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.
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,
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 Criterion.com. 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 Criterion.com (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 short and incomplete list of motion picture soundtracks that I love.
In July of 2003 I found myself packing boxes. It was an absurd number of boxes, somewhere around 40, mostly filled with books and CDs. My wife and I were moving, again, and found it would be cheaper to ship most of our possessions via the United States Postal Service. The main reason for this was the media mail (or media rate) discount. Given that we owned many books and CDs if we spread them out among our clothes (and meager household items) all of the boxes would qualify for this lower rate.
On the first box I discovered that we did not have any packing tape. When I mentioned this my wife said, “Just use duct tape.” When I questioned this choice she assured me it was the smart move. “Duct tape can fix anything. They use it to hold airplane wings together.” I should add that I have an abhorrence of the post office and as such I defer to my wife (henceforth to be known as Kate) in all matters. So we packed all of our boxes with duct tape.
The following day we brought them to the post office to pay for shipping. We then were promptly informed that we could ship these boxes but since they were all packaged with duct tape insurance would not be an option. It was an ungodly amount of boxes sitting on the floor of the post office. It had taken many trips to get them all to the building from our apartment. The most assuredly would not survive having the duct tape ripped off and packing tape applied. Plus we’d have to try and do all of this in the tiny lobby of the post office in Austin, Texas.
So we shipped our possessions without insurance and over the next few days drove to Washington, DC. When we arrived we found that the delay we had requested for delivering our boxes was not observed. The boxes were sitting outside in front of our new apartment and it had been raining heavily. The typical whirlwind of trying to move in and set up a new home occurred and neither of us noticed that a few boxes were unaccounted for.
Which is why months later, when I was going through our CDs looking for something to listen to that I noticed I couldn’t find certain albums. Where was Blonde on Blonde? Or The Rising? Looking closely I noticed a number of favorites were not on the shelf. The CDs I had tried, repeatedly to sell over the years were still there (Marching to Mars and B-Sides Ourselves in particular) mocking me.
A number of phone calls later we learned that a number of boxes had been damaged badly during the move. The post office had a policy of taking those boxes and holding them so the contents would not be further damaged. They then were meant to notify the recipients of the package(s) of the situation and from there it would be resolved. I am not sure what the next step would be as the post office also had a time limit on how long they would hold said boxes and we had passed that by the time we realized they were missing. Which meant the post office had already auctioned off (their words which I find implausible) the contents of our boxes. Nothing further could be done.
I write all of this to explain how I came to lose half of my CD collection (which was formidable at one time) in 2003. Of the many lost albums were soundtracks to films. As far as I can tell somewhere in the 00’s studios stopped creating (paying for?) soundtracks for films that consisted of popular artists contributing songs. Which is an absolute shame because many of my favorite songs come from such soundtracks. I also came to know many wonderful bands from buying a film’s soundtrack. Below I’d like to say a few words about some of the important soundtracks of my life.
If you weren’t around to experience the first Batman film it may be hard to explain what a phenomenon it was. The movie was released in the summer (June) and played in theaters forever. Where I lived there was one movie theater that had two screens (a third was added but in my memory it was after this time). One of the screens is absurdly small, it is the only movie theater I have been in where they have single seats.
When I say that the movie was in theaters forever I mean to say that I believe it ran until at least Thanksgiving. The film industry was different then so having new movies every week was not yet the norm. This was such a successful film, in every way, that it was not atypical for it to continue running for months.
One of the reasons this film permeated the culture the way it did was because it had a distinctive, excellent soundtrack. With only nine songs on the album it somehow managed to have something for everyone, Prince was one of those artists that even if his music was not your thing (I am one of those people) you still listened to it. On a near weekly basis I find myself humming “Little Red Corvette”, “Raspberry Beret” or “When The Doves Cry”. His best songs are not on this soundtrack but what he put here made its way onto all of the radio stations and into the cars and homes of America. Everyone knew “Batdance” with its distinctive opening.
This soundtrack is the first that I can remember listening to and realizing it was something different than a studio album. I was pretty young at the time, I know it was my sister who purchased the cassette (you read that right!) but we played it over and over.
Clerks is the film that made me want to make movies. It stands to reason that it’s soundtrack had a profound effect on me as well. In addition to a number of songs I already knew (“Got Me Wrong”, “Shooting Star”) there were a number of unexpected gems on this album. “Kill the Sexplayer” in particular was a fun discovery –
This album is perfect. It fit the film, introduced people like myself to a number of artists and had familiar songs and bands as well. I always enjoy soundtracks that sample dialog from the film, it’s fun, and there is plenty of that here. Plus you get those odd, one of a kind songs that you would never choose to listen to on their own (looking at you “Chewbacca”).
One of the interesting things about this film is that it was touted as being an independent film made for little money ($23,000 I believe) but when discussing the soundtrack it was made clear that Miramax spent quite a bit (one million dollars) to secure the rights. I’m not sure how much was spent to clean up the footage but I know it was substantial. Whatever it was it was worth it. An excellent film with a wonderful soundtrack.
This is one of the better soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Whoever came up with the idea of “let’s get two artist/bands together and have them make a song” for every song on the album (except track 7 – does Stabbing Westward not play well with others)?! That person is a genius. I recognize that this is not the typical collaboration as most of these collaborations are bands with a DJ/group remixing their song. Just go with me please.
There are a number of gems on this soundtrack, “Tiny Rubberband”, “Kick The P.A.”, “One Man Army” and “Spawn” are all solid tracks. My favorite on this album (the video probably tipped you off to this) is (Can’t you) Trip Like I Do. It’s a solid track that ticks off all the right boxes for me. This is certainly an album I enjoy driving and listening to. It’s good background music if that is what you desire.
The X Files
This is one of the more ecclectic soundtracks of the 90’s (that I encountered). The people who made songs for this were certainly not chosen for their similarities. I always found this pleasing and fitting for the show. Sure, the X Files never strayed too far from it’s alien/paranoid/weirdness but there was a bit of wiggle room and when they could they deviated.
I chose the song “More Than This” by The Cure to feature but honestly it could have been most of the tracks. I like this song in particular because of it’s rhythm. There is a flowing quality to the song that the vocals enhance. It feels otherworldly but comforting. It’s a great song.
There are many others on this album that are noteworthy, “Black”, “The Hunter”, “Beacon Light”, “Flower Man”, “16 Horses” and “One More Murder” are all favorites of mine. Listening to these songs now I can hear similarities that were not apparent before. I am sure it has to do with recording techniques and producers using similar sounds and ideas. No escaping such things but I feel the songs hold up.
This soundtrack will forever hold a special place in my heart. I had not heard Rage Against The Machine before listening to this and this song is one of my favorites of theirs. There are so many excellent songs on this album, “Dead Souls” by NIN, “Color Me Once” by the Violent Femmes, “Burn” by the Cure, “Snakedriver” by Jesus and the Mary Chain and “Big Empty” by the Stone Temple Pilots. It’s an incredible soundtrack that shaped its film in many ways.
I had not heard of The Dust Brothers prior to listening to the Fight Club soundtrack. This is an interesting album in that no one song stands out to me as the best. I chose “Single Serving Jack” because whenever I listen to the album I always pay attention when it comes on. It’s a fast paced song that, like all the tracks, builds on what comes before it.
This is one of my favorite albums to have as background music. Whether driving or writing I love to put it on and let it slosh around in my mind. I never pay it much direct attention but I love it.
To be alive in the mid-90’s and not listen to the Pulp Fiction Soundtrack was impossible. It’s an odd soundtrack, I’m not sure all of the songs work well with one another (like the film itself) but perhaps that jarring nature is the point. I believe I knew this song before hearing the soundtrack but it certainly came alive for me when I did. It’s just such a good, heartfelt piece of music. There are a number of other, excellent tracks on the album.
Romeo and Juliet
Oh, this album. Picking a favorite song off of the Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack is almost like choosing a favorite child. I don’t want to do it. So let’s instead say that the above song by Radiohead, “Talk Show Host” was chosen because a) it is a great song and b) I wanted to put something up by this formerly amazing band. Seriously. I miss them.
Song after song on this album delivers the goods. From Everclear with “Local God” and Garbage with “#1 Crush” to “Kissing You” by Des’ree and “Everybody’s Free (to feel good)” by Qunidon Tarver you cannot go wrong. I’m not sure who was responsible for putting this album together but they exceeded all expectations and gave the world a wonderful gift.
Okay this one did not figure in as much for me at the time, despite having some great songs. Everyone heard Seal perform “Kiss From a Rose” and U2 deliver “Hold me, Kill Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me” but the song we should have all been playing was Michael Hutchence covering “The Passenger”. Holy smokes this is a good cover. It’s not really surprising, INXS was a tremendous band and he was an incredible performer. I’m happy to be able to include this here.
Probably as important as Pulp Fiction (at least in my circle) was the release of this album. I could not have told you that this song was called “Spybreak (Short One)” or that the band is Propellerheads but I feel like this is THE song of the album. It’s important in the film and when you listen to the album as a whole it stands out. Yes, there is a great Rage Against the Machine song here, as well as “Du Hast” and “Rock Is Dead” but I think this is the one.
Yes, I am taking the cowards way out and choosing two songs for this soundtrack. I admit it. I’m driving this ship and that’s the deal. Let’s move on.
The soundtrack to drive is much like the costumes and titles of Drive – it’s weird. Would anyone else have made these choices? These songs are such a strange juxtaposition to the images they accompany in the film. We have, with time and repeated viewings (listenings) come to accept these pairings but I assure you – they are still weird.
But weird in a wonderful way that makes us love them more. “A Real Hero” is such a tender and heartfelt song and despite it being kinda wrong about the main character I love it. I have come to love it. I would never have listened to it without this film but now it is a part of me. The same can be said for “Night Call”. I have listened to quite a bit of Kavinsky’s music since hearing this, something I never would have done. Together they work with the other pieces of music to give us the film that is Drive. I can’t argue with that.
How many of us knew Aimee Mann before this soundtrack? How many of us have been changed forever because of it? Picking a song was hard, but I think “Driving Sideways” is correct. It moves me every time. It somehow captures the essence of this big, messy film. It’s incredible.
Trying to pick a favorite song on this album is, again, nearly impossible. I went with “State of Love and Trust” because it’s so good and as with Radiohead I miss Pearl Jam being a good band. It’s hard to watch amazing bands/musicians lose the thing that made them so good but, alas, it happens all too often. Come home, son!
Cameron Crowe, to no one’s surprise, captured the incredible music scene of the time with this film and soundtrack. “Would?”, “Dyslexic Heart” oh and “Seasons”. Gah. This soundtrack would be a wonderful way to introduce someone unfamiliar with grunge music to the world. So much goodness here.
I love this movie and I love this album. I was unfamiliar with so many of the bands and songs when I heard it and I will be forever grateful for the exposure. I knew Jimi Hendrix when I heard “Foxey Lady (2)” but seeing Dana Carvey perform his dance to it changed me. I am, morally at least, obligated to state that I should have put “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the main song, since I had not heard it prior to this film either. But, dang it, I wanted to have it be Jimi.
Tia Carrere covering “Ball Room Blitz” Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” are all wonderful songs on this fun album. I imagine Wayne’s World is a film that will soon be lost to time, which is a shame, but hopefully these songs will live forever.
Charlie’s Angels (2001)
This. Always this. Destiny’s Child may have gotten a lot of attention (and rightfully so) for “Independent Women” Pt.1 but Sam Rockwell dancing to “Got to Give it Up” Pt.1 will forever be the moment. Not only was it an important reveal for the story and the character but it was cool.
Charlie’s Angels was a lot of things, it was fun and silly and sexy but it was also cool. This soundtrack reflects all of these qualities with songs like “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”. Unexpected (and wonderful) tracks like “Tangerine Speedo” and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” compliment the film and it’s underdog nature. No one expected this to be the hit it was – and all of us get to benefit from the film and this soundtrack.
I am positive I am leaving out other, wonderful soundtracks I have owned and listened to. This is by no means a comprehensive list. I wanted to share something similar to my post on cover songs and try and spread a little love around. I feel like I achieved that.
A short post about the music videos of the band Kaleo.
I think the best song I’ve heard by Kaleo is “No Good”. It rocks. It rocks on such a level that when I first heard it all I could think about was who to share it with. I love it. As far as I can tell it is an anomaly in their catalogue (thinking of you My Song 5). That being said the music video is a touch lackluster. I don’t like being negative but that song deserves and equally amazing music video.
Thankfully the band has no shortage of excellent music videos. Apparently they decided that their niche would be to film on location in Iceland. And by location I mean things like –
they perform on an ice floe. I mean, there are ideas for music videos that seem a little crazy and then there is this. I like the song but really you could watch this muted and still enjoy it. This also makes me think of those memes about why women live longer than men. I feel confident that they took steps to be safe in doing this but…
Another incredible music video is for their song “Skinny” where they are performing live on an active volcano. I have no words. This is incredible and terrifying and really something else.
I’ve written about the ingenuity of the music videos that Ok Go make. That a band from Iceland would somehow top their incredible achievements with natural phenomenons makes me quite happy. I wish I had more to say about this band, their sound is largely subdued and not as rocking as “No Good”. Which is fine, I would just love to hear more in the “No Good” vein.
I am including a final video because, again, they went kinda nuts with it. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What rewatching The Batman brought home to me is the following:
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.
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.
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!).
Everything with the Batmobile is gold. They did such a nice job with the vehicle and that car chase. I love it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
This has been a unique year of watching. I’ve seen many things I’ve loved and many I have hated. I have quit watching more television shows and movies this year than I can count. I have rewatched more movies and television shows this year than any other year I can remember. For the life of me I do not know why.
I’ve considered the possibility that I have gotten older, that I have seen and read more and that part of my attitude is coming from a place of being wiser and better informed. Or, conversely, that I am jaded and grouchy and things that are perfectly fine are rubbing me the wrong way. There is also the possibility that because I have not been creating my own work that my frustration surrounding this is spilling onto other people’s. I cannot say for sure.
What I can say is I saw some truly wonderful, impressive and inspiring things this year. I cannot wait to share them with you and try and tell you what I love about them. Breaking with tradition I am also going to share a “Bad List” because there are so many films and shows I need to express my frustration and anger about.
I am also posting a “Rewatched List”. This was an interesting year for rewatching. A number of my opinions changed rewatching shows and movies, often only a month or two after seeing something for the first time.
I am also including new things this year, like programs I watched on Masterclass and stand up comedy.
That is a lot of introduction, let’s get to it.
The world of movies has become strange since streaming became commonplace. Where once a film with these actors would have been news, Spiderhead arrived unannounced and, I think, unloved. One morning I awoke and found it existed. I like Chris Hemsworth. Outside of Thor I believe I’ve seen him in one film I liked (13 Strong). The rest have been middling or boring (looking at you Extraction) or I have not gotten to them yet. Miles Teller is there. I don’t have much of an opinion of him as I have not seen him in much. I enjoyed his Fantastic Four and watching Too Old to Die Young is an absolute experience. I have not seen Top Gun: Maverick yet – which I should point out was directed by Joseph Kosinski, director of Spiderhead.
When I saw this film I was unaware it was based on a short story. George Saunders is someone my literary friends have been raving about forever. Prior to reading “Welcome to Spiderhead” I had not read any of his work. The short story is decent but unremarkable. Largely it feels like an exercise in making up fake drug names – which I respect. It’s just light on plot or character development or any purpose in existing other than the drug names. Which is what makes this film being decent all the more impresive.
Given that the writers had so little to go on, that they had a gloomy literary fiction ending to rework – that a film with substance and actual characters emerged is impressive. I liked Miles Teller in this and the supporting cast. Everyone did a good job with their parts (Mark Paguio in particular). Chris Hemsworth is just a bit off. It’s a weird role for him and the fact that he’s the really good looking, muscular guy who happens to be the brilliant mastermind makes the role fall a bit flat. Another actor, someone who does not appear to have it all and has problems they are attempting to overcome, would have made more sense in the role (it is hard to fathom his motivation for what he is doing, yet another case of it being hard to empathize with someone who appears to have it all).
That being said it is a good film. The backstory for the main character, the romantic plot, all flesh out a short story that was bare bones at best.
The Last Duel
One of two films to be released in 2021 by Ridley Scott, The Last Duel is wonderful. First and foremost it has a great cast. It has great locations and it has an interesting story. To no one’s surprise Jodie Comer is excellent in this film. To everyone’s surprise, I think, we have a layered, nuanced film about perspective and believing women. From Ridley Scott in 2021. What a time to be alive!
My favorite aspect of this film is probably Ben Affleck getting to have fun in a role. It’s nice to see. He is enjoyable to watch even when his character is being a bit awful. He plays excellent villains (which this character is, kind of) and I wish he would do it more.
I am forgetting why I write about these films – I found this film to be incredibly moving because of its structure. Told from three character’s perspectives you get an interesting glimpse into how people see themselves. There is a great deal of nuance and subtlety as well as some pretty blatant sexism and male chauvinism. What I enjoyed most about these perspectives is how even in Adam Driver’s character’s version he still comes off poorly.
It’s sensitive material and it is handled well. The general consensus is that Nicole Holofcener, one of the three screenwriters of this film, is largely responsible for this. The Last Duel could have been a very different film, something more like gladiator in terms of the inner lives of the characters, and it isn’t. I don’t write that to disparage Gladiator, only to stress that this is a character study on a very large scale. It’s a shame it did not receive more love and attention because it is surely deserving of it.
No Time To Die
I’ve written about Jame Bond before and, I think, my take on that film is abnormal. Given the weird world we live in now I am unsure where I land in relation to the general consensus. I think this film was well received but I am not sure. What metric would I use at this point? Box office returns mean nothing, aggregate scores make no sense and going on social media only leads to more confusion. All this is to say that I enjoyed this film far more than I thought I would (and I think more than most).
My first viewing attempt was brief, I gave up at the nine minute mark. The opening felt long and drawn out and frankly I did not care. My memory of Spectre is spotty. Long, dark and full of people I never understood or cared about. So, naturally this film is centered around one of those new people and how important she is to James Bond.
I should point out that I have not seen all of the Bond films so I may be wrong but I think this is the first time the same romantic partner has returned. It’s nice. In fact, once I finally gave myself over to the film I was surprised at how mature it is. This is film centered on relationships and feelings and how we behave because of them. None of these are things I expected to find in a Bond film.
The villain isn’t really important. The big nefarious plot is there but it isn’t the center. I don’t want to say much more in case people have yet to see the film. If you don’t love the gadgets and quips and predictable plots and behaviors of Bond films I suggest you give this a try. It’s a well made action film that is character-driven and has wonderful performances from the leads. Color me surprised.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
I’m not an Arthurian scholar so the fidelity of this film to the legends is not a problem. I imagine for many it must be. During a dry spell this year when nothing looked appealing I watched several Guy Ritchie films that had slipped past my radar (and rewatched Snatch). What I can say about this film is if you like Guy Ritchie films and you can handle him doing what he likes to the legend of King Arthur you will probably enjoy this.
In particular there is a montage sequence (something Mr. Ritchie excels at) early in the film. The audio of this sequence is fantastic and caused my heart to race. It does the work of a montage sequence (covers a large period of time and shows how the character has changed – and adds a good deal of energy to the film).
Jude Law is a fine villain and the special effects get the job done. I’m not sure this is a film I would recommend to most people, it isn’t that memorable, but if you like Guy Ritchie and you want an “easy” movie to watch one night I would give this a try.
Lost Bullet and Lost Bullet 2
I don’t think I have lumped two films together before so why start now? Laziness? Hard to say. Much like with King Arthur I found myself in a rut and wanted to watch something that I could enjoy. Lost Bullet fit the bill for that. It is a streamlined action film, not much in the way of exposition or explanation. It’s French, which for some reason I almost always love. It is also, largely, a film operating in the realm of reality.
On that last point what I mean to say is that this film exists in a world with rules, which we are demonstrated and then behaves appropriately within those rules. The main character is a mechanic of sorts who is able to retrofit cars to do incredible things. He’s also something of an unstoppable force when he decides to be. Which means the film has some intense action scenes with motor vehicles and hand-to-hand combat.
Lost Bullet is a lean film, with a barebones story. I enjoyed it. The sequel is fine but largely unnecessary. It adds little to the first film and many of the action sequences are lesser. That being said I enjoyed both and I was happy for the entertainment they brought me in this somewhat dismal movie/television watching year.
The Terminal List
Quite possibly the highest point of my watching year was this show. It was completely unexpected. After watching The Tomorrow War I had assumed, incorrectly, that this show was part of some deal Amazon had made with Chris Pratt similar to the ones Netflix has made with prominent stars of late. These deals seem to yield results like The Tomorrow War, Extraction, The Do Over and other mediocre movies and shows. Which is to say competently made films with movie stars that are ultimately forgettable.
The Terminal List is none of these things. This show easily has the best performance I have seen from Chris Pratt. This is one of the best television shows I have ever seen, largely due to the approach the filmmakers took to the material. You can feel the respect everyone has for the story they are telling and the quality of the production reflects this.
The actors are all wonderful – Constance Wu in particular. I enjoyed her performance immensely and her role is not something I have seen before. She is not a plot device nor a love interest. Her character is a complex and complicated person with her own agenda and foibles. Chris Pratt gives a nuanced and wonderful performance full of deep emotion. Prior to watching The Terminal List I would not have thought he was capable of doing what he does in this show.
Given how much I enjoyed watching this I find I have little to say. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has not seen it and I respect it too much to try and over-analyze it. Every part of this show is well-made and thought out. Clearly a lot of effort was spent gettin things right, not cutting corners and making something excellent. I am thankful that they did, it is wonderful.
I’ve not read the books but I understand that people love them. I have seen the two film adaptions with Tom Cruise and I like them as much as I am confused by them. They feel strangely incomplete. Now that I have seen Christopher McQuarrie’s take on the Mission Impossible films I can’t help but feel it’s him and how he makes movies (I realize he didn’t direct the second film, which I think is the better of the two, but I believe he set the tone with his first). I’m not sure I could put my finger on what, exactly, he’s leaving out but whatever it is, it is crucial to having a complete and fulfilling movie-watching experience.
Which is a weird way for me to say I really liked this show. It helped that I didn’t know the lead or the story so I could sit back and let everything wash over me. When I had heard people complain about Tom Cruise being cast in this role it felt foolish. He’s a great actor and he does physical roles so well. Watching this it became clear. Probably every ten minutes there is someone saying something like, “You’re so big,” and then Reacher snapping plastic handcuffs off and strutting out of his cell. They made this fun rather than annoying but I imagine this is common in the books and Tom Cruise certainly does not bring size to the party.
I’m interested in the next season and hopefully they will have a bit more faith in the audience when they make it. There was a lot of “now pay attention” moments in this show (what does he need all the cattle feed for?) that could have been reduced. I think they wanted to make a smart show with intense action scenes and were worried about losing some audience members. Overall it worked and was quite enjoyable. I just hope they put a bit more faith in people with the next one and make it touch smarter.
A Discovery of Witches – Seasons 1-3
I saw the trailer for this show and thought it looked well-made and interesting. It’s a supernatural show that at it’s heart is a love story. Which meant I could watch it with my wife. We watched all three seasons and I enjoyed it. There are two or three episodes in the second season where they absolutely lost the plot and I attempted to beg off watching any more.
I am pleased I was watching this with my wife because she made me stick around and the filmmakers absolutely course-corrected and made something I enjoyed watching. After sitting through hours of nonsense with shows like Raised by Wolves and The New Pope it was a pleasure watching something that has parts you are meant to enjoy.
It struck me as a strange revelation that a good amount of prestige television seems to delight in making it’s viewers suffer. If Walt and Skyler had a good relationship would people watch Breaking Bad? I don’t know but I do know that this show more than anything else I saw this year, got me to thinking about why I am tolerating the deeply unpleasant things that I watch.
This show isn’t a series of rainbows and puppies but it does have it’s fair share of good moments and those are the reason why I enjoyed watching.
Overall I like this film. I’ve seen it three times now and I think they did a fantastic job with the look and feel. We’ve had a lot of Batman movies and to make something that feels different is no small feat.
There are elements of this film that feel forced or incorrect (the sudden romance with Catwoman for one) but on the whole I think it’s well done. And oh, Batman doesn’t use guns or kill people in this one, so that’s neat.
Not a lot to say about this movie. The high points:
I’ve not seen this movie before
If you are a looking for an action(y) movie with Noomi and ice skating you should watch this. It’s good, it’s different and it has Noomi.
If you read anything about this movie then you know the story it is based on is a precursor to Hamlet….I don’t think I’ve ever seen more bald-faced marketing for a film than for this one. I suppose it is because they spent a ton of money making it and then realized the indie director they trusted did not give them a blockbuster. Shocking!
Instead he gave them a weird and interesting tale of revenge. That’s it. I love that everyone was keen on playing up the Hamlet angle considering that the hero of this tale is one of the more decisive characters I’ve seen on screen. Yes, his uncle kills his father. Yes, his mother is in on it. That’s about as far as the similarities go.
There is witchcraft though and shamans and oracles and prophecies. There is a magic sword that can only be unsheathed at night. There is also a sword fight on a volcano and the film has Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke.
I enjoyed this movie thoroughly and found myself wanting to read stories written from this time period after watching. There is something comforting about these kinds of characters who do not struggle with who they are and what they want to do.
When I saw this film I did not know it was a video game adaptation. What I knew was
I liked the lead from other things I had seen him in (Veep in particular)
It looked funny
I like this film. It’s silly, it’s spooky and it is loaded with little jokes or moments that add up to a fun experience. It is self-aware but in the good way where the mood stays light and people continue to have a good time. When it goes over the top it does it in an enjoyable way, where you can laugh at the movie while also enjoying the movie. This is rare. I dig it.
I saw this almost immediately after watching The Terminal List so the similarities were not lost on me. I like the film. So much of what they did correctly with The Terminal List they did with this movie. They took the material seriously, they showed respect to people who are in the armed forces and largely they tried to ground things in reality.
The Terminal List and The Contractor both do something I enjoy – the operate within a genre and they defy your expectations. In defying your expectations they venture into areas you may not have expected, allowing the performers to behave in ways that are surprising and this makes the story feel fresh. In truth I don’t think either of these are new or surprising stories but they are told in a manner that makes them feel that way. Which I think, at this point in time, is the best you can hope for when it comes to storytelling.
The Racer and The Jailbird
First things first: the title of this film in France is “Le fidèle”. Depending on the source you use the title can be translated differently (The Faithful being the most common) but somehow it became “The Racer and The Jailbird” for American audiences. Bon. Le Big Mac.
As I have previously stated I have a strong affinity for French films (I know that this is Belgian – work with me) and I enjoyed this one. I like the structure of the film and the pacing. I like the way information is withheld from the audience and from the characters. The performances are fantastic and the action sequences are incredibly well done. I highly recommend this film to any and everyone.
This is one of those movies that you hear about and you put off watching because you don’t believe it will live up to the hype. Before it won any awards I was hearing about this movie and I wasn’t sure it could be as good as people were saying it was. Turns out it is that good and everyone was right.
I don’t think I have to try and persuade anyone about this film. I really just want to state that it surprised me and won me over and I am pleased I was able to watch it. It has heart, there is a reason why this story is being told and it is well-made. You cannot ask for anything more.
The trailer for Nobody made me think someone saw John Wick and Atomic Blonde and thought, “Anyone can make those movies,” and then cast Bob Odenkirk to prove the point. This may be true! Whatever the case, the movie works. There are a few moments where it seems poised to become a parody of those other films and somehow it doesn’t. It also doesn’t feel derivative when you are watching it which is impressive.
This was a big action movie year for me and Nobody is a solid entry in that category. It’s the good kind of action movie where the violence doesn’t feel senseless and there to just titillate. Learning about the new division of labor in many Hollywood films, having separate units that handle shooting and creating action sequences makes sense when you see such wonderful results. The dramatic scenes work and the action scenes pop. Nobody probably won’t win any awards but it accomplishes what it sets out to do and I find that admirable.
Thor Love and Thunder
I love this movie. I didn’t think I would. Thor: Ragnarok left me cold. It’s not a terrible movie but it isn’t great. I appreciate trying to take Thor in a new direction but that film was a bit too silly (and offered no real explanation as to why Jane wasn’t around – she left him? Thor?!) With everyone suddenly behaving differently. This film knows what it’s about and almost immediately gets things right. I mean, the opening is terribly dark and upsetting but then it’s light and silly and features Guns and Roses so….yay?
The movie works, the parts that people felt HAD to be included didn’t (do you need to see a lot of god -butchering or can you just imagine it?) and everything with silly, pompous Zeus was fun. There is seriousness in this movie and loss and sadness. But it isn’t dour, it’s not Zach Snyder trying to impress upon us that these are gods and they have been through some stuff! The film is largely a good time. We get more Natalie Portman and honestly the ending is fantastic. I can see why people did not like the movie (these are the people that thought Thor 3 was amazing I am sure) but I think in time people will come around and appreciate this for the excellent film that it is.
It turns out Morbius is a perfectly fine movie. I enjoyed it. There were several interesting things they did with the special effects and storytelling that I hadn’t seen before. I always like that. Jared Leto was quite good as well, giving a performance that allows the audience to understand his character and empathize with him. The supporting cast is great – I honestly will never understand why the Internet attacks the things that it does. Leave Morbius alone, Internet!
The poster for “Code 8” has followed me around for a few years now. It is a bad poster (not the one above, the one above is great). So I never had much interest in watching it (to be fair Netflix does their poster-dance nonsense where they continually change the poster on titles in the hope that they can entice you to watch the film or trick you into thinking it is new – bad Netflix! Bad). During a movie-watching glut in November I scrolled through Netflix and decided to check out “Code 8”. This is a low budget action/science fiction film that is better than it should be.
“Code 8” is a great example of people having an idea and working within their limitations to execute it. Considering how low budget this film is, it is truly impressive what they accomplished. You get a real sense of this alternate world and how things work. The actors are good and the look of the film is great. It’s a solid movie.
Masterclass – Roy Choi
I watched a few Masterclass courses this year, as I have in years past. I never felt the need to mention them before because, honestly, they were so lackluster and unhelpful that I saw no point. Most of what I have watched relating to filmmaking and writing in terms of advice is generic, topical and trite. However I watched two classes this year, Roy Choi’s and James Cameron’s and found them to be wonderful.
Roy Choi is a chef who in the past few years has done quite a bit of television. I became acquainted with him via The Chef Show with Jon Favreau. Watching that was where I learned Roy was the consultant for the movie, Chef, which was also made by Jon Favreau. It then made me aware of Roy’s other television show, “Broken Bread”, which I have watched and found quite interesting (I’ve not seen him as a Judge on Masterchef because I do not watch reality tv).
As I mentioned earlier this year, cooking television has become a big part of my life. One of the fun things about finding these different shows is seeing the various chefs and writers pop up in other shows. David Chang makes an appearance on The Chef Show and it’s fun to see him with Roy Choi – as both are interesting chefs with wildly different personalities.
In part that is what makes Roy’s Masterclass so interesting to watch. On The Chef Show he is soft-spoken, often in the background and quite meek. In his Masterclass his personality is bigger. He curses. He tells stories about himself and is less humble. It’s fun to watch. He makes cooking feel approachable and easy. I’ve found myself trying to remember what he did and then improvising instead of looking up his recipe (and his course is about intuitive cooking so I think he’d be proud of this move) which is not something I would normally do. He’s inspiring and he makes connections between food and culture and identity. Roy embodies everything I think of when it comes to a modern chef and what cooking should be. I love this class.
Masterclass – James Cameron
The other Masterclass I watched was James Cameron’s. I’ll be honest, I went in with low expectations. Scorsese, Herzog, Howard, Sorkin all have such lackluster Masterclasses that I assumed it would be more of the same. Not so.
James Cameron does the clever and rather obvious thing of structuring his Masterclass around filmmaking principles and concepts that he employs. He then uses specific examples from his films to illustrate the points he is discussing. He walks the viewer through scenes and moments explaining his thinking and decision-making process so you can best understand the concept he is explaining.
It is so simple that it feels silly to write this out. But he makes use of the medium, to best teach you how to make films. Most of the other filmmakers approach their Masterclasses like an interview. They sit in a chair, they talk at the camera and occasionally show a clip. Herzog blathers on about the importance of reading and pulls out a book and reads to the camera.
Cameron often sits at a computer, uses editing software and plays a clip. He pauses the clip and explains. He resumes. He replays. He talks over the footage. He shows you examples. I imagine that not all of the other filmmakers are capable of editing, or understand the software well enough to do what James Cameron does. I don’t know. I would hope that in the future filmmakers creating Masterclasses will take advantage of this method as it is vastly superior.
What I do know is I learned more about his approach to filmmaking in five minutes than I did in the entirety of the other filmmaker’s Masterclasses. That being said, it is just information. I am not going to make a movie like James Cameron would. But understanding how he made his films can help inform my approach. It can provide me with a tangible starting point which I can then deviate from. This is incredibly helpful. Having an approach beyond, “Let’s go out there and shoot some stuff and hope for the best,” is invaluable.
What I have found with Masterclass is the people who can demonstrate tangible things: this is how you chop an onion, this is how you cross cut a scene with three people in a nightclub, make better courses. If you are trying to teach someone skills it is important to be able to demonstrate those skills and instruct others how to acquire them. Imagine Stephan Curry having his Masterclass where he doesn’t touch a basketball. What would be the point of that?
Dave Chapelle – The Closer
A few weeks ago my wife, who pays no attention to stand up comedy or comedians, told me she read an article in The New York Times where they alluded to Dave Chappelle’s well documented anti-semitism. I can’t lie, it made me angry. I had assumed, since I no longer watch Saturday Night Live, that it was in reference to a joke he makes in The Closer. I went back to the special, rewatched the joke and shook my head. Could the New York Times really interpret this joke as long-standing anti-semitism?
Of course not. The article was referring to the monologue he delivered two weeks before on SNL. The same monologue which begins with him making a prepared statement expressing that he is not and has never been anti-semitic. After which he makes a quip about Kanye West who just made many anti-semitic remarks.
I write all of this because it sums up my frustration with the current state of affairs. It’s okay to not get stand up comedy. It’s okay to see a brief clip online where someone is saying something and to take them seriously…unless that clip comes from a set where a comic is performing. Because, of course, they are performing and most likely are making a joke. Which you are watching only part of because the Internet is now just full of people trying to be offended or get others upset.
I watched The Closer and enjoyed it. I’ve seen Chappelle’s other Netflix specials and this builds on his earlier work. I’m not sure if a comedian has done what Chappelle is doing now. He had a special, received harsh criticism and responded to that criticism in a new special. People attacked his response and he created another special and responded again.
What’s troubling is that people seem to keep thinking he’s the enemy. That despite what he says on stage that he really is a hateful, terrible person who is trying to dig himself out of a hole in order to save his career. Except all the people who have attempted that very thing, saving their career after a misstep or accusation has derailed it, have done the very opposite of what Chappelle is doing now. They haven’t tried to engage – they have apologized, hidden away for a while and then quietly re-emerged hoping that people have moved onto something new or calmed enough to let them be. Dave Chappelle never went away. He hasn’t apologized. Instead he’s tried to have a dialog and explain where he is coming from and why he’s saying what he’s saying.
The man is having a public discourse about sensitive material while also delivering solid laughs. This is not easy to do! It reminds me in many ways of J.K. Rowling responding via essay about claims that she is a T.E.R.F. Anyone who has read her essay and tried to understand her points can see she isn’t spewing hatred. Dave Chappelle isn’t getting on stage and putting hate into the world. He is asking questions and trying to get others to consider what he is saying. I love this kind of comedy and I am frankly amazed that Netflix has not bowed to pressure and continued to give Mr. Chappelle the space to share his unique voice.
Greg Davies: You Magnificent Beast
On the complete other end of the spectrum you have Greg Davies. He strikes me as the uncle who tells the embarrassing stories at family gatherings, gets terribly drunk, and then assaults the Christmas tree. Only he means well, is truly sorry afterwards and makes everyone laugh when he tells the story at a later time.
This special is a good time and strangely touching. I only became aware of Mr. Davies after discovering The Big Fat Quiz Show in 2021. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the year without it. There is a person who has posted all of the shows, thirty something of them I believe, on YouTube. They are amazing. Not only are they full of trivia, which I enjoy, but they are full of people like Greg Davies. Funny people who enjoy making others laugh. I spent a solid month cackling like a fool in the evenings in 2021 and it helped with the funk I had fallen into.
That show made me aware of a number of British comedians and to my joy I found that many of them had specials on Netflix. I watched a great deal of these in 2022 and managed to keep my sanity.
So here is the deal – I love basketball. I mean, really love it. But I stopped watching and playing around 1997. So I have a strange relationship with basketball and basketball movies. I’m also 44 which means that the 90’s were the prime years for all things basketball for me. By which I mean playing but also watching movies. To be into basketball in the 90’s and watching movies meant there was an overflowing bounty of things to watch. Frankly, I was spoiled.
I saw the trailer for Hustle and it excited me. I know how much Adam Sandler loves basketball and the look and tone of the film felt correct. It’s a good movie. I like the story and the acting and most importantly the way they shot the basketball scenes are amazing. The camera is right on the court moving among the players and the ball. You can hear all those great squeaks of the shoes and the playing is fantastic.
That being said because I don’t know any of the players I think a fair bit of the impact of this movie was lost on me. I found out afterwards that a lot of the people in this movie are NBA players. I think knowing them would certainly add to their scenes.
Sadly I didn’t love the film. I liked it but when it ended I did that half-shrug you do when something is good but not what you’d hoped it be. I think in part it’s because I grew up watching so many of the best players of all time and because I saw so many good basketball movies. It’s a high bar for me and Hustle, despite it’s efforts, didn’t clear it.
Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness
Watching Spiderman: No Way Home made me sad. I enjoyed the first two, stand-alone Spiderman movies and I had gone into No Way Home thinking it would be more of the same. It really wasn’t. Bringing two other versions of Spiderman into the movie, getting rid of Aunt May, and having a gaggle of villains from other movies should have been wonderful and fulfilling. It felt like pandering (see also: the season finale of She-Hulk). I found it to be tedious and predictable. Which is why when I watched Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness I was pleasantly surprised.
Although I did not love WandaVision seeing it before M.O.M. was helpful. I understood what Wanda had gone through and why she would be untrustworthy in this film. What I enjoyed most about M.O.M. was the tone. Sam Raimi took the material seriously but he also had fun with it. The horror elements of the first Doctor Strange remained but they shifted. Whereas the colors and feel of the first film felt like the 1970’s this film has more of a 1980’s feel. I enjoyed this progression (while generally not enjoying horror elements.
I don’t find the above guy scary but somehow I find him less cartoony than the creatures in The Guardians of The Galaxy. It’s a fine line and I think Mr. Raimi did an excellent job of getting things right. The actors were all quite good in this film and unlike WandaVision I liked the emotional arc that Wanda has here. The idea of imprisoning a town and manipulating its inhabitants because she’s upset about her dead android fella did not land with me. Whereas losing her magically created children and looking for an alternate, magical, ways to be with them does. Perhaps it is because I am a parent. Or perhaps it is because this is a film and the condensed nature of the storytelling gives the viewer less time to ponder matters. Either way Wanda’s motivations and actions made sense to me in this film in a way they did not in WandaVision.
I also appreciated the creativity applied to the magic in this film. The musical fight between the two Dr. Stranges in particular was pleasing to watch. I had not seen that before and the concept conveyed both the character’s intelligence and ingenuity. It’s always odd writing about films and shows based on comics now – everyone wants to compare them to what was done in the actual comics. These are adaptations, largely, and I do not find the comparisons helpful. I liked this movie and I found it strange that people who loved and celebrated No Way Home did not care for M.O.M. It’s a similar concept that is properly executed.
Jack Ryan – Season 3
Despite the interval between season two and three getting back into Jack Ryan is easy to do. The show is well-made, it is entertaining and, strangely, it is a pleasure to watch. Which is saying something given how dark and unpleasant most of the plot is for each season. In hindsight I feel there are a number of points I could make about this show being less than stellar. The plot is not the most original (speaking about season three specifically), the show succumbs to the “only one man can save the day” trope when it would clearly benefit from showing how all of the people involved contribute to averting each crises.
Does the show make the “bad guys” simplistic and cartoonish at time? It does. Does it smack of patriotism and jingoism and a skewed US-centric perspective? Absolutely. Yet…when I’m watching none of this is bothering me. I’m not thinking about implausibility or originality. The filmmaking is so confident and assured that I sit back and enjoy. There are not a lot of shows and movies that get everything right. Jack Ryan does and I am looking forward to season four (which apparently is not that long off which is neat).
Things I am looking forward to watching in 2023
I included this before and it made me happy. I even came back at times during the year when I could think of nothing to watch and it helped so, win/win.
Let’s be clear here – I am not talking about their predictive algorithms that tell you what you want to watch next. I’ve been using Netflix since 2004, I’ve rated well over 3,000 films and they either offer me films I’ve already watched and rated (on their platform) or things I have no interest in. Kanopy, a service I’ve used for about a year and ranked nothing on offers me selections that are 99.9% accurate. So to begin, Netflix, hire more people and learn from Kanopy (and Hulu and The Criterion Channel) and stop using math for people like me who want to watch Tenet, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and The Philadelphia Story – you don’t stand a chance. What I am writing about today is YouTube and how Netflix understood long before me that it makes sense to post exclusive content on the site.
Let’s go back in time briefly. They year is 2012 and if you are a filmmaker looking to share your work online where do you post it? I said filmmaker so chances are you post it on Vimeo, the only site I knew of, where filmmakers of all levels of experience posted and shared their work. I’m not sure if YouTube was for anyone over the age of twenty at the time (to be fair I only used it to find music videos so maybe it was great and I was ignorant but I didn’t know anyone who used the site much) but I do know that if you wanted to find short films you went to Vimeo.
Now a quick search tells me that season one of House of Cards released in February 2013, which means at this point Netflix is still relying mainly on its DVD business and getting the rights to films and television shows made by other companies. In short, they aren’t doing much that is unique and wonderful to them. Did they have a YouTube channel? Did YouTube Channels exist then? I don’t really know. I had a YouTube account because I had a Google Video account that turned into a YouTube account at some point after the acquisition in 2006 and from that point on I’ve kind of/sort of used the site. My terrible point being I wasn’t paying attention and I don’t think many people were until…well that’s the point of this post.
When did YouTube start making sense? When did it stop being full of nonsense and America’s Funniest Home Videos content and become a smart choice for individuals and businesses to use as a platform for hosting video content? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. It had to be after Facebook became a closed system (by which I mean when you could search the Internet and access everything from within the Facebook browser) because before that it certainly made sense to have a website for everything. Do we remember this? When each movie had its own website with as much (or as little) content as they wished to put on the site? When did this change?
I am rambling more than usual and I am sure little of it is interesting so let me try and say something of value. At some point it started to make sense to have a central hub for content rather than hundreds or thousands of individual sites that users had to find on their own. Netflix chose not to be a hub, I am assuming, because they are behind a paywall. It makes little sense for them to put their promotional material on their own site – you will only have access to people who have an account. You cannot tempt in new users from within the site. YouTube is free and available to anyone, therefore posting advertising clips and trailers on the site makes the most sense.
So, back to the title of this (what did Netflix know?) and this simple answer – that YouTube is better than other social media sites for promoting things, because they aren’t behind a paywall or require a membership to view content. Presumably their search engine is better because they are owned by Google but I don’t know this for sure. I do know trying to find things on Twitter is agonizing and Instagram is changed with such frequency that I never know how to do anything.
As someone who stopped using Facebook once the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke I can attest to how annoying not being able to access the site can be. A number of products that I use only post their tutorials or help forums on that site. Many companies use Facebook as the entry point for customer support and use groups to share tips and tricks for their products. Without an account I can’t access this content and every once in a while I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t just go back.
But this is the problem and it extends to all social media now, save YouTube, that everyone requires a membership and they track and sell your data (to the best of my knowledge YouTube can be used without a membership, I imagine while still tracking and selling your data). So, as always, the question remains: what should I be doing? When it comes to the Internet and social media I have no clue. I continue to post things on this site despite it being a poor way to share what I have written. Without a larger presence online I have little hope of reaching a larger audience.