Recent Movies and TV

  • Yellowjackets (2021): A girls' soccer team crashes in the mountains and they go full Lord of the Flies. It's interleaved between a story about the kids and them as adults. I am extremely conflicted about this. On the one hand, all of the actors are fantastic and I was invested in their stories. On the other hand, this is THE most plotblocking show I've seen since Lost. To be fair, unlike Lost, they don't keep just moving the goalposts: in Lost the answer to every question was a new, stupider question, and they aren't doing that. But the Yellowjackets writers clearly have no intention of telling us WTF happened in the mountains until like season 5, if then. Do they even know? Maybe not. I absolutely hate this miserly style. It is the "dark pattern" of screenwriting.

    Also it's very weird that two of the girls in the crash are credited as "Yellowjacket #1" and "Yellowjacket #2". There are only like ten of them, you couldn't be bothered to give them all names? According to IMDB, Yellowjackets #1 and #2 appear in 7 episodes.

  • The Book of Boba Fett (2022): Obviously I will watch any show set on Tatooine. I will enthusiastically watch it on that basis alone, just for the environments and background characters. But I guess I just don't really give a shit about Boba Fett as a person. He was a bad guy with really cool armor, but the more I learn about him, and his dad, and his millions of clone uncles (clunkles?) the less I care. The stuff with the Tuskens was fun, but way too Dances With Wolves. I loved the scooter gang! But give us the Ming-Na Wen show instead. Also if Baby Yoda could fuck all the way off, that would be great.

  • The Expanse (2015): They stuck the landing on the abbreviated series finale, despite some weird choices. (Like why spend any time at all on the psychic necromancer lizards if you're just going to leave that thread dangling? Every second you spent on perky children is a second you could have spent on Drummer being a badass instead.) Though the series had a droopy middle (I didn't care about anything happening on Ilus in S04) this show set the bar for any future science fiction series or movie. It's the characters and stories that made it great, but it's the physics and the sets that made it real. Every subsequent show is going to have to live up to that.

    In hindsight, of the strangest things about the show is that, through all these interplanetary cold and hot wars over scarce resources, at no point is any corporation mentioned. Not only does Earth have some form of UBI, but in all three polities, corporations are apparently just not a thing any more? That's almost harder to believe than the Manhattan sea wall, or the space demons.

  • Archive 81 (2022): A guy whose job is restoring damaged Hi-8 cartridges (and who is not named Jason Scott) is drawn in to a culty mystery. It's pretty great, and I'm am here for this new genre of "people sitting in a room with q-tips and alcohol swabs trying to pull demons out of old analog tapes". But, stock plot detected, I can certainly do without the new trend of "the third-to-last episode interrupts the plot with a period-piece multi-decade flashback exposition episode that walks you through the whole mythology." Still. I enjoyed it.

  • In From The Cold (2022): Now I love me some "deep-cover Russian agent went native and became a suburban mom then gets blackmailed back into doing one more job" stories. And this one has some good moments, and some good fights. But it has a bunch of tech that is just straight-up magic, a villain whose motivations make no damned sense, and an ending that is... just... bullshit.

  • Nightmare Alley (2021): A noir about some carnys who upgrade their mentalist act to a real con. It's gorgeous, with great acting, a great cast and incredible sets. The story is a bit of a narrative mess, which was also true of the original -- it's kind of 2 1/2 different movies tacked together. But still a good time.

  • Peacemaker (2022): Because it is James Gunn, you're only 30 seconds into it before it is deep in the "daddy issues" woods, and I'm so bored with that. But, this show is still pretty hilarious, and a fine entry in the burgeoning "superheroes who swear" genre. It's no Harley Quinn, but it is a fine followup to the surprisingly-adequate Suicide Squad 2. And, it has far and away the most hilarious title sequence I've seen in years. I watch the entire title sequence every time.

  • Pivoting (2022): Eliza Coupe and Maggie Q are rich suburban dirtbags having a mid-life crisis. It's pretty funny.

  • Pump Up the Volume (1990): I hadn't watched this in many years, and I'm happy to report that it mostly holds up. This movie is the spiritual prequel to Hackers and (at least in my headcanon) the literal prequel to Mr. Robot. The one aspect that doesn't hold up so well is that it's hard not to read Happy Harry Hardon as just another edgelord podcaster, and it's hard to remember a world where that just didn't exist yet. Let alone had become a nightmarish cliché.

  • Seize the Night (2022): A melancholy dealer and a suicidal pop star meet and have a romantic first date while trying to buy drugs. It is both surprisingly sweet and pretty depressing.

  • The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window (2022): Everybody wants to make their own Rear Window now, I wonder why that is. The acting on this is great, and I enjoyed the first few episodes, even though it was kind of hard to watch, because Kristen Bell's character is just crazy as shit and intent on burning her life down... But as the actual plot begins to unfold, it gets just deeply, deeply stupid, and the ending in particular is just an insulting slap in the face of the audience.

  • Kimi (2022): Another Rear Window, I can't imagine why this is such a trend now! But this one is by Soderberg, and Zoë Kravitz is fantastic. It takes a bit of a Die Hard turn, and is extremely satisfying. One of those rare movies that acknowledges that a pandemic happened.

  • Inventing Anna (2022): Remember that "fake heiress" woman from a few years back? Yeah neither do I; I've mixed her up in my head with the "Russian NRA spy" woman. Anyway, I have no idea how much of this is true, but this series is pretty great. Anna Chlumsky is awesome, and the title character reminds me of several people I've known, which probably means I should spend less time around bullshit artists.

  • House of Gucci (2021): Wow was this boring. I did not give half a shit about any of these people. I started fast-forwarding about halfway through. I gather there was a murder at the very end? Nothing of value was lost.

  • The Leftovers (2014): 2% of the population got raptured (so, twelve COVIDs, or 1/25th of Marvel's "Blip") and the world loses its damn mind. This is by the Lost guy, so I avoided it on that basis alone, but someone recommended it so I gave the first season a shot. It is true that it is not very plotblocking, but also not a lot happens. It's very depressing, full of sad, damaged people doing sad, damaged things and accomplishing basically fuck-all. It wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't very compelling. It is, however, weird watching this through a COVID lens, because the ways in which the show's world went nuts are both more and less insane than what we've been dealing with.


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61 Responses:

  1. Speaking of Ming-Na Wen, I learned just in time that she is guest-starring in tonight's episode of Young Sheldon. No interest in that show or BBT but I'll watch Wen in anything.

  2. Brent says:

    The Protogen Corporation did the experiments on the protomolecule that led to it taking over Eros. Julie Mao was the daughter of the head of Protogen. His corporation is basically dismantled by the Earth government and he is put in jail forever. Also, the ice hauler that the crew came from was a Belter corporation. Fred Johnson's ship-building enterprise Tycho is a Belter corporation. I'm sure that they mention corporations on Mars, including where Bobby Draper briefly works. Certainly, though, most characters are in the government or military. Except for the Roci crew, who are, what, some kind of partnership or co-op maybe.

    The Expanse was amazing, though sometimes it was just too damn heavy. Certainly an incredible dedication to world-building, storytelling, and characterization.

    • jwz says:

      A "co-op", sure!

    • Line Noise says:

      Came here to say this. There's definitely corporations in The Expanse but it's the governments that fight the wars.

      There's a bit in one of the books where the Rocinante crew sign some sort of contract where they all have an equal share in the ship and the decision making process about what jobs the crew pick up. So I think co-op is accurate.

      • Jay Seez says:

        I was going to say the same thing. If you read the books, corporations are everywhere. They pretty much control the economy. It's not Earth's government (UN) who screwed the belters, it's Earth's corporations (corporate security, that is, private armies). In the series it doesn't show so prominently, but the whole conflict on Ilus IV is belters who settled there vs. Royal Charter Energy, the corporation who got the UN's charter to colonize and exploit the planet. The belters claim ownership of the lithium they extracted while building the landing pads for the RCE, RCE (who calls the planet New Terra) claims that they're squatters, they own the lithium, and they go f-themselves.

    • phuzz says:

      What The Expanse (books or TV) doesn't have, is big faceless corporations in the Weyland-Yutani mould having any part on the plot. I guess it's easier to write an engaging story where the evil corporation is headed by a billionaire CEO, rather than a faceless boardroom.

      Although, in the Expanse's world, the boardroom wouldn't all be white men, because in the future, black and white will come together in harmony to gang up on belters.

      • While I guess Protogen had more of the "evil CEO" vibe with Jules-Pierre Mao, the whole Ilus plotline was basically driven by the conflict between a faceless corporation and the settlers (it was pretty heavily implied that RCE was fine with however Murtry wanted to solve the situation). And the fact that "law enforcement" all across the Belt was actually just a bunch of private security companies gave me that faceless corporation vibe, particularly during the bits in S1 that take place on Ceres.

  3. Rodger says:

    So on Yellowjackets, which is a hole I have fallen deep into, the show runners have been promising that they’re going to avoid making people wait until S5 for all the answers, so at least some of the big set ups are apparently going to be answered in S2.

    Also is there a bolder use of The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack?

  4. Dude says:

    I never saw The Leftovers when it was on, but when you said it was "by the Lost guy," I had to look up which one: Lindelof... Jesus, were his writing Lost and Ridley Scott's Prometheus all just the Faustian bargain that finally lead him to the brilliance of HBO's Watchmen?

    Speaking of now-shitty Ridley Scott (I'll never watch his Asimov series and no one can make me), I haven't heard one good thing about House of Gucci, yet people are up in arms about its lack of nominations. Hilarious.

    Been a while since I saw Pump Up the Volume (or Talk Radio), but your "edge-lord" comment has me waiting for the inevitable modern adaptation of Molière's The Misanthrope as a similar douche.

    Also, ALL shows and films with Ming-Na Wen should be about her alone.

    • Bob says:

      Mulan is the only one I can think of with her as the lead.

      • CSL3 says:

        You've never seen The Joy Luck Club? Besides, ALL work with her is improved by her presence, not just ones where she's the proper lead.

    • Chris W says:

      I liked Lost and Prometheus* and really liked The Leftovers. I haven't seen Watchmen; how badly am I missing out?

      * I always felt like it would have been a perfectly fine movie if it wasn't weighed down by the expectations that come with being part of the Alien franchise. But it is, and that doomed it.

      • CSL3 says:

        If you like those, by all means like what you like (a great breakdown of Prometheus' script problems can be found here. But Watchmen is fucking brilliant, jumping the near-impossible hurdle of making pointed statements on American racism, police brutality, scientific hubris, and predetermination, whilst serving as a sequel to one of the most influential comics of all time. And it's entertaining as hell, with an amazing score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

        There's a reason why everyone who rolls their eyes at those other Lindelof projects sings Watchmen's praises to the high heavens.

        • Ian says:

          That barely begins to outline the problems with the Prometheus script.

          Real archaeologists don't dig on random hillsides hoping that they will find some specific cave painting, especially when said hillside was under about a mile of ice at the time the painting was supposed to be made.

          They also don't say that Babylon had no connection to Sumeria, or let you land your starship on top on the site you want them to explore.

          And every other science in the film is just as bad!

          But, yes, I hate superhero films and Lindelof scripts.. but Watchmen was great.

          • CSL3 says:

            Never gets old:

            ALSO: I forgot that Red Letter Media used to actually have female cast members once upon a time.

  5. Kevin says:

    I don't know what maskless Boba Fett looked like in my mind's eye, but it was definitely not that guy. Telly Savalas in SPAAAACE!!

  6. Elusis says:

    Every second you spent on perky children is a second you could have spent on Drummer being a badass instead

    You misspelled "on Drummer being My Girlfriend."

    Also, please tell me that you've watched Station Eleven...

  7. Glaurung says:

    I knew to give Yellowjackets a pass when I read that it's supposed to take place in the barren and desolate wilderness of Southern Ontario - where I lived for 20 years and which is densely populated with no wilderness big enough to get lost in.

  8. Line Noise says:

    I watch Pump Up The Volume at least once a year. It's great! I agree, it's totally a prequel to Mr Robot. Just throw in a name change and relocation when he gets out of prison and it totally works.

  9. Eric TF Bat says:

    Not sure where I saw it, but I liked this:

    Q. What is the most perfect example of a user interface widget that nobody needs?
    A. The "Skip Intro" button on the opening credits of Peacemaker.

    I concur. I asked around, and there are certainly some excellent opening credits out there in TV land, but I don't think any come close. Dexter, Westworld and Game of Thrones are all inventive, but for sheer bugfuck WHAT DID I JUST WATCH-ery, Peacemaker has them beat.

  10. Brendan says:

    Strongly recommend checking out Seasons 2 and 3 of The Leftovers: Season 1 is based on the book, which was pretty dour, but in the later seasons things get weirder, and simultaneously heavier and much, much lighter. There's a visit to the afterlife, which turns out to be a four-star business hotel; there are at least three jokes about the size of Justin Theroux's hog; we see a lot more of the various species of post-Departure brainworms. It's so close to perfect that I've been holding off on watching the final episode for years -- I've been assured that it's good, but, you know... Lost guy.

    • Michael says:

      If it helps, further keywords for seasons 2 and 3 are "lion-themed sex cruise", "international assassin", "missile strikes" (twice) and "penile authentication scanner".

      So like Brendan says, much weirder.

    • jwz says:

      Ok, I watched the rest of it. S02 was pretty entertaining; S03 less so. But to its credit, this show was not predictable!

      But that ending.... I'm guessing it was "we got cancelled, so here's a 15 minute monologue of what was on the wall for S04?"

  11. I watched, again, Pump Up The Volume last year. It never fails to deliver.
    Next in my queue is Krush Groove.

  12. Waider says:

    I was actually annoyed at The Expanse for the inclusion of any of the Laconia storyline; I didn't realise it was a truncated season, so after the firefight in the gateway zone I was looking forward to "Episode 7, we move to the Laconia plot full-time". Instead, what you got was Laconia Guy #57, who you're not given any particular indication is Major Character[*], saying to Marcos - and, by implication, the viewers - "you'll never hear from us again". If they'd chopped out the entire Laconia plot at, oh, ten minutes per episode, that'd be a full extra episode of Marcos plot to play with which I'm sure would've been more fun than "Precocious Kid Dies Stupidly, Colonists Hint At Larger Story That Does Not Materialise."

    [*] I mean, in the books he's someone I picture as basically Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and there is absolutely no dancing around the fact that he's The Boss. If you don't have that context when watching the series, it's like, "who's this guy? must be some senior drone in admin or something."

    • Waider says:

      tch. "Inaros", or "Marco", not "Marcos".

    • Seems very clear they wanted to set themselves up to cover the last three books somehow, without having all of that stuff seemingly come out of nowhere.

      The James S.A. Corey account on Twitter has been kinda coy about this, indicating that the TV series is done but not exactly disclaiming the idea that there will be something to wrap it all up (a film or three? an animated series?).

      • Waider says:

        Yeah, the thing is they could've neatly tied off the series - spent a little more time on the Inaros arc, in fact, since the final episode was loaded - and not had any trace of Laconia without doing any harm whatsoever to the continuity or any future series, movie, whatever. In the books - and indeed prior to S6 - you got a hint that something else was up, and that a bunch of big Martian hardware was off elsewhere doing unknown things, and that would've been sufficient background to leave for any future excursions.

        (or what our host says here, basically.)

      • halcy says:

        To me, it felt like an attempt to make it easier for people if they did in fact want to finish the series via the books, though not a very successful one.

        Nevertheless, the series finale and series as a whole was just spectacular.

  13. In the "superheroes who swear" genre, have you checked No Heroics? Short-lived British (ITV2) series from like 2008. Well ahead of its time in the "all superheroes are jackasses" department.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, it was ok, but The Tick did it better (and earlier). No Heroics was basically all of the scenes from The Tick that didn't require a budget or second camera because they were inside the diner.

  14. Also: According to Kristen Bell, The Woman Who Blah Blah Blah is a parody of e.g. The Girl on the Train. But...they kinda forgot to do anything to clue the audience in to that. The deeply stupid ending makes a lot more sense in that context--it's supposed to be stupid.

    • Rodger says:

      Yeah, I was really enjoying it as an obviously unreliable narrator (the changing gravestone, the guy who never finished the letterbox, etc). Is it gonna turn out that she killed the kid?

      But no, it’s just mockery of a genre, and it crashes off a cliff.

    • Phil says:

      I thought everything from the title onwards screamed parody but I seem to be in a minority on that score.

  15. dusk says:

    Like why spend any time at all on the psychic necromancer lizards if you're just going to leave that thread dangling? Every second you spent on perky children is a second you could have spent on Drummer being a badass instead.

    There are some very specific hints that the writers were preparing for a continuation of some form. The Laconia sequences weren't the only such indication -- there were a couple of other bits (like the credits sequence in the last episode, and some of the data that shows up on screen when Clarissa uses the med bay late in the season) which explicitly set the stage for an adaptation of the remaining three books.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah well, I don't care about their wishful thinking. That crap was a distraction from the story as told. They could have punted all that to after they somehow got renewed, if they did, which they did not.

  16. jwz says:

    Oh fuck off.

  17. TreeSpeaker says:

    I didn't get The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, either. It was supposed to be a Scary Movie-like trope-fest, but for Hitchcockian thrillers, and then it tried to be it’s own thing, it went off the rails and down in flames. Sad, since it started off with a reasonable slow burn and should have stuck with what was (mostly) working.

    In contrast, agree that Expanse was a great wrap-up. For some afterglow, there is a good YT video and another podcast-episode-on-YT on the depth behind the creation of the Creole-based Belter language that made for interesting watching/listening and reinforced that real actual thought that went into adding realism to that universe.

  18. TORLEY says:

    Yellowjackets is uncanny in its resemblance between the older and younger counterparts — Melanie Lynskey and Sophia Nelisse have this down to a T, mirroring each other's mannerisms. Also, if you haven't seen the latter in The Kid Detective (haven't seen it in your previous posts, jwz), worth it for the mastery of subverted expectations yet giving you want you didn't know you want.

    Archive 81 is the only show I know that BOTH namedrops Koyaanisqatsi and is a homage to it, at points both visual and audio — the soundtrack has Philip Glass-esque motifs plus tape pitch instability. And the ending of first season is also very much like the ending of Fringe's first season, from the reverse angle.

    Fun fact about Peacemaker's opening credits is they got Alan Tudyk (also a part of the DC Universe via Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol) to mime out the parts, because Charissa Barton choreographed it and her hubby is helpful.

    Kimi doesn't run like any human being I've seen, I thought there was gonna be some twist that she wasn't a real person. Watch how she throws her arms back and forth, it's such a weird gait you can't unsee.

    Ah I wish more sites had bright green on a black background. (Too many "dark modes" are a dismal compromise.)

  19. Zygo says:

    One side-effect of having watched the Expanse is that it's now hard to sit through an episode of anything else without being triggered on bullshit fantasy space physics.

    I guess I kind of want modern Star Trek to do Expanse physics now, but with personal transporters and weaponized artificial gravity.

  20. cthulhu says:

    Enjoyed Nightmare Alley a lot; the carny scenes had (IMHO) a lot of influence from the excellent HBO early-2000s Carnivàle (which the idiots at HBO cancelled after the second season in favor of the excreble Rome). And I can watch Cate Blanchett and her cheekbones in just about anything.

    Now, it’s time for Del Toro to get off his ass and make At the Mountains of Madness

    • jwz says:

      Carnivàle was amazing. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend Penny Dreadful: City of Angels which made the very good choice of actually being season 3 of Carnivàle rather than being season 4 of Penny Dreadful.

      • TORLEY says:

        Yes, the subtitled name was misleading.

        The OG Penny Dreadful had so many great performances (aside from crappy Dracula). Timothy Dalton would go to play a similar role as "mentor of freaks with his own secrets" in Doom Patrol. And Eva Green's seizures... 🙀 Also getting Broadway legend Patti LuPone to play the Cut-Wife.

        Also for anyone who likes Interstellar and Penny Dreadful, this music's the same.

        Bringing back too many memories.

    • Ian says:

      Nightmare Alley benefits greatly from being much nastier than the 1940s adaptation.

      When she said she recorded her sessions, I wondered how they would show her doing so - no magnetic tape recorders in the US until after the war - and the film nicely went straight to showing a magnetic wire recorder.

      The 1940s film had her recording via making phonograph disc records...

  21. Ian says:

    "Obviously I will watch any show set on Tatooine.."

    I wonder how long it will be before Real Housewives of Tatooine is a thing.

  22. Hopefully they'll never let Robert Rodriguez anywhere near Star Wars again. Horrible.

    But can James Gunn make all superhero TV from now on? Thanks. I never thought I'd appreciate hair metal.

    • jwz says:

      Rodriguez didn't even do the obvious thing and give us Cheech monologuing out front of the Mos Espa Titty Twister...

      • CSL3 says:

        And yet, the From Dusk till Dawn tv series was weak as hell. Rodriguez was the show's creator, show-runner, and frequent director, but you'd never know it from the "anybody could've shot that" lack of style he brought to it.

  23. Jim says:

    Season 2 of Raised by Wolves is spectacular. The current season of 'Trek Discovery tripped up in a subtle-diplomatic-intrigue-meets-the-latest-worst-problem-ever spinout, with really terrible choices. I kind of like Euphoria because I know people for whom high school and college really was that bad, and I was almost one of them, but it makes me feel like I avoided a worse fate than my bad choices wrought.

  24. Dave says:

    Ditto on In From The Cold. I was excited about it. Then out of nowhere. It's not a spy thriller, she's a Superhero. I immediately turned it off.

  25. apm74 says:

    Pivoting might be the surprise of the traditional broadcast TV season. That they paired with Mayim Bialik's purposefully cutesy Call Me Kat almost led me to ignore it. Hope it lasts longer than some of the other non-New Girl Fox adult live action comedies.

  26. Jieves says:

    I saw the black and white version of Nightmare Alley first (in a theatre) and then followed it up with the color version on Hulu. It is much better in black and white. There's a ton of detail like the snow falling outside Cate Blanchett's office that just makes the story more dramatic and twistier in black and white (same for the early section in the funhouse when they're trying to find the geek).

    The way I describe that movie is, "It's all your favorite actors doing great things."

    Also, Del Toro's statement that it is his least supernatural movie is both completely factually true from a plot perspective and completely false from the effect that it (the B&W version at least) has on the audience.

  27. Doug Orleans says:

    I honestly thought I was the only one who hates Baby Yoda and loves the scooter gang! Is this what "I feel seen" means??