What I'm Watching: Hell or High Water

A nice little modern western/crime drama. Reminds me of Longmire and Justified, but mostly from the criminal's point of view.

A couple brothers rob banks in Texas, or rather branches of one bank, not doing anything stupid, nobody gets shot, at least that's the plan. Two Rangers, an old honky about to retire and his Comanche partner, go out looking for them.

The banks are the enemy of country folk, and the brothers have a reasonable grudge and the smart one has a plan. But everyone in Texas has a gun, and the Rangers aren't that stupid.

Too sad and doomed to be Coen Brothers. Might watch some more of David MacKenzie's movies. Also nice to see Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges playing out of stereotype.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Undercover, L4yer Cake, Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Undercover S1: A Belgian/Dutch crime drama, based very loosely on a real case, with Anna Drijver as a Dutch woman cop (and rather sexy when she cleans up, or if you like dirty biker chicks), and Tom Waes as a Belgian asshole man cop, setting up an undercover observation of a drug kingpin. Except the drugs are mostly ecstasy, the action is mostly in a campground trailer park, and everyone is just pathetic and low-rent. It's barely above reality TV at times, the filmmaking is not excellent, and the plot is glacially slow. The tension between these cops who have to pretend to be a couple, and the shitty crime boss, his pathetic wife, and ever-changing roster of idiot henchmen, is much better than you'd expect. Watch it in the original Dutch/Flemish. Don't expect a fast burner, this is one to watch a bit, go on with your life, watch a bit more…

★★★½☆


L4yer Cake: Great crime book, if a little heavy on the "oo eck 'e're so 'ery English wot wot" shit. Movie's about 50% of the book, plus 25% new shit out of the writer's ass, not always seamless. Movie ending is bullshit—in the book the same asshole shoots him but he lives and then delivers his "if you knew my name" line.

Never said in the book or movie, but his name is Bond, James Bond. Thus XXXX and the fake posing as Bond, sudden development of Navy Seals level murder skills, and fucking another man's wife (which is rarely brought up in the Bond movies, but in the books it's a common theme, also common to Ian Fleming himself—adultery made philandering without consequences easier for him/them).

I don't especially like Daniel Craig as XXXX or Bond, but if you're gonna do both, he barely passes. Book XXXX is just short of 30, Craig was 36 at the time, but looked 40+, a dried-up ballsack face already. Bloated tub of lard Colm Meany will always and only be sad, pathetic Transporter Chief O'Brien to me; he just looks constipated and confused when he's trying to be menacing, or really all the time. George Harris as Mortimer is too pleasant much of the time to be the borderline personality of the book; it's legitimately shocking when he does snap. The girl, Sienna Miller (named for the shittiest color crayon), is about a 7 or 7.5, not the perfect femme fatale of the book; tho the English have a lower scale of hotness so she's probably as good as they've ever seen; and she has few scenes to even establish the adultery subplot.

Funniest moment of the show was the "Serbian" gangsters speaking Romanian; I couldn't tell everything they were saying with my half-assed Spanish and quarter-assed French, but all Romance languages are recognizable. The English filmmakers probably didn't know the difference; anywhere east of Germany is Poland, eh, limey?

★★★☆☆ — aggressively mediocre interpretation of better but not amazing source material.


Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse: So, up front: I don't especially like Spiders, or Men, or Spider-Men, and as noted in The Boys, I don't trust anyone with super-powers not to be a super-jerk. I grew up with the Electric Company Spider-Man, but by the '80s that motherfucking bug had his own live-action TV show, cartoon, cereal, toys, Japanese sentai show, and more, raking in $millions a year. Plus the police, military, and civilian applications of his web-shooter goop must be worth $billions. If he's married to MJ she's worth at least as much as an actress. The poor white boy from Queens act is offensive.

But I needed something light and dumb after the hash they made of L4yer Cake.

Miles Morales is certainly a more humble protagonist than '60s-era Peter Parker; less Hardy Boys and more Boyz n the Hood. But it's taken 20 minutes to get him bitten and plot to start. How are there not thousands or millions of Spider-People in a world where every radioactive spider produces the same powers? As usual in the movies and TV shows, with limited rights and limited creative people of their own, they only acknowledge the existence of Spidey's "rogues gallery", not any of the hundreds of other supers placed in New York in the comics.

I'm not a big fan of urban graffiti; it's mostly criminals marking territory they extort protection money from, or vandals damaging property they don't own. Buy a fucking canvas to paint on.

Mama Morales speaks like two lines of Spanish ever, then switches back to English for the honky audience. NYPD Cop Dad is the stern-but-fair bullshit they'd like to sell; I expect he's all Training Day on the streets.

Even in cartoons, Stan Lee got his cameo. But not Steve Ditko. They can't spare one fucking scene in this Russian-epic-length film for the man who created classic Spider-Man and drew the comic until Stan stiffed him on money (as he did to everyone)? There's a passing mention of him in the credits, which is sadly better than most do.

I did genuinely laugh at one joke: "Hey, maybe you guys can go around? OK, thanks, New York."

Spider-Gwen and Noir SM are good takes on the idea; I'm familiar with SG from the comics. Has-Been SM and Spider-Ham are awful, jokes carried way past their sell-by date. Old Aunt May with a baseball bat is good and strong, as fits a potential Herald of Galactus. Mary Jane as slightly frumpy Jessica Rabbit is weird, but she has little screen time, she's just a trophy for various Peters.

Kingpin's a perfect villain as always and chews the scenery less than in the Daredevil TV show. But for someone so obsessed with family, he isn't very understanding of others' familial conflicts. Still, he halfway saves this flick.

Doc Ock is interesting, but I don't see how the relationship with Aunt May can work after this. Prowler's given a surprisingly good background (but a very Huntress-like outfit with nipple patches). The other villains are just big mooks, zero personality.

There's no plot or conflict except "can Miles survive 3d6 random fight scenes and then push a button?" You will be shocked to learn the answer is yes, he pushes the button.

By 1 hour 20 minutes in, I'm ready for the end of the movie, but there's 40 minutes of this to go. Brevity is the soul of wit, but alas. This just drags out the "kid can't fight" part before the moment of heroism schtick. Then a very long neon Jackson Pollock screensaver with Doc Ock taking an improbable amount of abuse, instead of using a bruiser villain or fighting with the tentacles. All the villain fights get dumber and more punchy as the film progresses. The collider's said to be making a black hole, which means it has at least the mass of a planet, possibly a star; but happily magic dimension shit just reverses itself and there's no lasting apocalyptic results like a city vaporizing even if you do shut it down. Consequence-free adventuring.

"Anyone can wear the mask", moralizes (oh, "Morales", I get why he's so preachy now, "Miles" of it even) a kid who is faster and stronger than any athlete, can recover from almost any injury, swings by his arms from tiny spider strings, and can be invisible (and what man could be good with that power?!) and shoot lasers from his hands. You know, like a SPIDER. If a normal kid wears a SM mask and leaps off a building, they'd just die horribly.

★★☆☆☆ — massively overstayed its welcome, shitty final sequence, too many underdeveloped characters.

What I'm Watching: Mindhunter S2

Based on the book by FBI agent John E. Douglas — the character Holden Ford is based on him — S1 set up a format of serial killer interviews interspersed with a little too much personal drama in Holden's love life. Their portrayal of Ed Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer, was especially impressive. Sympathetic sociopath.

S2 starts out more of the same, interviews with Ed Kemper again, Charlie Manson, David Berkowitz, and several others, building up the theory of sexual compulsion; interrupted by Wendy trying to have a relationship, Bill's kid becoming a budding sociopath and his wife's high-strung nonsense so Bill has to fuck off of work every weekend to try to be a dad. All the personal stuff's a waste of screen time.

But then it starts to focus on the Atlanta Child Murders, brings back agent Jim Barney for local expertise. The long, half-assed struggle as they don't really know how to profile yet, or have adequate support from Atlanta PD (the photocopy flyer story is hilarious/awful; Kinko's was around and used by every indie zine and punk band, and by the alleged killer, and by BTK in the before-credits scenes, but the cops and FBI can't get anything done in less than geological time). There's a ridiculously long stakeout that finally gets them their one suspect, and the difficult politics in getting him prosecuted.

In reality, Douglas got censured for saying the suspect "fit the profile … looked pretty good for a good percentage of the killings". Holden doesn't get to shove his foot that far in his mouth. And we still don't know how many people the suspect actually killed; there's better evidence of some, but he definitely didn't kill them all. Someone else killed at least a dozen kids and got away with it.

★★★★☆ — needs focus on the criminal profiling, not the quasi-fictional characters on the side. Tends to be too gentle on Holden Ford/John Douglas who is seriously quite a flaming asshole.

There's also a podcast, Atlanta Monster about the case, S2 is going into Zodiac.

What I'm Watching: Hap & Leonard S3

It is 1989. Hot (black) lawyer Florida goes down to a backwoods Texas shithole to deal with rights to a legendary blues man's lost recordings, goes missing, Hap & Leonard cowboy up to find her, and run into the KKK. They have a satchel of guns, it'll work out.

Great new and old rogue's gallery of weird characters, from Sneed the creep cop from last season, useless Sheriff who's doing Little Bill from Unforgiven with a busted nut, Deputy Hitlerella, Brown the KKK cult leader, creepy mechanic, Bacon the step&fetchit who's more than that. Andrew Dice Clay does a good turn as a DJ, I know he's vilified by the Kids Today™ but I loved The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, and clearly the producers did, too.

Not a lot actually happens until E5, but there's good banter and threats and some Twin Peaks-like weirdness.

So that's where I got up to by last weekend. Now, to finish…

Finally the shit hits the fan. Fights and shootouts and a Mexican standoff… and then it ends abruptly and wrongly, without resolution. Are they planning to do more of this season? What the hell?!

I was like ★★★★★ up to this point, but now I'm angry.

Finishing Happy!

Done. Parts of this worked out well, as a violent fairy tale for Christmas.

The mob boss's sister's reality TV show, bruja grandmother(?), and the sort of return of her son was both annoying as hell (fake-ass social media & TV people, ugh), and sometimes the only good parts of an episode; but the actual supernatural shit going on around this later is jarring. Imaginary friends can be seen by someone else, great premise. They can touch things, uh, this is weird… But the demonic stuff I'm not so sanguine about (the sanguinary sauce scene is great, though!)

The bad guys' constant running the kids around to different places, no clear explanation of who's coming for them, the Big Bad's weird-ass bug suit cult, Bad Santa's, uh, friends… Not tied up neatly at all. Reminds me a bit of Shadowrun's Universal Brotherhood which are really insect spirits. Grant Morrison's had insectile villains, doing radical body and brain surgery with very similar results in The Invisibles, too.

The characters remain cartoonish and hard to take seriously. And there's a homophobic vibe to some of it, two villains are gay and weird about it, there's no positive portrayals (not that anyone's positive in this show, but still). I dunno if this is intentional; Chris Meloni's pro-gay rights, has done all but gay porn in Oz, so he's probably not meaning it to be taken this way. Grant's a cross-dresser, and is weird about it, but not like this. I still went "Oh, that's not OK" a couple times.

As is often the case, even on a short series, there's a lot that could've been cut. About 2-3 episodes worth are just "Nick goes to a new location, gets in a fight, gets a clue or has to flee to the next location". The fights are good, often funny slapstick; there's axes, and a chainsaw, and a kung fu gang in Chinatown. Blood but still not a lot of visceral damage.

There's a parody of a Tarantino film scene that made me laugh out loud for over a minute, and freaked out my dog. The show keeps dragging down to boring, and then up pops a good gag and it carries me forward to the next.

If we were making a checklist:

  • Bad Santa
  • Smoothie
  • Blue
  • Nick being an asshole all the time.
  • Big Bad

So, still ★★★★☆, but I'm creeped out by some portrayals, and probably other people will be, too.

What I'm Watching: Happy!

So, this is adapted from a Grant Morrison comic. Grant's a crazy person; one of my favorites, but I think adapting his work is a memetic hazard, immanentizing the eschaton.

Take Chris Meloni from Law & Order: SVU, and make him a washed-up drunk ex-cop Nick Sax. Add a CGI blue flying unicorn, imaginary friend of a little girl. … Sure. And a bad Santa who's kidnapped that little girl. Nick soon convinces himself he's not hallucinating, but he's such an asshole he may not care.

This is bizarre. It veers between parody of SVU, itself so earnestly grimdark it wrapped around to comedy, and Roger Rabbit comic antics.

You never feel bad seeing Meloni get beaten, tortured, or hit by a car; he's very punchable and seems like a bad dude even when playing good, and Nick's shit. There's a lot of blood and screaming, it's as violent as a Friday the 13th film; not quite Eli Roth but not cartoony. There's a flashback scene explaining how Nick got that way, and it would be traumatic to watch if not so far past plausible.

Almost all the characters are ridiculous caricatures; and then the mother of the girl isn't. She walked in from some totally different show and everything being insane around her doesn't faze her, she just wants her kid back.

Happy the unicorn is obnoxious in the way children's cartoons are, but watching him cope with Nick's horrible life is amusing.

I don't know if this is good in any rational sense. Like, if you sat down a normal, well-adjusted person with minimal traumas and made them watch this, they'd hate it and then vomit profusely. I find it kinda charming, a new holiday special up there with Lethal Weapon and Island of Misfit Toys.

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Get Shorty

I love Elmore Leonard's books, "Get Shorty" especially. The Barry Sonnenfeld/Travolta/DeVito film is silly, but a good take on it.

So this series made me wary. For good or ill, they've changed everything except the one-sentence summary: "Hoodlum makes a movie with stolen money". And it's full of "actors", visibly playing characters, rather than character actors; just like the prior movie.

They've replaced cool shylock & legbreaker Chili Palmer (Travolta's a stiff "actor" but was perfect for the role; he bleeds desperation and confusion) with inexplicably Irish scummy bagman & hitter Miles Daly (Chris O'Dowd), and piece-of-shit producer Harry Zinn with piece-of-shit producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano).

Miles is OK. Pathetic, chasing a separated wife and kid, but clearly more cunning than his job needs him to be and more optimistic than Chili. The mick accent renders his attempts at both menace and persuasion comical.

Ray Romano is loathsome, a humorless whiny Sienfeld-wannabe; but that's actually working here, Rick is not funny, he's sad and cowardly, the shittiest kind of Hollywood hack. And so Ray Romano suddenly fits. You can believe he's a man with no principles, with a rotten onion for a heart. His voice is still awful, and his Just For Men dyed beard and hair are preposterous.

They moved the mob's base from Miami and Vegas to a shithole casino outside Vegas. The mob boss Amara is interesting, but entirely too much time is spent on her pathetic crew, and Yago the "nemesis" our legbreaker isn't really needed. April Quinn (Megan Stevenson) is cute as the executive, and how they get her to do the job is good and dirty. Sidekick Louis (Sean Bridgers) is a Coen Bros type: Withdrawn & goofy one second, charming the next, instant murderous psychopath the next.

And: Peter Stormare as Hafdis the, uh, wise hobo when we first meet him. Stormare is more familiar to Elder Scrolls Online players as Jorunn the Skald King. I'm eager to do some draugr-slaying quests for ya, King.

As of S1E04, this is fun. I'd rather have another proper Elmore Leonard show, it's been too long since Justified ended. But as dark comedy loosely based on Elmore's themes, it's good.

★★★★☆

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: Deadwind

It's that season again: Grim Scandinavian crime dramas with troubled detectives!

Deadwind has it all: A widowed detective returning to work too soon, a rookie partner, a dead woman half-buried in a beach, a real-estate company with shady dealings and a Lex Luthor-looking playboy/fixer. Finland is shot in moody lighting, always night, morning, evening (I think they said it's October? So no sunlight anyway). I love the sets, too, sterile white/black perfect surfaces, inside scruffy weatherbeaten houses. Nobody could live that neat, but it's perfect for mood.

Plot seems to move fast but this is a 12-ep season, with another being written, so expecting a lot more complexity.

★★★★★ so far