What I Watched August 2020

Movies

American Pickle – This whole movie rests on Seth Rogan, playing a modern character and his ancestor miraculously preserved in pickling vat for more than a century. It is about the past and present meeting and about honoring family. It is fine. ****

Class Action Park – I have some qualms about how positive this seemed about the subject of the documentary at times. This is a horrifying story presented as a “those darn rascals” romp. It has fun with all the crazy things people did and the wacky dangerous rides they made. Then it gets to the part where a handful of people died from the negligence and outright flouting of safety regulations. It is fun, but it feels a little glib when it gets to the actual consequences. ***1/2

Drunk Parents – God, this movie is terrible. Just nothing about it works, despite a cast that keeps bringing in ringers for a scene or two. It is just not funny. *

The Sleepover – This honestly works better than it should. A lot of it is stupid kid stuff that maybe kids will enjoy, but the rest works pretty well. Ken Marino, always welcome, shines as a somewhat dim, well-meaning dad who doesn’t quite know what is going on. He is a lot of fun. ***

Project Power – This feels like Netflix trying to jump on the blockbuster train and it doesn’t quite work. Stealing from another review (if I could remember I’d link to it), the movie tills some fertile narrative soil and proceeds to plant nothing. It sets up a lot of interesting ideas to explore with superheroes, and then tells a pretty conventional action movie story. Still, it is well done enough, more disappointing for missed potential than actually being bad. ***

TV

Umbrella Academy S2 – A new season, a new time period, but the same dysfunction. At the end of last season the family was tossed back to 1960’s Dallas. Unfortunately, they all landed there years apart, with no knowledge that the rest of the team made it. So they all go their own separate ways to deal with the fallout from last season. It is mostly some good stuff. You want to see them get things together and get it at least a little figured out, but the magic of the show would be lost if the team operated with any sort of coordination. Since this season doesn’t really have to introduce everyone it seems to have more time to let them all bounce off of each other. It is really good.

Last Chance U S5 – Less completely dysfunctional as the last season, but still as compulsively watchable. Not much to say.

Cursed S1 – This one kind of missed the mark. It isn’t really badly done, but it feels a little muddled. I also hate how it uses Arthuriana. Some things feel like legitimate counterparts to the actual legends, some parts feel like they wrote this story and then just haphazardly added an Arthurian name to a character. Still, it feels like more of a near miss that a complete misfire. There are some good and interesting things here. If it gets a second season, hopefully it can refine those things.

Teenage Bounty Hunters S1 – I am not sure what to make of this. Like I honestly don’t know if it is good or not. There is a lot of soap opera nonsense, but also some good character work. It has a laugh out loud moment or two every episode, but other parts just fall flat. I think I liked it? There is some really good stuff here. This show deals with Christianity better than most shows, or at least in a way that is familiar to me as a person who went to a close enough to southern high school. The Christian doctrine you are taught is treated as a given, even if the kids don’t follow or really even understand it.

High Score – I feel bad, because this is a great story for people who are not experts in video game history. It presents a handful of important moments from that history and explains them effectively. It adds in some important and less well known personal stories. But despite being a big fan of this kind of history, this is really not for me, because I knew most of this already. In many cases in more depth. Still, it is very good for what it is.

Columbo S9 & 10 – A full Columbo post is in the works. Columbo looks older with this return episodes, but the show is just as good as ever. There are some really interesting episodes here, and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of watching Peter Falk.

Doom Patrol S2 – I absolutely loved the first season of Doom Patrol, but season 2 seems to have gotten a little lost. Maybe that is because it lost its season finale due to coronavirus. Perhaps that last episode would have tied all the disparate threads of this season together into a coherent story. That is possible; the characters’s storylines all share some common themes. I still don’t think it would be enough to pull this season up to the level of the first, and that episode does not currently exist. Still, there is a lot to love about this show. All the fundamentals remain strong.

Stargirl S1- I was ready to be disappointed by this show. I really like the comic it is based on and honestly, this is the first time one of my absolute favorite comics characters gets a show. It mostly knocked it out of the park. The two leads, Brec Bassinger as the title character and Luke Wilson as her step-dad, are great. It does a good job of building the characters and their relationships. It might have jumped into the JSA stuff a bit too fast, not giving quite enough time to either the team or to the Whitmore family, but it mostly just worked for me. I can’t wait for season 2.

Inuyasha – Man, was this a throwback to Freshman year at college. Every night I would watch adult swim, from the American comedy shows through the anime. Inuyasha was never a favorite, but it was watchable. It still is. Effective and mostly fun, if never outstanding. I ploughed through the first 50 or so episodes and mostly enjoyed it. I don’t know if I am going to keep going, but this was fun.

Wizards: Tales of Arcadia – This Arcadia series, not just a miniseries, focuses on magic and brings in some time travel. This superseries continues to be very entertaining. This feels a little rushed, but what is here is pretty great. This one ties in more closely with Trollhunters, leaving 3Below feeling a little like the odd man out. I need to write a full wrap up on these series, hopefully before the movie that should tie it all together comes out.

What I Watched July 2020

Movies

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – I don’t think my thoughts have changed since first seeing this last year. I find it delightfully ludicrous. ****

Scoob – This certainly was a choice. I would be more than happy to watch a Scooby-Doo movie. It has a brief origin story, unnecessary but inconsequential. The stranger choice was to use the Scooby-Doo characters to try to springboard a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe. Not just bringing in some other HB characters, but making it as much a Dynomutt and Blue Falcon movie as a Scooby-Doo movie. It doesn’t quite work, but there are still things to enjoy about it. **1/2

Ford v Ferrari – Another rewatch. This is still a very entertaining film. Just a solid and well-made movie; proficient in every way. For me it lacks the tiniest thing to take it from a movie I really enjoy and respect to one I love, but I was more than happy to watch it again. ****1/2

Hot Rod – Still one of my favorite comedies of the 00s. I can watch this any time. *****

Palm Springs – review coming, I swear ****1/2

The Old Guard – review coming, I swear ****

Three Musketeers – This is the 90’s Disney version of this movie. It is not as good as I remember it being. The fencing is not as good as I remember and the movie, though it tries very hard, is not as ‘cool’ as it wants to be. Still, I generally enjoyed it, and it is hard to not enjoy Tim Curry having as much fun as he was here. ***

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace – I think I liked this movie on this watch more than I ever have before. All it took was challenging some of the common criticisms I’ve seen of it and actually experiencing a truly bad Star Wars movie. I am thinking of doing some Star Wars posts, maybe one for each of the trilogies, but for Episode 1 two things stood out to me. The first is how great a character Qui-Gon Jinn is and how tragic his death is at the end of this movie. The other is just how much of a discordant miscalculation Jar Jar is. I see how Jar Jar is intended to be this replacement for C-3P0 and a bit of Chewbacca, but there is simply too much of him and he constantly draws negative attention to himself. Still, I really liked the movie. ****

Jaws – This is a perfect movie. I can always watch Jaws. *****

TV

Star Trek Deep Space Nine S3-4 – I was not fully in on this show early. It was darker than I wanted out of Star Trek and honestly, the cast did not grab me initially. But the show really finds some depth as it goes on, and through three full seasons has continued to get better and the addition of Worf in season 4 brings in a well liked old friend. The Past Tense two-parter in Season 3 is among the prescient sci-fi I’ve ever seen. I hope to get through the back half of this show pretty quickly.

Better off Ted – An old favorite. This is a show that should be rated up there with Arrested Development and 30 Rock as great shows of the 00s, but I don’t think near enough people have watched it. I’ve written about it before, and I don’t have anything new to say. It is a great show.

Home Movies – HBO Max has Home Movies. That almost justifies a subscription for me. This show, something of a predecessor to Bob’s Burgers. I know I’ve written about this show before. It is one of my all-time favorites and was really easy to just put on in the background as I did other things.

Brave New World – Peacock’s prestige launch show seems to have gotten a pretty mixed reaction, but I really enjoyed it. It does its best to stay true to the source material while both adapting it to a new medium and making its future fit a little more sensibly with the now. It takes a little bit to find its grove, but eventually it really finds itself. I think I need to do a full rewatch to make sure I fully understood what I watched, as much because I watched while distracted as because of any real complexity of the show, but there is complexity there. I especially like Alden Ehrenreich, who is the closest thing to an audience stand in as the newcomer to New London, but is far enough from any real connection to the viewer. His is not the greatest journey on the show, but his relative relatability works to compare the journeys of the other against. I think the show works really well, and hope it gets another season or so to tell its story.

Columbo S6-9 – Yeah, Columbo is great. I’ve transitioned from the original run to the revival, but the show doesn’t miss a step. I could watch Peter Falk as Columbo forever.

Community

For the better part of a decade, NBC consistently aired a handful of all-time great sitcoms all on the same night. Starting with The Office in 2005 until Parks & Rec ended in 2015, sitcom greatness aired on Thursday nights on NBC. The Office, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and Community are all held up as exemplars of the form. As someone who was a big fan of three of those shows while they were airing, I somehow managed to never really watch Community. That is an oversight I’ve fixed over the last few weeks. I have friends and acquaintances who maintain that Community among the sitcom greats. After watching the whole series, I can’t agree. Among NBC shows of the time, I would rate it fifth, below the three previously mentioned shows and the criminally underrated My Name Is Earl.

Despite my reservations about the show, the first two seasons are really good. The cast and concept are impeccable. The show manages an excellent balance of high concept explorations of genre and character development. Really, the cast is what really pushes the show over the top. I am not going to go into everyone individually, but there is not really a weak link there. It gives a solid reason to gather this disparate group of characters and builds a compelling world for them to inhabit.

Then season 3 happened and the wheels promptly fell off. There is the occasional episode that shows the greatness present in the first two seasons, even surpassing it at times. Most of the season, though, has this feeling of sweaty desperation to it. In contrast with a show like Parks & Rec, which took two seasons to really find its footing, Community hit the ground running early but seems to have run out of gas by this third season. The characters get pushed further and further, and they start to fray. Character is sacrificed for the plot. Their relationships and mannerisms seem at least partly determined by the needs of the episode. If someone needs to act out of character to make an episode work, then that is what they do. That doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional excellent episode, but you can feel the show straining.

Honestly, even if you had no idea about the turmoil going on with the show I think most viewers would pick up on the fact that something is not right in season 3-5. I include season 3 in with the troubled seasons, though I know many people count it among Community’s ‘great’ seasons. The behind the scenes troubles are well documented and come across in the show. Creator Dan Harmon did not return for season 4, in part because of conflicts with Chevy Chase. Chase had conflicts again and left during the next season. After that, Harmon returned. Then Donald Glover left early in the fifth season, though it seems his departure was amicable. While nearly everything about Chevy Chase’s career paints him as difficult to work with, I understand why he was not happy on this show. Not only is he stuck playing seventh banana on the show, his character is also hated by the rest of the cast and stupid racist. As the first three seasons go on, his character pushes deeper and deeper into his worst traits. A justifiable character development choice, but likely not a fun one for Chase. Season 4, other than leaning hard into the racism at times, actually lets him be the wise elder figure that usually uses him to mock. I’ll have some more to say about season 4 further on. With season 5, the show comes off pretty mean spirited, dumping on the whole previous season and on Chase personally.

The accepted narrative about this show is that season 4 is the weakest season, and it found itself again once Harmon returned. Maybe it is just a symptom of how the show does not quite work for me the way it does for its fans, but I think season 4 is better than the seasons that surround it. Season 3, as I said above, is a sweaty mess. Season 5 has some highlights, but struggles with how the show has really pushed beyond its original concept. And season 6, while largely enjoyable, feels like it has lost too much to be the same show it started as.

My real problem with Community, why I think of it as fine more than great, is that I just never really connected with the characters. The show, especially from season 3 on, seemed to treat the characters with contempt. And if the viewer was dumb enough to care about the characters, the show had some contempt for thta viewer as well. It is an understandable tough task to fit the characters into the shows frequent parodies and homages and keep them as distinct and clear. Instead, they become one or two traits that are hammered on repeatedly.

I feel like I’ve been pretty negative writing about this show, which is honestly not how I think about it. I really liked it in the first two seasons. After that, when it was good it was still really good. It is just that the quality was so variable. And the bad episodes are degrees worse than any of its NBC contemporaries. The post-Carell seasons of The Office are more enjoyable than the bad parts of Community. The show is really harmed by the inevitable comparisons to the shows that aired at the same time. Still, it is leagues better than anything on CBS. Community is a good show that doesn’t quite stand with the giants.

What I Watched June 2020

Movies

Blow the Man Down – An interesting little black comic thriller, something like a lesser Coen Brothers work. Two sisters in a small northeastern fishing town get mixed up in a murder plot, which leads to airing a lot of the towns dirty laundry. It’s pretty good. ***½

The Vast of Night – It’s hard to describe the movie without spoiling it. It is a very old school alien invasion movie, following a couple of young people looking into a possible alien sighting. It is very low budget but entirely captivating. ****½

Sukiyaki Western Django – A delightful mix of western and samurai movies. It is basically just Yojimbo/Fistfull of Dollars. An unnamed gunman wanders into a town that is at the mercy of two warring gangs. Things escalate and a lot of people get shot. It is a lot of fun. ****

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – I still love this movie. I can’t wait for the sequel. *****

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn – I did not like this at all. Someone else described it as absurd but humorless, which is pretty accurate. That is doubly disappointing because it is full of people who generally do stuff I like, but this was a misfire. *½

The Nice Guys – yup, it’s still great. *****

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade – I watched a lot of comfort food movies this month. It felt necessary. *****

The Night Clerk – A would be erotic thriller starring Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas. It doesn’t quite work. Sheridan is a man with Asperger’s who works as a night clerk at a hotel. He ends up as the lone witness to a murder in the hotel, as well as possessing video evidence of the crime. He is transferred to another hotel and meets a beautiful woman. Thriller things happen without any particular verve. **½

Da 5 Bloods – Review coming soon. (Hold me to this) This movie is pretty great. ****½

13th – This should be required viewing for everyone.  Just an amazing film. *****

The Disaster Artist – My thoughts on this haven’t changed. It is largely enjoyable. ***1/3

Back to the Future Part III – Nothing new to say. I love this series. *****

Hail, Caesar! – This movie rises in my estimation every time I watch it. I think it is the most underrated Coens movie. *****

For Love or Money – Michael J Fox and Gabrielle Anwar are charming to sell this movie, but it feels like a setup without a story. I guess it works, I enjoyed my time with it, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. ***

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – There is a lot of Ferrell’s work in stuff like The Spoils of Babylon and Casa de mi Padre in this, while also not being too far from his more commercially successful stuff like Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory. Rachel McAdams is again excellent. This is a sweet, largely funny movie. Definitely worth a watch. ****

The Last Days of American Crime – I hated this movie; it is ugly and incompetent and I don’t want to say anything more. *

TV

The Great British Baking Show – I have watched everything Great British Baking Show related available on Netflix. I wish there was more; I love it.

Community – This might need its own post. I planned on it having its own post, but I also assumed that I would enjoy watching this show. I have liked watching it when I’ve caught episodes here and there, but I never really sat down and watched Community during its run. It showed up on Netflix recently (I know it’s been streaming elsewhere, but it showing up on Netflix was my motivator to get to it.) I really did expect to enjoy this. There was that prime era of NBC sitcoms in the late aughts and early teens when they were airing The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community all at the same time. People whose opinions I respect told me that Community was the best of the bunch. I was deep into The Office at the time, slowly warming up to Parks & Rec and 30 Rock, and mourning the loss of My Name is Earl. I only ended up catching Community on repeats of just the occasional episode. Watching it all in order did not do anything to make me like the show. It’s fine. It has a great cast. There are some really funny bits. But overall, the show seemed really impressed with its own cleverness. It was trying to be clever not to be funny, but to show off how clever it is. And it wasn’t actually that clever. Fans of the show hate on the fourth season, but I ended up liking it more than the surrounding seasons. Season 3 felt desperate, with actively not funny recurring bits like Professor Spacetime becoming more and more prominent. Season 5 came back spiteful, eager to settle grudges that led to the change of showrunner in Season 4. Season 4 meanwhile, seemed happy to just execute the premise of the show, that a motley group of community college students had formed a study group. I feel like the show bought its own hype.

Arrested Development – I am sure I’ve written about this show before; for a long time it was my absolute favorite show. I don’t know that it still is. That is not because I think less of the show or because the Netflix seasons (which I like quite a but) but because I think some of the shows that came up in its wake, like 30 Rock, are maybe just a little bit better. Still, rewatching it from the start for the first time in a couple of years was fun. This show hits the ground running and maintains a high level of excellence throughout its original run.

What We Do In the Shadows S2 – This show somehow got better. It is managing to build on the mythology of the show and have some forward progress for its characters while still being largely an episodic sitcom. Everyone on the show is great, but I am really growing to enjoy Colin Robinson. This is probably the best show currently running.

Columbo S4-6 – I have a partially written long post about Columbo and how much I love the show. I promise to finish that soon. These three seasons were 15 or so very good episodes of Columbo. Some really memorable murderers, like William Shatner, Patrick McGoohan, Dick Van Dyke, Patrick McGoohan, and Janet Leigh. Good stuff.

What I Watched May 2020

Movies

Dangerous Lies – A thriller about a young couple who inherit a home from an old man that the wife had been a nurse for. There is a lot that is strange going on, and the couple has secrets to keep, since the husband was also secretly working for the old man as a gardener. It is a largely competent movie, but I largely forgot about it as soon as it ended. **1/2

Turbo Kid – Still a delightful romp. I am still a little grossed out by the excess fake blood, but otherwise this movie is just great. ****1/2

Wrong Missy – Lauren Lapkus is giving it her all in this movie, which isn’t quite as bad as many Habby Madison releases. It still feels like a movie where they hit on a premise, that a man goes on dates with two women of the same name and accidentally invites the wrong one on a trip, and then just sort of stopped instead of actually writing some jokes. It just feels like a huge missed opportunity. **

The Lovebirds – This is a pretty fun rom-com. Or maybe it’s not a rom-com; maybe some kind of action comedy. Except there really isn’t any action. The two lovebirds are in a relationship that has gotten stale. On their way to a party, they end up embroiled in some kind murder conspiracy involving fake cops. The titular lovebirds, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, feel like they can’t go to the police until they clear their name, so they set about trying to get to the bottom of the murder using the killer’s phone, which they have. Hijinks ensue. The movie largely succeeds on the charm of its two stars, who really work well together. It doesn’t quite reach the heights it could; some segments fall a little flat, but for the most part it is enjoyable. ***1/2

Back to the Future – Still great. Just a fantastic movie. *****

The Death of Stalin – Another rewatch. This movie is still fantastic. *****

TV

Hollywood – For the most part, this is a pretty enjoyable show. Just really easy to watch and largely entertaining. It also feels like the show is taking a victory lap for a race it lost in real life. This is celebrating diversity and inclusivity in Hollywood that to this day does not exist in its output. I get that this is part of the point of the show, but something doesn’t sit right. Still, as just a little fantasy show it is pretty entertaining.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend – This is another of Netflix’s choose your own adventure specials and I still really like them. None have been as ambitious as The Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, but Kimmy Schmidt uses the format to really have some fun with its story. This plays like an extended episode of the show. While I have not explored every nook and cranny of this special, what I have seen kind of forces it to follow one primary shape. There are right and wrong answers, not always obvious one, and the show will gently nudge you back to the right one after you see the wrong one. Still, it is more Kimmy Schmidt and a lot of fun to ‘play.’

Never Have I Ever – Really solid. A coming of age show about a young Indian-American girl. She has to deal with the differences in the two cultures she is growing up with, as well as deal with the recent death of her father. It is a struggle for her. Despite her experience being nothing like mine, the show works. It manages to turn some really difficult personal problems into solid comedy fodder. It nails both the humor and the drama.

Tales from the Loop – A powerful aesthetic in search of a show. It looks good and a few of its episodes are moving, but for the most part this show failed to engage me. I am sure some people really loved this show, but I was mostly just kind of disinterested.

Outlander S5 – I am feeling less and less enthused by this show. They are getting further and further from the books, which is fine, but that also means that following the books is no longer an excuse for some of the more troubling storytelling choices. So while there is still a lot to like about this show, at lot it does really well, the warts are growing more prominent. The prevalence of rape as a story motivator is getting tiresome. It doesn’t seem to be as big a factor when spread out across 800 page books, but it often becomes the focal point of the show. I am still in for the next season, but this show is feeling a bit long in the tooth.

Batwoman – The first season is done and with the announcement that Ruby Rose is not returning to the show, pretty much anything I had to say is immaterial. There was stuff to like with this show, much of it was related to Rose as the title character. Honestly, the show bungled much of the rest of it. I liked Alice, but they pushed her too far, so that there was nothing redeemable about her. By the bid midseason stopping point, there was no hope that Kate would be able to save her sister. That hope is a strong part of the comics, but for the show it would need her to somehow not be responsible for the most heinous acts. I guess the show could be applauded for not following that route of making it easy, but the show spends a whole lot of time with a character that is impossible to like. There is little nuance possible; she is a killer. It also has the problem of Kate’s dad running a privatized police organization, basically a private army, in the city. The show seems to want to frame them as good guys, when the very existence of the Crows is an evil thing. It can’t seem to bring itself to condemn them, though. Since the whole show has to be pretty much rebooted, I would keep Luke and Mary and dump the rest of the show.

The Flash S6 – a middling season of the show. I liked that they split the season between two villains, since they haven’t really nailed the season long arc since the first season. The second half of the season didn’t quite work, but some of that might be on getting cut short. I did like everything with Elongated Man; hopefully there is more of him and Sue next season.  (Holy shit, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I did not foresee the revelations about that actor coming.)  Hopefully they recast him and continue that story.

Supergirl S5 – I think this one mostly brought the Lena story home. I’ve got to be honest; I sort of lost track with this show. I enjoy it week to week, and the more the show features Lex Luthor, the better it seems to be. This season was solid.

Homecoming S2 – There is a lot to like about the second season of Homecoming. It is well written, excellently acted, and beautifully shot. That makes it kind of disappointing that it plays like a strange coda to the first season instead of its own thing. It feels a bit like watching someone solve a mystery a second time; the spark just isn’t quite there. Homecoming S2 doesn’t feel like it is expanding on the first season, merely replicating it. Still, it’s only about three hours long and it is really well made. I feel some disappointment from wanting more, but this is far from bad.

Columbo S4 – I will try to write a full post on this series once I finish watching it. Season 4 of Columbo has a handful more really well done mysteries. This is just an all-time great show.

The Great British Baking Show – I gave this a shot and just kind of fell in love with it. I am very annoyed with how Netflix has arranged the series for streaming, but there is just something comforting and relaxing about watching this show. I don’t have much to say, other than I now kind of wish I could bake.

Trial By Media – This was a real disappointment. There is a lot of good material here, but the show doesn’t seem to know what it is saying. There is no thesis to draw from these six stories. It is just six different times that media reporting on a story has affected the ability to get justice. One is a pure creation of the media, as a murder occured after a confrontation on the Jenny Jones show. One shows a man cynically manipulating the media to achieve his ends. The sheer variety of ways that the media affects these cases makes it impossible for something coherent to come out of this series. Other than the idea that the media report on cases can change how those cases are perceived and whether and how justice is achieved.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power S5 – This has the usual problems that Netflix shows seem to, even when coming to their intended end. She-Ra S5 is 13 episodes long, but feels like 18 episodes worth of content. It just feels incredibly rushed at the end. Still, these are 13 really good episodes and it does seem like it told the whole story with few compromises. This has been a good show the whole time it has been airing; a show that started with a clear vision for what it wanted to be and largely succeeded in realizing that vision. I am going to miss it.

Bosch S6 – I like mysteries and procedurals. This show continues to be what it has long been, a perfectly serviceable cop show. I am not currently interested in writing about a cop show.

What I Watched April 2020

Movies

Uncorked – A largely enjoyable movie about a man who wants to be a sommelier, but his dad wants him to take over the family’s BBQ restaurant. It is mostly about a father and son struggling to connect, that the son does not really want to follow in his father’s footsteps. It is solid. ***

Coffee & Kareem – Ed Helms gives it his all, but this movie just isn’t funny. The concept is solid, a buddy cop movie with the buddies being a cop and his girlfriend’s son, who hates him. The elements are all there, it’s sad that so much of the humor falls flat.**

Wayne’s World – I tend to forget how enjoyable this movie is between viewings. I remember the Bohemian Rhapsody scene and the Scooby-Doo ending, but this is a really solid comedy. Mike Myers has always had a way of creating very strong comic characters, and Wayne is no exception. He is both something of a straight man and a source of humor. It is a fairly referential movie, but somehow doesn’t feel dated despite being about 30 years old. In fact, Wayne’s basement shot tv show still seems pretty relevant in a time when everyone has a youtube channel. *****

The Willoughbys – This animated movie is about a group of siblings having to deal with their awful parents. It is unsettling how little of reason is given for their neglect, but it makes you side with the kids as they plot to remove their parents from the equation and their efforts to find a life without them. For the most part, it works. ***

Extraction – Chris Hemsworth stars in a John Wick like action movie. It tries really hard, and Hemsworth is pretty great, but the story varies from non-existent to bad. The action is good, at least. This movie just didn’t do anything for me. **1/2

A Secret Love – A sweet and interesting documentary about two women who have been together for sixty or so years. One of them even played for the women’s baseball league seen in A League of Their Own. I don’t know that it quite pulls everything together as well as it could, but it is solid. ***1/2

TV

Star Trek TNG 3-7 – I’ve watched this show before, and the current situation felt like the time for a rewatch. I didn’t really consciously choose to skip the first two seasons, my Netflix was left at the season 2 finale and I just started watching from there. I underestimated how much I like this show. I mean, I would tell I like The Next Generation, but I didn’t realize how easy it is to just put on and let play. I also underestimated how many episodes that I just completely forgot about. I last watched the show half a decade or so ago on Netflix, generally as I went to sleep. So there were quite a few episodes that I remembered the opening of, but not how it ended. There are a lot of ways this show shows its age, but for the most part it is still really good.

Star Trek Deep Space 9 Season 1 – I have not watched DS9 before, at least not more than a couple of isolated episodes. I know these shows take some time to find their footing generally, but I don’t know that Deep Space 9 is doing it for me. That isn’t to say I am not liking it; it is just that the cast is taking some time for me to connect with. Maybe it is just that this show was hyped up to me by friends as the best Trek show, but it just isn’t working as well as it could for me. Even this early it is noticeably darker than other Star Trek shows. (I am given to understand that this aspect gets more prominent as the show goes.) There is a lot of potential here, but I do not think the show reaches it in the first season.

The Innocence Files – It is kind of sad that Tiger King is the docu-series that has taken the world by storm, because this is the better series. The Innocence Files deals with people who were wrongfully convicted. Its nine episodes deal with three different categories of wrongful convictions. It looks at junk science evidence, at faulty eyewitness testimony, and at prosecutorial misconduct. All three can lead to putting innocent people behind bars. The first looks at bite-mark evidence, which it largely unconfirmed (or outright debunked) results and inconsistent methodology. However, when the state puts a man with Dr. before his name on the stand and he says the evidence proves someone did it, it is powerful for the jury. Eyewitness testimony is known to frequently be unreliable, but our criminal justice system is very reliant on it. It just shows all the ways the system can fail, and how hard the system fights against admitting its failures. Amazing show.

How to Fix a Drug Scandal – This is just a shocking look at institutional incompetence and neglect. It shows the different ways that the Massachusetts drug testing labs have failed. There are two separate scandals here. One is about a lab technician who started dipping into the evidence, eventually smoking crack at work. The other is about a lab worker who falsified results to go through the evidence faster. Both undermine the credibility of the criminal justice system. I was not as over the moon with this show as with The Innocence Files, but it is an amazing story.

Little Fires Everywhere – This show finished up and it was mostly strong. Reese Witherspoon has created one of the great TV villains on this show as a nice (white) lady who is just trying to help, and she just keeps digging and trying to force things to be exactly what she wants it to be and becoming more monstrous as the show goes on. She is not the only flawed character on the show, almost all of the characters make mistakes. But she is unique in how she keeps doubling down on those mistakes and refusing to learn from them. This show isn’t really my thing overall, but it was really well done.

The Big Show Show – There is no reason to watch this. I mean, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The Big Show is reasonably good as the affable patriarch to his family. But the show seems to be aiming straight for the middle and coming up short. The kids are that too precious type that tend to show up in a lot of bottom tier sitcoms. They can work; the youngest daughter is not too different from Louise from Bob’s Burgers. The difference in the quality of the writing around them. I think there is an audience for this type of thing, but it isn’t me.

Brews Brothers – This is another new Netflix sitcom from veteran writer/producer Greg Schaffer and his brother Jeff. It is about two brothers who brew beer, with diametrically opposed views on how it should be done. As things tend to work in sitcoms, they are forced to work together to operate a brewery. It’s pretty raunchy and intermittently funny. I think it started to find itself near the end of the season. I would watch more.

Ozark S3 – This season has got a lot of positive reviews, but I think this show is really starting to lose me. Laura Linney is great. So are Jason Bateman and Julia Garner. I don’t know, I just find myself progressively less interested in the moral decay of this family. I can’t really say why this is. I am not, as a rule, a big fan of this kind of show. I have never made much progress into Breaking Bad. I don’t have a problem with the craft of the show, it just isn’t the kind of story that really interests me. Ozark drew me for its proximity to where I grew up, a relatively short drive from Lake of the Ozarks, but that isn’t enough to carry me through anymore.

Letter for the King – I ended up liking this quite a bit. It is a story about a young kid who wants to be a knight. In the midst of a ceremony raising him to the knighthood, he stumbles onto a quest, which can be guessed from the title. It is a solid fantasy series. Aimed at a somewhat young audience, but still reasonably enjoyable for anyone.

Brooklyn 99 S7 – It was a short season, but Season 7 of Brooklyn 99 continued to be really good. It had a solid set of guest spots for Vanessa Bayer. The demoted Captain Holt was fun for a few episodes. Just some good stuff.

Always Sunny S14 – That this show is still going strong this deep in is amazing. I don’t know that the 14th season is the best, but this show hasn’t really lost a step. The Janitor Always Mops Twice and Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool are both great episodes of television. This is just a great show.

Columbo S2 & 3 – I’m working my way through my DVDs of this series. There are some really good episodes in these two seasons. There isn’t a lot of say about individual episodes. I haven’t run into a bad one yet. And Columbo pretty quickly has all the characteristics he’s famous for. Watching him work never gets old.

What I Watched March 2020

Movies

All the Bright Places – A fairly well done, teenage romantic tragedy that is mostly about mental health. It is a real downer and not really what I want right now. Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are really solid as the stars, I just didn’t like it that much. **1/2

The Coldest Game – Bill Pullman plays an alcoholic US chessmaster caught in the midst of Cold War spy stuff. He has to try to win a chess match against a Soviet master while helping a Soviet spy deliver information relating to the Cuban missile crisis. It’s mostly pretty good. **½

Emma. – read review here. ****½

The Way Back – read review here. ***1/2

Goodfellas – Yeah, this movie is just about perfect. I don’t really have anything to add to the Goodfella discussion; it’s great. *****

Tremors – Okay, this movie is much better than I remember it being. Cheap and goofy, but a lot of fun. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are great as an odd couple of handy men who find themselves stuck in a monster movie. It is a lot of fun. ****

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I am always shocked at how well this movie holds up. It is legitimately good and the turtles still look great. I love this movie. ****

Dick Tracy – This movie is kind of all over the place. Most of the cast is in a live action cartoon, Madonna is in an erotic thriller. Most of it actually works, but it still feels kind of disjointed at times. ***

Hard to Kill – I don’t think I like Seagal and I did not really care for this at all. **

Spencer Confidential – This had all the makings of being really fun, but it kind of doesn’t work. Wahlberg and Duke are good. But they are kind of stuck in a movie that isn’t really sure what it is. Wahlberg’s character has to constantly be the best at everything and be beaten down by the world. **

Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – A cgi remake of the original Pokemon movie. It isn’t great, but it is entertaining enough. As someone who hasn’t seen the Pokemon movie since I took my little brother to the theater for his birthday, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. It is definitely nonsense, but there is something remarkably enjoyable about a video game movie that sets out to tell one story and tells it, even if it is just a small chapter of a big story. ***

Lost Girls – An incredibly well made and frustrating movie about a young woman who goes missing. It is really about the incompetence and inertia of the police who are supposed to be investigating the disappearance, but do not really care because the girl was an escort. The roadblocks that Amy Ryan’s mother continually runs into are viscerally frustrating. It makes for an amazing, difficult movie. ****1/2

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – This was actually a fun stop motion take on E.T., mixed with all kinds of other movies. I have not previously been much of an Aardman fan, but this was pretty delightful, even if low key. ***1/2

To All the Boys P.S. I Still Love You – A really solid teenage rom-com sequel. It really does a good job of building on the characters from the first movie, not just redoing the first movie. It actually makes the characters deeper and more well rounded. It is really good. ****

Altered Carbon Resleeved – An anime movie that takes place before the Altered Carbon show, or at least season 2, that fills in some backstory and is about some Yakuza line of succession in a world where people are functionally immortal. There is some fun to be had here, but I thought it looked ugly, which is a big problem with an animated film. **1/2

Night Hunter – A thriller starring Henry Cavill and Alexandra Daddario. It executes its formula pretty well. It isn’t going to blow anyone’s doors off, but if you want something in the vein of Silence of the Lambs, there are worse choices. **1/2

TV

Locke & Key – An adaptation of a series of comics created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. A trio of kids move back to their recently deceased father’s childhood home and start to find magic keys. This starts a game of cat and mouse with an evil entity that is also trying to get the keys. It is okay. Nothing special, but good enough.

The English Game – This feels like a show made only for me. It is a late 19th century period piece about the development of English football. It has a kind of upstairs/downstairs set up, contrasting the wealthy, upper class players of the established game against the lower class factory workers, with some of the factory workers even stooping to being paid to play. It isn’t the best thing ever, but presses a lot of my buttons. I loved it.

The Pale Horse – A lesser known Christie about a seemingly supernatural mystery. The show really plays up the unreliability of its protagonist. It is pretty entertaining; I don’t have much to say.

Hunters – This show goes places. I am not sure they are all good places, but they are places. Set in the late 70s, Hunters deals with a group that finds out Nazi’s relocated to the USA after WW2. Logan Lerman plays Jonah, who after the murder of his grandma falls into the orbit of Al Pacino’s Meyer and his group of Nazi hunters. The show tries to both be a mediation on how to deal with loss and grief, and a sort of exploitation movie. The two halves are never really adequately combined. It is certainly flawed, but even with all of its flaws it remains largely entertaining.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez – This one is a rough watch. Just the vilest of humanity on display, and the complete failure of every level of a system that is supposed to prevent things like this. It is a revealing look at personal and systemic failures, but it also simply turns the stomach.

Tiger King – I don’t have time for this. This documentary is impossibly to look away from, and just keeps getting crazier and crazier as it goes along. Judging by the internet from the last couple of days, everyone has seen it. I do have some qualms with how it treats Carol Baskin. The doc makes a convincing case that she killed her husband without any real evidence that she killed her husband. I don’t like that a bunch of internet weirdos are going to be harassing her for the rest of her life based on innuendo and the ramblings of a meth addict. Still, this is impossibly entertaining.

Castlevania S3 – I think I came to the same conclusion with each season of this show, but I do not like it all that much. It seems to revel in the parts of Castlevania story that I don’t like, or to reimagine parts I do in ways that I don’t. Each season I find that I am very much not on the same page as this series. Season 3 had a decent story with Trevor and Sypha fighting a town of cultists, but I kind of hated everything around that. I am not saying this show is bad, I am saying it is aggressively not for me.

Altered Carbon S2 – I remember really liking the first season of this, but the second season kind of lost me. It wasn’t the change from Kinnaman to Anthony Mackie as the main character. I liked Kinnaman, but Mackie is really good. There is a lot of interesting stuff in this show, but this season focuses more on a bigger plot than the first season, which started as a something of a murder mystery before morphing into something greater. The production values are still amazing, but writing does not quite work.

Sanditon – This is a show based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel. You can almost tell, sometime near the end of the first episode or beginning of the second, where the show runs out of book. It then goes in some pretty non-Austen directions. Mostly in having character be a lot more complex in terms of morality instead of just personality. (That sounds like a dig at Austen, but at the end of an Austen novel, you know who is good and who is bad) Until the last episode, it still mostly works. I think it kind of fell apart in the end; maybe setting itself up for a second season. There are some problems that seem to stem from how much it departs from Austen’s, admittedly incomplete, set up. Still, it looks good.

The Office – Trapped in my house led to me watching a lot of The Office in the background. It still sucks me in when I watch it.

Black Lightning – The third season of what has been one of the better CW superhero shows wrapped in a largely satisfactory manner. The big problem I had with the end of the season seems likely to be fixed sooner rather than later and is hopefully just a story hook for next season. This season went big. Not only did Jefferson get involved in the Arrowverse as a whole during Crisis, but it also replaced the largely street level, local conflicts with an international story with larger ramifications. In the end, I think it pulled things back together pretty well and managed to bring a sprawling story that at times seemed to get away from the writers home. I hope next season sees a refocusing on the matters that the show started with, as I liked the first two seasons better.

Star Trek: Picard – The Next Generation is the version of Star Trek that I’ve always liked best. I felt a little trepidation hearing that Patrick Stewart was coming back to star in a Picard focused tv series. I was also excited, doubly so because Michael Chabon was involved. The show is not quite the home run I wanted it to be, but it is largely very good and ultimately pretty satisfying. I think the show did itself a disservice with its central plotline, which went too big and too urgent to really let people get to, in my opinion, the parts of Star Trek, which are when the crew has a little downtime. I like to see the ship’s crew interact, and this show didn’t really get to that until about halfway, and even then only did it about half way. Still, I liked it,

What I Watched February 2020

Movies

Maria – Some kind of would be female led John Wick style action movie. It kind of works, but it isn’t especially good. There are some good action scenes, but it is mostly just fine. **1/2

Psychokinesis – A Korean superhero movie that is actually a lot of fun. Roon-mi runs a chicken restaurant. She is involved in a real estate dispute with some mobsters working for a big corporation. When her mother dies, her estranged father, Seok-heon, shows up. He now has superpowers. After first trying to use them for petty schemes, he uses his powers to help his daughter out. It is a solidly entertaining superhero movie. ****

The Matrix – Yup, this first one is still great. I have no interest in watching the sequels again. *****

Shanghai Fortress – This movie is shockingly dull. A science fiction action movie about an alien invasion. It also tries to be a romance, but it only kind of works. **1/2

Elisa & Marcela – The true story of the first gay marriage in Spain, kind of. The movie is not good. It is melodramatic and didactic. I didn’t like it much at all. **

Rampant – A Korean zombie movie period piece. Lot’s of political scheming over the throne and trying to use an outbreak of a zombie virus to secure power. It goes badly. This is more of an action movie than a horror movie, but it is enough of a horror movie that I mostly just wanted to shut it off. ***

Back to the Future Part 3 – I know people who are really down on this movie, and BttF2. I don’t get it. The original Back to the Future is pretty much perfect, I agree, and its sequels are not quite on its level. But both 2 and 3 are ridiculously fun in their own right. I really like the 3rd one, as it puts the setup of the series into a new genre. *****

Dragon Quest Your Story – For most of this movie’s runtime it is an enjoyable, if incredibly fast paced adaptation of one of the best video games ever made. The last fifteen minutes turn it into something else entirely. ***1/2

Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks – This is a documentary about the development of Hong Kong Kung Fu movies. It is kind of surface, but it is largely entertaining. It covers the genre from Bruce Lee to close to the present day, covering the ups and down of the genre and its stars. It is a solid primer for those only vaguely aware of the genre. ***1/2

The Last Thing He Wanted – Bad movies are not usually this well made. This movie got miserable reviews and for about the first hour I was somewhat baffled by that. Then it got into its second half and . . . I don’t know. This is a strange movie. Everyone involved is too good for this movie to be this disjointed. **

TV

The Spy – It is interesting to see Sacha Baron Cohen do serious work. And good work. This show is good, but not great. It slips into hagiography at times, flattening a complex historical figure into something more like a straight hero. It is alo really tense and mostly very entertaining. Cohen plays the Isreali spy Eli Cohen, who infiltrated the Syrian government in the 1960s. Knowing historically how it ends makes it hard to watch at times. He has to leave his family behind and become someone else. He gets good information from the Syrians, but eventually the net closes in on him. He can feel it closing, but he is able to be talked into keeping going for all the good information he is getting until the inevitable happens. It is really good.

The Dragon Prince S1-3 – Pretty solid cartoon from Netflix. I never really warmed to the animation style. Still, the show itself is pretty well done. I don’t have a lot to say about it. It is a well executed fantasy story that is suitably complex and original. If you can get past the animation, which I really didn’t like, it is well worth watching.

Godless – This show is amazing. Just a long, loving, beautiful deconstruction of western tropes. The town of La Belle is almost completely without men after a mine accident killed nearly all of them. In their absence, the women of the town have banded together to keep things going. Jeff Daniels plays an outlaw, Frank Griffin, who waxes on about God while committing unspeakable acts. Roy Goode, played by Jack O’Connell, was like a son to Griffin until he double crossed him and took off. He takes refuge in La Belle. Sam Waterston plays a US Marshall hunting Daniels. Things almost never play out like you would expect in this show, at least until near the end. Scoot McNairy is the sheriff of La Belle, but he almost never draws his gun, leading to him having a reputation as a coward. His widowed sister is the real leader of the town. The show lets the characters live as it builds up to the inevitable conflict between the town and Griffin’s gang. It is one of the best things I’ve seen in some time.

The Pharmacist – Another Netflix true crime series. This one is a trip, following a pharmacist as he first tries to find the person who killed his son, then as he tries to get to the bottom of the all of opioid prescriptions that are running through his pharmacy as people start dying. It is plenty entertaining, even if it doesn’t really offer anything new.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Part 3 – This show is something else. I still wish they would cut each episode down by about 15 minutes. I know the 40-45 minute runtime is for airing on tv with commercials, but the full hours that a lot of this shows episodes run feel laborious. I’ve got to be honest here, I am not especially engaged with this show. It is fine; largely well made and occasionally interesting, but I am never really interested. I do appreciate how wide the show tends to go with things, with trips to hell and all kinds of wild nonsense.

Giri/Haji – This show is wild. It is nominally a cop show. Kenzo, a Japanese cop, goes to England to look for his brother Yuto, who is in the Yakuza. Kenzo has to balance his responsibility to bring in his brother, if he is indeed guilty of the crimes he is suspected of, with his duty to protect his brother. There are all kinds of complications, from British gangsters to Yuto’s relationship with a Yakuza bosses daughter to Kenzo’s crumbling marriage, to Sarah, the British cop that takes a liking to Kenzo. Not on that, but the show seems determined to change genre about 4 times an episode. It is always a crime show, but sometimes it is an action movie, sometimes a relationship drama, sometimes it is animated, sometimes an action scene plays out as an interpretive dance. It keeps the viewer off balance and consistently engaged. I really enjoyed it. I don’t know that there is much room for a follow up season, but I would definitely watch one.

Shrill S2 – Another batch of episodes here that are really pretty good. I don’t know that I am directly the audience for this, but I enjoy the show enough to stick with it for its relatively short run time.

High Fidelity – I have not read the book this is based on. I never watch the John Cusak movie. This show is fine. It feels perfectly aimed at a very specific audience and I am not that audience. The foremost reason for that is that I don’t really care about music. Rob is this insane mix of appealing and completely insufferable, a hard trick to pull off. The show is really easy to watch even if you are not particularly engaged with it.

What I Watched January 2020

Movies

Before I get into these movies, I am going to note that I spent a large portion of January cleaning out my Netflix queue, watching all of the movies that had been sitting on my list for years without being watched. So some of those are just getting a score with nothing more. Those will be up first, then my usual quick reviews.

Becoming Jane – ***

Someone Great – ***1/2

Kate and Leopold – ***

The Little Mermaid (2018) – **

Colonia – **½

Red Sea Diving Resort – **

God of War – **

Moonwalkers – **½

Rattlesnake – **

Yucatan – **

Clouds of Sils Maria – ****

The Brawler – *

The Men Who Stare at Goats – ***

Fullmetal Alchemist – **

The Fighter – ****

District 9 – ****

IO – **½

Pegasus – **½

Unicorn Store – **

The Talented Mr. Ripley – ***½

Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings – ***

Knives Out – see review here. *****

The Hateful Eight: Extended Edition – I reviewed this movie before, but I watched this extended edition that is broken into four episodes as a mini-series. It still plays. This is a great, if thoroughly unpleasant, film. I don’t know that I need to watch this nearly four hour long version very often, but it is a wholly entertaining experience. *****

Kabaneri and the Iron Fortress: Battle of Unato – This is another movie split into episodes for Netflix. I moved it up here because it definitely functions more as a movie than a miniseries. I think this would be better if I knew the series; as it is it is a mildly enjoyable animated action movie. ***

Casa de mi Padre – This movie is certainly not for everybody. Will Ferrell stars in a fairly straight attempt at Mexican telenovela. It just pushes things further away from reality at every turn. It is tuned to a very specific sense of humor, which fortunately for me is one I share. This is Ferrell in his strangest mode and I love it. The artificiality of everything just makes it work. ****1/2

Hell or High Water – I absolutely loved this movie. Two brothers, who own a farm that is about to be foreclosed on by the bank, take to robbing small bank branches for small amounts of money. Though it is set in modern times, it plays out like an old Western. Especially as the law men come after the brothers. Despite their actions, your sympathies generally lie with the brothers. Especially with Chris Pine, whose plan this is and is doing it to help his ex-wife and kids. I loved everything about this movie all around. *****

A Serious Man – This was one of the few Coen Brothers movies I hadn’t seen. It is good. Not my favorite, but very good. It is calls to mind the book of Job, with terrible things happening to the main character for no rhyme or reason. ****1/2

End of Watch – I absolutely hated this movie. No part of it worked for me. Certainly not the most egregious, but one of the most obvious reasons, is how it handled the camera. It pretends that the cops are shooting it themselves, but most of the time there is no one holding the camera. It just shows laziness in how the movie was made, which is evident throughout the movie, despite the best efforts of Gyllenhal and Pena. 1/2

Ni No Kuni – I haven’t played the game that this movie is based on, so I don’t know if it reflects the story from that or is largely original, but it is fine. I generally enjoyed it. It feels like it leaves a lot of interesting story on the table, with a lot of possibilities introduced and not fully explored. ***

The Wandering Earth – A big Chinese science fiction movie that largely plays out like a reverse Armageddon. It is entertaining on that level. ***

1917 – read review here. ****

Little Women – read review here. *****

Steel Rain – This one is wild. It involves a plot to assassinate the leaders of North Korea that nearly spirals out into nuclear war. You’ve got a schlubby guy with a failing marriage from South Korea teamed up with a soldier from the North trying to stop things before it spirals into an even bigger catastrophe. It is wild, but interesting. ***

Troop Zero – I don’t know that this movie quite works. It is a weird throwback to some kind of 80s comedy, relying on cute moppets and unreliable parental figures. Troop Zero goes weird with it. It works because it has some specificity, but sometimes it is just too out there. I enjoyed this more than I didn’t, but I don’t think it will stick with me. It certainly seems like something a certain group of kids will fall in love with.***
A Kind of Murder – This is just a straight up noir. It is just a thoroughly competent genre exercise. Patrick Wilson is always great, and this is no different. He is a writer whose wife gets killed. Killed in the same manner as a bookseller’s wife. The police suspect a connection, and Wilson keeps lying to the cops to cover up an affair. It is pretty entertaining. ***

Just Mercy – read review here. ***1/2

The Gentlemen – read review here. ****

The Perfection – Okay, this is a strange thriller/horror movie. I don’t know that I actually liked it all that much, but it is certainly very well made. It keeps the viewer on their toes and gets pretty gross at times. ***1/2

Manhunt – A wild conspiracy thriller from John Woo. You’ve got false accusations, super soldier drugs, gun fights with two heroes handcuffed together. It is very entertaining. ***1/2

Kung Fu Yoga – This movie is essentially Jackie Chan as Indiana Jones, in a China/India collaboration. The movie isn’t very good, but Jackie Chan has still got it. ***

Raging Bull – This is a movie that puts a man’s ugliness on display and just lets it go. It is well made and well acted and just kind of amazing. I’ll likely never watch it again. *****

Justice, My Foot – I have really enjoyed Stephen Chow movies in the past, and finding this one from the 90’s on Netflix was intriguing. It is mostly fine. There is some stuff that has aged very badly, (which isn’t the right way to frame it, as it is not like any of the tasteless jokes were ever good) like some straight up homophobia. Otherwise, it is a fun, silly legal period piece. I enjoyed it. **1/2

TV

Voltron S7-8 – I really enjoyed the first six or so seasons of this show a few years ago, but they pumped out the seasons faster than I could watch them and I just fell off. I circled back around early this year and finished the show off. This is a really good show that mostly sticks the landing. I see why they killed off the character they did at the end, but it doesn’t sit quite right. Still, this show is really good. I am glad I came back to it.

You S2 – The first season of You had this kind of enthralling quality to it, as Joe was so clearly a monster, even if he didn’t realize it himself, and you were watching for it to unravel. Then it kind of doesn’t. Season 2 is probably where I am done with it, because I really don’t care to see anymore of Joe. I can only watch a monster for so long as he slowly wriggles through cracks before I am just done with it. Here he finds a new group of people to latch onto and slowly destroys them, even as they destroy themselves. It ends with a twist that will keep the show going for at least another season.

Lost In Space S2 – I think this is as good as this show is going to be, which is a largely pretty good family scifi show. It is generally enjoyable, but the exciting moments of escape and adventure are sometimes mired in interpersonal relationships that simply are not as interesting. It builds along several episode long arcs that feel a little padded, instead of just telling more focused, interesting stories. Still, I like it quite a bit.

Medical Police – A spin-off of Children’s Hospital. I don’t know what to say. It is a parody of doctor shows and a parody of police procedurals and a parody of something like 24. It is a lot of fun and incredibly stupid. One of the highlights of the year so far.

Violet Evergarden – This is emotional manipulation, the series. Violet is an auto memory doll, a person who writes letters for people who, for whatever reason, cannot write them themselves. She does this work in part because it helps her, a former child soldier with little social development, better understand people. The show parades mostly sad stories in front of the viewer as Violet learns about emotions. I am being too harsh, it is mostly a pretty good show, though it feels a little truncated.

Living With Yourself – This was an interesting little show with Paul Rudd playing a man who goes to a spa that, unbeknownst to him, clones him. The spa’s business involves killing the original and replacing them with the refreshed and improved clone. But the original version of Paul Rudd survives, which leads to the two of them having to work to coexist. I don’t have a lot to say about it; it is mostly pleasant and enjoyable. Like Paul Rudd is in just about everything. I would watch more if they make it.

The Family – This documentary spins itself in circles a little, but it does illuminate the quasi-Christian fundementalist that have been working for half a century to influence American politics. It is religion removed from morality and, as presented here, simply gross. This is not the best made documentary series ever, but it is pretty enjoyable.

Carole and Tuesday – The second half of this music themed anime. This half of the season ends up with the duo being somewhat involved with the politics of future Mars, while also just trying to make their music and capitalize off their success in the competition from the first half of the show. It remains mostly good.

Spinning Out – A melodrama about figure skaters. One family, an overbearing, bipolar mother and her two daughters as well as a rich man, his sons and his new wife. Kaya Scodelario is the elder daughter, who is struggling to recover from a traumatic injury. She is also realizing that she shares her mother’s mental health problems. Added on to that, she has recently switched from singles to doubles. There is a sports show happening, but it often gets relegated to the background for some over the top melodrama. Which is fine, that is what the show is. It just also isn’t really for me.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez – This is a solid look into the toxic collection of circumstances that led to the creation of a man like Aaron Hernandez. From CTE, to homophobia, to just the culture around football that allowed him to get away with whatever he wanted. It is chilling and more than a little sad, for many reasons.

Sex Education S2 – This continues to be very good show. I am still confused by the setting, which is a strange mishmash of current and something out of the 90s, America and England. This season expands the scope of the show greatly, moving the focus off Otis and Maeve somewhat and allowing more characters to have more developed stories. That lets the show tell a lot more stories, but it loses something in the exchange. I think it improves the show.

Dracula – The team behind Sherlock have brought that same approach to Dracula. The first two episodes are really good. Those first two episodes are interesting reimaginings of the novel, keeping certain aspects, while radically changing others. Much like Sherlock. I think things really fall apart in the third episode. Much like Sherlock. The whole ride is worth taking, even if the final part doesn’t work at all.

Watership Down – Great voice cast, good story, miserable animation. This show is just ugly. I don’t have much more to say.

The Good Place – It ended near the start of February, so hold me to having more to say next month, but this is one of the best shows of the last few years. Absolutely amazing from start to finish.

Cyborg 009: Call of Justice – The story of this show is fine, as far as justifications for cyborgs fighting ancient mutants goes. What does not work is the cg animation. The Cyborg 009 characters have pretty distinctive design, which is washed away here for generically ugly cg. The show is just kind of a pain to look at, which means it is harder to care for the story.

CW DC Shows – Basically, January mostly had the second half of Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was really good, and if I write about the end of Arrow I’ll have more to say about it.

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.