What I'm Watching: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

This is weird. A series based very loosely on Shirley Jackson's great book (more likely for the writers, the 1963 movie The Haunting or the shitty '90s remake).

The builders/founders of the house, the Crains, and the scientist ghost-hunters of the book, are here replaced by house-flippers with five children in flashback to the '80s(?). In middle flashbacks of the '00s, one boy becomes a ghost-hunter, one a junkie, one girl a mortician, one girl is useless, one a mousy little housewife. In present day, the plot moves forward. Sometimes the time is obvious from the characters in a scene, sometimes it's hard to tell which flashback is which, and the characters' clothing and accessories are not distinctive (fashion died in the '90s and never recovered). It's good that they have iPhones and iPads in the present, because those make it possible to date the scene.

Everyone seems pretty resigned to seeing ghosts or at least having hallucinations on a regular basis. OH NO the walls are banging in an old house, must be ghosts. OH NO my dead SPOILER is here where they were expected and now ghosts.

Long tracts of "dramatic" footage which aren't good enough for "reality" TV are painfully uncut here, I'm 2 eps in and it feels like it's been 12. The movie was so much better at getting to the point (that secrets and madness will make you see anything, even/especially if there's something to be seen). But there's scenes which are effective, where the oppression of Hill House works, where it actually creeped me out. The actors range from reasonably good (Stephen, Shirley), to stiff and unlikable ("Dad", and whoever the middle daughter is, I keep forgetting that she's even in this and then I go "wait, who's the other brunette?"), to bland caricature (the Dudleys).

★★★☆☆

Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland Movies

No zombies or magic, just people in a plausible near future shithole like we'll have by 2100. Ordered by how much I like each film, not so much plausibility or rotten fruit reviews.

  1. Hardware
  2. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
  3. Waterworld (watch it for Dennis Hopper)
  4. A Boy and His Dog
  5. Blood of Heroes
  6. Tank Girl
  7. Steel Dawn
  8. Rick & Morty S3E2 "Rickmancing the Stone"
  9. Delicatessan
  10. Six-String Samurai
  11. The Quiet Earth
  12. Mad Max Fury Road (very silly)
  13. Mad Max
  14. Road Warrior
  15. It Comes at Night
  16. The Postman
  17. The Road
  18. City of Ember
  19. Snowpiercer
  20. Various Twilight Zone post-apocalypse episodes, never used for anything but a punchline.

Not Seen Yet:

  • The Bad Batch
  • The 5th Wave (may break the "no magic" rule)
  • The Rover
  • Man Down

Omens of Some Kind

In today's "waiting for the end times" news, the Good Omens miniseries trailer has dropped like… well, a thing that drops.

Adaptation looks very CW-ish, like that dreadful The Magicians show.

I don't mind Tennant as Crowley, I've dislike all the NuWho shows except Eccleston's series, but Tennant was fine in Broadchurch and Alias (er, "Jessica Jones"). The guy they've got for Az is the comically bad villain from Underworld, and a ton of garbage since, I have little hope for him doing more than hitting marks and repeating lines; it's hard to tell from a chopped-up trailer.

The book was good fun, maybe I should just reread it. I'm a Fifth Horseman fan, myself.

What I'm Watching: The Endless

The premise for this does not prepare you at all for what is to come, but perhaps the initial quote by H.P.Lovecraft will. On the surface, it's two escaped survivors of a Heaven's Gate-like cult, getting a videotape message and going back to the commune and finding old friends.

Then they see things in the sky and the water, and beyond the totem poles. Then they receive more messages. Then the truth of everything is revealed.

This is maybe the best strange tale I've ever seen as a movie.

The older brother's acting is wooden and fixed in a permanent blank stare and smirk, the younger one's a little better, the other characters are either stoic or insane, or underacting or overacting, but it's the story that drives this.

I don't like the final scene, there's too much closure and that's not what this story's about.

But you must absolutely watch this.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: BoJack Horseman

If you think "a dumb cartoon about a horse?", no. This is maybe the best dramedy about depression, success, and failure ever made, live-action or animated (the other contender is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is about the crushing weight of parental expectations told with giant mecha and alien angels at the end of the world).

Finally finished S4 and now all of S5.

S1 was a funny show about depression. Not all that coherent, still wandering between Simpsons gag format and long series drama.

S2 tries to cover up depression with work and success, and has an epic meltdown. The most coherent season so far, but the least fun. The one that hits closest to me.

S3 is the hangover after success, and then gets real fucking dark. But E4, "Fish Out of Water", is something everyone should see; you don't need a lot of context for it.

S4 spends a lot of time in flashbacks, especially to BoJack's mother who is awful. E7 "Underground", E8 "The Judge", and E12 "What Time Is It Right Now" are fantastic, though.

S5 has been more like S1, dramedy with no real point, Princess Carolyn's flashback and the eulogy both dragged on forever, but E8 "Mr Peanutbutter's Boos" 25 years of Halloween parties was perfect. The meta-show Philbert is a dead ringer for many of the crime dramas I watch.

There's long stretches of BoJack that I find almost intolerably dull, and start zipping ahead 30s at a time to see if the plot advances. I have my own family hangups, I can't be expected to care about BoJack's shitty family.

There's other times when it's the only show that's ever talked honestly about this stuff.

★☆☆☆☆ to ★★★★★ but averaging around ★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Unforgiven

Up on Netflix, my 2nd favorite modern (well, you know, post-Spaghetti) western; Tombstone is 1st, obvs, guess Lonesome Dove is 3rd largely for the late, greatly missed Bob Urich.

So. This is more a character/actor study than a film with a plot as such.

Clint as Bill Munny does not really pass as the broke-down tired old farmer he's supposed to be at start. Looks like a guy you'd shoot first in self-defense. And he only gets meaner as it goes on. He does pass for desperate, though.

Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan doesn't want to be here. He's joining the party but there's no sense of desperation. He's got a happy life with his Indian wife, and Morgan was probably a billionaire already, fat and lazy.

The kid, Jaimz Woolvett, is more pathetic than anything. I see the appeal of being a gunslinger, but this fake it till you make it act is lame. And the actor's never made it big again since then.

The "cut up" whore, Anna Thompson, is mostly silent, and the cuts are almost invisible. In a time when half the population had smallpox scars, nobody'd think twice. Writing, makeup, and directing falls down spectacularly about her, and the rest of the whores are a Greek chorus to the madam who's driving this mess.

Gene Hackman as Little Bill, now, plays a spectacularly nasty son of a bitch. Doesn't seem corrupt, just got no sense of consequences to his inept actions. He likes power over people, imitates the kind of policing Wild Bill Hickok or Wyatt Earp did without understanding it.

The English Bob and Beauchamp episode's useful for setting Little Bill's character, and I like seeing Richard Harris take a beating for spouting off on monarchy as much as the next regicide-minded American, but it's kinda slow, tell-not-show, and at least one of the stories he tells is stolen directly from Wild Bill Hickok.

A while back I read Richard Matheson's Journal of the Gun Years, another fictional parallel to Wild Bill Hickok's life (Unforgiven's script is unrelated, dates back to the '70s & '80s, but Matheson published first). Like any Matheson book, it's more full of despair, horror, and sympathy and motivation for evil than any film can ever match. Unforgiven's portrait of Little Bill is no Clay Hauser, but it's not bad for a mere film where he's not even the protagonist.

The first two killings are miserable and hard. Most of the real gunslingers weren't assassins for this reason; they killed in self-defense, or drunk, or over cards or women, or hunting a legal bounty. This half-assed bounty from whores is some cold blooded shit, and they hurt for it as they should. "We all have it comin', kid."

The capture, crucifixion, & torture of Ned Logan would be a lot less racially charged if anyone else in this film was black. There were a lot of black cowboys and whores; even in Wyoming, it'd make a cattle town more plausible and this scene less… what it is.

And then the fucking apocalypse comes. It's fantastic; both in the sense of a great gunfight, and the kind of thing that never happened in the old days, but stories say did.

HD is not this film's friend. Shots are just blood squibs, no latex special effects let alone CGI (barely possible at the time). Rain machine rain is really terrible looking. One-armed deputy isn't as one-armed as he seems to be. Sigh.

I know there's a recent Japanese adaptation, which maybe I should see.

★★★★☆

"A known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition."

What I'm Watching: Game Night

I was hoping for another The Game (not Fincher's best, but a good tricky movie). Instead we get the insecure lead couple, saccharine black couple, idiot & random date, and annoying brother, in a painfully obvious scenario. Occasionally funny, but so dumb. I am sad I paid a couple bucks to Redbox to watch this.
★★☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Bosch

I watched S1 when it came out in 2014, was somewhat annoyed by the Hieronymus Bosch name gag (but the actor is named Titus Welliver, so… ludicrous historical names all around), all the jazz (not even music), and some of the inappropriate workplace relationship bothered me, but it was a competent murder show. Little scattered in plot, personal drama, and side-plots that go nowhere.

Picked back up S2 and now working thru S3, and I'm more interested. The jazz is sometimes overbearing, especially when smug asshole Bosch preaches about how great vinyl is, or how every restaurant he goes to is "best X in L.A.", he's a super punchable prick. He's like House or Sherlock Holmes without the genius or charm. As a villain, he'd be fantastic. As a protagonist, he's much less charming than Dexter Morgan or Walter White.

But J. Edgar the partner (Jamie Hector, aka Marlo Stanfield on The Wire) and other competently-acted characters (several also Wire alumni), and better plots and writing, make up for a lot.

S1's a cold case murder. S2 is more of an LA Confidential thing with a murdered porno producer and hot blonde wife named Veronica (not Lake) as a film noir femme fatale. S3 has a couple parallel veteran murder stories going on; I assume in the books these are Vietnam, there's something about how they're written that doesn't fit the desert war that never ends.

★★★½☆ solid but rarely amazing.

What I'm Watching: Ultraviolet (2017)

No, not the vampire movie, nor the shitty DRM video system. The Polish crime drama. It is all but impossible to search for a title like this.

A Buffy-like chick: blonde, vapid, argumentative, shitty family life, etc., except she's supposedly 30 instead of 16, is working as an Uber driver in Lódz, Poland, sees a girl thrown off a bridge. The cops call it a suicide, she disagrees, and starts investigating. Finds a quasi-secret society of "Ultra-Violets" (the explanation of the name is so ludicrous you have to watch to hear it) who hang out in a Slack with a purple backslash icon and solve murders while supposedly doing their real jobs.

Social media-solves-crime is not a bad premise for a show, even if mostly social media-causes-crime in reality, and the chat and screens are usually captioned well enough to make sense despite being in Polish.

Lódz really isn't grim enough for my "Grim Scandinavian Drama" taste, just a little run-down, not cheerful enough for it to be ironic like Death in Paradise. It's like setting a crime drama in Boise or Salt Lake City; death's a bit of a relief, but not an omnipresent gloom.

The acting's a problem. Buffy, er, Ola wavers from nonentity to annoying. The useful cop is barely present. There is less chemistry between them than between noble gasses in sealed glass jars. Mom's a crying stereotype. Older dude Henryk is not bad, he might be an actual actor. The dirty cop is either stoic or stoned. The "Ultra-Violets" (snicker) are only on-screen for a line or two at a time, mostly from behind.

If they got some acting lessons, this could be watchable; as it is, it's on the "occasional watch if I'm bored" list.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Jack Ryan

Back in the Good Old Days of the Cold War, I read the hell out of the original 3 Jack Ryan books, and I love the Harrison Ford movies, considerably less the Baffleck "Sum of All Fears". The spinoff pulp books and shitty videogames, far less so. Amazon's now got "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" on Prime, let's see.

Slow start, but obviously a War That Never Ends in Middle-East thing.

Blank-faced drone John Krasinski as Ryan is generically skilled, has war flashbacks while he stares emotionlessly at a ceiling, writes "SQL queries" that pop up graphical displays. He's like someone's shitty PC in Millennium's End RPG, and I don't believe from his walking meatstick "acting" that this Ryan has a PhD in Economics, or even a GED, or really more than a brainstem.

Wendell Pierce (the Bunk!) is promising, but he's playing a last-chance-don't-fuck-this-up bureaucrat section chief, nothing exciting yet.

After a bit, Ryan is Proved Right as in all Jack Ryan stories, and dragged into the field from a party for a rich asshole & his generically pretty but vapid blonde daughter.

Interrogation and the vaguely placed prison are, uh, unpleasant, but nobody's being tortured. Yet. Bombs and guns always get into these, and it's fine but very console-shooter: Indistinct action around a squad shooting aimlessly (because without mouse you can't aim).

It all seems competently produced, poorly acted, and written by very unimaginative frat boys who've played too much Tom Clancy's Rainbow Seven. Long-dead Tom Clancy is the only real writer on the show, and this is "ripped from the headlines" by some necrophiliacs last employed on garbage like Lost.

I'll probably do another couple eps to see if the Bunk does anything good, but I hold little hope unless they replace almost the entire cast and writing room.

★★☆☆☆