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Everything's Gonna Be Okay

like everything about this show except it's star
This weirdly uncomfortable comedy has a lot of good things in it. It's quirky sense of humor is original and reasonable funny. It has an insightful portrayal of unusual children. The boyfriend is amusing.

But I really can't take Josh Thomas. He just grates on my nerves. I would totally watch this series if there were some way to just edit him out, but since that's not an option I have to give it a pass.

Gunpowder Milkshake

stylish and wildly entertaining
In the uber-stylish, super-violent Gunpowder Milkshake, Karen Gillan plays a jaded hit woman with a tragic past who finds herself trying to save a little girl with the eventual help of a bunch of tough women.

This is all an excuse for a little comedy, and little drama, and a whole bunch of beautifully choreographed and absolutely insane fight scenes. Some of these are as entertainingly gimmicky as a Jackie Chan fight, most notably when Karen is given an unlikely drug that paralyzes her arms while leaving the rest of her unaffected, resulting in a whole bunch of whacky moves.

It's not remotely realistic, with its over-done gun library and the sort of unending series of unfaltering henchmen you see in a videogame, but it's funny and fun and has some wild slo-mo battles that are as precise as clockwork.

I don't understand why it's only got a 6 average here; I'm torn between 8 and 9. Highly recommended, and well worthy of a sequel.

Cruel Summer

intriguing yet dull
I watched the first episode of this. It had some interesting ideas and offered some mystery, but unfortunately I found it so slow moving that I barely made it through the episode.

The series takes place over 3 years, and the first episode shows you a girl named Jeanette as an annoyingly giggly 15-year-old, a slick 16-year-old, and a bitter, besieged 17-year-old. It slides neatly between the years, using visual cues to keep you oriented, and starts right in on filling in the information you need and setting the scene.

Unfortunately, I found the series consistently dull. I was curious regarding what happened, but I didn't find the characters appealing or compelling and I wasn't curious at all about them. I wound up just reading the story in wikipedia, and it really is laid out in an admirably, twisty way.

There are some TV series that instantly pull me in, and others that instantly put me off, and for reasons I can't entirely define Cruel Summer falls in the latter category. It just didn't work for me.

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Fascinating story of a forgotten cultural event
This documentary portrays a series of NYC summer concerts that happened in Harlem the same year as Woodstock. It was all filmed - Stevie Wonder! - Nina Simone! - The Staple Singers! - but there was never the funding to turn it into a Monterey Pop/Woodstock concert movie.

Now that footage has been turned into Summer of Soul. This is not the concert movie that would have come out at the time - mainly you get a minute of song and then talking heads over the rest - but instead a documentary that contextualizes that concert series with a wider view of the forces that shaped that summer as well as a lot of fond memories from those who were there.

I often find that concert movies have so much music of varying quality that I want less of it, but with Summer of Soul I really wish more songs had been played in their entirety. There are so many good performances that we don't get to see in full, and I hope someday they release a concert version of this, or an extended, four-hour version that gives full musical highlights.

But that's a quibble. This is a consistently engaging, entertaining and informative movie that everyone should see.


Oh my God, I just can't
For me, Andrei Tarkovsky has always been the guy who directed that slow and pointless version of Solaris that all the critics loved. I didn't really plan to every watch another of his films, but after reading an article in the New Yorker that suggested Solaris was far from his best and Stalker was great, I thought I'd check it out.

The opening monochromatic scenes look stunning. It's really worth watching a bit just to see really great cinematography.

Things move slow from the beginning, but then they pretty much grind to a halt when characters start having long philosophical conversations, something I associate more with French films than Russian ones.

Tarkovsky seems determined to make sure there is not a moment of excitement in the movie. He takes a scene of people sneaking through a heavily-patrolled area to reach "The Zone" and drains it of every possibility of suspense, making the whole thing an endless slog.

When they reach The Zone the movie goes to color and the cinematography becomes drab. So the last little thing that made the film worth watching was gone.

So that's it for me. I don't care how many people love him, I am done with Tarkovsky. Won't get fooled again.

On - drakon

lovely epic romance adventure
This big-budget spectacular has dragons, pretty scenery, pretty people, and a nice modern fairytale sensibility. It begins in ancient times, with a ritual in which maidens were sacrificed to a dragon. Decades later the dragon is gone and the sacrifice has turned into an elaborate marriage ceremony, which is really clever and allows for an interesting echo ritual.

Anyway, turns out there's a still a dragon, and the bride, played with Russian fierceness by Mariya Poezzhaeva, finds herself on an island with a dragon, a fierce guard ocelot(?), and a mysterious man who's forgotten his name.

Without going into further details, there's running, fire, romance, dreams, a very corny romantic-vignettes-over-a-pop-song sequence, Russian angst, and stuff like that.

It's really a lovely movie, even if there are a few plot holes. Some people said they saw it with bad subtitles, but I saw it with good subtitles and really liked it.

I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

The Suicide Squad

Exciting and hilarious film from the Guardians of the Galaxy guy
Suicide Squad involved the U. S. government sending supervillains on suicide missions of "national importance." The movie is very funny, very dark, a bit gorier than I would have liked, and full of amazing action sequences. It's also got a little political commentary about U. S. intervention.

The cast is terrific, most notably Margot Robbie, reprising her Harley Quinn role from an earlier "Suicide Squad" movie I never saw and the fabulous Birds of Prey. I really love her Harley, a psychopath with a heart of gold and killer reflexes who moves through the film like a chaos agent, fearless and improvident (if I ever watch the first, reputedly terrible Suicide Squad movie, it will be entirely due to Robbie).

While the movie is crazy and hilarious, it also manages to put a little heart in, notably in the father/daughter vibe between Idris Elba and Daniela Melchior. Zach Snyder, who attempted and failed to create emotional resonance in Army of the Dead with a similar approach, should watch this movie over and over until he understands how to fit deep emotion and crazy action into a single film.

This is a terrific movie, every bit as good as director James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy films, and you should definitely watch it.


A fascinating movie if you understand what you're in for
If you go in to this extraterrestrial invasion film expecting extraterrestrials or aliens, well, you're going to be disappointed.

As with other films by the fascinating director Nacho Vigalondo, Extraterrestrial takes a sideways view of a pulp genre. The movie starts flying saucers over Madrid, but the movie isn't about them but about how four people who didn't evacuate cooperate and contend with one another.

It is not true, as some people say, that "nothing happens." Plenty happens, but it's all comedic human drama full of lies and schemes and things going wrong.

If you want to see an alien invasion movie, this isn't one. But if you'd like to see an ingenious and engaging movie about people, this is a good choice.

After I saw Vigalondo's Colossal I set out to see all his other movies. This is the last one. I really hope he's working on something new!

The White Lotus

fascinating satire of white privelege
Funny and painful, White Lotus focusses on a Hawaiian hotel full of rich white people and those that serve them. It's a fascinating series in which people aren't bad or good so much as they are self-involved.

Performances are generally stellar. Jennifer Coolidge has gotten most of the attention for her needy, chaotic Tanya, but there's also Murray Bartlett as a hotel manager losing it, Natasha Rothwell as the most purely decent person on the series, Alexandra Daddario as a newlywed trying to process, and everyone is so good that I feel guilty naming individuals.

Highly recommended.

Radioland Murders

Frenetic and overpacked, but has its moments
In Radioland Murders, a radio network debuts, but there are no scripts, everything's pandemonium, and someone is murdering the staff.

The series aims for the fast-pattered, slapstick humor Hollywood did so well in the 40s, only it's so broad, so fast, so packed with snippets of jokes and entertainment and pratfalls that nothing really registers. It's like Bringing Up Baby directed 90s-era MTV, and it's exhausting.

The first half hour is almost intolerable, but I actually stuck with it, because the bits of radio performances themselves are fun, and it does pick up as it goes along, and some of the jokes do land, although not most of them.

It's clear this movie wants to create the feel of David Lynch's brilliant, short-lived series On the Air (the movie came out after that series, although it was in development hell for something like 20 years). But On the Air was clever where Radioland is hectic and quirky where Radioland is emulative. There's some good set designs and cute bits, but it's not really worth watching.

Mare of Easttown

gritty show with excellent performances, but sometimes drags
Mare of Easttown is a really good miniseries with a great lead performance by Kate Winslet, an uncompromising attitude towards the complexity and sometimes awfulness of even generally good people, and an engaging plot.

It reminds me of Sharp Objects, but while many people, including my girlfriend, really loved Mare, I did not find it as compelling as Sharp Objects. And while the first few episodes were gripping, I found my interest waxed and waned after that.

It's a good series, and I understand why some people love it, but for me it was more like than love.

Haibane Renmei

starts well then lost me
I found the first episode of this series mysterious and intriguing, and was excited to learn more about this strange world. But subsequent episodes were far more about these girls' day-to-day life than their mysterious circumstances. After a few episodes I looked up the recap on wikipedia and it sounds like the explanation is more straightforward and obvious than I was hoping. It's a pleasant series, but I just didn't see much point to watching more.

Inside Amy Schumer

Often brilliant
I'm always leery of sketch comedies, because they are so often terrible. So it took me a while to take a look at this. But when I finally watched it, some of the sketches were absolutely brilliant. And that brilliance lasted the entire series, which was brilliantly, wildly sharp and funny.

There is an intelligence to this show that is rare in sketch comedy (I have to think back to the Tracy Ullman Show to think of a fit comparison) and it can be wildly funny. Some sketches are weaker than others, but none have been bad. I'm really happy I gave it a chance.

Trophy Wife

somewhat funny, but also a bit embarassing
I don't know what to make of this show. It was created by two women, yet it takes a surprisingly positive view of a guy who keeps trading his wives in for younger models. And while one of the creators is quoted on wikipedia as describing herself as a "feminist," the female characters strike me as anti-female - the young, clueless one, the spacey idiot, and the smart but shark-like one.

Is it funny? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But this is essentially a conventional, middling sitcom with an uncomfortable premise, and after I few episodes I gave up on it.


Okay but not really feeling it
This is a decent show, overall, but the problem is the doctor isn't nearly as interesting as the pirate, and we spend way more time with the doctor. I think the problem with the show is it takes itself so seriously; Malkovich is the only one with a glint in his eye. Pirate stories aren't supposed to be serious and dark, they're supposed to be fun. Where's Captain Hook?


decent pilot
This show is an almost for me. I watched the first episode, and thought, if there weren't so many other series I'm already watching I might keep up with this.

For comparison's sake, I also watched the first episode of the show it's based on, Broadchurch. Critics and fans of the original have said Gracepoint isn't as good, but really, the pilot is virtually a shot-for-shot remake, so I'm not convinced this is an objective evaluation. I will say I like the Broadchurch score slightly better, but on the other hand I like the victim's father a bit better in Gracepoint.

But as I say, there's too much good TV in the world so I don't plan to continue with either.


Over the first two seasons, riveting and aggravating
After the first three episodes, I was a big fan of this one. It was stylishly filmed, intriguing, and contained some genuinely creepy/scary moments, making it the closest thing to Fringe I've seen in some time.

Unfortunately, the series as a whole was never as good as that beginning. There were always problematic choices, such as characters who failed to offer pertinent information for no good reason, or who did dumb things, or who made weirdly uncharacteristic choices. While Season 1 was better than Season 2, both times the season went off the rails towards the end, with endings that were very unsatisfying.

Season 1 I would rate a 7.5 overall, season 2 probably deserves a 6.5, so let's give it a 7.

Sleepy Hollow

Fun show with a nice mix of excitement and amusement
This show is fairly mindless, but it's quite a lot of fun. The action is fast paced and exciting. There's a lot of light humor, much of it based on Crane's shock at how much history we get wrong (Paul Revere did not, for example, yell "the British were coming" because Americans at that time considered themselves British). The cast is excellent.

It is also interesting how nicely integrated the show is. There are actually slightly more black than white main characters, but there's no sense that they're aiming for a particular audience; it's just who was right for the role.

Marry Me

The first episode of this show was really funny, and throughout the season there were funny moments, but the series never quite got any momentum.

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Well intentioned but not especially funny
Amidst all the anti-Muslim hysteria in the it's nice to see a series that portrays Muslims not as a monolithic group of terrorists but as individuals in a particular faith who don't always agree on the practice of that faith.

Unfortunately, beyond the unusual subject matter, this is a very conventional and not especially clever sitcom. The characters are stock - obnoxious reactionary, fiery feminist, cool preacher dude Imam) - and the jokes and situations are predictable.

Overall, this comes across as a light-hearted after school special about tolerance.

BTW, a much better - though shorter lived - plea for tolerance can be found in Aliens in America, which had a lot more bite.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

So much more than the Daily Show clone it started out as
The first few weeks of Last Week Tonight, it was pretty much The Daily Show on HBO. Which was fine; it was funny and smart and you can never get too much of that.

But then the show began to find itself, dropping the interviews and devoting itself primarily to long pieces that are funny and insightful and often represent the best commentary on a particular subject, like their take on Ferguson and the militarization of the police, which was brilliant both as comedy and as advocacy.

I'm not sure how much good the advocacy does - the audience for this show probably goes in agreeing with Oliver - but it's nice to see something both so smart and so entertaining.

Young & Hungry

Not especially funny
This show's not horrendous, like Mystery Girls, which I saw yesterday, so there's that. But it's very forced and predictable, and rarely funny.

The Musketeers

lots of fun
When I first heard of this show, I looked at wikipedia to get the critics reaction, and found many were lukewarm at first but liked the show after awhile. But for me, this was a winner from episode one, a light-hearted, old-fashioned swashbuckler with a brisk pace and a nice sense of humor.

While I read the book, that was probably 40 years ago, and I mainly remember the Richard Lester movie. Based on the first few episodes, I'm a bit disappointed in the two main women; the good one seems rather bland, and the evil one seems rather uncomplex for what I recall was, in the book, a fascinating character. I'm hoping that improves. But overall, lots of fun.

Friends with Better Lives

It's not terrible
I watched the first episode of FWBL, and for the most part I found it unobjectionable, and it had some amusing jokes. It's a very conventional sitcom, and it's at that place where I'm on the fence about whether to keep watching. But with so much good TV in the world, on the fence means no. Still, if it got just a little bit cleverer and more original, this would be a keeper.

Taxi Brooklyn

Nothing new
I watched one episode of this, and I thought, it's a dumb premise but the cast is likable enough and I like comedic buddy shows so I'll see how the second episode is. Now I've seen the second episode, and I think that's going to be it for me.

This is one of those shows that has a really dumb premise (apparently based on some movie) and spends a lot of time just trying to make it all make sense. Perhaps they'll succeed eventually, or just stop talking about it, but in the beginning it's a drag on the show. The leads are likable, particularly the cab driver (who, after all, is *supposed* to be likable) and it keeps moving, but I feel I've seen everything in it a thousand times before. It's fairly watchable, but that's about it.

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