Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Seen in June and July 

Fleabag. Image via The Movie DB

Fleabag Season 2

When they talk about the current state of television as some golden, shining gilded age, they are referring to this series. I’m not going to bother trying to describe it (a comedy/drama of a young woman’s journey of… forget it), just watch it.

Good Omens

David Tennant and Michael Sheenan delight as a demon and angel respectively whose time on Earth lo these last 6500 years has led to their only real friendship and their common bond with humanity leads them to do whatever they can to prevent Armageddon from happening (yes, the biblical one, end of the world type stuff). This series is based on an co-authored book from Terry Pratchard and Neil Gaiman (like some kind of author supergroup) and is a bit like Gaiman’s fantastical American Gods if it had been written by Douglas Adams and produced by the makers of Doctor Who.

Always Be My Maybe

Basically this is a Notting Hill rom-com but with Asian folks instead of white folks. Which is fine. The first two acts of this film are original and include a surprisingly funnily self-aware bit of comedy when Keanu Reeves shows up briefly as the perfect rebound boyfriend. Unfortunately the last act is almost a parody of formulaic romantic comedies full of musical montages of angst-filled reveals and a full on "Notting Hill" press conference speech - not the "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy" one, but the other stammering, "could a fella be so stupid and can you accept such a stupid fella" one. It's all good but it seemed like a missed opportunity to make this something more.

Halt and Catch Fire Season 4

This was the final season of this show about a fictional quartet of people at the forefront of the technology industry. A little like Mad Men for Silicon Valley, the show highlighted the effort in innovation and the price you sometimes pay in personal relationships for that effort. This season focussed on the nascent World Wide Web and the convergent efforts to build a way to navigate it, either by a Web browser, or by curating it (impossible) or by searching it (very difficult). This season was surprisingly emotional. I’m not sure if it was some perfect Venn diagram of my heart, soul and mind or if it really was that good but I can honestly say, this show “got me”.

Won't You Be My Neighbor. Image via The Movie DB

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A kind hearted documentary about a kind hearted man who made a kind hearted show called Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood. There’s a lot to say about Fred Rogers and his approach to making a show for children but it also speaks to a path we could all take, particularly in these politically divided times, to see another person’s viewpoint, have empathy for them when required, confront ideas that are inherently wrong and offer kindness and generosity to our fellow travellers.

Stan and Ollie

I stand by my contention that 99% of bio-pics are terrible. Usually the ones that aren’t focus on a short but meaningful period in the person’s life. Which is exactly what Stan and Ollie does as it focuses on a come-back stage tour of British variety halls in the early 50s of the aging comedy duo of Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly). Unfortunately it still sucks. Well, it didn’t suck but it was more less stuck in a low gear. It’s a sweet look at two performers who knew each other so well they could do their comedy bits at the drop of a hat and often would where ever they were. Yet it isn’t enough to elevate this film beyond “OK”.

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth light it up in MIB International. Image via The Movie DB

Men In Black: International

Like millions of other fans I was eagerly awaiting an extension of the Men in Black franchise about a super secret spy agency that worked with and against ill-intentioned extraterrestrial life in the Universe. Generally it’s a fun bit of action sci-fi comedy and that should have only be heightened by seeing Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson re-united after their Marvel movies together. While they are still a great onscreen team, the whole thing lacks the magic they found in their other pursuits. This movie is a fun escape from summer heat and troubles but it can’t escape a mediocre plot line or curious pacing.


Jessica Jones Season 03

This series based on the character of Jessica Jones who doesn’t want to be a hero, yet is endowed with super-human strength has always played out more like a hardboiled detective novel. This theme of those that don’t want to be heroes often make the best ones is sort of hammered over again and again in this season where Jones takes on a stereotypically genius serial killer. The killer’s motivation stems from wanting to level the playing field of humanity by offing those who’ve been given unfair advantages in life such as “natural talent”, good looks or being born into wealth. The season also suffers from what some of the other Marvel shows have where there’s an awful lot of foot dragging to get to the point as if there really wasn’t enough story to justify a full season. All in all though, if you liked the character in previous seasons this is a fair extension and ending of her narrative. Though, is it? The season seems to end with Jones deciding to leave New York and her crime fighting life behind but a last minute change of mind tells us otherwise. This series was cancelled by Netflix but maybe the writers know something we don’t as the characters are owned by Disney which is set to begin its own streaming service soon.

Derry Girls

Londonderry, Northern Ireland was the frontline of the Troubles of the 80s which makes for a very strange backdrop for a comedy series about a group of high school friends and their own more modest troubles. The ubiquity of the violence, the repression of the Catholic school system and the bald faced cursing of the main characters make for strange but undeniably rich comedy. It is also a uniquely Irish slice of life and view of the world.

Peter Parker is all wet in Spider-man: Far From Home. Image via The Movie DB

Spider-man: Far From Home

Peter Parker goes on a science trip with his high school classmates and where Peter Parker goes, Spider-man goes. That’s one of the main themes of the Spider-man franchise: you can’t run from your responsibilities and it’s one they return to here. This film is also a nesting doll of deception - Peter Parker’s attempts to keep his Spider-man identity a secret, the villain Mysterio is introduced as a hero (but is he?), even Nick Fury who is shown trying to hold together his agency of spies and superheroes after the “Blip” (which followed from the previous Avenger’s film where the half of humanity lost to defeat by Thanos are brought back to life). This incarnation of the Spider-man character has firmly focussed on the teen-ager Peter Parker just trying to be a teen and get with his girl MJ while not hurting his classmates and buds and that’s fun. Also, the soundtrack for these films continue to be on point for me, though I’d be surprised if a younger audience agreed.

Eighties summer vibes from the Stranger Things kids. Image via The Movie Database

Stranger Things 3

All is not well in Hawkins, Indiana. This horror, sci-fi series with the mysterious girl with mysterious abilities and portals to other worlds, seamlessly blends genres and knits together a nostalgia blanket made of movies like Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, E.T. and in this season throws in some Red Dawn and maybe Terminator for good measure. There’s more than a few nods and winks to the audience (a musical duet to determine Planck’s Constant) and that’s why we love it. Set in the 80s, much of the action takes place in a stalwart of Americana, the shopping mall and introduces a new threat in an entirely over the top way.


There could be an entire film festival dedicated to the American high school Prom movie or “my last night as a high school student-coming of age" film and now there is a growing list of those films told primarily from the female perspective. This film, like last year’s Blockers is as “woke” as a 2019 film can be by rolling in issues around body confidence, sexuality, drugs, gender identity and class but rather than appear politically correct by checking all the boxes it simply accepts the reality of being a teen-ager in 2019. It also addresses the stereotypes of the jock, the slut/girl with bad reputation, and the stoner as more rounded people. When our scholastically over-achieving teen girl besties discover that all the party kids (Jock, Slut, Stoner) have all been accepted at A-list colleges they begin to question their own narrow focus on studies that meant they gave up having any fun. They then dedicate themselves to squeezing in as many memorable high school experiences as possible by going to the Biggest Party of the Year Cliché. Again, despite many well worn tropes, this film generally twists them into something else except for the ending which uncharacteristically winds up like so many movies or television episodes. In fact, the ending is so predictable it’s jarring and you expect something clever will happen at any moment. Despite that point, this is a refreshing entry to the genre and a notable rookie directing outing for well known actress Olivia Wilde.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Image via The Movie Database

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

On the surface, this quiet indie film is about a young black man house squatting in a elegant but temporarily empty family home in an affluent San Francisco neighbourhood. It’s much more than that and is really about the rising inequity that comes with gentrification and personal identity in general. As lower income communities are pushed from the neighbourhoods they loved, lived in or built, a city may change to become almost a gated area where only the rich can afford to live (see cities such as London, New York, Vancouver or Toronto) and the poor and vulnerable are squeezed to ever less desirable areas. San Francisco was famously a city of working class, underclass and upper class all mingling together to make it a strange brew that would lead to a head spinning mix of organized crime, violence, drug use but also art, culture, poetry, literature, music, progressive politics and gay rights activism. Today, the wealth of technology entrepreneurs and workers has made the city all but unliveable for anyone other than the wealthiest residents and homelessness and complications from poverty remain huge problems for the city. This movie examines the loss of a city of its roots, racial class and economic tensions and personal history in a gentle, slow-moving but hypnotically poetic mix. The stellar performances of the leads, the wonderful musical score and cinematography add to the dreamy nature of this artful film.

Top Gun

I’d never seen this 80s fan favourite about a gifted fighter pilot fighting his own demons to reach the moniker of Top Gun (top navy jet pilot at the Top Gun fighter pilot school, or whatever). Like other 80s classics I didn’t feel I had to see this because so much of it existed in popular culture. A wave of 80s nostalgia made me curious enough to find out what I had missed, which, it turns out was absolutely nothing. If this movie were more one dimensional, it would become a singular point defined only by its mathematical shallowness. It should also be said, in spite of all the film's macho posturing, it is gayer than Spartacus. I’m not sure if it is wearing its homo-erotic subtext on its sleeve as a badge of honour or if it is a cloying wink to the gay community but there is a whole lotta sweaty man tension going on. I mostly remember this movie for the two blockbuster hit songs that defined the summer of ’86 and the endless clichés about locker room towel scenes, beach volleyball and riding a motorcycle into the sunset.

Westworld Season 2: The Door. Image via The Movie Database

Westworld Season 2: The Door

Is this now? This season of the HBO show about a theme park full of sentient robots gone rogue continues to play with time and reality until the viewer is almost as confused as a Host on the fritz (in theme park parlance, “Hosts” are the artificial lifeforms while humans are the “Guests”). Many critics have claimed this season moved too slowly and perhaps was a little heavy on the violence. For my part, I liked the thoughtfulness and contemplation of the pace which made the violence that much more shocking and impactful. The questions we are faced with is how will the humans control what the Host’s have unleashed and will any of our favourites survive (human or artificial)? An unexpected turn in the story line hinted throughout is the true goal and intent of the park was really about data gathering, not unlike the kind of privacy invasion we’ve come to expect (and in most cases accept) from the likes of Google and Facebook (or even that cute app all your friends downloaded). Not all the answers are given but certainly many directions are suggested for the upcoming season. One question I’m left with is in what future could a company afford to build an entire world and a new form of life and maybe, given the cost of production, it’s something HBO is asking itself.

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