Video Streaming Services and Design (A Comparison of The Criterion Channel and Mubi)

A rant that becomes a comparison of how The Criterion Channel and Mubi designed their services.

This is an odd thing for me to write. Anyone who knows me would be quick to point out that I am not a design person. In any way, shape or form. I am someone who will complain, at great lengths, about poorly designed things. I may, in fits of desperation, blurt out my thoughts on how to improve something that is terribly designed. Despite this, in my heart of hearts, I am not someone who knows much about or is capable of sharing in an insightful manner about design.

Which is why I have chosen today to write about video streaming services and how they are designed. First and foremost a revelation I had of late – I have been lumping all streaming services into the same category. Which is to say that when I think of Netflix I regard them in the same manner as I regard The Criterion Channel, Disney Plus, and Peacock TV. Which is completely wrong.

One of many titles that have disappeared from HBO Max (and broken my heart)

Let us address one streaming service first: HBO Max. My frustration with HBO Max over the past two months has stemmed from me being positively baffled as to 1) why so many shows and films are disappearing from their service and 2) why they have so little new content I want to watch. If you think of HBO Max as being the same kind of entity as Netflix, a streaming service which creates new films and television shows (and apparently games) as well as hosting films and shows they did not make then what HBO Max has been doing is bizarre. Yet if you think of HBO Max as a different iteration of the HBO channel then what they are doing gets downgraded to weird.

For the longest time I have wondered why so many films made by Warner Brothers are not on HBO Max. That is because I assumed, incorrectly, that the good people at HBO would be trying to gather all of their properties (since they are owned by Warner Brothers) to their streaming service. Instead they seem to be following the HBO model of getting new films and shows onto their service for a limited amount of time and expecting subscribers to watch what is offered and be happy about it. The creation of films and shows for their service seems to operate independently of the content available on the service.

I belabor this point because it is easy to mistake HBO Max as being a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu because they do not offer purchases/rentals through their service and because they make original content. Part of this is a design problem and part of this is a streaming service problem. I don’t claim to have the capacity to fix either but today I would like to make an example out of two services in the hope that this might lead to overall changes to streaming services and, potentially, benefit the rest of us.

The two services in question are Mubi and The Criterion Channel. To begin, since The Criterion Collection has been available to stream I have been using services that allow one to do so. First they were on Netflix, then Hulu then FilmStruck and for the past three years there has been The Criterion Channel. Other than FilmStruck I have used/belonged to these services when The Criterion Collection has been available to stream.

In that time I believe I have watched a handful of films. Part of the reason for the lack of watching is and has been the terrible design displaying their offerings. Netflix has always been lackluster in presenting the movies and shows on their site. Between the ever changing poster images, buried subcategories and the carousel main view, finding what they offer has never been easy. The Criterion Collection had it’s own menu when it was on the site but the offerings were small and changed on a regular basis. I am not sure if I watched anything while Netflix had it.

The same was true with Hulu whose design was only slightly better because at the time they had a Staff Picks section which often showcased excellent films the service offered that were buried deep in their catalogue. Which I believe is why when FilmStruck launched I never subscribed to the service (despite having a subscription to nearly everything else and hearing wonderful things about FilmStruck).

For some reason when I heard that they were launching The Criterion Channel I believed I would love the service. I signed up before it launched, was given this weird thing and have been a subscriber, despite watching almost nothing, ever since.

In some ways it feels a bit like Patton Oswalt’s bit regarding giving money to NPR. You do it because you believe in the work and you appreciate the service but dear God don’t make me listen to it.

But rather then run them down unfairly I would like to provide some evidence to what I would like to call “The Design Problem of The Criterion Channel”.

First and I don’t know how to explain it, the design is pretentious. The moment I open the app or go to the site I am bothered by the look and design of everything. The black and white (I see the grey as well) color scheme just shouts “We are important!” and makes me want to go elsewhere. At the time of this writing this is the splash page when you visit from your computer.

I’d like to point out that the image itself changes depending on whether or not your browser is full screen. The above image is full screen, you can see only Michelle Yeoh’s eyes are visible. Whereas,

This is what you get if your browser is not full screen.

So the site is incorrectly formatted (at least for with Firefox and Safari). There are four menus at the top which are unhelpful. You can Browse, Search go to All Films or, bizarrely leave this site to visit Now as someone who likes language and uses many streaming services (listed in no particular order here: Netflix, Amazon, The Criterion Channel, Mubi, Hulu, Disney+, The Roku Channel, Plex TV, Kanopy, Hoopla, HBO Max, PBS and Apple TV) I cannot say with confidence what the difference between the Search menu and the Browse menu are. Let’s find out.

Clicking on Browse takes you to their main page, which resembles the app. Here you have the carousel view of their content with the main large image at the top of the screen. As of today it looks like this –

This is a screen recording of what it is like to scroll down through this page (recorded last month when I started writing this, be kind to me) –

I don’t share this for the sake of overkill, if I am going to criticize I’d like to do it correctly and be fair. This is a ton of information. They have so much on this site and it is organized in many different ways. The problem, I find, is that it is too much. I find that when I want to watch something I need to have it already found and in my list before I get to the site, otherwise I end up scrolling, clicking and looking for an hour. At which point I’ve either run out of time to watch something or I no longer have a sense of what I’d like to watch.

It is also interesting to note that the header, with the menu options, does not follow you as you scroll through their offerings. Meaning if you decided you’d rather search than browse, you have to scroll all the way to top to do so. It’s not a big deal but it’s poor design.

Clicking on the Search menu brings up a search bar. Using this leads to interesting results. This morning I was curious which films they had from the director Park Chan-wook. When I searched using the app on my television I had quite a few results, many having nothing directly to do with the director. Searching now on the website I get these results –

My final comments regarding this site/app would be the All Films menu. When you click on it you get the following page –

Personally I love this. To be able to sort and filter the entire catalogue in this manner is appealing. Their filter options are great as they allow you to sort by genres, decades, countries and directors. I think those are interesting and unique filtering parameters. The sort option lets you do so by title, director, year and country. Again, I like this, it’s different and allows you to get creative with what you watch. I certainly have bouts where I want to watch films from a particular country or time period. The thing I would note here, which is not a design issue, is the total number of films.

I recognize that what they offer changes on a monthly basis and that there are strange and mysterious reasons as to why certain films can be shown at certain times – but 2,849 is a small selection. Part of my frustration with this site and all streaming services in particular is the limited selection of films and shows. I’d rather see services merging (or sharing with one another or creating some new entity) in order to have more offerings than this current situation where I have 14 services and often (very often) cannot stream what I wish to because it is not available. Today that happened with I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (and yesterday it was Oldboy and so on…).

I am relatively new to Mubi. I joined their service two months ago so I am seeing them with fresh eyes. Why did I join them? Because they had a holiday special of getting three months of service for $1 a month. I could not resist and I am glad I didn’t.

As of this writing this is what the homepage (and app) looks like. First and foremost – look at the color. Look at the titles (and text). Instead of trying to impress me with a splash page telling me the site is a ‘Movie Lover’s Dream’ their main image is of their Film of The Day. I love that feature.

I love that the search bar is built into the top of the screen and they highlight the current tab I am using. The tab next to Now Showing is their Watchlist (List) which is great to have available at the top of the screen. Their version of (minus the selling of DVDs and Blu-rays) is Notebook which has plenty of great written content for those of us who also like to read about film. Mubi Go, which is a separate membership, is their weekly service that allows you to go and see a film in theaters. Your account icon is by default Totoro (points for this) and then a drop down menu with numerous other options.

To say I prefer this design and interface is an understatement. They’ve managed to make it welcoming, packed full of useful (and familiar) features, but also convey that this is a place to watch movies. If you look at the screen recording below you will see that what they do with their site is similar to The Criterion Channel (many different categories, the carousel display). To me, because of how it is designed and interacts with the mouse, I find it helpful and not overwhelming.

When I scroll over a film in my Watchlist is shows a check mark to convey this information. Titles that will be leaving the site soon have a banner on their image which informs me of this. Comparing the two main pages what I see is that Mubi has considerably larger images, which I find pleasing and appropriate for a film site. I would like to note that their header also does not follow when you scroll which is disappointing. As you can see from the screen recording the site goes on for a ways and having the header follow you would be a welcome feature.

I’d like to conclude with a comparison of how the two services handle the presentation of the same film. I give you: Lady Vengeance.

Right away I feel my point is made. The Criterion Channel has so much unused, negative space. The entire right bottom corner is empty. The Criterion Channel has a poster for the film and then their own little display they do for films. This feels unnecessary and redundant. My eye is drawn to the grey bars in the middle of the screen which are the least important pieces of information being.

When you look at Mubi, the image dominates the page. The faces are clearly seen and yet all of the information concerning the film is there and easy to read. The screen has the playhead in the middle to indicate how easily you can watch the film but it is small and tasteful, not obscuring the image.

Among the things I think Mubi does better (or I just appreciate) – they offer the title of the film in its original language. Both sites are in English because that’s what I speak, but this feels respectful. I also like that in addition to the synopsis they have the “Our Take” for their films. I have found that I no longer bother reading the synopsis because I want to hear what this person has to say about this film. This is the personal, human touch I long for when it comes to film recommendations.

I’ve done a final screen recording to try and convey the differences.

As you can see with The Criterion Channel the image I captured is all of the information they provide for the film. For many films they have supplemental videos that they include at the bottom of the page. The Criterion channel has an astounding number of “extras” for their films but due to how the site is designed you may miss many of them without knowing. I have had two versions of the same film in My List not realizing that one link is for the movie and the other is for their collection concerning the film. This would be easy to fix.

With Mubi they show you the collections the film belongs to, the awards the films have won and the director and cast pictures which you can then click on to see more about. They embed the trailer on the page (despite having a link to it above) they have articles from their Notebook section and reviews about the film on the page that you can read in their entirety. After which they have reviews from other people who subscribe to Mubi and they conclude with Related Films.

I find this so pleasing and helpful and vastly superior to how The Criterion Channel has designed their site. It feels unfair to make comments about their offerings because I know they have just as many as Mubi. Unfortunately they have not showcased them in a user-friendly manner like Mubi and I think this is why I use their site so little.

Thank you for joining me on this strange deep-dive into the websites of Mubi and The Criterion Channel. I’m not entirely sure how this happened but I am glad it did.

A Rant About Finding Movies

A rant about streaming, options, design and wanting to hold things in my hand.

The year is 2003. The place, Austin, Texas. My wife and I have been living here for several months and in that time have joined numerous video stores. We started with Blockbuster and Hollywood video, which are close to our home. Stopping in what I thought think is a record store I find another location, still quite close to home, that has a more diverse selection of movies. Soon I discover I cannot find films I want, so I continue outward, always searching.

This leads me to eventually join ten video stores in Austin. I soon discover the strengths of the locations. The video store on Sixth street has an incredible selection of foreign films. Vulcan Video has the best selection of television shows. There is a location on 35th street that is fun to go to and I never figure out what it offers that sets it apart. The central library has a great selection of movies as well.

Which is why when discussing the film, Leonard Part 6, I did not think it would be difficult to rent the film and show it to my wife. I am intelligent, for once, in attempting to track down this film and I call the video stores to see if it is in stock. After I exhaust the places I have a membership to I take out the phone book, flip through the yellow pages and call everyone else. Soon Austin is exhausted and nearly am I. But I persevere. Somehow a place in Hutto, Texas, has a copy.

The man on the phone is confused by my request. He pronounces Leonard as ‘Leo-nard’. I ask him if he can physically check to make sure the VHS tape is in the store. Annoyed but willing, he does. When it is located I ask if he can set it aside for me, as I do not want to drive to Hutto and find it has been rented. He states he cannot do this and I will have to take my chances. Thankfully Leonard Part 6, even before what has come to pass with Bill Cosby, has been a long reviled film.

I live in North Austin so the drive to Hutto is not a long one. I have to choose between going through Round Rock or Pflugerville. I opt for Flugerville. There is little to say about Hutto. Leonard Part 6 is still there and I rent it. When I return it there is a decent sized baseball field nearby and I go and watch some of the game. It’s odd because I don’t like baseball, but it is a beautiful night and for some reason staying and watching is a lovely thing to do.

I recount this silly tale of tracking down a film because at the time it struck my wife as an absurd amount of effort all just to watch a movie. Over the past few months I have become increasingly annoyed with the amount of effort I am spending to find movies I wish to watch. I have also come to realize that unlike before streaming, I am often not choosing what to watch but I am being steered toward limited choices and selecting one of those.

Anyone familiar with the old, bad, video stores can appreciate that the images thrust upon us when we open our streaming services are similar to walking into the displays at Blockbuster. Between what accosted you just inside the door you also had to contend with the New Releases wall, which with Blockbuster would consist of a handful of titles with dozens of copies. It was marketing and it was effective.

Which is why I only went to Blockbuster or Hollywood video if I knew what I wanted beforehand or if what I was looking for was a new release and I desired to only make one stop to pick up a copy. Typically, depending on where I have lived, I would go to smaller more interesting video stores if I was looking for something to watch. I would wander through the isles, look at the displays and try and find something.

As much as people bemoan the loss of connecting with others in the video store what I miss was coming across title after title I had not heard of. Being able to pick up the box and look it over, coming to a conclusion as to whether I wanted to watch this film based on what was in my hand is something I miss. There is something lost in online browsing, of not having a tactile object in your hand and that makes browsing a lesser experience.

What also diminishes the experience are the limitations. I can appreciate that streaming services have licensing issues to contend with and that these issues impact which titles they can offer. It’s one of the reasons why I think streaming is poor choice compared to physical stores. While streaming services films are held on hard drives and have fewer concerns about physical space, they are undoubtedly hampered by financial concerns regarding licensing. Physical media, for whatever reason, is not affected by this.

Which is why, today in 2023, when I look at what Netflix DVD has to offer I am surprised at how many films I cannot find available to stream, anywhere, I can rent from them. Case in point: lately I have been watching the films of Park Chan-wook. He’s someone I did not take to when Oldboy was lavished with praise. I didn’t because the trailer made me think the film would not be to my liking. Having seen his recent films, The Handmaiden and Decision to Leave in particular, has ignited my interest in his older works.

Only, where do you watch his films? In an earlier post I wrote about the streaming services I use. There are quite a few (14?). Enough so that I often use two different sites, Just Watch and Plex, to try and find films I wish to stream. Between those two sites I am usually able to locate which service has which films. It is a clunky, horrible system for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it means I end up having queues/watch lists/my lists on many different sites with the same films in them. Or I put a film onto one of these lists, don’t watch it right away and when I come back to see the film it is gone from the site. But returning to Park Chan-wook I’ve found it hard to track down a number of his films, including Oldboy, which is one of his best known works.

Several of his films are only available for streaming (by which I mean you don’t have to pay to view the film because the site is either free or you have a subscription) on one service. Amazon has The Handmaiden and Mubi has Decision to Leave. Oldboy and I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay are not available to stream/rent/purchase via any site at the moment. His television show, Little Drummer Girl (with Florence Pugh, Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgard) can be rented or purchased but not streamed. The film I have been most intrigued about, Thirst, must be rented or purchased.

So, I’ve driven that point into the ground. It’s true for many other filmmakers as well. Yet, if we look at the catalogue for Mr. Park on Netflix DVD we see:

Aside from The Little Drummer Girl they have the films I mentioned (and a few others) that I wish to see. The same is true for several other filmmakers whose films, for some reason, are difficult to find online.

So I write all of this because I know that physical video stores are not going to come back. As much as we get excited about certain things (Drive-In theaters during the pandemic) their time has passed. Most of us have gotten used to the convenience of streaming and don’t wish to go back to the old ways of in person shopping for something to watch. My frustration is that streaming hasn’t properly replaced the video store. We live in a strange, in-between time, where we are getting something half-baked that doesn’t please us but not everyone has realized this yet. Let’s call it the age of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”. For anyone who experienced that – we ate it because we were told butter was bad for us. We didn’t like the substitute but what else could we do? It’s time to wake up, people.

Part of me thinks it might be time to go back to DVD’s (Blu-rays) in the mail. Using Redbox again. The problem, as I have stated above, is that the streaming companies are playing weird games due to rights and licensing. Which means services have titles one month but not the next. That a site like HBO, which is owned by Warner Brothers, will have all the Harry Potter movies this month but not this summer. It also means they may never have movies from another studio because of some issue between them.

Which is not my concern, nor yours, dear reader. We just want to watch the thing we heard/read/saw a poster for. We’d like to see it sooner rather than later. We’d like to not be spending $80 a month in fees to over ten streaming sites that we need other sites to help up locate titles on. If we are doing all of this we’d like the movies to at least be available somewhere, especially if they are recent and well known.

When was this released again? We can’t even rent it right now?

All of this is to ignore the more common and irritating aspect of streaming which pertains to poorly designed sites that are difficult to navigate. Each relying largely on algorithms to shove films and shows at us each time we log in. Ever-changing posters which are meant to confuse and bamboozle us into thinking they have new items to watch, when in fact it is something we saw last month. Rating systems which do not improve the selections offered to us and do not remove them as future selections. Oh and reduced offerings and disappearing titles because the people running these streaming services have all over-extended themselves and are in dire straits financially.

So, in closing, a suggestion. Think about how much you are spending on streaming services. Think about what you watch and where you watch it. How you find what you are watching and if you are happy with the process. For me I find I spend a considerable amount of time, daily, pondering what I will see and where I will find it. I’m not saying having DVDs mailed to me is the future but I am wondering if fewer streaming services, coupled with mailed DVDs and relying more on Kanopy/Hoopla and my local libraries isn’t a better way to watch movies. I think it would be cheaper and probably less work.

Fractured Narratives

A rant about Echo 3, Nope and trusting your instincts.

The following post contains mild spoilers for Nope and Echo 3

The famous quote about stories needing a “beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order” has been rattling around my head of late. In the past week I have watched the Apple TV show, Echo 3 and the latest from Jordan Peele, Nope. Both of which have unusual, if not bizarre narrative structures. What strikes me upon reflection is that neither of them have tried to displace the order of events hoping to confuse the audience, a technique that has become en vogue in recent years, rather that they bounce around in time without much purpose.

I love this inforgraphic as it sums up perfectly how I feel about story structure

Nope, being a film, is easier to follow and understand in terms of narrative. When I finished the film I looked at Metacritic to see if reviewers enjoyed the film. It appears to be favorably reviewed but with reservations. Most people seemed to feel what I felt – that while the overall experience was fine it lacked emotional resonance and wasn’t terribly coherent. The characters were not fully realized, the storylines truncated or without purpose and the ultimate “message” absent. It is not that the movie is difficult to watch – it is interesting and has a number of sequences that are engaging. It’s that at its heart, having a story about a UFO (or alien creature) and several people trying to control/document it without any larger questions being posed or answered is unfulfilling. I am unsure what the takeaway of this film was meant to be. I am not certain I understand why the horse trainer would be such an expert on predatory animals (and how this ties into chimpanzees). There seems to be no greater plan at work with Nope and it is a shame. Following Get Out I think most viewers were hoping for a multi-layered film that exceeds expectations.

Echo 3 is the latest work from Mark Boal. A former journalist who was embedded with troops in Iraq and wrote a screenplay based on these experiences. It was a successful film despite the disconnected narrative and anti-climatic ending. In fact all three of his collaborations with director Kathryn Bigelow have these qualities. Interesting concepts with narrative gaps and endings that deliver little in the way of closure or emotional payoff seem to be how he operates. Echo 3 does this worse than the films, in part because it is longer and, I suspect, because Ms. Bigelow is not involved.

The show begins in a lackluster, heavy-handed manner. It is the wedding day of two of the main characters and the bride is hiding with her brother (the third main character). The wedding sequence is long. It is disjointed. It makes little sense as we are just meeting these people and know nothing about them. Ultimately is serves to inform the ending – that all is not right between soon-to-be bride and groom. Only….why? It’s unclear other than she’s keeping secrets and he’s…something. The show becomes truly muddled around episode nine, which would have been the final episode for most. The latest rescue mission for Amber (the bride) is attempted and her husband (Prince) and brother (Bambi) work with mercenaries to conduct a false flag operation to get her out of the prison/drug factory where she has been tortured and drugged for some time.

The show hinges largely on a secret beacon, a secret CIA connection and back-channel favors. Why it does not work is because the people, causes and stories that rise to the forefront all eventually are forgotten. Whether it is the abandoned military commander, the drug-addled mother, the wealthy father or the Colombian army all of these stories are left with an ending that is incomplete and unfulfilled.

I’m not sure if there is much of a reason to write about this show and movie (together no less) other than to express my frustration with investing time and emotion into stories such as these. I’ve written before about how Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, changed the way I watch movies. He outlines in his book how a script reader can usually determine by page ten whether the script is good or bad. Since a page of a script usually translates to a minute of screen time this rule of thumb can also be applied when watching a movie or show. Within the first ten minutes you should have a sense whether what you are watching is good or bad.

With both Echo 3 and Nope I stopped watching before the ten minute mark. I could tell with Echo 3 starting in the manner that it did, with two unknown characters having an opaque conversation about the wedding and the groom, that I was not going to enjoy the show. Despite a trailer which promised one thing (a rescue story, a love story, a story about overcoming adversity) this show was going to be something else. It was going to try and deal with the complexity of US relations with South American countries. Of marriages built on a foundation of lies. Of addiction. Of ambition and careers and nationalism. In short I think Mr. Boal was trying to marry ideas and stories from his life as a journalist with a story of his own creation and the results are mixed. I’m not sure if I ever grasped the inner lives of any of these characters. Other than Bambi, who only wanted to get his sister home, I’m not sure I ever understood the motives of the characters. The opening, which gave me nothing, told me everything I needed to know and I chose to ignore it.

Nope is more of the same. A trailer which is eerie and mysterious but gives away little of the plot coupled with an opening of a 90’s television show where a chimpanzee has gone berserk and hurt/killed several people. No explanation is given, no clear reason why this is being shown in relation to the larger story being told. Only to then find out that the little boy in the 90’s show is the neighbor of our main characters and he’s trying to use the UFO as part of his rodeo show. I feel like I am belaboring my point here. The sum of the parts of this movie adds up to very little and the opening made this clear. I went back to both of these works because I doubted my initial impression, largely because I am often wrong (just last week I made this mistake with Everything, Everywhere All At Once which has a terrible first ten minutes but becomes a great movie). As we all know our moods, time of day or even the weather can effect our viewing experiences and I try my best to enjoy things. Only that doesn’t always work and you end up watching ten hours of something that leaves you with a shot like this.

Or, you know, this…

Is Comedy Really Harder?

A short post on the complexity of comedy.

Recently I connected with a local filmmaker and shared a few short screenplays I have written. I wrote these with the intention of getting a local director interested in making one of these projects. Why not me? At the time I felt that trying to direct something with (gasp) actors would be too difficult and challenging – in part because my main role presently is watching my children.

In my discussions with this filmmaker about the shared scripts and filmmaking in general both of us came to a similar conclusion: while the serious, dramatic, films are interesting and appealing what we’d both like to make is a comedy. Being the writer of the pair I was then tasked with coming up with something comedic to make.

Flash forward a few months and no screenplay is finished. Why is this? In part it is because I have been attempting to complete other projects, continue the work I do with a non-profit and that day to day life with two young children is challenging. The truth though is that writing comedy is hard.

Why is it hard? First, the expectations. When people list great movies, when they list their favorite movies, usually (if they are thinking of posterity or the other people in the room) they do not mention comedies. Why is this? Why are comedies dismissed as not being great films? As being important films?

I do not have a good answer. I do know that there is a film that tackles this very subject and it does it better than I ever will – Sullivan’s Travels. If you have not seen this film you should. It’s interesting, it’s funny and it has a fairly important message. If I had to try and convey the message it is this: most people have fairly unpleasant or depressing lives, so when you try and make your important, realistic film, that makes the audience suffer as the protagonist suffers – they don’t enjoy the film. Most people want to watch a movie for some form of enjoyment.


Michael Moore said something about this in his article “13 Rules for Making Documentary Films”

And the audience, the people who’ve worked hard all week — it’s Friday night, and they want to go to the movies. They want the lights to go down and be taken somewhere. They don’t care whether you make them cry, whether you make them laugh, whether you even challenge them to think — but damn it, they don’t want to be lectured, they don’t want to see our invisible wagging finger popping out of the screen. They want to be entertained.

The awards season is pretty much here again and with it the usual nonsense of each site or magazine publishing variations of the same stories about the same films and people. And each one is about an important movie or an important actor and the incredible important film they are in. Which is not to diminish films that have something they wish to say – I enjoy films with purpose greatly. I do, however, question the need to make films that torture the audience.

What annoys me is how there are entire genres that are dismissed out of hand when it comes time to hand out praise. Not that awards are a reason to make art. Not that praise from critics or even the general public are a reason to make art. But given that filmmaking is largely a business, whether some of us would like to admit this or not, if you wish to continue making films they have to be successful. If you wish to be given the opportunity to make films in the first place you have to sell others on the idea that the finished product will be successful.

Which is why when you look at what Blumhouse has done and how they are thriving, regardless of what you think about the films they make, you have to applaud them for figuring things out and making it work. The movies they release make money, which allows them to keep making movies. The same can be said for Tyler Perry (and of course other people and production companies). I mention these two as they have been successful financially but less so with critics and award committees.

Coming back to comedy all I can say is it is a challenge. Filmmakers and actors like Judd Apatow. Mike Meyers, Adam Sandler and Taika Waititi all are struggling to connect with audiences. What worked before no longer seems to be working. I’m not sure if, in part, this is due to the flood of short form content on social media that is largely comedic. Feature length films and sitcoms are entirely different animals that fulfill different needs. I know there a plenty of sitcoms that are airing and are successful. I’m not sure if the people watching those are bothering with the films being released. Why is this?

I don’t think anyone really knows. What I do know is that sitting down and trying to write a funny scene is much harder for me than trying to write a dramatic one. Creating characters who are struggling to get through a funeral is an easier task then writing a humorous cooking scene between a mother and teenage daughter. It is an interesting situation to find myself in and I can’t help but wonder if it is a personal limitation or if comedy really is that much harder to do.

Time Travel, Rules and Having Fun

A short ramble about time travel, rules and why Back to The Future is great.


I have been thinking of late about time travel. In particular I have been thinking about how film and television handle the concept of time travel. Yesterday I was re-watching  Avengers: Endgame and came to the section where they debate how time travel works. As we all know trying to explain the rules of time travel (almost without exception) leads to confusion and a headache.


The best explanation I have come across regarding time travel is that it is only possible if all time exists at once. Past, present and future all co-exist, but we do not experience them in this manner. Time isn’t linear, it simply is. For whatever reason we experience it in a linear fashion.

All of this is to say that the idea is complex and people have been exploring it for a long time. What I have been thinking about is when it works and why it works.

When I first started writing this post I had just watched the film Arrival and then the two television shows, Travelers and 11.22.63. While initially disliking Arrival immensely (seeing it again made me understand why I was so wrong) the explanation offered as to how time travel works in that film is close to my preferred explanation. The idea that learning another language would then unlock the ability to perceive time in a different fashion is a very interesting one (rolled up in a rather sad story).

One review of Arrival I read said what the writer liked so much was that it was a woman’s brain that saved the planet – not the army with all of its weapons (or any other typical, male, response). That, for the writer, this was a novel and unexpected turn and it pleased her greatly. It’s an interesting story because in that film it isn’t really time travel, just perception of time that is explored but the result is somewhat the same.


Travelers and 11.22.63 are both shows that are more traditional with their approach to time travel. A person (whether their body or mind) travel through time. The explanations offered are different but both have a rather straightforward approach to how they offer it to the audience.

Travelers is a show where quickly you realize the creators have done their homework. They parcel out information only when needed, the characters do not have unnecessary exposition regarding time travel and the rules (before they are explained to the audience) are firmly in place. This is a best cast scenario. It allows the show to unfold and tell its story.

It is unfortunate that the story it tells 1) ends on a cliffhanger and 2) is somewhat lackluster. This is one of those television shows where what is missing is hard to define but when you watch it you can feel the absence of…something. It’s close to being quite good. One character in the show (David) is so well-defined and enjoyable to watch that at times you forget that things are not coming together as they should.

All that being said the time travel aspect is interesting, the rules are clearly understood and the worlds of present and future are solid.


11.22.63 lays out the rules of time travel in the first fifteen minutes. And by rules I mean specifics, each time you enter everything resets so that each entrance to the past occurs at the same time (and erases your previous efforts). The amount of time that passes in the present is always the same, regardless of how long you stay.

Defining the rules flies by and it happens right at the beginning, again, allowing the audience to sit back and enjoy the ride. Why is this the way it is? Who knows? It’s time travel.

This is the beauty of so many concepts in film and television, if the point is not to explain how time travel works you can make the rules be whatever you want them to be. Which is why Back to the Future is such an exceptional film despite the rules of time travel not being rooted in science. They don’t need to be.

In short I’ve been thinking about when this works well and is fulfilling and when it falls short. I feel that many of the Time Travel Shows I have seen in the recent past have not entirely worked, despite following the rules. Dark ultimately was a let down. 12 Monkeys was the same and for similar reasons. If you continue to rework your existing time travel loops there is a point where it either becomes too confusing or it no longer matters. If everyone in your story is a version of themselves (from some different point in time and everyone has been shuffled from their own time) and now they are interacting with one another but the audience never knows it…it isn’t satisfying.

All of this rambling is to say that I find this particular concept, time travel, to be intriguing. There is a reason why so many people want to explore it and have fun with it (or wallow in the misery it produces). Thinking about all that I have seen I would say it is one of the more difficult genres to work with and that the success rate is quite low. For those who view time travel as fatalistic the conclusion is rarely fulfilling. The bad thing still comes to pass. The hero still dies. Nothing changed. In fiction this is a terrible ending.

What works is time travel following the Back to The Future mode. Mistakes are made, then corrected and ultimately a solution is found. So much of life is regret and the inability to right previous wrongs. I’m not sure who wants to spend time watching fictional content that reinforces this point.


Films and Shows I Watched in 2022 – The Rewatched List

I rewatched a ton of things this year and felt the need to write about them.

The Matrix: Resurrections

I rewatched The Matrix: Resurrections because I was incredibly disappointed on the first viewing. I spent a week thinking about the film, wondering if I was mistaken and being harsh with my opinion. I read interviews with everyone involved, watched interviews with Lana Wachowski and I was moved by her statements concerning why she made this film. I felt like a bad person for not getting what was put into the world and I sat down again to educate myself.

The second viewing was worse than the first. This is a dreadful, wrongheaded movie. For the life of me, despite reading and seeing what I saw, I cannot understand why it was made. When I try and think about the people who claim to like this film all I can come up with is that they must not have seen the original when it came out, particularly in the theater. I don’t write that to be patronizing. It’s hard to reconcile this film with the original and the experience of seeing it for the first time.

The Matrix is an incredible fusion of ideas and influences that requires no familiarity with either on the part of the viewer to enjoy the film. At the same time those who were “in the know” had the double pleasure of recognizing works they loved and concepts they appreciated forged into something new and unexpected. Seeing the Matrix for the first time was, for lack of a better term, an unique experience.

The Matrix: Resurrections tries to protect itself from criticism but offering all of the theories and reasons as to why the film exists. Only this proactive approach within the movie fails. It isn’t “Meta” and it isn’t clever. It is an excuse for returning to the well and attempting to restart a franchise that is creatively spent.

I don’t like to be mean about works of art but this film (much like the two sequels) undermine everything that was great about the original. The best example of the wrongheadedness of this film was recasting the role of Morpheus for no reason. Lawrence Fishburne was not asked to be in the film. They just…recast the role and addressed it in the film as though his new computer program form made it a fun choice to look different. Every original idea was retread, reprocessed and done worse than before. I cannot think of a better film to point to as an example to quit while you are ahead. 

Peacemaker – Season 1

I watched the first season of Peacemaker in January and utterly hated it. It felt flat and empty and pointless. The idea was to generate sympathy and compassion for a character who is little more than a caricature. I respect filmmakers like James Gunn because they seem to have no fear tackling new topics and exploring new themes in their work. In this instance I think this is because he doesn’t know any better and doesn’t realize there are things he’s not good at.

I rewatched this show a few months later and my harsh opinion softened. Do I like it now? No. But I feel like I better understand that the viewer is meant to be laughing at the characters. That despite the attempts to humanize Peacemaker, the viewer, ultimately, is meant to look down on him. The trouble with the works of James Gunn is that they are so brazenly simple that trying to reflect on intention and nuance feels like a waste of time.


Rewatching Reminiscence improved the film for me. The first time I floundered and wondered if I had missed something. On the second viewing I confirmed that I did not miss anything, yet I enjoyed it more. I don’t love the film. I feel that Hugh Jackman is, once again, poorly cast. For some reason people want him to play these complicated, difficult characters who are violent and unpleasant and it doesn’t really work. He’s a great actor but when he plays these kinds of roles I can see the performance and it is unfortunate. He is a charming, charismatic actor who conveys goodness and decency and I would love to see him in roles that allow him to be these things.

Thandie Newton, as usual, is the best thing in this film and I wish it had been written for her to be the lead. I think it would have made a better movie. She can be whatever she wants and it works.

Sicario: Day of The Soldado

I think I’ve written about the first film before. If I haven’t, I didn’t love it. I liked it but the way people went on about it (and I get it – Denis Villeneuve, Taylor Sheridan and Roger Deakins) made me question myself. So I’ve seen it four or five times and I think it’s a fine film, just nothing special. It has some great parts and a third act that goes bananas. The entire appeal of Sicario was that they made a grounded film about real issues. Reality-based action sequences and a grounded approach of catching the higher ups in the cartels was the basis of the film. To then conclude it with a one man army storming a compound and killing everyone? Bizarre.

The sequel did not get much love. I saw it, liked it and forgot about it. I came across it in March and wanted something to watch and it felt right. What I can say after watching it again is that I think it’s a better film than the first Sicario.

First and foremost the main frustration I feel when I watch Sicario is that the main character is clueless for most of the movie. She’s used and in the dark and the big conclusion is that despite being an accomplished FBI agent she’s not capable or prepared to operate in “the real” world. She’s forced at gunpoint to sign and official lie because her only real purpose in the movie was to use her status as an FBI agent to allow a CIA covert action to take place. Does this sound rewarding to you? Do you get a sense of emotional payoff? Or do you, too, feel like a dupe for sitting through this film and not being part of the real plot?

The sequel is focused on the actual main characters of the first film, played by Josh Brolin and Benico Del Toro. They are at it again and operating in Mexico. I like the story of this film better. I like that both Brolin and Del Toro have a chance to behave like actual people (and not some weird Cormac McCarthy version of a tough southern guy) and have genuine, tender moments. I feel that both actors are able to actually act in this film and do interesting things with their characters. I also feel that the film concludes in an interesting and satisfactory manner. All in all I think it is a better movie and hope people circle back to it and give it another chance.


I had a spell this year where I was rewatching Michael Mann films. I didn’t start with Ali, I watched The Insider first and I was startled at how poorly it holds up. I don’t think I had seen either of these films since they were released. Since their releases I’ve seen countless films and shows and learned how to write films and make them. I say this because I believe part of my frustration with both of these films stems from knowing more about story structure now and how to actually put a film together.

Whereas The Insider spends too much time with Al Pacino’s character and constantly jumps forward in time with Russel Crowe’s – effectively removing the suspense and sense of how completely this man destroyed his life becoming a whistle blower (the entire point of the movie by the way) – Ali simply fast forwards through numerous important moments of Muhammad Ali’s life. 

I found this viewing fascinating given the impact both of these movies had on me when I initially watched them. The portrait painted of Muhammad Ali in this film is that of a hothead who is unfaithful to every woman in his life and wasn’t that impressive of a boxer (because you only seem him boxing when he’s older). The last part is particularly interesting given that when he was younger he was obviously an amazing boxer.

If all you knew of Muhammad Ali’s life was this film and you focused, naturally, on the third act when you recalled it, you would be forgiven for thinking he was not very special. More attention is paid to his interest in women or his strained relationship with the Nation of Islam than it is to his boxing – which would be forgivable if you felt you learned something of value from the time spent on these other things. 

Instead we have a third act taking place largely in Africa, showing the build up and long wait for the Rumble in the Jungle. Where Ali comes to distrust and dislike Don King and ultimately devise a strategy of beating George Forman. I haven’t rewatched the actual fight but the one in the film is painful. You see a smaller, slower man essentially hiding from the fight while the better boxer tries to go through with the match. It’s an unpleasant ending, what might be called a very un-Hollywood ending, where by doing the sneaky, dubious thing Muhammad Ali wins the fight. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth and questioning my reverence for the films of Michael Mann.

Kong: Skull Island

I rewatched this in June. I was the correct thing to do. I love this movie. I love that this movie knows exactly what it is and does it’s job. I think it is perfect.

Hellboy (2019)

I rewatched this in July and enjoyed it, again. Hellboy is the dumbest title in the history of dumb titles. For anything. Every time I see it I can’t help but feel it is a test. Or that the writer lost a bet. It’s stupid and lazy and feels like a five year old came up with it thinking they landed on the coolest thing ever. It’s not and I wish I could make it go away.

This film was savaged and should not have been. I think I prefer this to both of Guillermo Del Toro’s films. The plot is straightforward, you understand HB and his motivations immediately, and the mystical/magical elements are interesting and creepy. 

The special effects (benefitting from coming later than the earlier films) are quite good. The fight sequence with the giants is weird and unusual and different from anything I have seen before. I also think making the main character looks as he does – actually ugly and weird, was a great choice. Comments were made about how he resembled a melted candle – this was intentional. He’s supposed to dislike his appearance (and it should unsettle others) and what his “true nature” is. I like the performance that David Harbour gives in this film (in every film) and I hope people give this another chance.

The Ghost in The Shell (2017)

I watched this again and had the same response as before – I like this movie. I’ve seen a few versions of the original, I’ve watched several of the television shows. I’ve seen sequels to the original anime. In some way or another I have enjoyed them all as this is an interesting concept and to varying degrees these films and shows have been well-made. All of those previous projects have been animated. This is the first live-action film I have seen of Ghost in The Shell and I think they did an excellent job bringing it to life.

I don’t want to dwell, this is a rewatch for Pete’s sake. They made changes to the original story. The cast a caucasian actress to play the lead. They created a role for Juliet Binoche. Yep. They explained and justified these changes and, I think, made it all work. I think the filmmakers were less interested in “whitewashing” the lead role and were more interested in casting one of the biggest and best known actors in the role. If the goal is to get as many people as possible to see your film – casting Scarlet Johansson in your movie is a good start.


For some reason Guy Ritchie re-entered my life this spring. I was, often, at a loss as to what I should watch this year. In that moment I think I had just been dealt the one-two punch of Killing Eve season four and Shining Girls. I was lost. I needed something that would bring me back from the dangerous precipice of believing that no one was making anything good. For some reason Snatch presented itself as the best method to do this and I watched.

Unlike Rock ‘n Rolla I find snatch to be a pretty smooth film-watching experience. There are no rough spots or sections that you fast forward through. Is it perfect? No. It is funny? Very. I think this is the last film Guy Ritchie made where he wasn’t copying from himself and you can feel the difference. The ideas were new to him. He’s playful in this film. Brad Pitt clearly is having the best time playing this role and Jason Statham isn’t trying to compete with him.

The underwater boxing moment holds up nicely as does the shocking shootout after the fight. I enjoyed watching this film enough to watch three other Guy Ritchie movies I hadn’t seen. If that isn’t an ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

The Batman

What rewatching The Batman brought home to me is the following:

  1. The score is excellent but strangely forgettable. I kept thinking that parts of it were similar to Down on The Upside (Soundgarden) when watching the movie. Afterwards I tried to find the particular track to share with a friend and I could never find it. So many of the songs are very similar to one another but it isn’t a theme being manipulated (I don’t think). It’s an odd thing to discover. What I am clumsily trying to say is that the music is married to the music and separating it does harm to the music.
  2. The plot is pretty so-so. The first time through, not knowing what is coming and then getting the capture of the Riddler long before the ending feels interesting and fresh. Rewatching the film all I could see were the influences of Seven everywhere. Which is not to say that I think Seven was the first film to do this. Only it was the first time I had seen it. So much with Catwoman and her story doesn’t hold up well on rewatching the film. She’s really upset only she’s falling in love with Batman, only she’s got big issues with her father only…I feel the will of the screenwriters more than the drive of the characters in most of this film. They want Catwoman to have feelings for Batman but what I see on screen doesn’t justify anything.
  3. I didn’t realize they were utilizing “The Volume” when they made the movie. Once I saw a number of behind the scenes videos it became apparent. It’s not that knowing this takes away from the film but there is something about actual locations that gives sequences that extra “oomph” that you want in a movie like this. You think about the opening of “The Dark Knight Returns” with the airplane and then people talking about the virtues of the “The Volume” and you find yourself quietly sidling toward Mr. Nolan (detonate that bomb, baby!).
  4. Everything with the Batmobile is gold. They did such a nice job with the vehicle and that car chase. I love it.
  5. The notion that Bruce Wayne fits his Batsuit into a backpack that he can quickly change into is absurd. It would not fit and he would not be able to quickly put it on. Plus he’s wearing the eye make-up beforehand and that’s weird. Also, what happens if he loses the backpack or has an accident? Then the suit is just out there. This is no good.
There just ain’t no way Batman is changing that quickly!


Look my life, in many ways, is just Dune and Tenet now. I have accepted this and so should you. I seem to watch it every four months or so. Each time I notice something new, am comforted by how masterfully it was made and adapts the source material, and how much I yearn for more time with Javier Bardem.

Just last week I learned that the “bagpipes” at the beginning of the Atreide’s landing on Arrakis are not, in fact, bagpipes. Hans Zimmer you madman, you.


Hello. Again. This movie is so absurdly good and so universally unappreciated. I will never understand it. It’s layered. It’s nuanced. It is so intricate and complex then when I start thinking about how you would conceive of the story and figure out how to execute one of these scenes I go cross-eyed. This is such a movie.

The Northman

When I rewatched The Northman I tried to pay more attention to the beginning. My initial impression was largely focused on the revenge aspect of the film. Not so much the romance and mystical aspects. Rewatching I was surprised how little there is to the childhood section. Each scene is so important and memorable. You get a strong sense of the world and this boy’s place in it, it is very well done.

I also noticed how much I liked the action sequences of the film. Despite the comments made by Corridor Digital in the episode when they looked at the special effects of The Northman, I like how the action was handled. It didn’t feel overly stylized but felt correct for the time period. The most memorable moment being catching the spear mid-air and throwing it back which I believe is based on a painting but I cannot remember where I read that so I’m not finding a link to offer. I know that the director tried to do things practically whenever possible and I think the details of the costumes and the sets gives this film an authenticity even if you aren’t actively noticing them.

I enjoyed this film as much if not more the second and third times I watched it. It holds up remarkably well.

Films and Shows I Watched in 2022 – The Bad List

Shows and Movies that brought me heartache and pain in 2022.

I want to be clear – I didn’t hate every film that is listed below. In fact a number of them I have decidedly mixed feelings about. My goal this year was to share thoughts about all the films that seemed worthy of comment. In the past I have tried to keep things positive. This year the number of films that frustrated and angered me was too large to ignore. This was a truly difficult year of watching and I have found writing about it to be immensely helpful.

I try and avoid spoilers when I can but I am discussing films I’ve seen so if you want to go into any of these films or shows fresh I would suggest not reading what I have written until you have watched them.

The Green Knight

Where to start with The Green Knight? I am going to paste a review that sums up what I think about it better than I believe I can –

And we’re done.

Another confession, when I saw the film I had not yet read the poem it is based on. That’s on me. But I saw the trailer for this film which excited me greatly. I am pasting it below.

Here’s the thing, even if you aren’t overly familiar with the story of Gawain most likely you know he was a knight of the Round Table and he was known for his virtue. Or maybe you didn’t know that in which case perhaps this movie is for you. The director claims to have studied the text closely but then chose to ignore nearly all of the important aspects and events of the text which leads me to question why he bothered to make the film at all.

First and foremost, in this telling Gawain is not a knight. He’s the cousin of Arthur and wants to be part of the court. Any standing he has comes from his mother as he is a drunk and spends most of his time in brothels. Okay, fine. The Green Knight appears and issues his challenge. No one wants to take him up on it. Gawain moves to, is warned not to, does it anyway. Okay. He then spends the next year carrying on as he had, drinking and fornicating. And then it is time to go on his journey to find the Green Knight.

The bulk of the film is concerned with this journey where Gawain is beset by problems he is not able to overcome. He is not virtuous or brave or kind. He is certainly not capable. When he finds hospitality with a landowner who lives near the Green Knight he then proceeds to have a sexual encounter with his wife (played by the same actress who plays his favorite prostitute for no apparent reason) and to take the green sash (which will save him from death) no questions asked.

I mention all of this because these are major plot points in the poem (except the prostitute existing and him engaging in sexual activities with the wife) – only the director has altered them so that they are now devoid of meaning. He is meant to resist the advances of the wife but eventually accept the sash. The landowner has asked his wife to test Gawain and is pleased when Gawain passes – despite accepting the sash.

We also are treated to a fantasy of Gawain not being beheaded so that he can watch his life play out and end terribly. So he does the “noble” thing and chooses death. Which, again, is the opposite of what happens in the poem. In the poem the Green Knight is the landowner in disguise, all of this has been an elaborate test and he does not kill Gawain.

To say that this film misses the mark is like saying that the Titanic sinks. It’s one thing to rework a text and insert new themes that would not have been possible when it was written – psychology for one. It is another to drastically alter the story in such a manner that the result is now the antithesis of the original.

The New Pope

I don’t know what to say about this show. Somehow I knew the big event (spoilers now, so stop reading if you don’t want them) about Jude Law returning and it tainted the experience. This season (and the one before) are painfully uneven. Such moving, wonderful sections and others that drag on with no purpose or focus. I gave up at one point and took a month off, coming back to finish the show because I usually do. I think this was probably the tipping point for me this year, where I realized it doesn’t really matter. If you know something isn’t working for you why waste time?

Raised By Wolves – Season Two

I’m going to be brief. I watched season one because Ridley Scott made this show and directed the pilot. I didn’t love it, he gets too weird about space and robots, but it was interesting and I watched it. This season is considerably less interesting, less rewarding and less worth watching. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time with this nonsense because I derived absolutely no pleasure from it.

Shining Girls

Okay, the gloves are now off – I hate this show. The trailer made it look like a complicated mystery with supernatural elements that would ultimately….do something. This show is all about women who have been murdered by a guy who uses a magic house to travel through time and kill them. He cuts them open, puts an object from his time inside of them and then skedaddles. Only…one of the women he attacked doesn’t die.

From here it gets weird(er) but never fully explained. Aspects of the heroines life (appearance, pets, job, etc) begin to change at random intervals and she’s the only one who notices. Before one of these changes she was about to be a reporter so she uses her skills, gets a currently employed reporter to help her and they track down other cases like hers…to discover the time traveling guy that she ultimately defeats by taking over his magical house. 

I hate this show. I hate that I wasted my time watching it. I hate that the payoff is murky and lousy an unfulfilling. I hate that I love Elizabeth Moss so much that if they make another season I will consider watching it. Grr.

Outer Range – Season 1

Keeping in this vein of complicated time travel shows that have endings that are unsatisfying I give you Outer Range. A show that starts off great and slowly devolves into a big mess. The pilot is such a good episode that I would recommend watching it and stopping there. Or something. I don’t know. This show made sense for a long time and ended with Buffalo traveling through time and wreaking havoc in present day Wyoming. 

The conceit is there is a hole that can access other points in space-time. Only the ending makes clear that the hole is not the only means of doing this. And that our hero, in fact, traveled though the hole (and time) as a boy. He does it again at the end of the pilot and goes to the future. He then returns to the present where things are going wrong. The show ends with buffalo and a character who from the first meeting you know was important and not telling the truth being important to the story (and she has secrets!). Watch this show if you would like a prime example of having a good idea and giving up on your ending.

Killing Eve – Season 4

Dear Lord. If you were on the Internet at all in May you surely saw something about this. Four seasons of “What is up with Eve and Villenelle” to have it conclude with Eve deciding she wants to be with Villenelle and Villanelle being killed by Caroline at the very end. I just…why? This is the definition of sophomoric. Of all the things they could have done with this show, the crazy ways they could of ended it they essentially said to their rabid fanbase – here, we are giving you the thing you want and then taking it away at the last second. The end.

May was a rough month in my household for television watching.

Moon Knight – Season 1

I watched this in May as well. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. The idea being – guy who has multiple personalities does not know he has multiple personalities – coupled with the technique of – let’s put the audience in the same clueless state as the character – was bad.

Let’s ignore the fact that the main character of this show is not the personality we, the audience spend time with. The way they structure the “blind spots” or “missing time” was lazy and done to hide the fact they didn’t have the budget or means to properly do the big action sequences that *wink* clearly happened. Okay, fine.

I saw a lot bad stuff in May and it may have clouded my judgment but what I would have loved to see with this show was a God’s-eye view of everything. Nothing cute and clever just a guy with serious emotional trauma trying to navigate being the avatar for an Egytian god. That’s enough for a story, I promise.

Frankly most of the Marvel shows have been a letdown, in part, because they haven’t tried to do much. Oscar Issac is fantastic in this show and gives a powerful performance. There just isn’t anything else being explored or put forth. After seeing The Falcon and The Winter Soldier it’s hard to settle for anything less ambitious from these incredibly well-funded and supported shows.

Stranger Things – Season 4

Anyone else remember when Netflix “saved” Arrested Development and made season four but didn’t wait until the actors could work together? Anyone? I’ll sum up then. Because they were impatient and didn’t wait until the cast of an ensemble comedy could be reunited as an ensemble they broke everyone off into little groups or pairings and made a season like that. The result being terrible and ruining the show. Got it?

I don’t think part one is terrible but I do think it is the worst (season/part) of Stranger Things by far (season two episode seven is an outstanding episode and furthers Eleven’s character development). I usually watch a season of this show, see a couple of other things and come back and watch the season again. Typically it is good enough to warrant this and I find it enjoyable. I almost did not make it through part one. So many of the wonderful dynamics of this show come from having all of these lovable goofballs together doing their thing. This season, not so much.

Also – I know that most people are catching on to this but let’s be clear, introducing new, lovable characters to only just kill them off is not cool. It’s not clever and it is not rewarding.

So despite all of this the show continues to look amazing and the performances are fantastic. All of us became infected by Kate Bush for a spell and I believe a whole lot of young people became aware that early Metallica is amazing. These are huge wins.

Part two is much better than part one but Netflix became guilty of my biggest gripe of 2022 – making me wait to see streaming content. This nonsense of parcelling out episodes needs to end. Just wait until they are ready and put them on your site. Time in-between decreases the quality of the experience.

They also made this season more upsetting than previous ones (I am sure because the kids are older) and I didn’t care for that as much. Hopper’s story in the prison felt pitch perfect to me whereas a lot with Eleven was off. Hopefully they are able to readjust for season five (the big hint here is to lean more on Winona Ryder) and do more of what makes this show so special.

The Gray Man

I am conflicted about this film. It doesn’t fail but it doesn’t really succeed. It exists. This film, with it’s talented, likable cast and massive budget doesn’t wow and it doesn’t excite. I wish it did. I wanted to like this movie more than I did. There are too many moments, like a fight scene on an airplane, where the material is handled so poorly that it yanks the viewer from the film (or this one at least) and makes you start thinking about why it looks so bad. This should not happen on a blockbuster film with action stars.

This could be forgiven if, perhaps, the filmmakers had gone too far in a dramatic direction and instead of making a great action film made a great drama. They did not. I can’t say why this film doesn’t work other than to say it is uninspired. I get the sense that the Russo brothers made this movie because they could, not because they passionately wanted to.


Noomi. My love for her is known. I tell you, she is a gift. Lamb is…pushing it. I watched it. I enjoyed many parts of it. I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. It’s meant to be a fable, I think? I’m not sure what the point of the film is.

The premise being that an Icelandic childless couple (their own died) discover a half-sheep half-human among their flock of sheep (little did they know that a gigantic half-human half-sheep creature impregnated their ewe to bring this about). So in their grief and goodness they take the creature, Ada, into their home and raise her as their child. All is well until Noomi’s bother-in-law, a ne’er do well (in a leather jacket no less) shows up. He’s not okay with Ada and tries to to get them to see what they are doing is unnatural. Eventually he is won over by Ada and recants his position.

My memory of the ending is fuzzy, the brother-in-law has left, the husband is killed by Ada’s father (giant half-man half-sheep creature) and Ada is taken away. Noomi is alone and heartbroken amidst the unforgiving landscape? This feels right. It’s a long, quiet film that ends and makes you scratch your head wondering why you watched it. You may not be able to answer that question but I can. Noomi. I’m not sure it was worth the time.

After Yang

I am going to lump this in with Lamb. It’s A24, the company that found its niche and refuses to leave it. This is another understated, somewhat pointless film that has an incredible title sequence. The rest is a forgettable story (sorry, I’m being harsh but the story has no emotional resonance) about a family, a robot and valuing the little moments? Clones are people, too? Tea can have meaning and add purpose to one’s life? I honestly don’t know.  

Westworld – Season 4

I loved season three of this show. I may have been the only person who did. This impressive, ambitious show that boasted an unparalleled cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright and the rest) was stellar for the first two seasons. Rich, complex, epic in scale – you could not ask for anything more. And then they changed everything and gave a radically different season that was less dour and repetitious than what came before. That change was bold and it was brave and it was very good (although, as always, it could have used more Maeve, the true star of this show).

Season four is very much like “Maxtrix: Resurrections” – a “meta” reboot wrapped up in pretentious explanations for an implausible concept no one wants. Ideas don’t always come when you want them to and I can’t help but think that season four needed to be made on a schedule, regardless or whether it was ready. This feels like making the best of a bad situation – which is unfortunate as season three was so incredibly good.

I had been hoping that they would have the courage to leave Dolores behind and explore the new and potentially fascinating characters like Dolores/Hale and whatever Host William was but it all fell a bit flat and still relied on Dolores, only, you know, trapped in a simulation and being manipulated to extract information. New ideas please! There will be no further episodes which is sad but most likely for the best, you have to walk away before you tarnish the entire enterprise (hi Matrix sequels!!).

Drive My Car

I don’t want to pick on the arty Japanese film that everyone loved. Except it’s not really a movie. This feels like a novel that a filmmaker decided to write as a sceenplay and then try and film. I have never had the sensation when watching a movie that the film should have been a book instead, but Drive My Car made me think this thought.

So many long silences that mean nothing (and would have been better as passages of interior monologues and thoughts). The performances where everyone speaks a different language and the text is displayed on a screen behind them. People just abruptly saying, “I feel that I must tell you the story of how I…”randomly throughout the movie because without this exposition you would have no idea what was happening or why.

I’m someone who enjoys world cinema and not everything I watch needs to be fast-paced and full of action but Drive My Car needs an editor and possibly a priest. I think a good movie might be hiding in this film but there is a whole lot of excess that should be removed and thought put into how to convey ideas and concepts visually.

Tehran – Season 2

Apple TV has problems. I don’t know why most of their shows don’t work but for some reason they do not. Season one of Slow Horses, Suspicion, For All Mankind (and season two as well), The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray and Tehran are all terribly uneven. I have no idea why this is. It is as though the people making these shows don’t know how to link episodes together when telling their stories. They seem to know how to make individual episodes but then connecting them to one another, or having a through-line when it comes to emotions and plot seems to escape them.

The second season of Tehran has many solid and interesting moments. The cast is great, the tension is palpable and for the most part it works. Then you reach the last five minutes of the season and it’s like someone’s angry teenager has gotten control of the plot and ruined everything just to spite you. The ending of the season is about as wrongheaded as anything I’ve ever seen and it defeated the purpose of watching the season. Let down isn’t the correct way to put it. The ending felt like the filmmakers saying “Sucker!”, while driving past me and throwing a slushie in my face. Why did I watch this thing?

The Investigation

I understand that this is based on a true story and that it happened recently. I can appreciate wanting to be sensitive to the feelings of the people who are still alive. What I cannot understand is making a show about a missing persons/murder case where you never see/hear from the perpetrator.

Somewhere around the third episode it became clear you would get secondhand reports about the enigmatic inventor who took a journalist out on his custom submarine, but we were not going to meet him. This is a bizarre move. Especially since the meat of this story, the quirky interesting parts, stem from the fact that this person continually changed his account of what happened in an effort to stymie the police’s efforts. Those would have be THE scenes of the show.

Without them it is this weird, empty thing where we watch the parents suffer, the investigator wring his hands and ask others to do their jobs and get a lot of explanations as to why you cannot do things in the Danish Judicial system. If you take all of the most frustrating parts of a courtroom thriller and make an entire show of those you would end up with something like The Investigation. I have no idea who this was made for but it certainly was not made for me.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law

Speaking of frustrating we have season one of She-Hulk. A show that decided to follow the Deadpool formula in the hope of being successful. To start – I think Tatiana Maslany is amazing and I will watch almost anything with her in it (she and Noomi are clearly two sides of the same coin and should work together). The work she did on Orphan Black is the best acting I have ever seen. She deserves a better show.

The decision to make this show a half hour comedy with constant fourth wall breaks must have seemed like a great idea on paper. In reality it does not work. The show tries to rely on the charm of Ms. Maslany and the cleverness of it’s quips. Only there isn’t much of a story, the quality of the special effects is inconsistent and there is no payoff. There are a number of good moments and interesting ideas (in particular the notion that men connect with She-Hulk and not Jen, that she’s valued more for being super-powered than being a lawyer) that are immediately ignored and replaced by typical television nonsense.

This show feels as though it exists to build a bridge between MCU projects and little else. I wish they had figured out something better before they made this, it is a missed opportunity.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

I was incredibly excited to watch this film after seeing the trailer. What I thought I was getting – Nicholas Cage let off the chain and going wild for an hour and forty minutes. What I got – Nicholas Cage and Pedro Pascal becoming buddies in the middle of a messy movie that forgets what it was meant to be. 

This is the kind of film that starts with a solid premise and then morphs into a weird meta-dream thing that feels like an excuse for the writers to insert themselves into the story. There are numerous characters who feel unimportant who come to matter and several who seem important and matter not at all. It’s not that the film doesn’t try and deliver on the conceit – Nicholas Cage is drawn into a CIA sting of a mob family and must help the CIA while protecting his friend – it does do this, but it also fails at it.

I don’t think it’s a bad movie it’s just not a great one. If I have one theme from the things I watched this year it’s that I wish people put more effort into what they are making. A lot of the shows and films I watched in 2022 felt half-baked. More time, more thought and more care could have helped these projects be something more than mediocre.

See – Season 3

Jason Momoa’s television shows, so far, are heartbreaking. Red Road was upsetting and difficult and his character was mistreated but also kinda awful. Frontier was lackluster for the first season with a better second and excellent third at which point Netflix decided enough was enough and cancelled it. The heartbreak being once the filmmakers figured out how to make that show properly it was cancelled.

See was always uneven but the show had an interesting premise, a unique execution and solid performances from most of the cast. The ending of this show, however, is just dreadful. I watched seasons one and two with my wife. She was busy when the third aired and I watched it alone. When it ended she asked me, “How was it?” And all I could say was, “What’s the one thing this show could not do?”.  She knew immediately what I meant.

If you haven’t watched See I have no words of wisdom. It never occurred to me that they would end the show the way they did, largely negating the point of the entire experience. There was a fantastic alternative staring them in the face and they chose to ignore it. I cannot imagine why. I would love to see Jason Momoa work on projects that get things right, he keeps getting better as an actor and deserves to be a part of excellence.

The Peripheral

Until the final episode I loved this show. So well done. They improved upon many aspects of the book and made an interesting show that fleshed out many hinted at ideas from the novel. I think the actors do a great job of bringing the characters to life. Watching the finale it became apparent that they are not finishing the story with a single season and instead got clever with the plot. Now I feel sad and empty. It’s a lousy non-ending to an otherwise wonderful show.

Peaky Blinders – Season 6

Peaky Blinders, possibly more than any other television show of recent memory, won me over with it’s singular vision. It’s not a nice show. It’s not a happy show. It isn’t the kind of show that you watch and think, “You know who this is perfect for?” Unless you know some truly dark and masochistic people. It’s a dark show. It’s a mean show. The first two seasons had a beating heart buried in the coal and grime and that made it worth watching.

Then season three happened and that light was extinguished and ever since we’ve been wandering around in the darkness wondering if we are walking toward something good or about to plummet to our doom.

Season six answers this question – it’s all bad. There is absolutely nothing rewarding or good about this season. If Peaky Blinders had a secret sauce, that magical ingredient tying everything together and made that pain and suffering worthwhile, it’s gone. The hero is diminished, his life is loveless and the supporting cast has been reduced to simplistic cardboard cut-outs of characters they used to inhabit and explore.

I couldn’t finish the season, I’m halfway through episode five, and enough is enough. It’s possible that they redeem the show. It’s possible that some sense is made of the nonsense that is this season’s storyline. It doesn’t really matter. What made this show worth watching was that Tommy and Grace found one another and that despite everything else terrible in Birmingham, you had their love. Yep, that’s sentiment and it’s romantic and it was the heart of the show. Tommy wasn’t really a monster and Grace wasn’t stone cold. He didn’t need to be a gangster and she could move past the great loss of her life. When this relationship went away you simply had others floundering (looking at you Arthur) or being ignored by the storytellers (Finn? Who is Finn?) or killed off in the hope that it might mean something (farewell John, we hardly knew you).

This show is so well-made and pleasing to look at but has become an unbearable slog of misery and pain. It breaks my heart.

The Crown – Season 4

Speaking of misery and pain wrapped up in gorgeous images and impeccable filmmaking, we have season four of The Crown. Dear God. Look, I knew that once we reached all things Diana it was going to be bad but this show was already in the doldrums long before she entered the picture.

I had hoped, why I do not know, that once Olivia Coleman took over the role that things would be different. Gillian Anderson was going to play Margaret Thatcher and be important (she’s not). I have no idea what the filmmakers were thinking but what the viewers get is sadness and pain and monotony.

I knew five minutes into the first episode of season one that this show was not for me but I watched it with my wife so quitting was not an option. As the show went on I found many moments where it became incredible television that seemed to justify the misery and long bouts of nothingness.

It’s just that these bad moments so greatly outnumber the good ones. So often it’s drudgery and now with these later seasons it is repetition of previous drudgery to illustrate a point. It’s terrible. One thing of interest is comparing this show to The Investigation on HBO. Whereas that show seemed to show too much restraint out of respect for the family members and people involved The Crown seems to want to push things too far in the other direction. No one comes off looking good or decent. We wallow in everyone’s pain and misfortune. I am not quite sure I understand the point.

Street Food USA

This is a show I wanted to love. The problem with all of the food programming Netflix makes in this Chef’s Table universe is twofold. First, it is incredibly uneven. Second they try and give each subject the same amount of time and importance. The quality of the episodes of Street Food USA varies greatly. The Portland episode is one of the best food documentaries I have ever seen. Since watching it I have wanted to go to Portland every time I am hungry. I have started following Mama Dut on Instagram and telling my children about every post I see.

Nearly every person featured in the episode is making interesting food, has an interesting story and comes across as someone I want to support in every way I can. I love it. It is an amazing episode of food television and you should go watch it now.

Many other episodes and people featured don’t have much of a story. And what brings this home, painfully, is that each episode of Street Food has the same structure. Here are the experts of the city to try and give you a brief overview of what is interesting about this location. Here is our main subject for this episode – Thuy Pham for the Portland episode – whose story we are going to interweave throughout the other subjects of the episode. And then intercutting all of this together over about half and hour.

As you watch the episodes this formula becomes more apparent. Around the midway point you get to the tough times of the main subject, and when things were hardest for them. By the end we are back to happiness and making great food again and isn’t everything wonderful. If you watch several episodes in a row this is grating.

The unevenness of the episodes, I am sure, exacerbates this repetitive structure. I imagine the problem with Street Food USA is the same as it is with Chef’s Table – that the directors are assigned their subjects. I mentioned this in my food post and linked to this article where a director explained this issue at length. It makes sense. The person in charge of Portland clearly liked the people and the food and the city. By extension the viewer comes to like the city and the food and the people. Other locations, New York in particular, you get no sense of. Which brings me to my second point – that each episode and subject is given the same amount of time and importance.

I’m not trying to tell anyone how to do their job but Los Angeles and New York must, simply by the size of their populations, have considerably more street food options than Portland and New Orleans. Therefore, it would stand to reason, that when you make an episode in those cities you have a) longer episodes and b) feature more subjects. The number of cuisines excluded from each of these cities (despite Los Angeles being a pretty interesting and good episode) is massive. New York easily could have been double its length and still left out plenty.

I have this show in the bad category which feels mean. It’s not bad, it’s just a missed opportunity like so much of Chef’s Table now. They could be making such better shows! I do not mean to harp on New York City but allow me to put a link to a video from The New York Times below. I watched this in-between episodes of Street Food USA and I think Priya Krishna did a fantastic job capturing the story of Sonia Pérez and her tamale cart in Brooklyn. I think it’s better than most of what is in Street Food USA.

1899 – Season 1

I watched this show for two reasons, it has a good trailer and it is made by the same people who made Dark. The problem with the second reason is that Dark went completely and totally off the rails by the end. When people lodge complaints against a film like Tenet they usually are along the lines that the storyline is too complicated or that the conceit of the film is bad but you can’t tell because the filmmaking is so intricate. I would argue that Dark ultimately fails as a show because it was so intent on being complicated and intricate that eventually no one, including the filmmakers, really understood where to go with it or why.

1899 suffers from a different problem, one I’ve already mentioned regarding Matrix: Resurrections and season four of Westworld – the notion of our characters being stuck in a simulation but having to discover that this is the case. It’s not an unusable concept but it is a familiar one at this point. So if you are going to use it – do something original and exciting with it. Whereas this is a component of the story in The Peripheral it is not the central story being told. Here you have nothing else. Episode after episode is spent getting to know the various characters on board this ship, each of them with their own past they are trying to escape as mysterious and strange events unfold around them.

Okay, that’s fine for a couple of episodes. But to drag this out until the last episode, where you discover that none of these other people matter (in this season at least) and in fact our heroine is stuck in a simulation that she must break free from…only to have the season conclude with her waking up and oh-ho is the real world different from the one we’ve been in – is a complete let down. We have done this many times before.

I knew around episode five that the show was going to be lackluster but I trudged along because this miserable year has taken away my show-watching hope. I’d say 60% of what I have seen this year has been mediocre or bad. It is depressing. If the big reveal of this show had been done at the end of episode two, or the beginning of episode three this could have been an interesting season of television. Instead so much time was wasted with characters who simply died or disappeared. This show feels very much like literary novels that take two hundred and fifty pages to begin their story. I don’t know who these people are that have absolute faith that viewers and readers will carry on despite no reasons to do so but I wish they would stop. Make an effort, give your audience a reason to stick around and care about what you have created.

Ted Lasso – Season 2

It’s amazing in a terrible way, to watch something that you loved and brought you joy self-destruct. I have no idea if the plan for Ted Lasso was always to have a first season be about positivity, joy and making your way through life like a goldfish – to then undermine everything you did and set it on fire. If it was, mission accomplished. I cannot imagine why you would want to do this but if it was the plan than everyone involved gets an A for execution.

I didn’t finish the season, I stopped watching during episode eleven – enough was enough. I tried reading many (and I mean many) reviews and columns and tweets as to whether I was the only person (excluding my wife) who took issue with the new direction of season two. After reading I don’t know how many things I found little comfort in some people feeling as I do. The first season was a gift dropped in the middle of a terrible time. The second season feels like a punishment.

I don’t want to spend more time trying to tear down the show or convince anyone to dislike it. If you found season two to be rewarding and a good time, I’m happy for you. I did not. The introduction of anxiety attacks, a counselor and a spiteful and mean Nate strikes me as terribly storytelling on an unprecedented level. That I made it to the middle of episode eleven speaks to my love of the first season. It felt like they had to, at some moment, course correct and undo all of the terrible things they were doing. From what I have read they did to some extent. Given that Nate is not redeemed and ends the season a villain clearly I was not entirely wrong.

I don’t have a wonderful conclusion to this post. As I said I generally try and stay positive with my online writing. That being said this past year was absolutely horrid for watching movies and television. Ted Lasso being the best example I can offer. To say that it carried me through a month of 2020 is no exaggeration. Season one is joyous, healing television. I will be forever grateful for it.

I imagine that good deal of what I watched in 2021 was influenced by what we all went through in 2020, whether the filmmakers intended to do this or not. I understand the urge, in fact that might be why I am posting this, but you have to temper it. It can’t all be bad and bleak. I tried to find balance even on this page and I hope I did not bring any of you down.

The Internet, Adam Sandler and Forgetting

I write to fix wrongs.

Today Netflix released the following teaser trailer:

I love it. It looks like a solid basketball movie with Adam Sandler and I cannot wait to watch it. I went to share the trailer on social media and immediately found no reason to do so. Everyone was already talking about the movie. In particular they were talking about how Adam Sandler is a pretty good actor and “Hey look! He’s doing a serious role.” Which is weird.

It’s weird because he received a lot of attention and praise for Uncut Gems, which was not that long ago, but more so because this happens every time he plays a serious role. The Internet, it would appear, has a forgetting problem.

To rectify this I have decided to make a list of Adam Sandler performances that I like and think qualify as “dramatic”. I am doing the quotes thing on that because some of this is surely subjective and I am a coward.


The Wedding Singer

By far the most iffy “dramatic” role in my list, I have chosen to begin with the wedding singer. Here’s what I can say, there are many funny parts to this movie. I feel, ultimately, that it is at least equal parts drama and that Adam Sandler gives a solid performance. Drew Barrymore is wonderful (as always) and despite not seeing this since it came out (1998) I can remember quite a bit about the film. Remember this Internet!

Punch Drunk Love

I think this is the first dramatic role that people noticed. I chose the Criterion Collection poster to emphasize how well regarded this film is now despite its poor initial reception. When I saw this movie I was devastated afterwards – which I realize was probably not most people’s response to the film. I found the character to be so emotionally crippled and unhappy yet unable to bring about change in his life and it touched me deeply. I think it’s a great performance and hopefully the goldfish that is the Internet will do better remembering it.


I feel like Spanglish is a truly forgotten film (I want to start a series about this). Directed by James L. Brooks, starring Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Thomas Haden Church and Cloris Leachman it is a solid, wonderful film. This was not long after several remakes of films like Eat Drink Man Woman and I know when I saw the title I suspected this would be another lackluster version of a non-English speaking film.

Thankfully it isn’t. Adam Sandler gives an understated performance as a chef struggling to make his home-life and business work. So many of the typical pitfalls and traps of this type of film are avoided and instead we are given a film for grown ups. It’s warm, it’s touching and absolutely deserving of being remembered.

Reign Over Me

Three years later Adam Sandler starred in Reign Over Me opposite Don Cheadle. It is a spectacular film with another amazing cast. It is very much a movie for “grown ups”. Mr. Sandler plays a widower who has retreated from life. He reconnects with an old friend, Mr. Cheadle, and then everything goes wrong (or right, it’s messy).

It’s an interesting film about grief and how to help others deal with it. I certainly had not seen this movie before. It’s also interesting because it is clearly a two-handed film – both leads are doing the heavy lifting and Mr. Sandler keeps up with Mr. Cheadle which is impressive.

Funny People

A film written and directed by Judd Apatow, starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen is largely dramatic. I know, weird. I am sure this is part of the reason why it was not as successful as earlier films made by either Mr. Apatow or Mr. Sandler.

The funny bits of the movie are given to the side characters, played by Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman (and even Eric Bana). It’s an interesting film in terms of the Adam Sandler performance. This certainly feels like a road-not-taken, could-have-been-Mr. Sandler’s-life kind of film. So it is interesting to see him play the successful, but personally unfulfilled movie star opposite of the young and naive Seth Rogen. I’m not sure the movie fully works but it qualifies in terms of being a dramatic role and a solid performance from Mr. Sandler.

I’d also like to point out that I think it has been largely forgotten, which is the purpose of this post after all. Given that all of the people in this movie have continued working and are successful that just further reinforces my point that people on the Internet have no memory.

Films I Am Excluding Because I Have Not Seen Them

I agree, this is odd. Look, my viewing habits changed once I had kids and these movies came out after I had little people in my life. I can’t see them all!

Of these four titles only one is questionable in terms of being a dramatic performance. I think, and I am telling you I have not seen these, that Blended does have some dramatic aspects to the role.

The other three are quite obviously more serious which you can tell by their posters (I kid and yet…look at them! Men Women and Children just screams “I am an important indie film!’). The trailer for The Cobbler had me wanting to see it but as of yet I have not. So whether I am correct about Blended or not we have three more dramatic roles from Mr. Sandler to add to the list. Heed my words.

Uncut Gems

We conclude with the most recent and possibly best known dramatic performance of Mr. Sandler’s career. It’s a good film, I am pleased that it received so much attention and that so many people claimed to see it.

To conclude: stop it. In the past twenty years Adam Sandler has done a dramatic role every four years (or less). He’s good. We know this. Let us remember this and get excited each time a new role is announced.

Zhang Meng – Lunar New Year (iPhone Cinema).

Yet another excellent short film from Apple made to showcase the iPhone.

Show of hands, who knew that Apple had been commissioning films for Lunar New Year for the past five years? It wasn’t just me? Great. Moving on.

Last week I discovered a new film, shot on iPhones, made to celebrate the Lunar New Year. You may recall I gushed over Lulu Wang’s film, Nian, which was also made on iPhones to celebrate the Lunar New Year. This is neat.

I really enjoyed this film despite being a bit put off by the beginning. It is big and fancy and not what I was expecting. Turns out, that was the point. Stick with it.

I love this kind of film. It has a simple story told in a heartfelt manner. I’m sure this why I like the Nian so much, these are just my kind of movies.

I also love seeing the videos that show how these films were made. There is a lot of ingenuity and creativity in their filmmaking process. Simple solutions to get interesting shots. I am posting both videos below – enjoy!

2021: A Year End List

A long list of the noteworthy things I watched in 2021.

Last year I derived a lot of pleasure from making this list. This year not so much. In fact as I write this I have not complied a full list. Typically I have a word document I update every week with what I have watched. This year I stopped in April. There was no good reason other than lack of interest in keeping a list. That being said I found that what I wanted to watch this year was quite different than usual..

A number of incredible films and television shows came out in 2021. Things that in a different time and headspace I would have loved to watch and think about. This year the thought of watching Underground Railroad was simply too much (which is a cop out. I watched The Last Duel a few days ago and it is amazing – just because you are sad does not mean you cannot appreciate sad things. Forgive me Mr. Jenkins!).

If I had to sum up my viewing habits this past year it would be thus: 1) I needed to watch things that did not deepen my sense of dread and despair and 2) I only finished about half the things I watched.

It is strange looking back at all of the movies and shows I simply stopped watching. I do not usually do that. Even if it’s a season of television, I typically muscle through and finish it. Partially to see if it improves and partially out of respect for the people who put the time and energy into making it. For some reason I gave up this year. Quite a lot. I gave up on enough things that I managed to circle back to some and, lo and behold, discovered that they were very good. Be patient with me.

If there is one thing I have tried to remind myself through the year it is that no one wants to make something bad. I have attempted to keep this in my mind even when something has struck me as awful. I have looked for the intention of the project. Perhaps this is unnecessary. I would rather be looking for the light than just sitting in the dark wallowing at this point.

So, without more blathering, a list!


I didn’t plan on watching this film. It was one of those terrible moments where I was in the mood to watch something and nothing looked good. The concept of this film was not appealing. But the trailer, oh the trailer, it did the trick.

Quick side note: trailers are my favorite thing when it comes to film and video. I wish more people felt this way. Watch them. Use Apple’s site to watch them so you can avoid commercials and advertising. Take back the trailer!

Anyway, this film is funny. It is laugh out loud funny. Unlike many things that I attempted to watch last year regarding the pandemic this does not try to coddle or offer solace. It just pokes fun at every idiotic thing that was done (and not done) to deal with a global pandemic. Everyone in it is incredibly funny. Laurence Fishburne (as the narrator) easily has the best lines (and delivery of those lines) from any film. Ever.

The Magicians: Season 5

In the past I wobbled a bit as to why I was watching this show. I read the books, thought they were decent, and gave the show a chance. Some of the changes they made were interesting (I liked the name change to Margot to avoid confusion with Julia) others seemed like typical Hollywood nonsense.

What I found over the seasons were the common annoyances of any show – forced storylines or big problems that suddenly do not matter because the people writing the episodes no longer wish to explore them (or a character that is forced on you, repeatedly, for some unknown reason).

What I like about this show and why I am glad I finished it:

  1. They improved the Penny character. In the books he does not have much depth or much purpose. Here they gave him an interesting arc and by season five a lot of complexity. I dig it.
  2. Margot. Dear lord everything Margot. This may be the best example (perhaps Steve Harrington from Stranger Things is tied) of an amazing character pivot. In the books this character was not interesting to me. In season one – same thing. Just a boring, vapid character that I felt brought nothing to the show. Somehow, somehow! They managed to take this one dimensional uninteresting character and, in my humble opinion, make her the star of the series. Margot went from “Why is she here?” to “Why isn’t she in every scene?”. It’s incredible.
  3. The character of Josh (and to a lesser degree Fen) are also wonderful examples of supporting characters who grew and flourished and became important and lovable. I am glad I was able to see that.

It’s not a perfect show and there are certainly forgettable parts but I am very pleased I finished it.

Better Than Us

Netflix has a long history of making/releasing movies and television shows and doing absolutely nothing to promote them. I suppose all of the streaming services are doing this now but I’ve been paying attention to Netflix the longest so their sins strike me as the most egregious. Better Than Us is a prime example of this neglect.

It is a Russian television show about a society dependent on robots. What I like about this show is the focus isn’t just on the haves and the have nots. It’s not a dystopian show that wants to wallow in a future society where the one percent have it all and the rest are slowing dying in the sewer. I mean, it’s Russian, so there are absolutely elements of people dying in the sewer. I’m just trying to say that the focus is not the same old, same old and I appreciate that.

I haven’t been keeping up with all of the robot/synthetic shows so it is possible that this borrowed from Humans. For me it’s a fresh story that focuses on a man and his estranged family. There is also a mysterious robot and hijinks.

What I love most about a show like this is that because it is Russian none of the actors have any baggage for me. I’m not continually spotting the police chief and saying, “Oh it’s that guy”. Everyone is fresh and new. It helps with the storytelling. Especially because there are twists and turns that I don’t think a Hollywood production would have made. It’s different and interesting.

Jupiter’s Legacy

Just before I watched this show I realized I was getting sick of watching superhero films and shows. We have reached a point where so much of what is being made is a comic book adaptation. Most of those seem to be about superheroes. Which up until recently I did not mind, having grown up reading these comic books. But, you need variety (both in terms of the kinds of things being made and the stories being told).

That being said I watched the trailer for this series and it looked interesting. Rather than just a story about a family with super powers Jupiter’s Legacy is largely about the mystery of how did these people get these super powers? The biggest compliment I feel I can pay anything I watch is that I did not see the ending coming.

Throughout this season the present day action is intercut with how the original group came to become superheroes. It is very well done. At no point was it clear to me what, exactly was going to happen next. It was interesting and surprising. Enough so that when the season ended I was quite pleased I had watched the show. I was genuinely looking forward to what the next season would be like. It was immediately canceled. Thank you, Netflix.

Search Party

I think I heard about this film when it came out. None of the three leads were people I really knew and it did not look like much of a film to me. Then, in 2021, I saw it on Netflix. The trailer spoke to me. It said, “You can watch me and have a good time. There is no sadness within”. This was what I needed and I watched.

I have yet to watch Silicon Valley so perhaps that helped the experience. I do not know. This was fresh to me in terms of seeing two of the leads interact with one another. Aside from some basic sexism and misogyny, thrown with some force at the always wonderful Alison Brie, it’s a fun and funny film.

There are a number of unexpected moments, some truly comedic moments where people like J.B. Smoove let loose and deliver the goods. It’s a late night watch that won’t make you cry and right now I appreciate that greatly.

The Witcher – Seasons 1 & 2

When the first season of The Witcher came out, I watched. I wasn’t really excited about the show but it looked like it could be interesting. I did not love it. I am not sure if I liked it. My response to it was a step above indifference. I finished it, felt no need to think about it or discuss it. It had happened.

Last month season two was released and after watching the recap of season one I dove in again. What can I say? Season two is vastly better. Enough so that when I finished it I watched season one. Then season two again. For all the cleverness of the scene where that scamp of a bard, Jaskier, fires back at his critic with comments designed to defend the first season, it does, ultimately, fall short. Because season one is needlessly convoluted and confusing.

It’s not only that they made no attempt to ground the audience in the different times the story takes place but they also intentionally told the story out of sequence without an indication of when in time you were. Personally I think season one would work better if it were linear, like season two, as there is so much happening that you do not need to rely on a narrative trick to keep the audience entertained.

And entertained I was with season two (and I might add with season one after watching season two – because I then had a sense of who everyone was and what was happening). The show is well made and is a feast for the eyes. The character development with Ciri worked very well. It was nice to see them improve upon the first season and makes me hopeful for what comes next.

Homecoming – Season Two

What I like best about season two is that they didn’t try and replicate the first season. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the weird cropped image that was used to portray Julia Roberts in the present day in season one. That was strange and off-putting. Honestly this modern mania for altering aspect ratios from shot to shot (and so often now within the same shot) needs to stop. More often than not it is simply distracting rather than illuminating. It took me reading several interviews about Legion before I could “understand” what, exactly, they were trying to achieve with their numerous aspect ratios on the show.

I digress! Did I like season two? About the same as season one – which is to say not overly. I watched season one for Julia Roberts. The actor I know best in season two is Chris Cooper and frankly I don’t feel he was given enough to do. Everyone in this show is great, they all do a wonderful job with their characters and I no mean to slight them in anyway. I became invested in everyone and I felt that each character had a unique perspective. It’s just a tough show to like. The overall story and message is not easy.


If there are two things I like, it’s movies I cannot predict and Anthony Mackie. Anthony Mackie has become one of those actors who manages to appear in five movies a year without you noticing. Julianne Moore did it and I swear I am the only person who caught on. It’s a neat trick and when it works well you, the viewer, reap all of the rewards (I mean I’m sure they get paid but…you get it).

Synchronic is the good kind of low budget science fiction. I think the movie Kin almost nailed what this movie gets right. You can’t do a lot of big fancy stuff so you have to imply things. It’s like Steven Spielberg and Jaws. If his shark had worked correctly we would have had a very different and possibly less scary movie. This film greatly benefits from what is not shown.

I don’t want to say much of anything about the plot, this is a good one to see knowing little. Both actors gave solid performances and I enjoyed watching the movie.

Zach Snyder’s Justice League

Of the many things you simply could not get away from in 2021 was this film. Long touted as a myth, Zach Snyder and HBO did the weird thing and released The Snyder Cut. To say it is an anomaly is an understatement. To allow a director to come back, shoot new material and radically recut a film for a rerelease on a digital platform – it’s a first is what I am saying. No one has done that before.

Sadly it looks like it will not be happening again any time soon, which is a shame. All of the other DC directors who publicly clamored for the same treatment where systematically shut down. I am not a money person, so I can appreciate that from a financial perspective it probably makes no sense to do this. But from the perspective of a viewer (and aspiring filmmaker) I am at a loss. No one on the Internet seemed to talk about anything else for months. There is definite interest.

I have no idea how successful this film’s release was but the film itself is a vastly better film than the original. It is long. It is so terribly long. And it is in 4:3 format which just smacks of weird.

Yet it’s a much better movie because suddenly those moments from the original film, when the big thing happens and it is supposed to matter – they matter in this film. You are given the time and context to understand that the big circular building is filled with Amazons. Or anything relating to Joe Morton has an actual backstory and consequences.

There are about fifty moments in this film that make sense, that offer an emotional payoff, that were not there in the previous version. Lois Lane not only has an arc but her presence when Superman returns actually makes sense (rather than her being the “big guns” that Batman and Alfred refer to in a previous scene). I keep saying that but it is true – there are so many elements of this film that make sense from a storytelling perspective that did not in the prior version. That is nice to see.

I feel odd saying something that takes away from this film because it is so vastly superior to its predecessor, but, it’s not amazing. It is really, really long. And not all of the stories pay off or make sense. But I am glad, both as a viewer and aspiring filmmaker, that this was made. It gives me hope that there are actually people in the Hollywood system who want to support filmmakers.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Keeping with the DC films I saw this year I need to mention Birds of Prey. My expectations for this film were so terribly low. Between the trailer and the reaction when it was released I thought it would be terrible film. Much worse than Suicide Squad (not The Suicide Squad which had not yet been released). I was wrong.

This is a very good movie. It many ways it makes me think of Hustlers from last year. I want my daughter to see it. Maybe not yet, but someday. I like the message of the film, I like the way it was made and I really enjoyed this version of Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie won me over in this movie. This character was truly alive on the screen and I enjoyed going on this journey with her.

The rest of the cast was good as well. The men were all quite terrible as they were meant to be. I had heard about the breakfast sandwich scene and on paper it did not seem like it would be good. But as a person who has fallen in love with foods (and as a man who has watched his wife when she has fallen in love with foods) I can safely say I enjoy that sequence. It feels correct and earned. I’d love to see Cathy Yan get a chance to do her version of Justice League with the film (as she has expressed a desire to do so). I’m very happy with how it is, so it would be interesting to see what she was forced to exclude.

Mare of Easttown

I’ve been watching Kate Winslet forever. In that time I have endured a fair number of films that I would rather not have watched. I have done so because I think she is a fantastic actress. That was certainly the case with Mare of Easttown. This show does not fall into my happy/fun/unchallenging category of 2021. This is a tough watch and for me it was compounded by the whole “living in a small town despite you always wanting to get out of a small town” thing (even though her small town seems quite large). Parts of this hit close to home.

Thankfully the really bad parts do not. I am grateful for that. This is a well made show with a ton of great performances from the supporting characters. Once again Kate Winslet demonstrates she is an amazing actress with no fear. I can’t imagine that many people would want to play this role (or at least play it the way she did). It isn’t glamorous or flattering. It is also not so far in the opposite direction as to be “awards acting” (thinking of Charlize Theron in Monster or Nicole Kidman in The Hours – I don’t mean to put these performances down, it’s just a different kind of performance) but is a very grounded, realistic portrait of a woman in this particular place and time.


There are several films I have been putting off writing about and Tenet is near that top of that list. That this film did not receive universal acclaim is beyond me. That it is not the best film I saw in 2021 is astounding.

I’m not someone who praises Christopher Nolan because I consider him a great filmmaker and infallible. On this site I wrote about my struggles with the ending of Inception. It makes no sense. Michael Caine revealing that he knows the true ending only makes it worse. I found Dunkirk to be a well made movie that did not need to be made. I am trying to earn my praise for this film and I fear it is not working.

The amount of thought that must go in to writing a script like Tenet is baffling. Everything has to be known and understood before they begin any of the preproduction planning. I cannot imagine. When I think about sequences of this film, like the section on the highway and the case being passed between the vehicles I blanche. Perhaps when you write that you just put something in like, “some cars are inverted, things are complicated, the case gets passed” I’m not sure. But you have to know who is where and when, how that would work if some are inverted, and so on. It makes my head hurt. That type of work feels more like engineering than writing to me.

I love this film. I love that it opens and just goes. I think you are into the action in the first two minutes of the movie. I love that it shifts and coils and unfurls and that at each stage you feel like you have a handle on things. Then ten minutes later, despite having seen it five times this year, you find yourself trying to work the logistics out in your mind. To then have something happen onscreen that breaks your concentration and makes you realize you don’t really understand how all the pieces fit together.

What I appreciate most about this film is how incredible cerebral it is and how you can just sit and let it wash over you. It works on all levels, as spectacle and thought-exercise. It is incredible. Of all the stellar cast members I was most impressed by John David Washington. I had a similar response to him when I watched Black Klansman. At first he doesn’t seem quite right, a bit too timid or out of his depth. Then there is a moment in the film, for me it’s the fight scene in the kitchen, where you just realize how perfect he is. Each time I watch that scene I am amazed at how well done it is, how the action is clear and his power is undeniable. It is truly impressive.

For the life of me I do not know why people failed to respond to this film. I am grateful that it exists and that I am able to watch it, again and again.


It feels odd to say it but I was quite nervous about watching Dune. There was so much that was unknown and I had allowed myself to get excited about it. The trailers were all very, very good. I read the book about two years ago and I was amazed at how well the trailers captured the essence of it. My hopes were up and so often, it seems, that leads to disappointment with movies.

My first viewing of Dune was mixed. I was not quite sure. There were parts I enjoyed very much. Others were odd, or lackluster. It was not what I expected. In the month that it was showing on HBO Max I think I watched it five times. It is a film that holds up to rewatching quite well. It is a long movie that feels like a long movie. Tenet is a long movie that knocks you about enough that you stop paying attention to its length. Dune is so calm and controlled that aside from a few sequences you notice the passing of time but that passing is pleasant. It is like a warm afternoon that you spend in your backyard sitting in silence with someone you care about. It is comfortable.

There is something special about this film, something different, that pleases me greatly. It is not just the fidelity it has to the book, although that is wonderful. This story has a calm center to it, to my mind it is like a person that has achieved inner harmony and feels neither fear nor desire, that is pleasant to be around but is also unknowable. It is a unique experience and I look forward to the second film to see if the two halves are greater than the sum of their parts.


The best film I saw in 2021 is easily Girlhood. I do not feel qualified to write about it. What makes this film so good? It feels like a documentary rather than a narrative, fiction film. Somehow I feel as though I have been a fly on the wall in this young woman’s life and seen so many amazing moments – yet I feel none of the ickiness that comes with such voyeuristic moments in documentaries.

Of the many things I appreciate about this film I love that race is not the issue. I am assuming this is possible because it is a French film, I do not really know. When I was watching this film I kept being struck by the idea that a white woman in America could not have made it. For many reasons. I have a sense of how things are here, in America, and to not attempt to address these issues would be dishonest. Does the same hold true in France? I don’t know. I do know that I love that the film does not have to deal with the same issues and can simply be what it is. A complex coming of age story with one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a film. Celine Sciamma is getting no shortage of praise lately but after seeing Girlhood I am certain she deserves more.

The Wheel of Time

My expectations for this show were on par with The Witcher. I was aware of the books but never read them. From the promotional material for the show I only had the sense the Rosamund Pike was the center and it would be something like The Lord of The Rings. The trailer did little more to help (except show some not great looking creatures, they do not look as terrible in the show itself so perhaps they were unfinished).

What I ended up watching was quite lovely. The young people are, well, young people. They are pretty, they are rather dim and not all of them are developed (as characters). But the rest of the characters, even those who are only slightly older, are interesting and a joy to watch. The relationship between Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mandragoran in particular is rich and rewarding. You have a sense of it and then it shifts and then shifts again.

I think the most interesting aspect of this story is the notion that only women can access the one power without going mad. Yet this does not stop men from trying to access the power nor does it mean women are the rulers. It is a painful and accurate depiction of the problem of power between men and women. The numerous dynamics this creates in the show are what I found most interesting and rewarding.

I saw this in December, after a year of watching many things on numerous streaming services. It struck me (I believe I watched this after finishing The Witcher) how good everything looks now. Even low budget films like Killerman which was shot on film. We have reached a point where the technology and the know-how is so advanced and good that things just look fantastic. It’s wonderful, it really is. I don’t say this in a dismissive way, I think the writing on The Wheel of Time was quite good and I was impressed with the relationships on the show. It’s a fantasy show and the language is somewhat unnatural to my ear, but it works. It is just as impressive to me that they went to these amazing locations, shot at the correct time of day, and captured so many stunning images for what just a few years ago would have been “just a television show”.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

One of the bigger surprises for me in 2021 was this film. I had never heard of let alone read the comic. I had never seen Simu Liu in anything. I didn’t know that Tony Leung was in the film until it began. To say that I enjoyed this film is an understatement. It is everything I want right now in a movie. It does not put me into a three day funk where I question life, my place in the world or how this is all going to affect my children. It is fun, it is funny and it has some truly inspired action sequences.

I highly recommend anyone who wants to learn more about this film and how it was made to look at the Corridor Crew videos:

These videos do such an excellent job of showcasing all that is wonderful and good in this film. In particular the stuntmen react video gives you a sense of how much the people working on this film cared and wanted to do a good job.

The story is interesting and the relationships believable. Each part adds up to something more and there is true character development and growth over the course of the film. The villan, Shang’s father, is completely understandable and relatable. So much care and love was put into making this movie and it is obvious from the result.

Free Guy

Much like the rest of the world, I have been won over by Ryan Reynolds and his social media presence. What started as commercials for his gin company has spiraled and morphed into something unnamable and wonderful.

Because of this I have been aware of Free Guy for some time. He mentioned it often and how much he loved it. Which I found amusing since he had a decent number of films come out just before or after it that he said next to nothing about. Perhaps I am the only person who finds that weird.

Regardless he built up my expectations for this film and I have to say they were met. The premise of the film and its execution are both solid and satisfying. The conclusion felt true and justified. It’s a fun movie and it is a funny movie. Jodie Comer does not feel wasted in the film and Lil’ Rey Howery all but stole the show. The movie has a lot of heart and it isn’t afraid to show it. I like that.

The Harder They Fall

I had never heard of Jeymes Samuel before this film. After watching and looking him up the use of music suddenly made a lot more sense. The trailer gave me an impression that the main character would be Idris Elba. This is not so. The opening sequence disabused me of the notion that Mr. Elba would be the hero – decidedly not so.

I almost did not include this film because my reaction to it was split – I did not love it. But I am happy that it exists, that it was made and it is so rough and nasty, and that I get to watch it and debate whether I like it or not. This was the second project I saw Jonathan Majors in this year (I have still yet to watch Lovecraft Country) and that the other was Loki, the range the he displays is impressive. The cast of this film is amazing and the locations are incredible. It is just another great example of people going out into the world and capturing stunning locations.

The Mosquito Coast

So I haven’t read the book and I could never bring myself to watch the film. I love Harrison Ford but he had several films from the late 70’s and 80’s that just looked unappealing. This was certainly one of those films.

The trailer for this show is solid. I felt going in I had a sense of all four of the main characters and what the story would be. I did to a point. I have a feeling that this will be the kind of show that once you have more episodes you can appreciate the breadcrumbs that were sprinkled early on.

What I loved about this show, Justin Theroux’s masterful portrayal of Allie Fox. By the end of the first episode you are absolutely smitten and charmed by him. By the end of the season you are a bit disgusted and afraid of him. It’s a wonderful character arc and it feels fully earned.

Despite a few questionable moments with the children I also enjoyed their journeys and how they were handled. Some moments, like when the family is hiding in Mexico and both parents just leave the kids for a day, did not feel right. The children have been sheltered from the world, hidden away and taught nothing about how to navigate on their own…and these overprotective parents are out the door and thinking not at all about the kids? It doesn’t work like that.

I digress. The only aspect of the show that felt a bit like watching a television show concerned Margot and her “secret”. It becomes clear somewhat early on that she has an important secret, that all is not as it seems. To end the season with that unresolved felt a bit too manipulative for my taste. I can’t wait for the next season though and I hope they are able to explore the characters further.

Riders of Justice

I had felt that I had finished my list (largely because I don’t have a full year accounted for as I normally would) when I saw something about Riders of Justice and remembered the film. When I saw it I thought, “This might be the best film I’ve seen this year” and it certainly is one of them. I try not to rank (despite doing so with Girlhood) but sometimes it is hard.

This film, based on its trailer, really seems to be one thing. I had thought it would be a simple, straightforward story about a man bent on revenge. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it is much more than that. It is a rich, layered film that sneaks up on you. There is nothing formulaic or predictable about Riders of Justice and I love it for that. So many moments are singular, they feel spontaneous and unrelated to the rest of the story. But they belong and they are connected and what ultimately unfolds and is a fantastic film.

Despite having seen him in many movies and one utterly disgusting television show, Mads Mikkelsen continues to defy my expectations. He is such an interesting actor, capable of great humor and terrible violence, and watching him in this film is a treat. That being said the supporting characters steal the show. There is no question that the three men who come to be his “team” and his daughter and her boyfriend are all important and interesting.

This film pleased me and excited me when I watched it. It made me want to get to my computer and get writing to try and tell stories as interesting and wonderful as this.

I am concluding my list here. I have, yet again, not including any of the cooking or food related shows and films I watched this year. Why? I do not know. It doesn’t feel right. I have no documentaries on this list but honestly I don’t watch that many. I think I watched two this past year. A lot of food and cooking programming though. I think that needs it’s own list so perhaps I will do one soon.

Last year I included a list of films and shows I was anxious to see in the upcoming year. At the moment my mind feels too scattered to put that together properly. There are always things on the horizon to be excited about and I certainly am.