What I'm Watching: The Head

An English-language (mostly), Spanish-made mini-series on hobomax. Remarkably good actors, cinematography, for the most part… though indoors scenes are heavily tinted cyan/orange. The disease of monochromism is spreading. I assume everything outdoors was shot in Norway, because it only shows Antarctic panoramas from stock footage, anything with characters is in a generic white void.

Science team goes to Antarctica. We see them goofing off, last day before winter. They watch John Carpenter's "The Thing", firmly lampshading what kind of show this is: Creepy drama, but with a few laughs. Team leader Johan (Alexandre Willaume) gets to go home for a break, his wife Aniika (Laura Bach) stays behind to work with pompous scientist Arthur Wilde (John Lynch, the poor man's John Lithgow).

Contact with the base is cut off. When they get back, almost everyone is dead. A survivor starts telling a story, and then more and more facts don't match up, and contrary stories are told.

So, the science in this: Arthur claims he's invented a bacteria that's 153x better than photosynthesis at scrubbing CO2 from the air, so he's solved global warming. If they'd said "10%", or even "100%", OK, maybe; 153x is so far past what's physically possible it's pure fantasy. Plants use sunlight to get energy to crack CO2 for carbon and oxygen; what's this bacteria using, nuclear fission? And even if you had it, you couldn't release it, it'd run away and convert the entire atmosphere to oxygen, deadly to most current life.

Each episode, Maggie remembers more of her story, tells Johan, he runs around looking for evidence, mostly doesn't find any.

★★★½☆ - watch, don't expect miracles

SPOILER












The problem is, the "mystery" doesn't hold up, it's out of character for at least 2 people directly involved, and 2 covering it up. The original crime is petty, and doesn't need a giant base-destroying coverup. The murders in the new base are just deranged and over the top, completely out of anyone's league who's accused of them.

I'd been wondering since the survivor story started if they'd do a Keyser Soze flip at the end, and sure enough the girl is who I thought she was, and even does a "this physical disorder is all an act" scene. But I don't find her "true" story plausible either, especially Nils' death is just impossible, and there's no way for her collaborator to not realize what's happening.

What I'm Watching: Last Suspicions, The Investigation

  • Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Ties That Bind: (zon) A divorce case (in Victorian England, nasty business) turns into a missing person case, then murder. Paddy really seems to have grown into the role here (tho again by now the historical Mr Whicher is utterly different from this character), but this is the last one. Unlike #3, the video quality is back to normal, even fairly good views of pastoral English countryside, horses galloping around. Everyone in this crappy little village and the nearby manor house has secrets, nobody is innocent of anything. The mystery almost works; but they have to cheat by telling Whicher something the audience doesn't get to hear, which resolves everything. Still, a good enough episode to go out on. ★★★½☆

  • The Investigation: (hobomax) Danish 5-episode miniseries about the death of a Swedish journalist in a submarine ("ripped from the headlines!"). Stoic, brooding cop (Søren Malling) largely ignores his family while slowly moving between scenes. Very heavily tell-don't-show. We don't even get to see the first interviews with the submarine guy, just told about them. Ep 2 mostly follows officer Maibritt (Laura Christensen) investigating the journalist's private life. Somewhat less brooding, but still closed-off, moody. Ep 3 they finally get some physical evidence, but again spends very long stretches waiting, in silence. That's where I am so far. Another case of maybe 45-90 minutes of content stretched out to 225 minutes of show. I'll probably finish this tomorrow, I'm interested in the case, but I'm bored out of my skull by the pacing. ★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: More Suspicions of Mr Whicher

  • Murder In Angel Lane: Mr Whicher is now a "private inquiry agent", dicks not yet having been invented, and searches for a missing girl in a story about uncertain paternity and jerks with knives. Obvious villain is obvious, but the multiple visits to the insane asylum are nice; for a Victorian bedlam it's pretty cushy.

★★★☆☆

Note that the historical Mr Whicher was still a police officer at this time, and moving up in authority in London.

  • Beyond the Pale: The English are, it should be noted, monsters. The conquest, rape, and robbery of India over centuries is one of the greatest war crimes of history, every English is blood-stained clear through. The Sepoy Mutiny was the first try of the Indians to seize back their country, which took nearly a century. And that's what this oh-so-happy episode is about.

"Out there in the hills, we lived like kings. No one to censure us, no one to disapprove."

The fantastical element of this episode is that any English cares. That Mr Whicher will stand up even a little bit for the Indians seeking vengeance for a truly heinous crime. And the resolution requires even more empathy and compassion that I don't buy from them. The premise could've gone really dark and given something like closure, but instead it whimpers out.

Also, the lighting/color grading in this one is terrible, it's just black and yellow, sometimes black and cyan for variety. Everyone looks jaundiced, and you can't see any of the action. Even the outdoors scenes are so fake-overcast (but not actually overcast) they look like day-for-night shots. Impossible to guess at the hour.

★★☆☆☆

Just one more of the series to go, hopefully it goes out on a higher note.

What I'm Watching: Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Not "The Witcher". This is on 'zon, "The Murder at Roadhill House", there are 3 more episodes so far. Based on a 2008 book by Kate Summerscale.

Period 1860, in a crappy English village of Wiltshire, a family awakes to find a missing child (called a "baby" and kept in a crib, but he's nearly 4), and when he's found dead, early Scotland Yard is called, they send a sad-faced Paddy Considine as the improbably-named but historically real Mr Whicher, though the actor doesn't fit the character well:

Whicher was reportedly described by a colleague as the "prince of detectives".[2] Charles Dickens, who met him, described him as "shorter and thicker-set" than his fellow officers, marked with smallpox scars and possessed of "a reserved and thoughtful air, as if he were engaged in deep arithmetical calculations".[2] William Henry Wills, Dickens's deputy editor at Household Words magazine, saw Whicher involved in police work in 1850 and described him as a "man of mystery".
wikipedia

The start's very slow, and often uses voice-over repetition to pad out scenes that would just be Paddy walking around looking at things. Later in the first ep, they send along a sergeant, "Dolly" (William Beck), which helps with dialogue, though he gets vanishingly little character development. The local authorities are unhelpful, hostile, closed-minded fools you'd expect of the still-medieval backwater English.

Whicher's not quite a modern, scientific detective, but he tries. And he's a bit moody, especially between cases he's as useless and dissolute as Sherlock Holmes; which is probably a modern back-adaptation from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1880s books.

The pacing is glacial, much plot happens off-camera, and an early version of spinning-newspaper headlines. Very little time is spent on backstory outside of the main suspects; I wonder if the book goes deeper, or if this is all there is.

Still, it's a good enough mystery, Whicher's worth watching, what-cha.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: "the little things"

Let it always be known that I dislike everyone imitating e e cummings. Write in all caps. And I don't like leading articles in titles; "Little Things" is a better title. The entire credits are in lowercase, and I hate it.

How is it that 1990 is a period era? Yeah, it's 30 years ago, and they only have pagers and big CRT monitors, but it's post Cold War, LA is a shithole… it's not clear if this is before or after Rodney King, but nothing really changed. You could set this in the present and it'd be unchanged. Apparently the script was written in 1993, and took 26 years for someone's slush pile to get low enough for this to be produced.

The starting scene is annoying, car drives past a girl driving her car at night, then she pulls into a deserted diner to try to shelter, then runs into the desert, instead of just driving on. That's kind of repeated multiple times, with victims being killed because they were stupid, or just let their guard down. Blaming the victim, instead of building up the killer.

A working sheriff's deputy Joe "Deke" Deacon (Denzel Washington) does an evidence run to LA, hangs around and gets involved in local serial killer investigation. Which is a lot like his backstory investigation that burned him out. Denzel lays out some rules for how to be a bad cop, and immediately breaks them himself.

The LA sheriffs are mostly awful. Rami Malek (the whiny millennial with the bug eyes from Mr Robot), Chris Bauer (Tony Sobotka from the bad season of The Wire), Terry Kinney as a Christfucker captain. Rami's trying to learn something from Denzel, but he's barely even there, a mannequin being pushed around would have more presence. The coroner (Michael Hyatt, the black lady with the very male honkie name, you may remember as Bri Barksdale on The Wire and from Nightcrawler) is essential to the actual plot, but she gets only a couple of scenes. Jared Leto, my least favorite person in film, is skanky but not really menacing, obviously fucking around stoned most of the show. I will say, he gets what he deserves for the first time since American Psycho; it doesn't pay off having to watch this film, but it's something.

Unbelievably slow. Over 2 hour movie, one crime scene in detail, another seen on the edges. No real suspects. Slow police work leads nowhere. What we do find out about is Denzel's backstory, but only through flashbacks, very tell-not-show.

Completely misses a chance to reference The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly "There's two kinds of people in this world, those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You… dig."

★★☆☆☆ — absolutely a waste of my time.

What I'm Watching: American Murder: The Family Next Door

The conceit here is all footage is real police bodycam, Ring front-door spycams, phone footage, etc. I'm dubious about the how much of this was filmed before the events, and how much staged, but it's badly shot enough in many places to be possible. The Facebook captures are kind of gross, the fake SMS reenactments with fake misspellings and retyping are weird; "Shanann"[sic] was as bad at spelling everything else as her own name (it's normally pronounced & spelled "Shannon")?

It's creepy how much people share, without saying anything of substance. Self included, of course… you know what code and games I release, and my snarky media reviews, but I don't tell you anything else. On Fediverse, I mostly share jokes and comics I've found, and bitch about code.

The police station footage is really the disturbing part, as always when showing conversations with pigs: The touchy-feely-cop and bad-cop routine, no lawyer, cameras left running during "private" (but not protected by lawyer) conversations. Obviously the first and only words you should utter to cops are "I have no comment. I want my lawyer. Am I free to go?" Am I the weirdo for being incredibly skeeved out by pigs rubbing someone's shoulder to try to make them confess?

The "cashless economy" is an incredibly bad idea, and this shows why: Every step anyone takes is recorded as a bank charge. If you carry cash (as I mostly do), then only your dumb online purchases show up, which are probably not too incriminating.

The reveal of the murders, such as it is, is incredibly badly presented, but they just didn't have any footage to present it. And there's not enough "character building" to tell anyone why. I don't believe the statement accepted by the court, but no better information is possible.

In the end, this is a horror movie about people oversharing.

★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: I'll Be Gone in the Dark

Michelle McNamara, Patton Oswalt's late wife, was a crime podcaster/writer. The one she wrote about was the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (rather overly functionally named: EAR/ONS). Much of this is framed in interviews with Patton in the few years since her death (prescription drug overdose), and it's certainly awkward watching him, not doing standup so I don't know what to expect from him, and he's obviously hurt, but he doesn't have a huge emotional range.

The show is all flashbacks, old footage, people reminiscing, and a few dreamlike, abstract reenactments—about a writer who only read books and endless forum posts, and interviewed people who had done the actual investigation, and thought she was contributing something to the cold case. "This is what I was born to do!", she says.

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Lord Dorwin is "awfully fascinated" by history, and the origin question (what planet Humans originated on, long lost and forgotten); but he does no field research, he just reads other peoples' books and papers and writes his own third-hand papers. That's also the trend in E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops, where original research and going outside is abandoned, people just make video talks (Youtube, but written in 1909!) about other video talks. I bring these up, because these dystopian distant-future visions of totally derivative non-research have already come true, and this is a show about it.

Michelle (and the voice actor reading her text) is incredibly preachy and pretentious; she was one of those writers who thinks a 5-dollar-word is better than a short one, that poetry in the middle of her exposition about a rape and murder makes it pithier. An editor would've told her to dial it back, but she was almost entirely self-published and unedited. The scope of her book, and idea of getting it done on deadline, was just implausible, solving a cold case as her first investigation, writing her first book. Even if you didn't see the news, her manner of death is unsurprising.

"Michelle was such a brilliant woman, she was such a talented writer, she was so into everything that we're all into, and she made such great contents. It's just an incomprehensible tragedy."
—Karen Kilgariff, "My Favorite Murder Podcast"

"Such great contents". Fuck. Let nobody be buried with that as an epitaph, OK?

Because EAR/ONS used wooded creeks as a "highway" between stalking sites, there's a repeat theme and little snippets of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. But this is weird, bordering on offensive; it's portraying the Creature as the rapist, Julie Adams as the victims. But in the actual movies the creature fights only in self-defense, he has no woman of his own kind and never hurts the girl, but he's hunted by a murderous, reactionary white lynch mob and murdered in his home; I'm always heartbroken by the ending. I haven't yet seen Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, but I understand it's in line with that. Surely they're not suggesting EAR/ONS is a tragic victim.

E1 almost completely lost me, I wasn't going to keep going, but I gave further eps a chance, and it does get better, but still spends entirely too long on Michelle's personal life and death, and it's all intermingled.

You get a segment on EAR/ONS in rather grim detail. A segment on research and interviews with the surviving victims. A segment on Michelle playing with her daughter. Shove in a blender with barely a screen blank for transition. That's appalling storytelling.

The case is, however, not solved by Michelle's book, or any of the paperwork, but by DNA evidence & geneology (many people are stupid enough to upload their DNA to random company websites!) years after Michelle's death, by detectives also working on the case. Almost nothing about the actual killer, his plea bargains and the additional murders he confessed to, is covered at all.

Real life's not neat and tidy like a good crime drama, but this biopic/true crime mix is an absolute mess, gives you whiplash going from subject to subject.

★★☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Bordertown, Freaks

  • Bordertown: The best of the grim Scandinavian crime dramas. Kari Sorjonen (the Finnish title is just his name), is a borderline autistic, Sherlock Holmes with a memory palace technique, and partner Lena, a Russian ex-FSB cop/thug/defector. There's a wife and a kid, and Lena has a daughter, sometimes, and there are a few too many household drama stories early on, but it mostly lowers that to a background level later.

But most of the series is Kari pursuing really crafty serial killers, including a repeat nemesis, supergenius high school chemistry teacher, not named Walter or Moriarty but oughta be.

Emotionally the show could not be more Finnish. Everyone is stoic and awkward, frosty to their friends, completely closed off to anyone else, until they have a giant emotional meltdown and kill each other. Secrets and actual intentions are rarely revealed and when they are, everyone's glum but takes it. The distance between Kari's emotional flatness and everyone else's emotional bunkers isn't far.

Finland has a harsh and beautiful wilderness, and the cities are the grimmest of industrial shitholes, and then the interiors are mostly sterile black and white unadorned furniture, like Jony Ive set designed it; when you see a warm set it's just jarring. The cinematography and music are great; I'm unamused at the pretense the daughter sings the title song, tho, and in this last season she got way too much screen time doing so. Apparently the actress is a wannabe Miley Cyrus.

I read subtitles fast, and can usually rely on being able to pick up some spoken words, but Finnish is annoying; English lets me pick up enough Dutch, Norwegian, or Swedish to recognize many words, my bad French lets me get a lot of Flemish and Belgian, and so on… but Finnish sounds like gibberish, and these people talk fast; I usually complain about slow-talkers, but here it's a little stressful. So good thing this is on Netflix where rewinding for a complex scene is easy. It'd be unwatchable on 'zon's terrible video player.

S3 switches from overlapping almost-season-long stories to more episodic 2-parters, but there is a continuing story.

Picking on some of the non-plot elements aside, this is just a perfect crime drama, watch it.

★★★★½

  • Freaks (2018): It's Firestarter; this Charlie ^W Chloe is a different kind of little girl freak, but the "psychic powers make your eyes bleed" thing, the father, the low-rent treachery, the government murderers are straight out of Stephen King. The Shop ^W ADF is funded like post-9/11 counterterrorism, not a CIA hobby project.

I'm both amused and horrified by a trick used to get the ADF to kill innocent people, the writer's not original but able to embellish well.

Once you realize the scope of Chloe's, and her family's, and the missing mommy's powers, the question of "is this overreaction" changes to "what would you do for species survival"; altho Dallas probably had it coming. Little Chloe also learns to kill like a teenage boy playing Call of Duty, way faster than a supposed 7-year-old (actress was 9) should. No way she should see this movie or the evil shit her character does.

★★★★☆ — despite the near-plagiarism, this is well done.

What I'm Watching: Godzilla Raids Again, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Player

More of my HBO Max queue. I absolutely hate that they make me choose my profile every single time. I have one profile, it's a purple cock-ring that says "Mark" in it, there is zero reason to make me choose a profile every new window! Netflix now lets you choose movie characters for your profile image, so there I'm Hup from Dark Crystal 2019, but they only make me choose my profile if I've logged out and back in.

In the old days, I watched 3 movies every night from the video store: One B-movie, one studio flick, one known-good movie (often a rewatch). And that's kinda what I did here:

  • Godzilla Raids Again (1955): On Monster Island, Godzilla is back from the dead (or a second Godzilla!) fighting a 30m-long Ankylosaur "Anguirus" (actual ones were up to 6.25m long), dated at 70-150 MYA (in reality 65-67 MYA), which is certainly better than the first Godzilla's 2 MYA dates. Dr Yamane returns to show stock footage from the first movie, without sound effects or context, and then he is never seen again (smart, take your paycheck and run from this film). They also get to use some military stock footage to show air & naval search for the kaiju. Boy this is a cheapass movie so far.

    The drama of the pilots & radio girls (the pretty one is the boss's daughter, of course) relationship is maybe a repeat of Ogata & Emiko from the first movie, but it fills the Human interest requirement fine. There's a prison break story which has fuck-all to do with Godzilla, it's just B-roll, but serves to screw up the blackout/light lure plan. Oda Motoyoshi was a terrible but prolific waste-of-film director, and in more competent hands the prison story could've been given some pathos.

    The monster fights are goofy, accelerated footage instead of more properly slowed-down to look like 50m-tall monsters, mostly wrestling instead of the more acrobatic fighting of later Godzillas (admittedly these early suits were heavy). The miniature cities, and historic Osaka Castle(!!!), are clearly empty shells inside, when the original tries to not make that visible, and later ones succeed even more. There's a flooding subway scene that's fairly effective, though we don't see the victims; presumably nobody was willing to risk their lives for Oda's filmmaking.

    The music is not great. Anything dramatic or horrifying in the original has heavy Ifukube Akira music. Here, there's a little bass line behind the monster scenes, and light "laugh now" or overbearing brass band music in every Human scene.

    A little "Human interest" goes a long way in a kaiju movie, but post fight there's just endless people talking bullshit about romance and business, corporate drinking in a circle worshipping the boss, nothing to do with the plot. Incredibly tedious, and the comic relief pilot is badly written. Please make this end.

    They really don't seem to have watched the first movie. A fire fence is supposed to keep Godzilla in place? It was born from the hydrogen bomb, breathes fire, stomped thru a burning Tokyo. It lives in the deep freezing ocean. There's no fire or ice solution that's going to stop it. The bombing runs use a mix of miniatures, stock footage, and rear projection to fake in-aircraft camera shots, and the "miniature" terrain and mattes are bad.

    I'm giving this movie way more thought than was put into making it, or has deserved for 65 years. But I'm disappointed.

    ★★☆☆☆ only because Anguirus is slightly cool, being a completely non-humanoid kaiju.

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: I haven't seen the previous Fantastic Beasts film, which is nowhere to be found, but how much context can a "wizzarding world" flick need? Unfortunately after a pretty good prison break scene with badass Grindelwald (who seems to have the right idea, magical revolution now!), the story switches to whiny, useless "Newt" as protagonist, and then nothing happens forever, and I lost all interest.

    The cinematography looks like absolute shit, it's dark and color-distorted, you can't see anything, it's all CGI cartoons and fast cuts over bad actors, almost a parody of modern terrible filmmaking. Maybe there's plot later, but after 30 minutes of reading my phone while I waited for plot to start, and it didn't, and I loathe all the "good guys" so far, I gave up.

    ☆☆☆☆☆ and may Cthulhu have mercy on their souls.

  • The Player (1992): Haven't seen this in decades. Goddamn that initial long tracking shot. Tons of movie references, I dunno I've ever seen Absolute Beginners, just heard the Bowie song; adding that to my list. The Sheltering Sky I've seen and was bored out of my skull by, all of Bertolucci's films were some mix of fantastic cinematography, pretty girls, dumb assholes, fascists, wandering aimlessly, never intersects a plot, like Last Tango in Paris; he was the original Ridley Scott (right down to the unwatchable but very pretty oriental set piece flicks). I love Fred Ward and he's good at laconic delivery of both useful and menacing lines, but he doesn't get to do any violence here, which is a shame. There's a metric fuck-ton of cameos by Old Hollywood people, before it all went to shit.

    "It's Gods Must be Crazy except the Coke bottle is now a TV actress." "Exactly, it's Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman." made me crack up completely. I can't stop giggling at these people and their awful pitches.

    Oh, I miss movies like this, with writing and characters and cinematography that isn't just cyan/orange filters. I want everyone involved in that Fantastic Beasts flick to watch this, and then blow their brains out in shame.

    "Can we talk about something other than Hollywood for a change? We're educated people." … … [laughter]

    Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is kind of too easy-going to have his job, but he steps up to crazy eventually. Vincent D'Onofrio didn't have his known career of being a crazy person yet, so his unstable writer act now looks too obvious.

    "I would hate to get the wrong person arrested." "Oh please. This is Pasadena. We do not arrest the wrong person. That's L.A., see, L.A., they kick your ass, and then they arrest you." A year after Rodney King.

    The first act is great, just a perfect storm of everything coming down on Griffin Mill. Second act develops his guilt and romance, and it's fine, but a little slow. Third act should be a massive storm of catastrophe, but instead nothing happens. Rich people get to be rich and goof around.

    ★★★★☆

Spoiler screenshot but this is the story they wrote and inserted into the paper:

player-newspaper

What I'm Watching: Bosch, Tales From the Loop

I have 'zon Prime for shipping, but the video channel's good sometimes.

Bosch, S6: Hieronymous Bosch (inexplicably, an ex-Marine LAPD pig detective, not a Dutch painter) continues to always be right, thug his way thru cases, and it's an agreeable enough crime drama. This season has 4 main stories:

  1. Sovereign Citizen group is suspected of domestic terrorism, extorting dangerous materials, and being rude to pigs, and so they're portrayed very badly. I can't tell if the writers are aware of how shitty the LAPD is and are using the "308s" to hold up a mirror, or if they actually believe the paramilitary bullshit. Bonus, the cute Feebee agent and some douchebag G-Men are kind of the anti-X-Files; they do not want to believe.
  2. Cold case of a street girl's death, daughter of one of the junkies from last season's drug camp.
  3. Chief Daniels or whatever he's called here running for Mayor but unwilling to play dirty which is an obvious career-limiting move AND is inconsistent with previous behavior.
  4. Jedgar (Marlo Stanfield's actor continuing to amuse me as a cop) spending an implausible amount on clothing for a supposedly clean LAPD pig and hunting down a war criminal from his native Haiti who's now killed cops here.

Which is all a little busy, and then every one of the major cast gets a half-ep or more B-story about them, and I really don't care about a lot of these. A serious editing pass would've cut half the content and treated what's left with twice the detail.

Jedgar's story is by far the most complex, but it gets the least screen time, and the conclusion's mess is going to have to be next season. Bosch's story is sordid, and mostly just him knocking on doors, few firefights like last season's adventure.

There is far less annoying jazz (but I repeat myself) than previous seasons, at home Bosch is mostly listening to lounge singers instead of the whiniest trumpets he can find, which is a great relief to those of us with hearing.

★★★½☆


Tales From the Loop

High in the North in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain.
It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak.
When the mountain has thus been worn away a single day of eternity will have passed.
—Hendrik Willem van Loon, History of Mankind (1922)

And that's what it feels like to watch this show. Nothing happens. Eternity passes. More nothing happens. A magical event is never explained. An old annoying man acts preachy for a moment. The episode ends with no meaning or purpose.

The premises range from "what if time travel, but boring?" to "Freaky Friday, but boring", and on and on ripping off Twilight Zone or Disney movies without the action.

☆☆☆☆☆