- Low Winter Sun: Terrible train-wreck ending to an otherwise great show. Was it intentional that the show fuck up and choke to death on its own vomit just like Detroit, or ironic coincidence?
Marcella: Season 2! I somehow didn’t write about S1: Mentally unstable woman detective comes back to work chasing a serial killer or copycat of her old case. She has another breakdown, commits as many crimes as she solves, and then tries to cover up her shit. That was good, if at times heavy on the melodrama. ★★★½☆
S2 follows her chasing a child murderer. Unfortunately this is Law & Order: SVU bullshit; reality is that child rape or murder by strangers is incredibly uncommon, so their approach of looking at randoms instead of family, teachers, or priests is unproductive.
Marcella’s also being pretty high and mighty for as shitty a person as she is. In S1 she lasted whole eps before melting down. This is all badly written by idiots, everyone spends half their time screaming incoherently at everyone.
I bailed on this after S2E1. ☆☆☆☆☆
The Staircase: Documentary of Michael Peterson’s alleged murder of his wife Kathleen. Between the writer suspect, and some of the very weird lawyers and experts, there’s much more interesting speech and events than most of these true crime shows. Still pretty dry but not stupid.
Goliath (Amazon Prime): A man blows up on a boat. Two years later, the sister recruits a wannabe strip-mall lawyer who recruits a washed-up drunk lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton!!!) to sue. Slightly overwrought legal drama against the evil supervillain lawyer (William Hurt!), and then the crazy conspiracy levels start ramping up, babykillers keep their lawyers in the dark. Good conspiracy show with scruffy protagonists. They ought to play the Imperial March every time the Evil Lawyer Firm is onscreen. The one down side is Amazon Prime’s unspeakably shitty video player, which makes me hate watching any serious show where I may need to rewind. Fuck Amazon. But ★★★★½ for the show.
What I’m Watching: The Lava Field, El Ministerio Del Tiempo, Low Winter Sun, Intelligence, The Break with Michelle Wolf, Steve Martin & Martin Short
- The Lava Field: Dour, sometimes angry Icelandic cops chase down a faked suicide, with drug-dealing bikers named “Skipper” (no Li’l Buddy), and gloomy mourning at a child’s grave. Basically perfect, even if it’s only 4 eps. ★★★★★
- El Ministerio Del Tiempo: A modern paramedic with a death wish, a smart 19th C girl, and a Renaissance swordsman become time cops in Spain. Very smart and funny, possibly the regionalism and low-budget classic Dr Who-isms will grate after a while but it’s good as of a couple eps in. ★★★★½
- Low Winter Sun: Detroit cops murder one of their own and then try to cover it up. Detroit is bleak, bleaker than you probably even think. Some police procedural, some small cop shop dramedy, some lives of the would-be gangsters in this shithole. Slower than I’d like and doesn’t wrap up anything per ep, but I’m still along for it as of s1e4. I have to have the subtitles on for some accents, even tho they supposedly speak English in Detroit. ★★★★½
- Intelligence (2005): Never heard of this when it was on, Canadian major crimes & espionage (much closer to post-9/11) try operating snitches and surveilling criminals. They kinda suck at it, but Canadian criminals aren’t that terrifying, either. Matt Frewer (Max Fucking Headroom!) is a good treacherous bastard. LOOOONG-ass pilot movie. ★★★★☆
- The Break with Michelle Wolf: Fresh from defeating the humorless orange gibbon at the White House roast, sure, I’ll give her a short stand-up shot. Rude question: Did she have a stroke? Thus explaining the weird smirk and her voice? Yow, very hard to look at or listen to. Hit with a few jokes. The Alexa and Strong Female Lead video clips were amusing but not hilarious. She may improve, she did infinitely better than my final guests… ★★★☆☆
- Steve Martin & Martin Short: I used to like Steve Martin on SNL and a while after, and then he fossilized. Marty Short is like a ventriloquist’s puppet loose and off his meds. I dunno what I hoped for, but this was the opposite of it in every way. This is where humor goes to die. ☆☆☆☆☆
What I’m Watching: Hap and Leonard
I watched S1 when it first came on, I love Joe Lansdale and an adaptation of his dirt-poor ’80s Texas dark comedy/mysteries should be fantastic.
Sadly, S1 was pretty dull, there’s some treachery but a lot of forgettable driving around Texas, and most of the supporting cast were the worst kind of walking meatsticks rather than actors. But it was great having Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar Little) playing cowboy Leonard, and James Purefoy (foppish Mark Anthony in Rome) as ex-hippy Hap has aged into a passable Fred Ward-like tired old hooligan. ★★☆☆☆
S2 is massively better. A kid’s body under Leonard’s dead uncle Chester’s house leads to these two knuckleheads trying to investigate, as Chester had previously, with a mob of women with missing kids led by… no small personage… And there’s a carnival which is always fun/terrifying, and my own biases confirmed when they get down to the killer.
This time most of the cast are competent; the killer is, sadly, one of the walking meatsticks and not convincing. MeMaw’s great. The flexible redhead in the carny is amazing and I may be rewatching her a few times. Even the shitheel Texan pigs are complex for shitheel pigs and played out well enough.
Only real complaint is even at 6 eps, it’s too long, this could be done in 4 or less.
S3 is going to be the KKK story, which should be fun, in a Blazing Saddles, Fletch Lives, Django Unchained kinda way.
“I tell ya. I ain’t never been more proud to be an atheist than I am today.” “Amen to that!”
Hap & Leonard in a church parking lot
What I’m Watching: Film Noir Edition
Went for some rewatching of good films instead of trying to dig up a new Netflix binge. Spoilers spoilers everywhere. I’m sure nobody needs another commentary on either of these, but it’s my blog and I like writing these, so fuck it.
- A History of Violence: Quiet (too quiet and long) start, then we see small-town diner jerk Tom Stall exhibit skills no small-town diner jerk should have, and all the shit in the world comes back on him.
The stairway sex scene is the canonical “is that sex or rape?” borderline: It sure starts rapey, but takes a turn, and is the opposite of the earlier cheerleader outfit scene, because the wife has to learn who her husband really is; Cronenberg’s sex scenes are the most important character tests in his films, Crash most obviously but just as much here or in Videodrome.
The boy’s inherited talents/same fight choreographer as his dad are impressive, but I don’t think he’d have that vocabulary. The ending moves in like an oncoming train. Just a malevolent noir flick. I’m glad Cronenberg didn’t fully adapt the very cartoony ending (chainsaws and 20-year tortures!) of the John Wagner & Vince Locke graphic novel, even if in other of his films that’d be a relatively mild scene. ★★★★★
- Pulp Fiction: “None of you fucking pigs move, or I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!”
“Say what again! I dare you!”
“Why do we feel it’s necessary to yack about bullshit in order to be comfortable?” “Do not be bringing some fucked-up puba to my house!” I don’t really like the Mia Wallace date. She’s a little too in control to be a cokehead, Vincent’s too alert to be a junkie on new good shit. Disco dancing is still and always dead, but hey, Tarantino wanted to make one scene of a film he loved (speaking of films full of indifference to rape, don’t ever watch Saturday Night Fever). Even back in the day, a lot of people didn’t understand why snorting heroin like coke was a bad idea, but that baggie instead of balloon setup was like a ticking time bomb. Amusing set decoration: Operation and Life games in the dealer’s house in that scene.
“Five long years he bore this watch up his ass, then he died of dysentery.” The book Vincent was reading is Modesty Blaise, so it’s a hardcover comic collection? Just a prop making a cool reference? I dunno, I read Modesty when it was in the paper in my youth, and some collections more recently. Sex and quick bursts of violence were her MO, but not otherwise thematically connected to the film.
“Bring out the gimp.” Eeeny-meeney is a bad way to go. What’s the gimp’s story, anyway? This whole segment is just a lesson of why you don’t ever go in a building with Confederate flags up, even to save your life, because Southern Confederate traitors are all same-sex rapists, as also seen in Deliverance. “You lost all your LA privileges, hear?”
“You read the Bible, Brett?” This part of Ezekiel “25:17” being faux-quoted was recently covered by The Bible Reloaded — possibly this episode or one very recent to it. I have a problem with Vincent’s shitty firearm safety, nobody carries a gun with their finger on the trigger. “You know what’s on my mind right now? It’s not the coffee in my kitchen.” Jimmy’s coffee and The Wolf are fucking amazing.
“Then I’m gonna walk the Earth. You know, like Caine in Kung Fu. Walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures.”: Why didn’t someone made this TV show, Jules in a modern Kung Fu?! Yeah, Sam Jackson was too expensive even then, but he’s gotta have an understudy who could do the actual series, like Eric Pierpont played Mandy Patinkin’s part in the Alien Nation series, or Michael Shanks played James Spader’s part in SG-1. Did you even notice or care it wasn’t the original dude? Nope.
I don’t even need to give stars to my 4th favorite movie of all time.
What I’m Watching: SpaceX, Collateral, Borderliner, Death in Paradise
- SpaceX Falcon Heavy, Starman video: A private rocket put an electric car in solar orbit on its way to Mars, with Bowie songs as accompaniment. Heinlein’s Delos Harriman from “The Man Who Sold the Moon” and “Requiem” would be proud but very confused at it taking until 2018. ★★★★★
- Collateral: Pizza boy is killed, and then an endlessly dull police procedural rarely looks at the procedure, instead a bunch of associated characters stop and stare in silence, with occasional whinging, which is to say they’re English. The immigration story about the victim’s family could be interesting, but it’s told very slowly and haltingly. Billie Piper is awful and petulant, which is to say she’s Billie Piper. Labour MP is a whiner, which is to say he’s a Labour MP. A whiny lesbian COE priest shacked up with a cute Vietnamese girl can’t be happy despite living in the first decade in history she wouldn’t be burned at the stake. The killer’s story isn’t well-told, but there’s a story there. For who the killer is, their operational security skills are amateurish and just plain stupid.
Cinematography is annoying, often massively desaturated, out-of-focus “artsy” shots that just look like nothing, then conversations are very hot, flipping camera between people. I hate this soap opera shit, I prefer a cooler, movie-like style. It’s not all teal/orange, but it’s not natural lighting, either.
Gave up on this after E2. I have got to stop watching English crime dramas, because my usual mild Anglophobia at these physically and mentally ugly people is turning into full-on “reenact the Revolutionary War”. Back to French, Dutch, and Scandinavian stuff, and I think there’s some Korean shows I haven’t seen.
- Borderliner: Norwegian cop Niko goes home to his small-town family of cops and then gets tangled up in a murder his brother is involved in, and partnered with a very pretty blonde. Procedure isn’t bad, doesn’t jump around between characters too much. Norwegians seem to just say what they mean (or speak a lie straight up) and get on with the plot, which is so refreshing after a buncha whinging English. They are professional brooders, grim figures casting grim shadows even when young and nominally happy, but it comes off stoic and not whiny.
Their reluctance to throw the obvious psychopath in the group to the wolves makes this take longer than needed. Niko’s prior case is hanging like Chekov’s gun for a long time until it goes off.
The War on Some Drugs that drives the plot is stupid, and these stoic, quiet Norwegians and Swedes don’t really have the cutthroat mentality and heavy firearms to do serious drug business.
Anyway, eight eps in, it’s done and ends on a dark, quiet brood. ★★★★☆
- Death in Paradise: Still going at S4. Stupid fun, tho Humphrey is the most pathetic detective ever.
What I’m Watching: Death in Paradise
- Death in Paradise: Dorkiest of all dorky English dork DIs Dick Poole is sent to a Carribean island to solve the weekly mystery murders with sexy local DI Camille Bordey and goofy island cops (Dwayne is Danny John-Jules, Cat of Red Dwarf fame!). Too perfectly fit puzzles, no random craziness, but good comfort watching.
[Update 2018-03-07] S3 replaces Dick with Humphrey Dogood or some such, hapless and disorganized, almost a parody of a detective, and many eps use repetitive flashbacks, and people standing next to people monologuing, rather than conversations. The supposed screenwriter in one ep is writing a script full of novel-like editorializing, rather than an actual script, which suggests to me they fired all the writers and hired amateurs. Looking at the list of episodes backs that up; eps not written by Robert Thorogood are mostly dire. The appearance of Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon!) is a nice surprise. I miss ’80s TV shows that would recycle actors constantly.
What I’m Watching: Get Out, Atomic Blonde
Get Out: ’60s-’70s horror movies could start with a girl walking alone in risk of being murdered, because it was the Golden Age of Serial Killers; now post-Trayvon you feel just as tense for a black guy walking in fucking suburbia, or at a roadside police stop, or at a white country house, just as justifiably.
The “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” parents and sibling are spine-crawlingly uncomfortable. The black servants are weird as hell. Even if there was nothing scary going on, this is one of the most socially terrifying things ever.
And when someone screams at you “GET OUT”, you get the fuck out.
Atomic Blonde: Based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City”. MTV-era music, good period props & sets. But the 21st C cancer of teal-and-orange film tinting part 2 is hideous and grossly offensive to my ’80s-era eyes. Occasionally a shot is in period hot blue and pink neon, or a weird gel like green & yellow, but not enough. ’80s colors POPPED.
Charlize is a competent ass-kicker in the dancer-doing-fight-choreography style, not talkative or an especially convincing actress, her clipped South African accent can’t pass for English or anything but maybe Dutch or German. But this doesn’t require much more than action. Chick version of Arnie.
The lesbian sex is perfunctory, unattractive, and uncommented on; that’s not plausible for anyone in that era, who would’ve used it as lethal leverage against a spy.
The McGuffin of a list, the spy plot barely matters. It’s a bunch of cool scenes. The two fake ending scenes after the interrogation room are so brain-damaged stupid and unnecessary I have to assume they were written by Hollywood producers (who never had a bowl of soup they wouldn’t “improve” by pissing in it), not the original writer.
★★★½☆ mostly because the tinting so offended me.
What I’m Watching: Travelers, La Mante
New year, new Netflix; it’s kind of weird how quickly Netflix has gone from “I want to watch old TV shows & movies” to “source of all good new shows”.
- Travelers[sic] S2: Most eps this season are either the big flu story, a plot by the Faction, or pursuing Traveler 001. The problem is, the Faction is right, and their solution would work better than incremental tiny changes by a tyrannical AI. Traveler 001 is an unusually skilled person to send back as a guinea pig, and not the kind of mistake I believe the Director capable of.
Still, burned thru the season in 3 days. S2E7, “17 Minutes”, is the best actual time travel story of the entire series yet, repeated attempts to use minor changes and “reloading” to solve a bigger problem.
- La Mante: The Mantis is a woman vigilante, like a female Dexter, whom they imprisoned and call a “serial killer” despite her only having killed people who deserved it. Now a serial killer copycat is recreating her executions, and she offers her “help” on a condition.
The French police in this series are much less professional than other such dramas, occupying nice historical buildings with dubious security, doing everything off the books, half-assed, keeping secrets they shouldn’t keep. They bunch up and walk into ambushes like complete amateurs.
Having the heir apparent outsider supercop (in comparison to the other idiot flic) be named “Captain Carrot” is obviously a Terry Pratchett reference? But they aren’t that fun, this is a grim, maudlin, humorless show, and at no point is anyone sympathetic except Jeanne, our Mantis.
As the eps go on, the coincidences get less and less plausible, the last suspect to be the killer is ridiculous but telegraphed far ahead. There’s an exchange, “We’ll rescue you safe and sound. Everything will be OK.” with Carrot and The Mantis, which just made me laugh and laugh, since so obviously she’s not the one who needs protection.
I don’t know that I liked it, but at just 6 episodes I was willing to keep going.
What I’m Watching: Bright, Longmire, Magicians, It Comes at Night, Fortitude
- Bright: Shadowrun 2017, crossed with Alien Nation and Training Day.
“Everywhere I go, why have Orcs always gotta be the bad guys?” “Don’t look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the Alamo.”
Well, the racist assholes have a point with the Orcs. I dislike the green-pale streak makeup, and they just have penis-noses instead of proper pig-noses. They’re doing properly menial and militant work, but I got no sympathy for the species. Elves are as graceful and psychopathic as you’d like. Other than a single shot of a Centaur, and mention of Dwarfs, no others of the “9 Races” are ever brought up. Humans of every color seem to have no beef, since they can “Other” the non-Humans.
Somehow culture & tech are the same as our 2017, despite a massive war against a Dark Lord 2000 years ago; I think the Dark Ages starting 400 years early and full of magic races would change things. Shadowrun had the excuse that magic and monsters were gone for thousands of years (since 3113 BCE), until the Sixth World started (in 2011 CE).
Almost all the secondary chars are awfully written, and parts of the plot just dangle and vanish.
Reasonably good fight & chase scenes. The Magic Wand (“a nuclear bomb that grants wishes”) is a good McGuffin, but far too OP.
The fighting skills of even high-level Elven mages are overstated. Maybe the Elven assassins, sure, but a mage without her Wand?
Mostly I enjoyed it, but it’s basically a B-movie with a huge budget. Hawk the Slayer is a better film. Netflix is already working on a sequel, with Will Smith coming back.
Longmire: Final season was adequate, but almost entirely resolving dangling plot threads from the characters, not standalone cowboy/Indian rez mysteries which is what I started watching for. Lou Diamond Philips as Henry Standing Bear has very little to do, and semi-useless NPCs spend a lot of time on screen. Even so, the Cheyenne (and one Crow) characters and politics are worth watching it for.
★★★☆☆ for S6, ★★★★☆ or more for S1-5.
The Magicians: Pretty young rich white people (PYRWP) discover they have magic (no Hagrid) and are spared the hardship of going to Harvard or Yale. Whiniest of the PYRWP discovers his favorite fairy tale book is real, so doesn’t mind that his only friend is kicked out. Token minority is an unbelievable asshole who should get cancer of the hate organ. Ice princess, catty slut, and gay slut PYRWP follow whiny boy and token asshole around despite their average Intelligence, Wisdom, & Charisma scores of -6. Gay slut kinda grows on me as he has some self-awareness. Ice princess has unrealistic expectations of her whiny, mentally ill “boyfriend”.
Magic school rejects turn on each other like New York rats with less empathy. The magic system is nonsense which exists only to show cheesy visual FX and make hedge mages behave like crack junkies.
Racism is overwhelming. Don’t be black in this show: SPOILER: Black Dean is blinded & hands maimed. A black magician goes catatonic & is “mercy killed”. In S2 the four PYRWP all get crowned as kings and queens, while the token asshole gets his hands cut off like a slave in Columbus’ Hispaniola or the Belgian Congo. I don’t know if this show is made by actual Nazis or just ignorant honkies.
But the plot saves this from being a total train wreck. I love the fairy tale world gone bad and the broken kids who went into it; it’s not TOO fairy-tale but doesn’t operate according to reason. The villains are there for good reasons, and are willing to do anything. Everyone uses what shitty skills they have to solve problems.
With a totally different cast and less entitled, racist premise, this could be a good show instead of a hate-binge.
This also matches somewhat with the magic school RPG I’ve been designing, tho the PCs aren’t required to be PYRWP, and my magic system isn’t finger-twiddling gibberish.
It Comes at Night: After a deadly plague, taking in tenants is a bad idea especially if you’re paranoid. Excruciatingly slow and often repetitive, setup as something like a monster movie but it’s not at all. Like The Road without the sense of camaraderie, adventure, and hope. Credit: The racially mixed cast is not abused for racism.
Fortitude (Amazon): Arctic outpost town, surrounded by hungry polar bears. Norwegians funding a hotel, wrecked by local problems. “We have no crime. So we don’t know if he’s a good sheriff or a bad sheriff.” The latter, it turns out.
And then there’s a really weird murder. Kinda deliberately like Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure with only a very little humor. I don’t like anyone but the crazy old guy and the American investigator, everyone else is self-destructive in annoying ways. And yet… Still going. Good winter viewing. As the emergency gets worse, people get worse to each other, which is what I like to see.
Accents are all over the place, London English, but then there’s Irish, American, and some spectacularly bad Russian-like English, some of which are supposed to be Norwegian. I watch too many subtitled Scandinavian crime dramas to be able to tolerate this lack-of-translation bullshit anymore.
I dunno if having Frank and his son, the only black people for 1000 miles, who SPOILER REDACTED, is racist but it’s not great.
Very unhappy with their “Next Time” spoilers right BEFORE the fucking credits with no warning. Hate you, stupid Sky TV producers who do this shit.
I don’t want to be harping on the racism, it’s not my fight, but it’s so obvious in some shows. I feel like the last few years have had more non-white characters but treated them with far worse racism than before.
There’s a lot of sexism, rapes, and sex-shaming in The Magicians and Fortitude, too, but I have a hard time telling that apart from “normal” TV prudery where all sex except in obedient 1950s marriages is Bad & Wrong.
What I’m Watching: Hand of God, Stranger Things, Michel Clayton, Jack Taylor, The Gates
- Hand of God: Ron Perlman as a Judge who has hallucinations leading him to the man who destroyed his family. I saw S1 last year and loved it, but the cliffhanger dangled annoyingly. S2’s chasing down the consequences of his God-or-not-fueled crimes. I love his desperation and horror. And Dana Delany is still the hot slightly older chick. ★★★★★
- Stranger Things: S2 is a predictable, fairly lame repeat of S1. I’m not done, but maybe won’t finish. I want new horrors in new crappy ’80s towns. ★★★☆☆
- Michel Clayton: Boring person’s name is a terrible movie title. A good slow-burning, tense, psychological thriller, in the style of Grisham novels/movies but less trite. I’m a little astounded this got made, tho Hollywoo inserted one good explosion scene, and played it 3 times. ★★★★☆
- Jack Taylor: In this show, all Irish people are drunks, sluts, crooks (mostly learned from the English), and bums. Which is fine, if rude. But it makes it hard to empathize with Jack or his shitty clients or shitty suspects. ★★★☆☆
- The Gates: Trashy suburban drama with vampires, werewolves, witches, and a new cop with an even more fantastical panopticon surveillance system. This isn’t high art, and it’s not the kind of grim horror or splatterpunk I usually like, but I’m amused, at least when drunk, at the stupid catty shenanigans they get into. ★★★½☆ but don’t judge me for watching this.