Marvel Netflix

The Netflix Marvel team up started with such high hopes and genuine success that the sorry state it ended up in as it winds down with Jessica Jones’ third season is really disappointing. Well, Jessica Jones S3 is not all that disappointing; it is a good deal better than the kind of miserable second season and a solid, if still flawed, grace note to end this whole endeavor. But the project ends up feeling kind of disappointing.

Netflix’s Marvel partnership started strong with Daredevil, but the problems that would hamper everything going forward were already present. It was too long, with 13 hour long episodes to tell a story that did not need to be anywhere near that long. It was also pretty dour, fitting for that season of that show but still true. These loosely connected shows, though, exhibited an uncanny ability to lean into their flaws. It seemed like anything that was a problem in a previous show would be doubled down on in the next show or season. That is how we got to the nadir with the first season of Iron Fist, a good four or five hours of story spread thinly across thirteen, done with seriousness and grimness entirely unfitting for a show about a man who grew up in a city of magical martial artists and can conjure mystical powers in his fist. I have no idea what the streaming numbers look like, but I know my interest was already well and truly waning at that point. I faded a bit more with each season down the stretch, though I would rate Jessica Jones season 1 a little better than Daredevil’s first, and eventually I kind of lost interest in each show. I hoped Iron Fist would be the one to pull me back. Of the four characters originally chosen for this Defenders project, he is the only one that is the most consistently fun in the comics. Daredevil is almost never fun. Jessica Jones can be fun, but her stories tend to be more serious noir detective stories. Luke Cage is kind of in the middle; he can be tremendously fun, especially when teaming up with Iron Fist, but also lends himself to serious work.

One thing all of these shows, save Daredevil, consistently failed to do was reflect what made their comics entertaining. The shows all seemed to shy from their comic roots. They pulled the characters and set ups, as well as bits of plots and stories, but left everything else behind. This was especially the relationships between the characters. I’ll be honest, seeing those develop was one of the things I was most interested in and it never happened. I am sure there are good, production related reasons for that, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. I’d rather have had one season of Danny and Luke teaming up in Heroes for Hire than both shows’ season 2s. The fact that the two characters, most famous for teaming up with each other, barely interacted outside of Defenders, was a mistake and a disappointment. It is why seeing Luke Cage and Jessica Jones in Jessica Jones season one dissipate was disappointing. It is not that that is the only story about them that matters, but that it is the story I most wanted to see. The shows also did that in format. They all wanted to be important, “prestige” television, even when that was not the best fit for the characters. Jessica Jones is a private investigator, the fact that the show couldn’t find things to fill the dead space in seasons was sheer ineptitude. They could have taken some cues from mysteries or procedurals, but those shows aren’t “prestige” so that was not the route taken. It is also true with costuming. Daredevil had a Daredevil costume, but the other shows ran as far away as they could from their comic looks. That sort of mocking the comics bullshit worked with X-Men in 1999, but twenty years later it is pretty sorry. If you are going to make a show about Hellcat, have her dress like Hellcat. Iron Fist is a silly character, give him a silly costume.

Jessica Jones was the best series of the group. I had the best overall season, and its sophomore effort was not quite the unmitigated disaster that Daredevil season two was. Even that show had a problem with spinning its wheels with one interminable season long plot every time out. The biggest problem with all of the Marvel Netflix shows is that they were just good enough to keep me watching. There was always a scene, or a story or a performance that made me want to see more, even though I rarely walked away from a show actually enjoying it. And they started to figure things out at the end. The two shows that got season 3s improved from their season 2s. Iron Fist Season 2 was shortened. Maybe they were slowly righting the ship.

Now, the Marvel Netflix partnership is over. Most new Marvel shows are going to be on Disney+, and actually tied to the MCU, unlike the unfulfilled promise of the Netflix shows. Maybe they will be good, maybe not. Marvel also still has some other outlier TV shows going on some networks. Hulu’s Runaways, a show whose first season disappointed me and I have yet to get to the second, is still ongoing. There is also a Cloak and Dagger show that I think is still running. The interesting, but flawed, The Gifted has ended, as has the even more interesting Legion, which with Fox being bought by Disney opens up the X-Men for a completely fresh start. TV networks seem determined to find the absolute maximum amount of superhero content that can be created and they don’t seem to think they’ve reached it yet. Continue reading

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Netflix Original Movies

A few months ago I had a very stupid thought.  On a wild hair, I decided that I was going to watch every original movie that Netflix released this year.  I wanted to see more new movies this year, and I figured the best way to do that was to watch the new movies that I was already paying for with my Netflix subscription.

This was a foolish idea for several reasons. The first is that this year Netflix has ramped up the number of new releases they are putting out, which seems to be around one a week.  Since I didn’t conceive of this plan until about two months into the year, I had quite the backlog as soon as I started.  Additionally, while I knew not all of the movies would be things that appeal to me, I thought seeing different things would help expand my taste. I’ve been writing movie reviews on this blog for more than 5 years, and in the process of setting up this index, I realized that I have given a lot more positive reviews than negative ones.  I generally only write reviews of movies I seen in the theater and it turns out I am a pretty good judge of my own taste. I don’t go see movies I don’t expect to like and while this isn’t foolproof – I did see Cowboys & Aliens – it makes most trips to the movies enjoyable. It also limits exposure to new experiences.

Netflix, though, has done a lot to help me find those new experiences.  I hadn’t really watched many Asian films before subscribing to the service, but I’ve developed a taste for Martial Arts movies and Wuxia.  Zeroing in on the Netflix originals, which started with Beasts of No Nation in 2015 though they came to my attention last year with the release of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, seemed like a good idea. So I am not only watching the movies that interest me, like the goofy British spoof Mindhorn or the war movie Sand Castle, but also the ones that don’t appear to be up my alley, like the foreign language acquisitions or low key thrillers like Small Crimes. It turns out, however, what I am forcing myself to do is watch movies I don’t think I’ll like instead of watching some I think I will like or already know I do like, making it even more likely that I will dislike the new thing.  That has made me resent this project and that massive fool forcing it on me (ie: myself).

It hasn’t been a complete failure, though. I have watched and enjoyed some movies that I likely never would have even considered before.  I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, unwieldy title aside, was very enjoyable.  I also really liked Win it All and Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.  I think I am going to keep going with this stupid plan, though I intend to have a much quicker hook for a movie a movie I do not like.

Below is a list containing all the movies I have watched, in order of how much I enjoyed them.  I’ve also included a one sentence review of each movie. There are still a handful of foreign language films and a documentary or two that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I hope to finish them up over the next few weeks or so.

  1. Okja – full review went up earlier. Okja is a near masterpiece that combines Steven Speilberg with Terry Gilliam.
  2. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore – A woman gets burgled and teams up with her neighbor to get revenge; it is both charming and kind of dark.
  3. Mindhorn – a goofy spoof about a washed up TV detective desperate for one last chance at fame.
  4. Win it All – a gambling addict tries to go straight in this low key comedy.
  5. Nobody Speak – a documentary looking at the Hulk Hogan v Gawker lawsuit and the current attacks on the press.
  6. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train – two young girls rob a train to pay their mother’s bail, but its funnier than it sounds.
  7. Imperial Dreams – a newly paroled father tries to do what’s best for his son, but his past still has some hold on him. It is good if not groundbreaking.
  8. Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – a both heartwarming and depressing look at a Chinese boy who lead protests against the Chinese government.
  9. Casting JonBenet – a documentary that examines the JonBenet Ramsay case by letting people familiar with talk at a supposed audition for a movie about it. Its pretty good.
  10. BLAME! – an anime movie about an automated city that no longer recognizes humanity as its master. It is good if dark.
  11. Handsome: A Netflix Movie Mystery – it is essentially a movie that is a fake episode of detective show that is charming but weightless.
  12. Girlfriend’s Day – a look at a fake new holiday in a world where greeting card writers are celebrities that ends just as it gets going.
  13. Shimmer Lake – a crime movie that plays out backwards but still holds few surprises.
  14. War Machine – a broad and disjointed satire of the later days of the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes it is really good, often it isn’t.
  15. In the Shadow of Iris – a sexy thriller about a faked abduction that turns into a murder. It is fine.
  16. Counterpunch – a look at the modern state of pro and amateur boxing in America.
  17. Get Me Roger Stone – a bleak look at a human cockroach. It veers a little too close to making anything the subject does sound acceptable to be good.
  18. Coin Heist – a kid’s dad is accused of defrauding a prep, so he and some friends try to rob the mint of quarters to get the money back.
  19. The Discovery – a man discovers proof of an afterlife and people deal with the consequences. I found it frustrating.
  20. Sand Castle – another modern war drama; it is perfectly serviceable but unoriginal.
  21. Journey to Greenland – two French guys go to Greenland to stay with one of their fathers, they have mildly interesting adventures.
  22. Burning Sands – a well-meaning but ham fisted look at problems prevalent in traditionally black fraternities.
  23. Sahara – a mediocre animated movie about snake racism.
  24. Small Crimes – bad people do bad things, lots of people end up dead, I don’t know why I should be entertained by it.
  25. Clinical – a horror movie that lives up to its name. You couldn’t pay me to care.
  26. David Brent: Life on the Road – a follow up to The Office with none of the humanity and an undeserved happy ending for its protagonist.
  27. The Most Hated Woman In America – this is about 3 different movies, but none of them work.
  28. Sandy Wexler – Adam Sandler appears to be trying, but this movie is too long and not very funny.
  29. You Get Me – Fatal Attraction for teenagers, but with even worse sexual politics.
  30. iBoy – a kid gets his phone shot into his face and uses his new phone powers to become some kind of would be superhero. It doesn’t really work.
  31. Tramps    – I checked out early and completely from this one, I can’t really give it a review.
  32. Take the 10 – a comedy about two kids’ attempts to get money to go to a concert or something. It isn’t good.

Okja Review

I don’t know that Okja is first great Netflix movie, but it is easily their best offering since they started distributing movies. Much of the furor over this movie is from the reception of it, or really the reception of Netflix, at the Cannes film festival. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth as to how Netflix is ruining itself by refusing to change its business model to get theatrical releases for its movies. Since I watch a lot more movies on Netflix than I do in theaters and only really wish Netflix would do a better job of letting people know that a new movie is coming. With Okja, though, it is a little disappointing, since this movie feels like one that would have benefited from being seen on the big screen.

Okja is a strange movie.  That is certainly not a bad thing, but it is impossible to ignore. It changes from what feels like a Spielberg movie before morphing into something like a Terry Gilliam movie. It is an odd mixture of tones that almost doesn’t work, and although they never really cohere into one tone, it does make for a uniquely entertaining movie watching experience.

After a prologue that sets up the Mirando Corporation, their insanely peppy CEO and their superpig experiment, it turns into something like E.T. One of the superpig’s that were distributed around the world to see who can raise them best ended up in the Korean mountains. It is named Okja by Mija and her grandfather.  Mija treats Okja like a pet, thinking her Grandfather had saved money to purchase the animal outright. That is disrupted when representatives from Mirando show up, declare Okja the best superpig and whisk it back to America. Mija sets out to get her friend back, teaming up somewhat incidentally with the Animal Liberation Front and eventually confronting the head of the Mirando Corporation.

The Korean stuff feels very Speilbergian.  Ahn Seo-hyun does a great job as Mija, giving a credible performance largely with a CGI monster.  It is much better than a similar performance in last year’s The Jungle Book. That contrasts with the big names, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, play the faces at Mirando as broad caricatures, a choice that worked for me but seems to be polarizing. They are odd and unlikeable, but the characters are supposed to be unlikeable. It makes the American characters feel like invaders in the movie.  The ALF, whose leader is played by Paul Dano, are somewhere in between, caring more about making points against Mirando than actually helping Mija rescue Okja.

The real triumph of this movie is how real Okja feels.  It isn’t any kind of step forward for special effects, but it is well done. The first act does great work establishing the relationship between Mija and Okja, which carries it through the attempted rescue in Seoul and the trip to America. It doesn’t all work, but the parts that work work incredibly well.

Those familiar with director Bong Joon-Ho’s other movies, like the excellent Snowpiercer, will not be surprised to hear that Okja gets dark. It is a stark look at factory farming. Other than the little girl, no one comes off looking well. It begs the viewer to laugh at at horrible things, because any other choice is too dark.  The movie leaves you somewhat heartbroken even as it suggests that there can be small victories.  Don’t miss it.

*****

Better off Ted is better than all of us

I spent the majority of last weekend watching Better Off Ted on Netflix and I feel terrible. Not because I wasted a whole weekend watching TV. I mean, I did do that, but I also did other things while watching it and most of my time is pretty much wasted to begin with anyway. I feel terrible because I bemoan the lack of quality television programs but then I find gems like this on Netflix that I never watched until after it was cancelled. After watching the 26 mostly brilliant episodes I think I might just be including Better Off Ted on my short list of favorite TV shows.

Better Off Ted is something like a crazier version of The Office. Both shows take jabs at corporate culture, though The Office is more focused on the soul crushing dullness of it while Ted is more about a cartoonish disregard for humanity. Better off Ted follows main character Ted, head of a research and development team for a giant corporation, as he corrals his team and tries to please his capricious bosses. His team is mostly a bunch of essentially mad scientists and an attractive product tester. The comedy comes from the problems his weirdo colleagues get into and the crazy orders Ted tries to deal with from above him. Immediately above him is Veronica, the epitome of corporate heartlessness. Also, Ted’s occasional lover.

What really works in this show is the main characters struggle to maintain his humanity and continue to do a job he genuinely loves. His struggle is the same as his attraction to both Veronica and Linda, the attractive product tester. Veronica is all about the job, and there is little personal connection in their relationship. Linda does the job because she must, but is all human rebellion. Ted wants to think that the humanity is more important to him, and as the show goes on I think he proves that it is, he still loves the job. So he flirts with Linda, even approaches as relationship at times, but he can’t let go of the job and he can’t let go of Veronica. This struggle is the moral center of the show, what is beneath the zany humor and crazy science stuff.

The creator of Better off Ted is Victor Fresco, who was also responsible for Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and similarly styled and similarly great show. He also wrote for My Name is Earl, another show I am a big fan of, though its last season wasn’t so good. Andy Richter Controls the Universe suffered a similar fate to Better off Ted, but at least that time I watched it when it was on. I completely missed Better off Ted. It kind of makes me hate humanity when garbage like Two and a Half Men runs forever despite never once being funny and great shows like Better off Ted struggle to get a second season. But I also wish that the advertising for TV shows did a better job conveying the show they are advertising. I missed BoT because I don’t tend to watch that much TV. I can’t watch every show to see if it’s for me, but some shows that I love disappear as soon as I find them.

Still, now I know about Better off Ted and I am glad to have watched it. I consider it a classic. Now I am going to try to find a DVD copy of Andy Richter Controls the Universe, because I didn’t realize that it had come out on DVD.

My own Star Trek

Putting my Netflix account to good use, I’ve started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite TNG running during my formative years and my being one nerdy son of a bitch, I have never really watched it. Sure I’ve caught a few reruns and learned the basics of the shows premise and cast through cultural osmosis, but before it came to Netflix I knew next nothing about not only TNG but of Star Trek in general.

As a video game playing, anime watching, comic book reading sci-fi and fantasy fan, Star Trek was the one kind of geekery I’ve managed to avoid. It wasn’t a conscious avoidance, just happenstance and a general lack of interest in what I considered a boring series, at least compared to Star Wars. When I was in college, I would occasionally watch late night reruns of the Original Series, but other that for some campy amusement it didn’t grab me. The pop-y, loud 2009 movie got my attention. I didn’t run out to find other Star Trek related media, but I put it on my list of things to eventually check out. It wasn’t until Star Trek came to Netflix that I decided there was no time like the present to watch it.

So far, I’ve watched the first season and about half of the second season. I was told my numerous people to skip most of the first two seasons and start with Season 3. Screw that though, I’m going to watch it all.

I’m not sure I’d have missed anything if I had skipped the first season. It does have Tasha Yar, but it might have been better off without seeing her. She was not a terrible character (and honestly, who shines in Season 1?) but she never gets to develop past one note. Her end makes all the screen time she got through-out the season seem pointless. Mostly season 1 is just mediocre sci-fi. Season 2, through the first 10 or so episodes, has been a bit better. There have definitely been some clunkers, (The Outrageous Okona, The Child) but the only real problem is the wretched Dr. Pulaski. She is a terrible, hateful person. Watching her delight in reminding Data that he is not human is uncomfortable.

In general, I am liking the show. I will keep watching a few episodes a night until I finish the series, and from there I don’t know. I might watch Deep Space 9, I might watch Voyager, and I might go back and watch the original series. Or I might watch something else entirely. I see Angry Beavers is also on Netflix now.