Recent movies and tv

Ok, maybe not so recent, I guess the last time I did one of these was ten months ago.

This is not everything that I've watched -- just some that I had something to say about. I saw many other things that were both terrible and yet also not really worthy of comment.

Counterpart: This is my favorite series of the last year. It's a Cold War spy story set in Berlin, in the modern day, except the "wall" is between universes that have diverged only slightly. J. K. Simmons does a fantastic job playing both versions of himself, even when one is impersonating the other.

Killing Eve: The great thing about this show is how it bounces back and forth between glamorizing this cool, hot assassin (a thing that we have seen so many times) and then rubbing your nose in the fact that she's actually murdering people and that's horrible. Then right back to, "But look how sweet it is when she flirts via home invasion and kidnapping! Awwww!" Great acting and some great writing; plot has a few too many convenient coincidences.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: I enjoyed this a lot. The acting is sometimes a little stiff, but it's fun. The comic that it's based on is good, too, and much darker.

Strange Angel: Jack Parsons, rocketry pioneer and Thelemite mystical loony. It takes a little while for the first season to dig in to the Crowley stuff, but once it does it's really fun.

Look Away: This was a pretty solid "haunted mirror" movie. As an entry in that well-trod genre, it doesn't have a whole lot of surprises, but it's well done.

Nightflyers (2018): I ffwd'd through most of this. It's absolute garbage. I'd call it a rip-off of Event Horizon but that's not vicious enough -- it's a rip-off of Cloverfield Paradox, right down to the space ship's idiotic design. Yet another space ship that has spinning rings, but in the sets, "down" is along the axis, because gravity totally works that way? Remember all the good feelings that The Expanse gave you when they got physics right? Yeah, watch this to have all of that just faaaaade away. Oh, also all the characters are awful and their motivation for being out there at all is ...?

Nightfliyers (1987): I rewatched this because I had some vague fond memories of it. I was wrong. It's better than the 2018 version, I guess? Barely?

Haunting of Hill House: Not bad, but took entirely too long to get to the point. Also the interminable "happy ending" final episode could have been skipped.

Siren: I'm glad to see that The Lure and Grinding Nemo The Shape of Water have revitalized the "carnivorous mermaid" genre. This series is about a small town and their mermaid problem. It's a little bro-y, but the mermaids are nicely vicious.

Blue My Mind: Mermaidism as puberty, so basically a fishy Ginger Snaps. It's dark, I liked it.

Bad Times At The El Royale: This is a pretty glorious Tarantino-esque... heist movie, I guess? It was really fun all the way through. The trailer gives away too much, don't watch it.

Hereditary: Genuinely scary, with very subtle effects that are way more effective for it. And it doesn't over-explain itself.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch: I suppose this admission will lose me some nerd cred, but: I have always hated multiple-choice video games. In fact, I even dislike most modern games that simulate having a "plot" by locking you onto rails like it's Dragon's Lair or something. But this was well reviewed, and so I was happy to have found a torrent of it that was just a flat version of the movie, with a few resets edited in to see most of the endings, so that I could just watch it instead of needing to play it. Well, it's all pretty lame and doesn't make much sense. I'm so glad I didn't waste my time manually traversing a flowchart just to get there.

Incredibles 2: I expected this to be good, but I didn't get around to seeing it until recently, and here's what I don't understand: how did nobody tell me that one of the villains is called Screenslaver? Because I totally would have seen it sooner.

A Quiet Place: Yet another entry in the "You incurious motherfuckers, how are you still alive??" genre. Also it's "all about fambly." Hooray. Oh, I loved the part in the middle where they say, "We're safe here by the waterfall because it's so loud." Yes, by all means let's not stay here. Fuck this movie.

Bird Box: This is exactly the same movie as A Quiet Place except that the screenwriter did not have a concussion. The plot holes are... smaller, the acting is better, but there's really not much more to it. "Better than A Quiet Place" is a low bar.

Peppermint: Jennifer Garner Gets Revenge. It's simple but it blows up real good.

Assassination Nation: The first 2/3rds of this were a fun rehash of Heathers via Mean Girls, and I was down for that, but then it turned into The Purge and I 100% lost interest. Rarely has the third act of a movie lost me so hard: I had been fully onboard before that. It was better than Tragedy Girls, at least.

Thoroughbreds: Teen Girl Psychopaths is turning into a genre now, isn't it? Well, this is a more enjoyable entry in the genre than the above.

Never Goin' Back: This is what use used to call a "slacker movie" back when it was about Gen X. I really enjoyed watching these high dumbasses and their terrible, failed grifts and poop jokes.

The Spy Who Dumped Me: It's got a definite Romy and Michelle feel to it.

I Still See You: Suddenly the world is full of ghosts, and nobody knows how to deal with it and is really sad. Maybe they're trying to communicate? Maybe they're echoes? Maybe they're in hell? I liked this a lot, and it's one of the rare movies where I actually hope they do a sequel, because there's more of this world to explore. It's sort of like the Ghostbusters sequel advocated for in this Twitter thread:

I want a ghostbusters movie set in the immediate aftermath of the first one that's about regular new yorkers grappling with the knowledge that the soul persists past the death of the body, but sometimes you end up as a green monster man.
"Who you gonna call?" "My therapist, I guess."

Happytime Murders: I hope they never make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but this will do, Pig. This will do.

Upgrade: A guy is possessed by his device driver. The effects on the fight scenes are really good; a lot of it feels practical, even if it isn't. The plot is... eh.

Tau: A creep kidnaps a woman and she escapes by befriending his house and teaching it that it was a real boy after all. Not bad, but predictable.

Next Gen: A girl and her robot battle Steve Jobs. This was really fun, very much in the vein of Iron Giant.

Elizabeth Harvest: Bluebeard has a clone vat. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's pretty.

Siberia: This will do while we're waiting for more John Wick.

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47 Responses:

  1. ajs124 says:

    Not sure if this will be relevant to anyone else here, but looking through these trailers, one movie that really stood out to me was Blue My Mind for being in frigging Swiss German (aka Schwizerdütsch).

  2. Dan says:

    Re: Nightflyers, both were based on a George R. R. Martin novella from 1980/1981. The story is OK, but it's impossible to see how it could be successfully adapted into a movie. I still have the issue of Analog it was originally published in!

    • jwz says:

      I remember reading that story and enjoying it, though I don't remember much about it any more. That was way back before the disappointing time when he switched from writing kind-of-weird science fiction, to exclusively writing doorstops about faux-15th century guys with swords.

      • Dan says:

        I re-read the story back when the Nightflyers show was announced. I had forgotten a lot in the 35(!) years since I'd last read it. It was good, pretty weird like a lot of his 70's/80's sci-fi work. If you can scrounge up a copy of "Tuf Voyaging" I recommend it. It's a fix-up novel, but I really like the stories when they were originally published in Analog.

        • Kyle Huff says:

          Love Tuf Voyaging.
          I mostly stopped reading Martin after the first run Wild Cards. I have a few of the doorstops in hardcover, but never got around to reading them.

      • David E. Konerding says:

        Echoing the praise for Tuf Voyaging but I suspect you have already read it.

    • The only thing I know about Nightflyers is it was the other half of the Ace Double containing True Names. Never even tempted to read it.

      Tuf Voyaging is indeed great though. Also Sandkings, both the story and the collection, from which my favorite is The Way of Cross and Dragon.

      • Dan says:

        I have that Ace Double as well. "True Names" was interesting, but definitely a product of the time! It's always fun to go back and see how computers were portrayed, especially by someone with the CS and writing cred of Vinge.

  3. Nick Lamb says:

    I don't think there was ever a chance you'd enjoy Bandersnatch given you don't like the premise. Still though, I have to say that trying to "watch" someone else's play through rather than actually see it as intended strikes me as like insisting on watching a 3D movie without the glasses. Like, fine, just don't watch it, there's plenty of other things. One of my friends teaches hypertext or hypermedia or whatever they're calling it these days, and Bandersnatch is useful because it basically does everything so you can say "OK, try Bandersnatch and then we're going to use that in class". e.g. it has dummy choices that make no difference, choices that immediately dead-end if you choose wrong, choices that re-converge, choices that loop, choices that set variables which matter later, and so on. Whereas before he had to invoke a bunch of tech demos and crusty old stuff like CYOA books to show that there's more going on than the surface.

    I enjoyed the first John Wick but it's like the Grant Morrison versions of Superman. Best to stop before I have long enough to think about it and realise how little sense all of that just made. I don't understand the enthusiasm for more John Wick. So maybe I'll get more out of Siberia for not being John Wick?

    • Pavel says:

      More like watching a Let's Play, or a sports game, which people do all the time.

    • Zygo says:

      > I don't understand the enthusiasm for more John Wick.

      John Wick is awesome to have playing in the background while doing code reviews. Any time I'm thinking "this review is a waste of my time that makes me desire egregiously violent revenge against its author", I just look from the laptop to the TV for a few seconds, and there it is, and the rest of the time there's not much distracting dialogue.

    • jwz says:

      I don't think there was ever a chance you'd enjoy Bandersnatch given you don't like the premise.

      This is a crazy thing to say. Just because I don't enjoy playing that kind of video game doesn't mean I can't enjoy a movie about someone making one. I also have no interest in being an international assassin, or in spending all day at the gym training to be a parkour vigilante, but I certainly enjoy the occasional movie about those people. That's why it's fiction.

      Perhaps your argument is, "It wasn't a movie, it was a game."

      Well, A) you're wrong, and B) that movie/game had a lame-assed plot.

      • Kyle Huff says:

        Netflix has had a Puss In Boots thing that is similar, but almost every "wrong" choice resets back to the other one, and it has a "back" system so you don't have to do it more than once.

    • MattyJ says:

      I'm just now coming to realize that 'bandersnatch' was a pre-existing thing and this, apparently, isn't a documentary about Eclair Bandersnatch ...? Because that's a documentary I would like to watch.

    • MattyJ says:

      I don't understand the enthusiasm for more John Wick.

      I will defend John Wick to the death.

      The trick it/they pulled off was taking a thoroughly unrealistic, egregious body count and balancing that with seemingly normal dialog humans might use in real life plus a total lack of exposition, to the point where at the end you're thinking 'seems reasonable, I'd do that for my dog.'

      For those of us that enjoy movies on a more technical level, the fight choreography, stunt work, cinematography, weapons work and hell, even the costumes, were very well done. That the first John Wick wasn't even nominated for a sound design Oscar is an egregious oversight and the academy should be ashamed.

      • jwz says:

        Yes, all of this. It was a very simple movie that managed an incredible level of technical excellence at every underlying level. Even the simplicity of the plot was very much an example of, “the script is perfect when there is nothing else to take away.”

        I also loved the second one for its bonkers world building, but it needed the first movie to set up those questions.

  4. Pedro says:

    I'm surprised you didn't see Mandy. It's from the director of Beyond the Black Rainbow, which I know you saw because this blog is how I found out about it.

    Some more stuff which I don't think you've covered: In the "disposable entertainment" category:
    - Hotel Artemis
    - Terminal - Ultimately I'd say this was a failure, but at least it's a visually interesting failure
    - Solo - A Star Wars Story - Not as good as Rogue One but better than my (admittedly low) expectations
    - Tomb Raider - Thought it was OK, though the prevailing opinion seems to be negative. Still a million times better than the Angelina Jolie ones.
    - Molly (2017, but I only saw it last week) - Fun, if you're the type that can tolerate extremely low budget productions
    - The Villainess (2017 again) - The character relationships feel too soap-opera-ish, but holy shit the effects and camera work in this! The opening and closing sequences alone would make it worth watching.

    In the not-so-disposable entertainment category:
    - Annihilation - I fucking loved this. It's not perfect - the plot & character actions don't always hold up to scrutiny, the ending is trying a little too hard to channel 2001 - but I'm a sucker for Roadside Picnic-alikes and they don't come much better than this.
    - Hold the Dark - not as good as Green Room or even Blue Ruin, but still good
    - You Were Never Really Here - Seems to have split opinions. I'm in the thumbs up camp, but beware, it's heavy stuff
    - Leave No Trace - Just lovely

    • Zygo says:

      "Didn't you date that guy for a while? Who is he?"

      "He's my ex, Screenslaver."

    • jwz says:

      I have seen many of those, and mostly disliked them, but I didn't write about everything I saw.

      I tried to watch Mandy twice and fell asleep. I may try again.

      Solo was absolute garbage. Tomb Raider was ok, I guess. Absolutely despised Annihilation. But I knew I would because I couldn't make it 100 pages into the book.

      • ennui says:

        on the other hand, Solo was so bad that it saved me from seeing Star Wars extruded product at Xmas with the family. We saw The Favorite instead, which was amazing. It's a lesbian 'Dangerous Liasons' but both funnier and darker. Watch it just for the totally accurate portrayal of the British aristocracy...

        • MattyJ says:

          +1 on The Favourite (make sure you see the one with the British spelling.) Not normally my kind of thing but it's just off-kilter enough to be very entertaining. If you liked The Lobster (same director) then you should like this. If you didn't like The Lobster, you still might like this one.

      • Kyle Huff says:

        I am puzzled by the love for Annihilation. I thought sci-fi nerds had a higher standard for this sort of thing.

        • Nick Lamb says:

          Lots of things can be labelled Sci-Fi. Personally I would not consider Annihilation to be Science Fiction because it isn't really driven by a "What if?" question, but plenty of the fans who resulted in libraries and book stores having an "SF/ Fantasy" section would consider it Sci-Fi presumably on the same rationale that music stores used to file almost every single artist I liked as "Rock / Pop".

          Space Opera with FTL in it still sells really, really well and would definitely be in that "SF/ Fantasy" section, and these stories like "Annihilation" or "Never Let Me Go" which put in place some flimsy contrivance for the author's philosophical witterings are hardly playing any faster or looser than complete disregard for how causality works. In the end for commercial purposes Atwood is right that Science Fiction is the genre of spaceships and robots, whatever I might think about that.

          • jwz says:

            There's no point in trying to define the difference between "science fiction" and "fantasy", and the distinction is definitely not an inciting "What If" question. Were that the case, Game of Thrones would be science fiction because it's "What if the Wars of the Roses but longer, rapier and with dragons?"

            "Some flimsy contrivance for the author's philosophical witterings" sounds like The Good Place, and that show is awesome. Is it science fiction? I don't know but I would totally watch an episode where Chidi grapples with that question on the whiteboard.

            • Nick Lamb says:

              Simultaneously believing that there's no point in distinguishing between two things while also having very strong beliefs about how to distinguish between those two things, OK.

              I haven't read or watched the "Game of Thrones" stuff because you know, fool me once etcetera. In the unlikely event he lives long enough to actually finish writing the books maybe I'll check them out.

              But sure, supposing that "What if the Wars of the Roses but longer, rapier and with dragons?" is a good summary then what you've got there is alt-history SF. George RR Martin is an old friend of Howard Waldrop, for whom this sort of thing is a recurring theme (e.g. If aircraft are invented for the American Civil War then events at the Little Big Horn become "Custer's Last Jump"). The most extremely famous example of this would be "The Man In The High Castle" which is alt-history SF where the Axis wins World War II.

        • Pavel says:

          Science fiction films have done a really good job of drawing in a non-scifi crowd recently. Same with books, too.

          I think it's kind of a two-fold thing; one part is that YA novels have been very popular for the past decade or so, and have veered heavily into science fiction (Ready Player One), and so have comic book movies that have actual mass appeal (Marvel). People got a taste, and they liked it.

          But we've been reading and watching this stuff for decades, so we have what could generously be described as a "refined palate", and less generously describes as "ridiculously high standards and a snooty outlook". Ready Player One sucked, nearly every part of the Dark Forest trilogy had been written better by better authors, and I'm not going to describe the flaws in all the recent movies (because I haven't seen a lot of them, due to having a toddler.) But people reading this stuff for the first time have never been exposed to it, so to them it's all new and mindblowing.

          And that's great! They like having their mind blown, they'll keep reading more scifi, and in twenty years they'll be the ones complaining about how scifi nerds don't have the high standards that they used to, and how Starbase Pikachu: Riker's Revenge is wholly derivative of Star Wars Episode 12.

      • MattyJ says:

        Free Solo was pretty good, if you're old enough to have Evel Knievel as a personal hero. Same kind of feeling.

      • You were wise to abandon Annihilation, I'd heard so many people rave about it that I kept going thinking there would be a payoff. It just kept getting muddier and muddier until there was nothing but mush, the end. On the other hand, no urge to see the movie.

  5. Rob says:

    I feel like the Gen X slacker comedy directly influenced The Patriot on Amazon:

  6. Christopher says:

    Counterpart was the best thing I watched all year. Second best is the Italian crime drama Gomorra, available as "Gomorrah" on Netflix.

  7. MattyJ says:

    I'll have to check some of this TV stuff out, I generally don't binge much but really did like Sabrina (didn't read the comic, can't compare.)

    I would also recommend (not that anyone cares about my taste) Three Identical Strangers and BlackkKlansman. I'd had enough of Spike Lee about a decade ago but this one was very well done.

    I don't think I completely understood what Sorry to Bother you was trying to say, but I can appreciate its vision and the craft of making something that looks like that on what counts as a micro budget these days (3 mil.) One of the truly unpredictable WTF endings in recent memory. Maybe even not recent memory.

    • jwz says:

      Sorry to Bother You was absolutely brilliant. BlackkKlansman was great and definitely the best thing Lee has done in ages.

      When I was making this list, I kind of figured: I probably don’t need to include the various blockbusters, because you’re all gonna see them anyway...

    • DaveL says:

      Three Identical Strangers was highly rated by my wife. She watched it on a plane, I watched Annihilation. I think she made the better choice.

    • James says:

      Sorry to Bother You was trying to say exactly what it said. Every other movie that tries to say the same thing encodes it in some allegory.

  8. Chad A says:

    Wow, and I thought I saw a lot of movies.

  9. Kitty says:

    I haven't seen Counterpart (yet, but now I want to) - but I'm curious - did you also see the BBC's adaptation of China Mieville's "The City and the City"?

  10. Jyrgen N says:

    I don't know any of the others, but I agree about "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina". It took me a while (a look into Wikipedia, actually) to recognise the lead actress Kiernan Shipka. I knew her from Mad Men and remembered I thought then "she might be a really good actress some day!" Now this Sabrina may not be the most challenging role, but I think she makes good progress. I liked the lightheartedness of the whole thing, and the cast is excellent in places, starting with the lead.

    • Leonardo Herrera says:

      Lightheartedness with satanist rituals, human sacrifice, some cannibalism and baby kidnapping added to the mix. I absolutely loved it but it did creep me out a little sometimes.

  11. Stu Hacking says:

    I gave Bandersnatch an honest try and my impression of it is that most of the choices just send you into a retry loop until you eventually make the correct choice. At the end it felt like there was no real message other than the insipidly obvious "Ha, you never had control." It also missed the satisfaction of a twist because by the time you experience a different path, you've seen the alternatives and know what's coming a mile off.

    Nice idea I suppose, but watching a linearly edited version is probably a faster and more fun experience. Actually, the whole experiment might have been better if the plot switches were flipped arbitrarily in the background without informing the viewer. Then multiple viewers are delivered a different story and don't realize until they start discussing it.

  12. Andreas says:

    I think you might enjoy A Simple Favor; it's housewife noir with some haunted house movie moments. Was pretty impressed with how it just kicked off right from the first second of the producer logos to the last second of the credits. Probably the movie I enjoyed the most last year (I saw spider-verse last weekend, it would have taken that spot)

  13. Ben says:

    The Matrix is 20 years old in March. Are you going to do an event? I would come, and 3/4s of the people I had beers with today said they'd come, so maybe some people would show up.

  14. Dan says:

    So far, based on this list, I've seen:

    Siberia: I strongly disliked it. I was expecting more Siberia, wasn't expecting so much sex.

    Bad Times at the El Royale: Loved it, fantastic movie.

    Upgrade: I really enjoyed it overall. I thought I had it figured out pretty early on, but was surprised by the ending. Still, the ending was a bit disappointing. Hoping for a sequel! It's classified as "body horror" in the Wikipedia article. It was a little gruesome in parts, but not what I've come to expect from that tag.