as King Henry as he wrestles with living up to what is expected of him as king. His big struggle is how to legitimize his rule while also making his own decisions. I liked it a whole lot. ****

Holiday in the Wild – Why do I watch these Christmas movies? I don’t know. This one is pretty bad. Just like little going on of interest and little that seems Christmas-y about it. **

In the Shadow of the Moon – An interesting, unconventional time travel movie. Boyd Holbrook is a cop who is chasing a criminal that appears every nine years, who discovers that the criminal is actually a time traveller who stops every nine years sent back in time on some kind of mission. It is more interesting than good, I think. Still, it is worth a look. ***

Sextuplets – This is honestly better than I thought it would be. The concept is that a man who grew up an orphan finds out he not only has living relatives, but that he is one of a set of sextuplets put up for adoption by his mother. So he sets off to meet his family. Parts of it work well and are genuinely funny. Sometimes it is just stupid without reason, as the broad sterotypes of his siblings lead to not especially funny hijinks. It isn’t as bad as some comedies I’ve seen, there is real effort here and some good jokes, but in the end more doesn’t work than does. **

Klaus – WOW! This movie is gorgeous. This is some of the best looking animation I’ve seen in a long time, like a modern day 2D animated movie out of the Disney renaissance. The story is fine. Good, even. If it connected with me just a little more, I would say great. This deserves to become a modern Christmas classic, it is just a lot of fun from start to finish. One of the best Netflix has put out. I highly recommend everyone watch it. ****1/2

The Knight Before Christmas – I wondered why I watch these movies up at Holiday in the Wild, and this movie is the answer. A medieval knight gets transported to the modern day and a lovelorn school teacher tries to help him. He wants help to finish his quest and return home, she thinks he needs his head examined. Also, it’s Christmas. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is enjoyably weird. **1/2

Otherhood – This movie is interesting for its protagonists, a comedy starring older women, women whose children are grown having the kind of mid-life crisis movie that men get occasionally. That said, I didn’t find a lot else to like in this movie. There are some funny bits and some heartwarming parts, but it mostly just felt a little flat. **

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator – A documentary about a celebrity yogi who was shown to be systematically sexually assaulting young women who came to learn yoga from him. It also shows how the whole mythology he made up about himself, stuff like getting a Green Card from Nixon, was a big pack of lies. Interesting, and kind of dispiriting as he pretty much gets away with it. ***1/2

The Great Hack – This is a solid documentary about Cambridge Analytica and essentially how social media is being used as a tool to destroy society. It is infuriating, especially because nothing will change. It is a pretty good movie. ***

21 Bridges – read review here. ***1/2

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – read review here. ***1/2

Ford v. Ferrari – read review here. ****

Charlie’s Angels – read review here. ***½

Hot Rod – This is a modern classic that I feel the need to watch every now and then. It is great. *****

The Pink Panther – This is the remake starring Steve Martin. It isn’t great. Martin has pretty great comic timing and sells the pratfalls, I’m just not sure the movie ever gets past the character of Clouseau. It’s funny enough, but never quite as funny as you want it to be. **1/2

TV

Jack Ryan S2 – I like John Krasinski. I think he does a good job on this show. True to the books, and their author, this show is a right wing fever dream. It is good enough action stuff, but it has some repugnant undertones that make it hard to really recommend and make me not want to spend much more time thinking about it.

She-Ra S4 – This show continues to get stronger as it goes, as it digs deeper into its characters rather than just going bigger. It really feels like the show is moving into some kind of end game here, though. Just a really good cartoon. The murder mystery episode might be my favorite of the series.

Tarzan & Jane S2 – I know this is a show for kids, but this can be done well. See above. This is just sort of silly and flat. Bringing Pellucidar into it near the end was a neat idea, setting up a ER Burroughs connected universe, but I don’t really want to watch that show.

The Devil Next Door – I don’t want to spoil any of this; it is a wild story. Still, a pretty solid kind of true crime documentary that is a little chilling and a little bewildering.

The Man in the High Castle S2-4 – I’ve got a longer post planned, but this is a show that seems to have an identity crisis after every season. Possibly due to changing showrunner every season. It can’t or won’t keep its characters on the same trajectory, so the only one that comes out seeming like a person is John Smith, the American who has risen to the top of the Nazi party. I think it almost finds a satisfactory story in the last season, but overall it was a mess.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – I want to like this much more than I do. It is a triumph of craftsmanship. The puppetry is astounding. I’ve never seen anything that looks as good as this show. I just wish the story connected with me as strongly. It feels oddly paced and obviously structured. It is a pretty standard fantasy story in a lot of ways. There are great moments and some good characters, but for large parts of its runtime it feels a little like running in circles. I hope there is more to come.

The Toys that Made Us S3 – I think they are running out of toy lines worth making this show about. They are already scraping the bottom of the barrel with the wrestling toys. There is also this corporate bootlicking tone throughout. The Ninja Turtles episode is a good example, where it frames being bought by Nickelodeon was not only the best possible outcome, but an altogether good thing. The show is fine and does a pretty good job with its stated goals of showing how popular toys came to be.

The Good Place – I’ll save saying much about The Good Place until it finishes early next year. It continues to be one of the best shows on television.

Bob’s Burgers S10 – Bob’s Burgers is still solidly good. What do I say about a handful of episodes of a very episodic show? There is a baseline level of quality that Bob’s Burgers never falls below. Here was a handful of pretty good episodes.

DC Shows – All of the DC CW shows are building toward Crisis on Infinite Earths. They are all fairly strong this season. Arrow is moving towards its end and I am three seasons out of date, but it is mostly working. The Flash is going great, except when it gets overly dour in its Crisis build-up. Supergirl is building around the Kara/Lena relationship, which is one of the shows strongest. Batwoman is still establishing its world. It feels a little stifled, stuck on Alice. Alice has been great, but so far Kate has become Batwoman solely to get to her corrupted sister. Black Lightning, as ever, is the show out on its own island. I don’t know that Black Lightning can bring home the ambitious story it is telling, but I am enjoying it for now. I’ll have my review of the last couple of episodes of Titans up soon.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 11

Titans Season 2, Episode 11 “E.L._.O.”

I really didn’t like the last episode, Fallen, but this one wastes less time and appears to maybe have the show back on track. Or maybe I am an optimistic fool and the show is just preparing to disappoint me again.

Splitting the team up would have worked better if the show had done anything with those characters before splitting them up. This season had done little with any characters outside of Dick and Jason before the last couple of episodes. Those gave us some stuff for Gar and more fully brought Conner into the show. Then the show had Dick’s complete misfire of a trip to prison. Here, the show starts to pull everyone back, hopefully setting up a satisfying conclusion to the season.

Rachel is again having prophetic dreams, dreams about Dick being killed by Deathstroke. So she tries to follow those dreams to find help. Those dreams lead her to Elko, Nevada. Donna goes looking for help to find Rachel, and finds the mess CADMUS left in the tower. She apparently gets a call from Rachel that draws her to Elko. Kory, fully stranded on Earth and mourning the loss of her parents and friend, goes on a bender. Only to hear adds that draw her to Elko. Finally, Dawn, now separated from Hank, heads back to San Francisco, only for engine trouble to have her pull over in . . . Elko. With them drawn together, there is an airing of grievances and the team decides to be a team again. Donna and Dawn go to try to save Gar, leaving Rachel and Kory to try to save Dick.

Dick is being held in solitary, having a pity party and an argument with the imaginary Bruce Wayne in his head. He finally comes to some revelations, including the biggest one of the episode: Jericho is alive and his spirit is inside of Slade. Dick appears to be nearing the end of his journey.

The last, other than some interludes where Gar is being brainwashed by CADMUS, and best, storyline of the episode is Jason and Rose. They ran away to Gotham, and Rose is still working him. She is kind of transparent, even before the reveal that she has been working with Slade the whole time. I do wonder if she is actually Slade’s daughter; I still find it highly suspicious that she was completely absent in all the Jericho flashbacks. But she and Jason appear to forge a genuine connection. He is truly open and vulnerable with her, and they seem to bond. Jason remains one of the best characters on the show, and Rose is a great foil for him. He tries to be abrasive, mostly to be sure that he is not forgotten. He is still kind of a punk, but his actions are clearly defense mechanisms. He pushes people away as preemptive response to his assumed rejection. Rose acts similarly, but she is abrasive to keep anyone from getting close enough to learn her secret that she is working with Slade. The question is where her loyalties will lie when it all blows up. Did she really connect with Jason, or is she still playing him?

Stuff like the Jason and Rose stuff, as well as Kory stuff, is real good. It is why I keep watching the show. It isn’t anything revolutionary; it is just good superhero melodrama. The show spends a lot of time on characters and plotlines that don’t work as well, but the stuff that does work works so well. Hopefully this is the start of a much needed course correction and not a short lived quality bounce for the show.

Recap of the Titans, S 2 Ep 10

Titans Season 2, Episode 10 “Fallen”

Okay, so now Dick is in prison and this is a completely different show. I don’t know why the show is going this route or what Dick is trying to accomplish, but the show is pretty much off the rails at this point, so let’s see where it goes.

After the end of the last episode, Gar is alone in Titans Tower, Dick is in prison, Conner is wandering the streets of San Francisco alone (well, he has Krypto at the start, but he sends him away), and Rachel has run away and is in a homeless shelter.

The best part of the episode is again Gar and Conner. First, Conner sends Krypto away to keep him safe. Krypto, being a good dog and hands down the best character on the show, or in existence, runs back to Titans Tower and gets Gar, who goes to bring Conner back. Krypto is such a good dog. Unfortunately, Conner’s actions have caught the attention of Mercy Graves, and now that she knows that Conner isn’t dead she comes after him again. After seeing what Gar is capable of, Mercy switches her plan from kill to capture. So Conner and Krypto end up back at Cadmus again, this time with Gar in tow. This Cadmus storyline is interesting. I really wish it had been introduced earlier in the season and more time was spent on it than on rehashing the not particularly interesting or revelvatory past of the Titans.

I am not really going into Dick’s prison story, because I really, truly, do not care. That is what takes up the bulk of the episode and I could not care less. In prison, Dick at first refuses to help, but by the end of the episode his heroic instincts kind of kick in. I think the whole sequence exists so Dick can get told the story of the mythical bird who comes in the night and helps people, which I assume will be his inspiration to become Nightwing.

Most of the rest of the gang is absent. There is no Kory, Hank or Dawn. No Rose or Jason. Donna appears briefly and does precisely nothing. There is a brief Rachel storyline, where she tries to help another girl, but appears to lose control of her powers and someone ends up dead. It is something, I guess.

This episode is a real dud. I like the developments with Conner and Gar; that is an interesting storyline that should be pursued. The rest of this nonsense is just mopey, overwrought junk that I was hoping this series was moving past. I really thought the show was posed to really grow into itself over the back half of this season; instead, it feels like it is falling apart. Retreading well worn ground instead of growing into something new. Hopefully the show can pull itself together over the last few episodes.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 9

Titans Season 2, Episode 9 “Atonement”

Atonement appears to a tipping point on this season of Titans, as Dick comes clean about exactly what happened to Jericho, leading to most of the team leaving Titans Tower. The old team members; Donna, Dawn, and Hank, are disgusted with his lies and want nothing to do with the team. Rose is upset about the revelations about her brother, and Jason goes with her. Even Rachel decides enough is enough. Gar stays. Kory also leaves, but only because her Tamaranean troubles have cropped back up. Dick then decides to exile himself, leaving only Gar and the unconscious Conner in the tower.

Each of the characters has their own thread the episode follows. Each of these threads could be interesting story hooks, but there just isn’t enough time for any of them. Hank and Dawn try to start over again, but their past catches up with them. Their past from the beginning of the season, when they were running some kind of halfway house. But there wasn’t enough of that for it to really be a storyline and it basically hasn’t been mentioned for seven episodes, so it doesn’t really work here. Kory meets up with Faddei, who tells her that her sister has taken over their planet, and they have to deal with her. Unfortunately, Kory’s sister, Blackfire, manages to possess Faddei. Again, this is a promising storyline, but there really hasn’t been enough done with it to matter. I guess it establishes Blackfire as a potential foe for the (entirely theoretical) team, but that is little.

The best part of the episode is Conner and Gar. At first Gar is alone in the tower as Conner recovers. When he wakes up, instead of calling Bruce like he is supposed to, he and Conner bond over video games and plot out what they will do as superheroes. Even that ends in tragedy, since Conner is essentially superpowered newborn is unable to understand the nuance of something like a man getting arrested. So Conner fights with a bunch of cops. Gar runs off, leaving him alone in the tower and Conner wandering the streets on the run from the authorities.

Dick’s story sees him seeking atonement for getting Jericho killed from Jericho’s mother. It, predictably, goes poorly. For some reason, Dick just takes Slade’s abuse. Like I really need someone to lay out exactly what is going through Dick’s mind, because his actions over this season, and including what I remember of last season, make no sense. The answers don’t actually answer questions, they merely make the questions not make a lot of sense. So he gets himself arrested for . . . some reason.

That problem is broader than Dick. Hank and Dawn have never really fit in, like they are in their own show separate from everyone else. Donna Troy remains a mess. The supposed stars of the show, Kory, Rachel and Gar, have been pretty well sidelined. Everyone’s motivations and character manage to be broad and ill-defined. And the show seems determined not to clear things up. It makes it disappointing, because this show is so good when it is good.

This episode makes me realize that while this season has been building, it has not remotely been building to what I thought it was. All I’ve wanted, essentially since this show started, was to see the team together and in action. Season 1 had an understandably slow build, as they had to put the team together. Here, the team is together, but they just refuse to be a team. Naively, I assumed that all the bickering and bullshit was what the team was working through until they came together for the last part of the season. Now, with time left in the season dwindling, the team has broken up after accomplishing precisely nothing as a team.

What I Watched October 2019

Movies

Joker – read review here. **

El Camino – I’ll be honest; I haven’t gotten all the way through Breaking Bad. I don’t really have an excuse. I did have the end spoiled for me (I guess I really spoiled it for myself). This is not really a movie event, but a double episode coda tacked on to the end of the show. An excellently shot and written modern day western that only really works as a goodbye to a character people already love. It is incredible for what it is. ****1/2

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – read review here. **1/2

The Laundromat – I don’t understand why reviews for this film have been so mixed. I loved how it mixed the fun, glib explanations by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas with the real showing of how these schemes affect real people. The first stuff is enjoyable, but it becomes infuriating as it becomes clear that the crooks are going to get away with it and keep getting away with it. *****

Addams Family read review here. ***

Gemini Man read review here. **1/2

Missing Link – I am really sorry I missed this in theaters earlier this year. I loved Laika’s last movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. This one is just as strong. It looks gorgeous. It tells a great story about wanting to belong. I just loved everything about it. *****

The Current War – read review here. ***

Dolemite is My Name – This movie does just about everything right. Good performances, especially from Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes. It is funny without ever really making fun of its subject. It is loving, but not reverent. Just a lot of fun. ****1/2

Mission of Honor – A perfectly fine WWII movie about (mostly) Polish fighter pilots in Great Britain during the second world war. Personally, I love scenes of propeller planes, which was enough to get me past some of this film’s weaker dramatic points. It does end with a devastating kicker; after fighting to save the U.K., and their homeland, the Polish fighters are deported to their now communist home country, where they are not wanted or welcome. ***

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers – I don’t know when the last time I actually sat down and watched any of the The Lord of the Rings movies. I didn’t do it this time, either. I got interrupted about two thirds the way through this. The movie is still amazing. The special effects have aged, but they have aged better than you might think. I believe a structured rewatch is in my future. Not a marathon, but maybe seeing them over the course of a week or so. *****

TV

Undone – This is a hard show to describe. It is a trippy drama with sci-fi stuff that might or might not be real. Protagonist Alma is in a car accident and learns she can project her consciousness back through time. With the help of her dead father, possibly time traveling father she tries to unravel the mystery of his death. She also tries to deal with things happening to her in the moment, like her sister’s marriage to a man Alma doesn’t like or Alma’s dissatisfaction with her boyfriend. Underneath it all is the question of whether Alma actually has this time travel power, or whether it is a delusion caused by the accident. I was not a big fan of the rotoscope animation, but the show is really good.

Big Mouth S3 – This show continues to be strong, twitter controversy aside. I don’t mean to discount why people were mad, but that is one sour note in an otherwise excellent show. Big Mouth is a show that pushes boundaries in a way that seems really helpful to its supposed target audience. Though I would guess its target audience isn’t kids going through puberty, but people in their 20-30s remembering going through puberty. The show is doing a great job of widening its focus, especially as its two protagonists go down some pretty toxic roads. This is just a good show.

Goliath S3 – I wrote in my Carnival Row post that I had hopes that the third season of Goliath would fix a lot of the problems I had with season 2. Those hopes were misplaced. This season might not be quite as bad as the previous one, but it is still far from good. This season appears to be trying to be something like Twin Peaks as a legal drama. But it doesn’t do a great job of being Twin Peaks and it does an even worse job of being a legal drama. The courtroom stuff is almost completely an afterthought here. I like Billy Bob Thornton, but this show reeks of misplaced confidence. It doesn’t reek of desperation like some bad shows do, like it is flailing around trying to find what works; instead it feels like a show that is sure that it is working perfectly and is trying to stretch its legs a little, even though absolutely nothing it going right. It is a barely watchable mess. At least Dennis Quaid seemed like he had fun.

Modern Love – This is a real mixed bag. There are some great romantic stories here. There is also a couple of real creep shows. I don’t know, this didn’t really do anything for me, despite having some favorites, like Anne Hathaway and Tina Fey, show up and some actually very good episodes.

Carmen Sandiego S2 – I found this to be a big improvement over the first season. Mostly because it feels like it is doing less heavy lifting to set up its story and more just telling the story. It is still a cartoon for kids that focuses on geography and history. It is pretty fun.

Schitt’s Creek S5 – This show remains one of the strongest sitcoms around today. It had a kind of rocky start and still has a terrible title, but the show is good. I don’t have much specific to say, it remains funny and hits enough human moments to make you care. With Netflix losing pretty much every other easy watching staple in the near future, keeping this around would give them something.

CW DC Shows – I am going to write more about these when they go on winter hiatus, which is apparently halfway through the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. I’ll just say for now that it has been a good start. The Flash especially seems rejuvenated. Also, newcomer Batwoman is a lot of fun.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep8

Titans Season 2 Episode 8: “Jericho”

Jericho is an excellently executed episode that is unfortunately largely free of anything surprising or revelatory. That would not be a big deal, but the show has held back telling this portion of the story all season, alluding to the tragedy that happened with the Titans last tangled with Deathstroke, only to reveal to be exactly what one would expect.

Jericho takes place a few years in the past. After Deathstroke killed Aqualad, Dick forged a friendship with Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, to find him. The episode mostly focuses on its namesake, showing how is yearning for friendship brings him to the Titans. He tells his version of the story of who Deathstroke is while bonding with the team. Jericho has been through some stuff, including having his throat slit and being rendered mute. The Titans are uncomfortable using Jericho and are going to cut him loose. Then Dick learns of Jericho’s power. By making eye contact, he can possess another person, gaining complete physical control of them. This leads Dick to come clean with Jericho and invite him to join the Titans. At the same time, Deathstroke learns how the Titans are getting info on him and arranges to meet with his son to make peace. The other big revelation is who Deathstroke’s target was. It wasn’t Aqualad or Donna, but Donna’s Themyscrian protector. It all comes to a head in a rather predictable way that leaves the team completely shattered.

This is an episode where the characters’ motivations are as clear as they have been in some time. All of them want revenge for Aqualad, but their discomfort with deceiving Jericho is clear. As is Jericho’s devastation after learning that he has been lied to, both by the team and about his father.

For once, even Dove makes sense. Dove really has turned into the worst written character on this show. Most of the others have a clearly understandable position and arc. Hank/Hawk is a junkie, and his drug is being a superhero. He wants to do it so bad, but he knows keeping it up will kill him. His struggle is not jumping back into action as he so clearly desires to. Dick wants to save people, but he doesn’t want to be manipulative like Batman. However, acting like Batman is all he knows and he consistently falls short of his own standards. Dawn/Dove, though, is all over the map. Is she a junkie like Hank? Does she want to be a hero or leave that life behind? Who knows; it seems to change every episode. In the last flashback she told Dick to be Batman; in this one she says not to. Dick calls her out on this, but neither the character nor the show has a satisfying explanation. Dove, as originally conceived, was a superhero representing peace. Her arguing caution and peaceful solutions works. Her goading others into action or sneaking out to get some violence in does not. The character is just kind of a mess.

One odd touch is that Rose is not mentioned at all. She has made it clear that she knew her brother, but in none of the scenes featuring the Wilson family is she seen or even mentioned. It was only five years ago; she would have been ten years old. There are several possible explanations for this, from the pathetic, like is the show just decided not to show young Rose as a cost cutting measure because it would have required another actress, to the clever, like a reveal that Rose is not actually Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s daughter. Maybe it was just a blind spot in the writing. Whatever the reason, it was notable.

I hope this is the end of the flashbacks and side stories. The show seems to have mostly dealt with the past and it has enough new stuff to deal with. It should be gearing up for the stretch run here. I have a feeling there is more to come though. Deathstroke is the big thread to resolve, but I am curious how deeply the show is going to delve into Conner or if it is going to go back to the Starfire thread it started the season with. What I really want to see is a deepening of relationships in the present; with as little time as the season has spent in the here and now, it feels like any sense of interpersonal dynamic on this team, as currently constituted has been lost.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 7

Titans Season 2 Episode 7: “Bruce Wayne”

Picking up where last episode, and the one before it, left off, “Bruce Wayne” starts with several problems. Deathstroke has escaped, the older team members are mad at Dick for changing the plan, the younger team members are upset at being left out, Jason is traumatized from almost being killed, and Conner is dying from being shot at the end of last episode.

This episode gives viewers the first good look at Titans’ Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard complaints about him, but I think he works. Iain Glenn does not present as imposing a Batman as we are used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make for a good one. In this episode, he comes off as something like an Adam West or Roger Moore as James Bond; a little jokey, jovial. It might not be the right fit for this show, which seems consistently mired in humorlessness, but it worked in this episode, especially as Bruce’s job was to be the voice in Dick’s head. Throughout the episode, Bruce follows Dick, visible only to him, and critiques him on how he is trying to get to Deathstroke. I am curious if we are going to see him for real, either as Bruce Wayne or Batman, but as Dick’s snarky imaginary version of Bruce I thought he was pretty good.

Dick spends most of the episode operating on his own, using his detective skills to try to track down Deathstroke. While he is gone, the team fractures. Jason has some sort of tunnel vision, constantly seeing himself falling. Meanwhile, everyone else is finding remnants of the last old problems left in places to upset them. For reasons I don’t understand, they blame these things on Jason. The only ones not taking part in the blame Jason game are Conner and Kory. Conner because he is dying, Kory because she is busy trying to prevent that.

I am a little confused about parts of the follow up to last episode. Not confused with what happened, but confused why the show decided to sequence things the way it did. In the last episode, Conner left Eve to escape from Mercy and CADMUS. The episode set it up to appear like that was the last we would see of her. She even gave Conner some last minute (terrible) advice. As the episode ended, with Conner shot with Kryptonite bullets, Mercy then managed to recapture Krypto. In this episode, Eve escapes from CADMUS again, with Krypto in tow. So the end of the last episode existed to set things up for one scene this episode in which we really learned nothing. Eve even contradicts her bead advice. She needs to be there to give Kory the information she needs to save Conner.

Judging by the end of this episode and the title of the upcoming one, next is another flashback episode. I hope we finally get fully to the bottom of the Titans/Deathstroke feud. I am not sure I picked a great season of a show to try to do these reviews. Mostly because the only characters that seem to have any sort of ongoing arc are Dick and Jason. And the jumping back and forth between timelines and stories has consistently stalled the development of a lot of the characters. I know that in the comics Deathstroke was something of an arch nemesis for Dick and it makes sense for him to be the focus, but it kind of feels like everyone else is getting lost in the shuffle.

What I Watched September 2019

Movies

Falling Inn Love — A woman wins a contest to own a B&B, which turns out to be a trap to stick them with a dilapidated old inn. A cheap romance ensues. Its fine for what it is. **

Plus One — A rom com starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid. They are friends who have a lot of other friends, mutual and otherwise, who are getting married. So they agree to be each other’s plus one. Eventually, a real relationship blossoms. It is actually very well executed, and Erskine and Quaid are charming. ****

The Goldfinch read review here. **1/2

Hustlers read review here. ****

Ad Astra read review here. ****1/2

Tall Girl This movie isn’t a terrible teen dramedy, but I was never hooked by the concept. It starts with a voice over talking about how the viewer knows that really tall girl, and I don’t. That is not an archetype I am familiar with. I don’t even know anyone who can relate. **

Between Two Ferns I have watched some Between Two Ferns interviews, this movie doesn’t have quite enough of them. The actual movie is nothing special, but the interviews within are amazing. I had a lot of fun with it, despite its foibles. ****

TV

Derry Girls S1&2 A fun little comedy set in 1990’s Ireland that feature some teen girls, and one boy, coming of age. The show takes a few episodes to find its footing, but once it does it is pretty entertaining. I don’t have a lot to say about it, it is a fun show that doesn’t take too long to watch.

Carnival Row S1 wrote about it here.

Frontier S3 — I’ve got to be honest, I completely lost the plot with this show. It doesn’t help that I started it months ago before finishing it recently. By the time it got to the end, I didn’t really remember who a lot of the characters were and what were their relationships to each other. I really like Jason Momoa and there is a lot of good stuff in this show, but I needed to have paid closer attention than I did.

Four Weddings and a Funeral This is based on a movie and while there are some winning performances and it is generally a solidly entertaining show, it mostly serves to make a strong argument that romantic comedies should not be ten hours long. It just takes too long to get where its going, with structure that isn’t really designed to last that long. Still, I was generally entertained by it.

Wu Assassins S1 — This kind of feels like a CW show that just so happens to star actually good martial artists (no disrespect intended to Arrow’s largely very well done fights). It is a fun martial arts fantasy. I don’t have a lot to say.

Magnum, pi S5&7 wrote about it here.

What We Do In The Shadows — The movie What We Do In The Shadows was amazing. It was my introduction to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. What is shocking to me is that the TV show manages to keep almost everything that was good about the movie, and introduce some new fun wrinkles. It takes the concept, a mockumentary tv show about the everyday life of vampires, and transplants it to America. It all works. The addition of Mark Proksch as an energy vampire is great. It is just one of the funniest shows on TV.

Unbelievable — This is a show that I should write a full post about. It is a difficult show, an excellently made show. Kaitlyn Dever, who was great in Booksmart, stars as Marie Adler, a young woman who was raped in her apartment. She tells the police, but the force her to repeatedly recount her story and then she recants when it just becomes too much. Eventually, they charge her with false reporting. Three years later, two detectives in another state, played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette, find themselves working a series of cases with a similar MO to that of Marie’s rapist. The show follows along two tracks, the first with Marie in 2008 as she deals with the fallout of her rape, the other in 2011 with the detectives trying to unravel these crimes. It is a really well made procedural that manages to deal with some really complex issues with a confident hand. This is one of the best TV shows of the year.

Carole & Tuesday — The first half of a new anime from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo director Shinichiro Watanabe. This appears to take place in the same or a similar universe to Cowboy Bebop, set on a terraformed Mars. Carole is an orphaned musician working part time jobs to get by, Tuesday is the sheltered and stifled daughter of a powerful politician. She runs away and meets Tuesday, and the two form a band. The back half has the duo on an American Idol-like talent competition. There is a lot going on. I am not a big music guy, so I am not sure this is the show for me, it I am generally enjoying it quite a bit.

Disenchantment S2 I like the first season—which I believe was actually the first half of the first season and this is the second half—well enough, but this second season really sees Disenchantment grow into its own. This is still a Groening show that prioritizes plot over jokes, kind of like the inverse of Futurama, which had plot but was mostly about jokes. However, this season feels more comfortable in its style. The world is getting more interesting and more distinctive and the characters seem to have found much more comfortable roles. It is a comfort food show for me, but I still think it is really good.