Recent movies and TV

Watchmen: I did not expect this to be any good, but it is! There were many set-ups where I thought, "This is it, they're going to jump the shark now" and they did not. It's a worthy sequel to the comic, and it takes the right sorts of pot-shots at the earlier movie. It ended strong.

Living With Yourself: Screwball Clone Comedy. It's funny.

His Dark Materials: This show is dumb and boring. Everyone says that the movie version of it from a few years back, which was also dumb and boring, was a terrible adaptation of the book, and that this is better. But now I'm forced to assume that the book is also dumb and boring.

Mr. Robot: There were a few weak episodes this season, but overall, it's still amazing. The ending was... weird but good.

Rick and Morty: Still killing it.

Knives Out: This is great. There's a lot more class warfare in this "murder investigation at the will reading" movie than I would have expected.

Dolemite Is My Name: "The new Eddie Murphy movie is really funny" is not a thing I would have predicted that I would be saying in 2019, but here we are. He made his own Ed Wood! It's great!

The Witcher: Wow, this is bad. This is like, The Outpost bad. In fact, if you had told me that this was the new season of The Outpost I would only have wondered at the complete cast shake-up.

Wonder Woman (1975): The first season is really fun! It's set in 1942 and involves all the classic elements that any Wonder Woman story should have: punching Nazis, light bondage, and strident lectures on feminism.

I mean, it's literally only the second episode when Diana has to go undercover in a burlesque show. This is relatable content.

Season two is where it all goes wrong. They did a time jump to 1975, and they did a better job than I expected on the dumb explanations for "it's Steve's son" and "how did she infiltrate the government?" bits. It involved both hypnosis and computer hacking! Season two is also, to a large extent, about punching Nazis: after all, it was less than 30 years since the end of World War II, so Nazis were still around. It's not like today, where we don't have Nazis any more. But about halfway through season 2, it lost any sense of logic, and the plots got deeply stupid, even for a superhero show. Like, you work for a spy agency, why are you people Scoobying art heists? I couldn't even finish season 3.

La Femme Nikita (1997): Another misplaced-nostalgia re-watch. Back when I was still in season 1, we covered a bit of this in my post about Birkhoff's Sweet-Ass Laptop but here are some key takeaway points:

First, their computers are the greatest. These guys had only the finest WinAmp skins loaded onto their IRC clients and AltaVista searches. Second, wow, this is literally the same show as 24. Specifically, 24 was a halfassed, shark-jumpy Nikita remake. Both shows take the position that torture is a fast and effective way of getting reliable information, except that Section 1 is portrayed as "evil" whereas CTU is portrayed as "good". Which is odd, because they were the same organization, with the same goals and methods (and actors and set design). But one show had a protagonist constantly saying, "Hey, this is really fucked up" and the other didn't. Good versus evil almost comes down to the musical cues chosen. So 24 is what you get when Michael is the lead and Nikita isn't in the show. Third, it turns out that a lot, possibly most, of my nostalgia for this show was its soundtrack. It had a really good soundtrack, at a time when most TV shows didn't spend the money to get current releases featured.

But the writing really goes to shit after season 2. Birkhoff builds a Birkhoff Headroom. He's replaced by an evil twin. Everyone turns out to be secretly related to everyone else. It's like a telenovela in here. And then the series finale episode was about deadbeat absentee dad getting back with his infant. What I have learned from episodic television is that every showrunner is a 60 year old white guy with 3 divorces and regrets.

Hedy Lamar: I binged a whole bunch of her movies. She is always charming, but there is a lot of garbage in there. And a lot of it is really surprisingly racist, even for movies from the 40s! They put her in blackface, and she was nominally Asian and Mexican more than once. In nearly every movie she plays a broke refugee who has to fuck some guy to get her passport stamped. It's... a weird fetish. I slogged through about a dozen of them, but my favorites were:

Comrade X (1940): This is great! It's a comedy about a foreign correspondent who is secretly an American spy with a subversive blog pirate radio station. Hedy needs a passport so she can evangelize Communism in the US. Antics ensue. They should have let her do more comedy, she was good at it.

Algiers (1938): This is essentially Casablanca, and there's never anything wrong with that. Though it turns out that the inspiration went the other way around.

A Lady Without Passport (1950): In this one she's a concentration camp survivor stranded in Cuba and trying to get to the US. By the end, the undercover INS agent realizes that his job is bad and he should feel bad! So timely.

Then I finished it off with Bombshell, the Hedy Lamar Story. It was a real bummer to learn that she died in the same circumstance as Nikola Tesla: a penniless recluse who had alienated everybody, addicted to meth.

Speaking of huge stars at the ragged end of their careers, I also watched Judy and Stan and Ollie. Both were very good, and depressing, but at least they mostly stayed off the meth. Mostly.


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12 Responses:

  1. Glaurung says:

    The Dark Materials books are quite good. Which is why the TV show was so disappointing.

    • Doctor Memory says:

      Doubly disappointing, since Dafne Keen as Lyra is note-perfect casting. Oh well, we can't have nice things.

    • k3ninho says:

      They changed some of the story so that Lyra is hurt by three loss of a friend (Billy Costa) not outraged that the Magisterium treats anybody it wants as 'not people'.

      But Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) is great. But the story opens up across the many worlds. But but but but...


      • tfb says:

        They changed some of the story so that Lyra is hurt by three loss of a friend (Billy Costa) not outraged that the Magisterium treats anybody it wants as 'not people'.

        Erm, OK: that's not 'changing some of the story' that's 'completely changing almost everything that is important in the story'. Presumably they've done that because christian fuckwits will have some giant public tantrum if they have to watch anything which is in any way nasty about something which could be imagined to be whichever obscure branch of the church they subscribe to, and the books kind of do that. Obviously, we can't offend those people, because they fund the making of this stuff (how these people end up supporting the orange shitgibbon is beyond me).

        I will stick to the books, which are, I think more than 'quite good': they're written, shockingly, assuming that their children / young adult readers can actually think for themselves about this stuff. Obviously we can't allow that.

  2. Benjamin Arnold says:

    Just couldn't get into Mr Robot. Have you looked at The Capture? It's a BBC (so far) one-off series about surveillance and of the like.

    • Derpatron9000 says:

      If you can force yourself to get past the first two or three episodes Mr. Robot really is worth it. There are a few filler episodes across the series.

  3. Nick Lamb says:

    Yes, you'd probably find the His Dark Materials novels boring. It works mostly as YA fiction as a counter-narrative to Narnia. If you already know what's going on it will seem padded, particularly if you come to the story already knowing that the Catholic Church are the bad guys. I think the ending is Romantic but you might well just want to throw up.

    Most important thing I learned as a result of Watchman was that the racist mob in Tulsa had an actual biplane. I knew about Tulsa (very little American history is taught here in the UK, but you only need to scratch the surface of America's history of violent racism for Tulsa to come up) but the aeroplane in the TV show struck me as a weird choice. Nope, sure enough it's just research, the racists had a plane and used it to attack Greenwood.

    I still think the show would have been better for eliding Manhattan himself. He's a distraction from the story being about masks. But to their credit the writers, like Moore, do things with an actual super that wouldn't be possible without so he's not pointless even if he is a bit of a distraction, and in the show unlike the book Manhattan is even used to tell us about masks too.

    I have a bold plan for how Rick & Morty could be kept fresh for longer, but they're already in the same place Disney's Space Wizard movies went, where insane fans are at once an unlimited opportunity and a constant lurking danger, so you dare not change anything. My idea is that they should routinely kill "the" Rick and/or Morty and just follow a different pair at least once per season and sometimes unexpectedly in episodes, eschewing the need for continuity the way comic books reset periodically. This also unwinds the Problem With Rick where he's always right which unavoidably sets him up as a role model even if the writers insist that's not what they were going for. Not so smart now you're dead, are you Rick?

  4. o.o says:

    I wouldn't have gone out of my way to watch Stan & Ollie, but it was one of those movies that I happened to turn on for background while I was working on my laptop. Holy cow, right in the feels. I never would have guessed that John C. Reilly could pull that off the way he did.

    • Lloyd says:

      Steve Coogan was an unexpected treasure, too.

      But on the strength of Reilly's performance in Stan and Ollie, I decided to watch him in Holmes & Watson, another period take on much-loved characters.


      • tfb says:

        'unexpected treasure'? I mean, I don't actually like him very much, but he is clearly a genius: 'expected treasure' is the right term.

  5. cyeh says:

    I went into 'Watchmen' thinking there was no way that it could be close the comics. Imagine my delighted surprise when they honored the source material. I could have done with a lot less Adrian. "This Extraordinary Being" was perhaps the best hour of television I've seen all year.

  6. Rodger says:

    Bombshell was definitely a wonderful-but-depressing documentary; an unexpected side-effect was causing me to feel much more warmly to Howard Hughes, who appears to have been the only man in her life who treated her intellect seriously.