What I Watched July 2017

Movies

Nocturnal Animals – I don’t really know what to make of this movie. It opens with deliberately off putting imagery that is almost completely disconnected from the rest of the movie before starting its various narratives. Half of the movie follows Amy Adams as she reads the manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, with some flashback scenes to their marriage and its dissolution.  The other half follows the plot of the novel.  The novel sections are vastly more compelling than the others.  It is a mostly straightforward crime/revenge story, with Michael Shannon as a cop dying of cancer who agrees to help a husband get revenge for his murdered wife and child.  The other thread is trying to do something more, but it even in its tale of low key revenge I couldn’t help but think about the details it has to elide.  It sets up Adams’ character as living an empty and unhappy existence. One that a possible reconnection with her ex could change. But it elides the whole life she has lived in the 20 years since she last saw her husband, which included raising a child and building a successful career.  I think the movie wants us to side with the husband and his raising and dashing of her hopes, but I’m not sure about that.  Nocturnal Animals is a well made but largely cold movie.  It pushes the viewer away, making you want to analyze instead of feel. I can’t quite sort out my feelings toward it, but there is clear quality here.  ****

Ocean’s Eleven – This is a perfectly slick, fun little caper.  It really does feel like an awfully small movie for all the star power it brings to bear.  It isn’t one of my favorite movies, but there really isn’t anything I can point to that I dislike about it.  ****

Man of Steel – I watched this and its sequel for something I was writing that probably won’t happen. (Maybe in the lead up to Justice League.) I am ever frustrated by how wrong this movie gets some things despite how right or close to right it gets others.  If it didn’t have that absurdly destructive last act maybe people would remember how truly heroic Superman is early. Maybe if it didn’t screw up Pa Kent so badly I could watch it without making a face.  ***

Batman v Superman – I like this movie more each time I watch it.  I know that my reaction is the opposite of just about everybody else’s, I don’t care, I greatly enjoy this movie.  Especially the extended cut, which actually lets the plot make sense.  Like with Man of Steel, I have more to say on this, including diving into the religious underpinnings of the story, that I hope to have done before Justice League hits. ****

Land Before Time – For some reason the Netflix version of this movie has about 10 minutes cut out of its already short runtime, including a line that proved inexplicably memorable for my family.  It feels really jumpy as it is on Netflix right now, especially compared to my memories of it.  Maybe I’ll find the full version some time to see if it holds up. ** (for this version)

Spider-Man Homecoming – read review here.  ***1/2

Baby Driver – read review here. *****

Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets – read review here. ****1/2

Atomic Blonde – read review here.  ***

The Prestige – This was one of the few Nolan movies that I had never seen all the way through. I had seen most of it, but never from start to finish. It is very good.  *****

Rocky – This is one of my absolute favorite movies. Each time I watch it only reinforces how much much I love this movie.  It is just about perfect. *****

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – I watched this again and I liked even more the second time. This is the tense sort of drama that that non-action scenes of Atomic Blonde was going for, but this movie does it right.  ****1/2

TV

One Day at A Time – This is a very old fashioned show with very forward thinking subject matter. It deals with a lot of progressive issues in a show that is very much styled like a 70’s multi-camera sitcom.  It works. The format is the hardest part for me, it absolutely nails what is both great and terrible about those shows.  I find the very forced and artificial set ups of those shows to be pretty grating and One Day at A Time is no different.  But there is something to be said about the largely episodic nature of this show.  It also does a solid job of foregrounding issues that should be discussed in ways that don’t get in the way of the jokes.  This is an admirable show done in a fashion that I don’t much like.

The Ranch S2 Part 1 – This is still comfortably terrible show, but its jokes about drunk driving got old a long time ago.  Honestly, even the appeal of a cast that I largely like is starting to wear thin with me.  I don’t know if I’ll be back for the next batch of episodes.  I like Sam Elliott and Debra Winger and I like Kutcher and Masterson together, but this show needs better plots and jokes if I am going to stick with it any further.

Castlevania – This has gotten largely positive reviews and I can’t say I agree with them at all. It is competently produced, but it takes the mostly goofy stylings of the Castlevania series and turns it into try-hard edgey nonsense.  I guess that is a little harsh, but it is only four episodes and it doesn’t even start to get good until more than halfway through the third episode. Hopefully the next batch of episodes is more like the second half here.

Trailer Park Boys S11 – I think I am just about done with Trailer Park Boys. I don’t really think the show has gotten worse, I’ve just seen enough. Maybe when the next season hits I’ll feel differently, but as much as I enjoyed parts of this season it really felt like a chore to watch at times.  This is the same show it has always been, for better or worse.

Bosch S1 – I read a few of the books a few months ago and thought I would try out the show. It’s good.  A little slow, but well done. It takes the cop procedural formula and turns it into something like a prestige show.  It stretches cases along the season, but still nails that mystery feeling.  It contains just enough from books I’ve read to throw me off, which is good.  I really want to get to the next couple of seasons, because this was good.

Advertisements

What I Watched in June 2017

Movies

War of the Worlds – This was a Spielberg movie that I hadn’t seen. It seems a lot like working through 9/11 trauma, but it is also some solid science fiction spectacle. I don’t think this is one of Spielberg’s best, but it is pretty good. ****

Wonder Woman – read review here. *****

Fire & Ice – A Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped fantasy movie based on Frank Frazetta drawings. I like Frazetta, but I am fairly certain at this point that Bakshi is just not for me. **

Revenge – The late Tony Scott directs and Kevin Costner stars in this mediocre and heavy movie. There are solid points and some great shots, but it is mostly just slow and painful. **1/2

Harlock – Decent looking, this new take on Space Pirate Captain Harlock seems determined to downplay really interesting things in favor of tired clichés. It was so close to being so much better. **

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – read about it here. It is fine, I guess. It lacks the spark of the first three but isn’t completely terrible. ***

The Good, the Bad and the Weird – This is an utter delight. Like the title suggests it is a take on the Leone classic, but it is also very much it’s own thing. A thief and a killer are after a supposed treasure, followed relentlessly by a bounty hunter. It may be set in Asia, but it is absolutely a western and one with some pretty terrific shoot outs. It is just a blast from start to finish. ****

Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift – I know I rated this with the rest of the series a few months ago, but this was the first time I actually watched it from start to finish. It’s okay. It is not really the black sheep of the series some people make it out to be, but neither is it on the level of something like Fast 5. ***

The Hollow Point – I watched this for Patrick Wilson and he’s fine, but this is a really dark new western that really doesn’t have much to recommend it. Other than Ian McShane’s performance, which is delightful. **

Kung Fu Killer – Following Fthismovie’s Junesploitation, I needed a Kung Fu movie to watch and this Donnie Yen vehicle was one of the ones I hadn’t seen that was on Netflix. It is pretty good. It is kind of a police procedural that follows a martial arts master as he helps the police track down a serial killer that is targeting other martial arts masters. There are several good fights and a decent mystery. It is a lot of fun. ****

Shimmer Lake – A heist movie shot in reverse. It is occasionally entertaining and compelling, but the twist seemed obvious to me pretty early and there wasn’t enough else there to really pull me in. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. **1/2

In the Shadow of Iris – A French thriller about a fake kidnapping that appears to go horribly wrong. The big problem with this movie is that all of the characters look alike. That turns out to be a plot point for two of them, but the other two just look too similar for no reason. Also, the subtitles on Netflix leave the screen faster than I can read them. Still, it’s not badly made. ***

Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – This is framed at an uplifting look at a young person making a political stand against a great power, but it ends with his dreams mostly being crushed and China doing whatever it wants with Hong Kong. Still, it is a well-made film about an interesting piece of history. ***1/2

The Jungle Book – This is the 1994 one directed by Steven Sommer and starring Jason Scott Lee and Cary Elwes. I loved this movie as a kid and it kind of holds up. There are some really bad effects, and the questionable casting of a Chinese/Hawaiian man as an Indian, but it is also a solid adventure. It isn’t as good as Sommer’s The Mummy, but I still enjoyed it. ***

The Ghost and the Shadow – A movie about the true story of some man eating lions that can’t decide if it wants to be a drama or Jaws on the savannah. It is fine. **1/2

Nobody Speak – a close look at the Gawker v Hulk Hogan lawsuit that turns into a chilling look at threats faced by the free press in America. While I am sure it was compelling while they were making it, it seems all the more vital when the shitbag in chief is working to further attacks on the press. ***1/2

Counterpunch – a look at the state of American boxing, both amateur and professional. It is a pretty solid documentary about a subject I don’t really care about. ***

iBoy – a kind of pseudo superhero movie where a young kid get a cell phone smashed into his head and gets special powers. I found it incredibly dull if not particularly poorly made. **

You Get Me – Fatal Attraction for teens, but it is kind of a mess and completely unable to make its characters seem relatable or human. *1/2

Okja – review coming soon *****

Baby Driver – review here. *****

TV

GLOW – This show is a near perfect dramedy. It is even caught between drama and comedy in episode length, with each episode running slightly longer than the usual comedy half hour, but not as long as an hour long show, even figuring on the 46 minute running time of most network dramas. Here is a show about making a show about wrestling. It stars Allison Brie and Marc Maron, but other members of the ensemble start to flesh out their characters before the all too brief run of episodes is over. This show is just completely watchable. It does pretty much everything right.

Fargo S3 – I wanted to write a full post about this, but I don’t know that I can. This is the weakest season of the show, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. Season 2 of Fargo is an out and out and masterpiece and Season 1 is really good. Season 3 takes some big swings, and not all of them pay off. While I found it enthralling moment to moment, it didn’t really add up to a coherent experience. Some of the thematic threads took too long to make themselves evident and others only somewhat paid off. There is a deliberate coldness to this season, with the characters, and Carrie Coon’s Gloria Burgle especially, isolated from the others. We don’t really get the showdowns between the good guys and the bad guys, at least not until the last couple of episodes. A lot of that was very deliberate. Season 2 was a Western and played out like it, this season was something else. Something slower and more contemplative. The show spends most of the season wrestling with the nature and importance of truth, but it can’t quite pull it all together in the end. Maybe I’ll think differently of this season when I rewatch it, but right now I consider it a brilliant failure.

Superhero TV Round Up

Okay, so all of the CW shows are wrapping up their seasons and it seems like time to check in with the glut of superhero shows that are currently being made.  DC added Powerless on NBC this year to go along with Gotham on Fox, Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow returning to the CW and Supergirl moving from CBS to the CW.  Meanwhile, Marvel still has Agents of SHIELD pumping away on ABC while they added Iron Fist on Netflix and Fox brought the X-Men-ish Legion to FX.  That is a crap ton of superhero related TV and I didn’t even try to watch a lot of it.  But I do want to talk about the more than half that I did watch.  Here they are from best to worst, followed by the shows I didn’t watch.

Legion – Legion was far and away the best superhero show that aired over the last six or so months, though it only barely counts as a superhero show. It takes a few characters and ideas from X-Men, but it is very much its own thing. And it is a good, trippy thing. Instead of being beholden to either the X-Men movie continuity (good luck) or the comics continuity (hahahaha), Legion takes the characters it wants to use and crafts a wholly original story around them. It works pretty well, though I think I need to rewatch it all to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. Still, it is really good stuff.

Legends of Tomorrow – The first season of this show was kind of a mess; a grab bag of fun characters and bad ideas.  This season they jettisoned the weakest and strongest parts of the cast (the Hawks and Vandal Savage the former, Captain Cold the latter) and refocused the show into something really enjoyable. The ensemble feels stronger, the sense of purpose is greater and it was just all around a much improved show.  The time hopping served more of a purpose and the characters felt more comfortable in their roles.  It is still the cheesiest thing, but it nailed that perfect state of enjoyable goofiness.

Supergirl – Supergirl went through quite the transformation this season, moving from CBS to the CW and having to deal with the lowered budget and lost cast members.  It also came back a stronger show in its second season, with a better sense of identity and some of the odd parts sanded off.  For instance, there is a stronger emphasis on the DEO instead of it being kind of cordoned off until needed.  There are growing pains, like how abruptly Kara shrugs off her new Jimmy Olsen relationship and starts one with the charming, if empty, Mon-El.  It was just a fun season, albeit one without a strong through line for the show or its title character.

The Flash – The Flash’s third season was an odd one. The central storyline was a non-starter, repeating similar beats to the first two seasons to much diminished effect. However, many of the individual episodes of this season were really, really good. It also spent too much time with the doom and gloom of Iris’s impending death hanging over the season.  There is still a strong foundation for this show and most episodes are good enough, the writers just need to do a better job of building on the show’s strengths.

Arrow – This was a solid bounce back season for Arrow. It didn’t come anywhere close to the great second season, but it is a step up from last year’s mess. I stopped watching after the crossover, but I caught up with the rest of it on Netflix. I liked seeing some lesser known DC characters get some time; we see Mr. Terrific and Ragman and freaking Wild Dog. Wild Dog on TV every week, the world has gone crazy. The flashbacks were still a problem, even with Dolph Lundgren, and the ongoing nonsense with Black Canary is a head scratcher, but otherwise it was a solid season.

Iron Fist – Yeah, this show is a mess. I love the character Iron Fist, but this show couldn’t even get the martial arts right, with a few exceptions. It is clearly made in the prestige drama mode, but it fails on pretty much every level. I am really souring on these Netflix Marvel shows. Daredevil S1 was great, as was Jessica Jones, but Daredevil S2 was a mess and Luke Cage was a great set up with about half the story it needed to fill its 13 episodes. Iron Fist has all the problems of the stuff that preceded it without the strengths. I am still looking forward to Defenders, almost as much because it is about half as long as the rest of these series.

Agents of SHIELD – I hear that this season was pretty good. I can’t bring myself to care. Maybe one day on Netflix.

Gotham – This show lost me in the first season and everything I hear about it tells me I won’t like it. Still, it is currently on Netflix, so you never know.

Powerless – I only watched one episode of this; it feels like it was tested and adjusted to hell and back. The episode was occasionally funny, but not funny enough for me to do more than wait for it to be streaming. Unfortunately, NBC has cancelled it. It seemed like the kind of show that could have a Parks & Recreation like season 2 turn around. It was a good concept.

These shows, with the exceptions of Iron Fist and Powerless, will be returning next year. (Iron Fist will likely return, but wouldn’t bet on seeing it before late 2019) By next year, I of course mean this fall.  Also, The Defenders, the capstone to Marvel’s Netflix shows hits in August, with The Punisher following at some point this year. Also Fox is adding another X-Men show in The Gifted and ABC has a new Inhumans series coming in September. At some point Syfy is going to start a Krypton series starring Superman’s grandpappy. And superheroes continue their takeover of the CW with Black Lightning. Honestly, this is likely the last post like this I’ll do. I can’t keep up with all this and I really don’t want to keep up with it. It was fun when it was just Arrow, Daredevil, and The Flash (along with the ignore Agents of SHIELD). Now that the list of shows is swelling up to ten or more, I am checking out. I’ll still watch my CW DC nonsense, they are good trash, and I will keep watching Netflix stuff because I have a sickness, but otherwise I am going to a lot choosier with what I watch. As long as Noah Hawley is doing it I’ll keep watching Legion, but I’m out on The Gifted and Inhumans barring excellent reviews. The same goes for other stuff on the horizon. I guess anyway, we’ll see this fall.

What I Watched May 2017

Movies

Baywatch – read review here. **

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – read review here.  ***

War Machine – A satire of the US’s handling of the war in Afghanistan that can’t maintain a consistent tone. Still, there are scenes when it is spot on; the movie is just too inconsistent. **1/2

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – read review here.  ****1/2

Small Crimes – I kind of really hated this movie.  It is a bleak look at bad people doing bad things until it costs them.  Like a Coen Brothers movie without the humor.  *1/2

The Handmaiden – A mind bending thriller with a couple thieves looking to steal an heiress fortune, but who’s conning who?  It is amazing. *****

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – read reviewish thing here.  *****

Coin Heist – a group of private school kids plan a heist to save their school after the Superintendent embezzled all the schools money.  It has a decent sense of character and plot, but it isn’t anything mind blowing.  ***

Casting JonBenet – Kind of a strange documentary that covers the death of JonBenet Ramsay by pretending to cast for a movie about the killing and asking local residents what they know or think about it.  It is an interesting experiment at the very least. ***

Take the 10 – Two punky young men do whatever it takes to go to a concert. I guess it is a comedy, but I never laughed.  *1/2

Handsome: A Netflix Murder Mystery – This feels like a TV movie, in a good way.  It is the simplest premise; it is just a murder mystery comedy. It is a detective investigating a crime, with jokes and the mystery given equal weight.  I loved it. ***1/2

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – read review here. ****

Tramps – A nothing kind of indie movie about small time crooks doing a very small time crime and maybe falling in love.  Ehhh. **

Mindhorn – This was a fun one. In the 90’s Richard Thorncroft was the star of a popular detective show, Mindhorn, but since then his star has fallen. When a delusion murder suspect wants to talk to Detective Mindhorn, Richard tried to use it as a springboard to return to fame. It is mostly jokes about how forgotten and delusional Richard is. I found it very charming. ****

Sahara – A middling animated movie about a couple of snakes. A rich snake girl and a snake boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The rest is as interesting and original as that.  **

Blame! – A 3D anime movie about the far future when humanity has created a super-advanced city but that city stopped recognizing them as residents and killed most of them. A couple of newcomers to an enclave of survivors starts a desperate attempt to wrest control of the city back.  It is fine.  ***1/2

Burning Sands – A ponderous look at hazing in specifically black fraternities, though it doesn’t seem especially different from any other fraternity.  I did not like or enjoy it, but I am not sure it is bad. It is just not for me.  **

The Most Hated Woman in America – This is a biopic about the life, and mostly the death, of Madeline Murray O’Hair, the woman who got prayer banned in school.  It is tonally all over the place, playing large parts for comedy in a movie that ends (spoilers for real life) with her and her son and granddaughter being murdered.  It’s just not very good.  *1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – Still a genuinely great swashbuckler.  It works some kind of miracle and gets just about everything right. I’ll have more to say in the near future.  *****

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Much more ambitious than its predecessor and it starts to sag under that ambition.  Still, it is a largely enjoyable affair.  Again, more soon.  ****

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – There is something in how just go for broke this movie is that I can’t help but enjoy it.  Again, more soon. ***½

TV

The Crown – This is a sumptuously produced Netflix show that doesn’t really have a point. It shows the early years in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is all well done, but the story being told is simply not all that interesting.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S3 – Kimmy Schmidt is still generally really great, though its problems remain consistent. Every episode still feels like a 30 minute episode designed to be edited down to a 22 minute one. Each episode has some dead spots or jokes that miss, keeping it from ascending to the lofty heights of greats like 30 Rock or Arrested Development. Still, the show remains hilarious.

Master of None S2 – One thing holding me back from loving this most recent season of Kimmy Schmidt is that it hit Netflix just after this. Master of None’s second season might be the best season of a TV show I’ve seen this year. It is still funny, but show creators Aziz and Alan Yang also brought the heart this season. It deals intelligently with real issues and layers on references to various film genres while still telling jokes. Episodes like “Religion” and “Thanksgiving” are some of the best of any show I’ve seen this year. This show is just so good.

Fargo S3 – I still have faith that Noah Hawley will bring this altogether in the end, but so far this series has felt a little slight compared to the last two. Thematically interesting, well-acted and well shot, but it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. Up until this last week it still felt like we were in the rising action, even though we are past the middle of the season. I love to watch this show set up dominoes, but I also love to watch them fall down. It feels like we are running out time. Still, each episode has been really good.

Riverdale – The first season of this came to a close and it was very good. Real nonsense, but highly enjoyable nonsense. It does a great job of capturing the Archie characters and putting them in a heightened reality where the strange is more than possible. It is the perfect kind of trash.

Superhero Shows – I’ve got a full post about this year’s superhero shows coming up soon.

What I Watched in April 2017

MOVIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched March 2017

Movies

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

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

Logan – read review here. ****

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

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

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched in Feb 2017

Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Wall – Read review here. ***

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

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched in January 2017

Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live By Night – review here. ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Watched in December 2016

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

Movies

Allied – see review here. ****

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rogue One – read review here. ****1/2

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

TV

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

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

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

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

What I Watched November 2016

Movies

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

Dr. Strange – read review here. ****

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

Arrival – read review here. ****1/2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moana – read review here. ****

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

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

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

TV

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

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

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

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

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