Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.6
These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve rated 1540+ movies and series (IMDb) so far, but they’re not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the media on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.
- Wilder S02 (2020) — 8/10
Rosa Wilder (Sarah Spale) is back with Manfred Kägi (Marcus Signer), this time investigating a triple-murder in the fictional town of Thallingen. The small town is based around a sawmill. Kägi’s alcoholic sister happens to live there with her son Simon. The murders happen during a festival celebrating some anniversary at the sawmill.
Simon is kidnapped and stuffed into a trunk, then driven around for hours. He’s in the trunk of the car when the two drivers are murdered. He manages to escape, but didn’t see anything. What he does see is a giant bag of money that he takes, literally thinking that no-one will miss it, even though it obviously belongs to drug dealers.
The town is horrified, of course. Racial tensions against local Albanians rise. One of the boys who was murdered was Artan Kabashi (Mark Harvey), the son of local Albanian restauranteur Enver Kabashi (Edon Rizvanolli). The family clashes with locals bent on getting some sort of demented revenge. Charles Bulliger (Ueli Jäggi), the owner of the sawmill, steps in to cool things off. But he’s got some “Dräck am Stäcke” as well.
With no other leads, the local police take a DNA swab from all the men who were at the party—because they’d determined from his corpse that Artan had had sex with a man recently. One of the cops Leo Mott was his lover and messes with his own sample to throw off suspicion. It’s not that he had anything to do with the murders, but he’s trying to avoid having anyone learn that he’d been having a love affair with Artan. Leo’s wife knows he’s at the very least bisexual, but also thinks he has his homosexuality “under control”. Wilder and police Chief Susan Walter (Manuela Biedermann) do the legwork to find video footage at a hotel where the two men had made their love nest. They find out that it’s Mott despite his efforts.
Kägi, meanwhile, is on the trail of a rape case that’s nearly two decades old—and involves his sister. He ties it to another rape in the town from 11 years ago and then also to the recent murders. He thinks it’s all the same person—with eight different rapes over the years—but which mysteriously stopped almost a decade ago.
Simon has his drug money, buys himself a new motorcycle and then takes off with his girlfriend Adelina Kabashi (Artan’s sister). They speed off into France, heading for Paris. The drug dealers get onto their trail and kidnap Adelina to force Simon to give up the money. Luckily, Wilder, Kägi and an awesome French cop named Jamel Jaoui (Raphael Roger Levy) quite literally get the drop on them and manage to arrest the drug boss before he can harm either Adelina or Simon.
After a while, the two are released to an overjoyed Kabashi family and a troubled Kägi family (Simon catches his mother drinking again and flees to spend a few nights with his uncle Manfred in his camper van).
Wilder falls into bed with Jamel after flirting shamelessly with him for several episodes. She’s already got a kid from the previous season (with dipshit Dani, of Oberwies). Dani doesn’t know he’s the dad when he drops in for dinner at her father Paul’s place. Paul is out of prison and sorta/kinda trying to get back with his wife, who’s sorta/kinda probably going to let him. She’s much more forgiving than Rosa, who doesn’t really want her son Tim to have anything to do with Paul, which is, quite frankly, understandable, considering Paul’s actions of 30 years ago—revealed in the previous season—were responsible for her brother’s death. Then Paul burns Tim’s face with hot tea and Rosa is done with family for a bit.
It turns out that Manfred Kägi is right and the rapes over the last 20 years are all connected and had been perpetrated by the same person. They finally discover that Susan Walter and her husband had hunted down the rapist 10 years ago but, instead of killing him, they imprisoned him in a cell deep under ground and only accessible through a trap door in one of their horse stalls. This is, quite frankly, disturbing to horrific, just thinking of the man locked in that spider hole for 10 years, interacting once per day for his meal, and that with the parents of one of the girls he’d raped and who’d subsequently killed herself.
Susan releases him just hours before Wilder and Kägi show up. She took a heroic dose of horse tranquilizer and is mere minutes before shuffling off her mortal coil when Wilder finds her and takes her detailed confession. The rapist is found and collected, but no-one is really happy with how things turned out. Kägi and his family, at least, have some closure.
- Battlestar Galactica (s01-s02) (2004-2005) — 7/10
Season 1 starts at the end of long days of sleeplessness, with all of mankind jumping their spaceships through warp space, one step ahead of the Cylons, who attack every 33 minutes. The Cylons are descendants of mankind’s former robots and servants and have developed to be nearly indistinguishable from humans.
What is left of humanity is spread across several large spaceships, dealing with subterfuge from Cylon spies and trying to stay ahead of the Cylon warships. Humanity has had to abandon its dozen colonies and is making a gambit to fly back to Earth.
There are tensions between the civilian government, the press corps and the military hierarchy on Galactica. Doctor Baltar is a high-functioning psycho who helped the Cylons plan their attack, but who is now supposedly helping humanity again. The press corps seems to be largely oblivious to their actual situation—preferring to focus laser-like on civil-liberties issues when vicious enemies come knocking on the door every few days, armed with overwhelming and nearly unstoppable firepower. The civilian government as well seems to have only a vague appreciation for the actual situation, preferring instead to focus on power struggles and high-level philosophical discussion of liberties that would be fodder for discussion in a society that wasn’t on it literal last legs.
The overall story arc is of infiltration by Cylons that are indistinguishable from humans—though they reveal themselves in that there are only a few models, some of which the humans have identified. Humanity is following old religious texts that seem to have more to do with reality than they’d at first thought. These texts—and a partial-turncoat Cylon—are leading the remains of the human fleet back to Earth, following clues from the books.
The other Cylons are kind of aiding them in this task, presumably to find out where Earth is and possibly destroy it—or possibly for some other, higher, purpose, like using humans to breed more advanced and resilient and perhaps varied versions of themselves. Halfway through the second season, it’s unclear where the chips are going to fall on this topic.
However, what is clear is that this is a very American show, with a large dollop of hoo-rah militarism (largely justified, given the militaristic situation in which they find themselves), a large dollop of religion—on both the part of a good part of what remains of humanity and also the Cylons, strangely enough (also somewhat justified, given that the prophesies in the books turn out to actually come true).
Every time the writing frustrates me to the point that I’m about to stop watching, it takes an interesting twist that is more philosophically or politically interesting than I’d expected. For example, one episode starts with all of the pilots celebrating one of the pilot’s 1000th flight in a truly over-the-top and obnoxiously self-congratulatory manner—it looks like a damned frat party—when a bomb falls off of a rack and kills fourteen pilots. Did not see that coming.
Overall, the show seems to be a long arc of proving why humans kind of deserve to die at the hands of the Cylons. They’re mostly petty, power-hungry little bastards, unwilling to show any empathy or make any concessions to the significantly changed situation (i.e. dregs of humanity stranded in tin cans in the depths of space). It’s not quite like reality TV, but often enough a bit too much like a soap opera, with cartoonishly evil people (see: entire crew of the Pegasus) and simpleton/buffoons (much of the deck crew).
The show passes the time while I work out at home. I like Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama and Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck.
- Silicon Valley S06 (2019) — 8/10
Called in to testify before Congress, Richard calls out Hooli, Facebook, Amazon and Google for mining its user’s data and then promises that Pied Piper’s “new Internet” will not allow anything of the sort. He is quickly informed that the #1 game running on his network does exactly that. Thinking themselves clever, Jared and Richard mine Colin’s (the gaming CEO) data and present it to him, thinking they’ll blackmail him into a better business model. Instead, he and his investors are impressed at how well Richard’s new program mines data.
Desperate to get away from Colin, Richard woos a large Chilean investor, who offers $1 billion for 10% of the company. Richard and Monica don’t know what to do and turn to Jared, who’s trying to leave Pied Piper to get back to a simpler time—when he was needed. He ends up at Jian Yang’s incubator, where he meets his next programmer to mold.
Gavin, meanwhile, has sold most of Hooli to Amazon, but wants to keep a leaner Hooli going anyway. Hooli gets so lean that Richard and Monica hatch a plan to buy it in order to drive away the hostile investor. Since the other investor is from Chile and Hooli owns a dating/prostitution app called Foxhole that’s heavily used by the military, they will be forced by law to sell their stake. The plan works: Pied Piper buys Hooli and gets the investor off of their backs. However, the investor hooks up with Laurie Breem and her Chinese programming team as well as Colin, who jumps ship with his game.
YaoNet (Laurie’s Chinese firm that she stole from Yang and brought stateside) outmaneuvers Pied Piper for AT&T, stealing their rollout in Hawaii. Pied Piper is no longer allowed to use any of their Hooli IP (including the phones) because of a Tethics pledge that Gavin made, calling for himself to be investigated for his transgressions as CEO—he did this just to screw Richard.
Russ Hanaman swoops in to save the day with RUSSFEST, which he wants Pied Piper to network for him, out in the desert. They run into the same network-scaling issues that YaoNet does in Hawaii (because Yao stole Pied Piper’s IP). Both networks are failing when Richard unleashes Son of Anton 2.0 (Dinesh’s bumbling modifications to Gilfoyle’s AI) on RUSSFEST. After an initial failed start, it regains its feet and optimizes the network to a heretofore unimagined efficiency.
The final episode is years in the future. It details how Pied Piper decided to shut down Son of Anton instead of letting it loose on humanity—despite the massive financial upside for them personally. Pied Piper is no more. They’ve all moved on to other things, doing well enough for themselves and generally happy with their decision not have started SkyNet.
- A Marriage Story (2019) — 6/10
Nora (Laura Dern) is like a cloying Californian praying mantis. She’s so obviously superficial that Johansson must be so desperate to be dumping her whole story to this woman. Nicole is so desperate that she immediately gives all of her decisions and life over to Nora rather than Charlie.
The problem is her personality, not Charlie.
It feels like she’s reading me a NYT Bestseller.
Everybody tells everybody what to do. Shit rolls downhill from Charlie to Nicole to her mom. Nicole’s mom and sister are useless and insane. It’s unclear whether Nicole is in the same class.
Charlie wins the McArthur Grant. He tells Nicole when he visits her on her TV-show shoot in California. The TV people are gloriously shallow.
Their child is a typical brat, in charge of his parents.
Charlie gets a lawyer (Ray Liotta). He costs 900 per hour. They advise him to get the kid to New York City. They quote him 50,000 right out of the gate. Wait until they find out about the McArthur grant. They go on the offensive immediately.“Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.”
Back in New York. The theater people aren’t much better. Wallace Shawn is a dirty old man. Nora plays hardball and lays it out like for him. Charlie has to defend himself in LA or lose his child forever. They’re going to take everything and his kid. And he has to get a lawyer to make sure that whatever assets they have are transferred to rich lawyers in LA.
I couldn’t recommend this movie to anyone because it pushes buttons a little deliberately, unremittedly, without any nice or funny bits. Literally everyone is shallow and horrible.
Charlie finally finds Burt Spitz (Alan Alda). $450 per hour. He also has to pay for her lawyer as well. Because he’s the man. He couldn’t take any of the other lawyers because she’d seen them all already.
Nicole plays the naif, but she seems to have gamed things quite well.
Charlie shows up and starts gaslighting Nicole about her hair. She lies about her family not wanting to be with him on Halloween.
Charlie doesn’t even realize that his marriage is already over and his divorce is a done deal and his wife has moved to CA with his son and he’s going to lose everything. And just wait until they get wind of his grant. She’ll be a millionaire.
She hacked into his e-mails and read all about his affair. Now its hardball for real. It’s kind of neat to see how the most horrible people in the world (the lawyers) discuss their lives and solve their problems for them. Charlie has to pretend to care what they think.
The divorce is all about the most useless member of the family: Henry, the boy. Charlie’s lawyer’s advice is for Charlie to move to LA. Forget his theater company. Nora is now in charge of Nicole. The system is pushing the father out of the equation.
Charlie should have just given up at the beginning, left the kid, limited the amount of effort he wastes on the whole situation. Burt recommends he just give up now (after cutting a $25,000 check) and see Henry when he maybe goes to college on the East Coast.
Nicole manipulates Charlie into coming over (because of a blackout), cuts his hair and then tried to keep Henry “because he’s asleep”.
Charlie gets a new lawyer: the original one, Ray Liotta, for $900/hour. Nora pretends to be pissed, but now she’s going to get more money. The lawyers are idiots, but they’re the only ones allowed to talk.
Charlie’s lawyer chastises him for having deposited his first year’s grant money into a joint account. Charlie responds that there won’t be any money left anyway.
Now that there’s an evaluator involved, Nicole’s terrified of Henry being interviewed and now wants to discuss without lawyers. Charlie wanted that weeks and dozens of thousands of dollars ago.
She yells at him for gettng a new lawyer. He says “I needed my own asshole.”
I’m wondering if this excruciatingly long two-person scene is why they were nominated for Oscars. Charlie: “You don’t want a voice, you just wanna fucking complain about not having a voice.”
Their negotiation doesn’t go well. So the evaluator shows up. She’s a very spacy woman. She wonders why he doesn’t want to live in LA. It’s nice. “And the space.” This is the only funny line in the movie. It’s a callback to all of the other Californians who repeat this like a mantra.
Now they’re eating a “normal” dinner. The evaluator sits at the table, but doesn’t eat. After dinner, it’s learning time. How is not being able to read the word “time” at age eight not a learning disability?
Charlie cuts himself accidentally with his penknife, showing the evaluator a trick that he does incorrectly. He’s bleeding like a stuck pig, but ignores it. So does she, leaving him to deal with it on his own. Spacy. Charlie faints. His son walks out to get water and doesn’t find anything out of the ordinary.
At the divorce party, Nicole sings and dances with her family. She gave up her claim on the McArthur money (Nora wasn’t happy about that at all). Nora’s still running the show. Charlie’s in NY, also singing painfully. This movie won’t end.
I didn’t find this movie “profound” or “heartbreaking”. If you’re not anything like the people in this movie (or don’t really know people like them), then it won’t speak to you at all. It’s full of manipulative people willing to burn everything for temporary bullshit. So, normal people.
- Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) — 6/10
Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson as Shaw and Hobbs, respectively, get together to save the world, specifically to save Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who’s infected herself with a world-slaying virus that will kill her and infect the world if not purged within 72 hours. She was ostensibly working for/with Brixton (Idris Elba), a genetically and cybernetically enhanced human, working for the shadowy and ludicrously well-funded, well-supplied, and well-connected organization Eteon.
They both kick a lot of ass and have boatloads of charisma. Elba and Kirby are good as well, but the plot is ludicrous and it goes on a bit too long. Elba’s indestructibility is a bit at-odds with the rest of the film. They end up on Samoa (somehow) for a showdown between old and new tech, in which old tech and “duking it out” and “teamwork” wins the day.
It’s not a great movie, but it’s entertaining enough, if a bit long. Idris Elba chews a lot of scenery, but he’s got the best character arc of them all. Hellen Mirren returns as mama Shaw, but doesn’t play a big role.
- Knives Out (2019) — 6/10
This is a classic whodunnit in the style of Murder on the Orient Express, with Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) playing the role of Hercule Poirot. He investigates the supposed suicide but suspected murder of world-famous author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). The cast is at the same time spectacular and disappointing. The names are impressive: Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, and more.
There’s a by-now classic switcharoo of a switcharoo that fails to satisfy—I think writer/director Rian Johnson outsmarted himself and made a trite whodunnit. The family members are uniformly awful and even the young home-care nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) is bland and boring. It was a decent film with a great and underutilized cast that never really caught my attention.
The only nice person wins in the end, so hooray. It felt like quite a Disney-fied experience
- Parks and Recreation S01-S07 (2009-2015) — 9/10
What is there to say about this uniformly spectacular seven-season epic about the employees and friends of the civic government and, specifically, the Parks department, in Pawnee, Indiana that hasn’t already been said?
It’s wonderfully written, with an interesting overall show arc, character arcs for each of the unique characters and season arcs that end satisfyingly and leave you hoping for more. People complain about season one’s aimlessness, but that’s neither here nor there. The characters are already present and its a good watch: just because ensuring seasons soared to much greater heights takes nothing away from season one’s modesty. Season seven also gets its own share of umbrage because of “fan service” but this applies to at most one or one-and-a-half episodes of the 13-episode season. The rest of the season builds characters and brings character arcs to believable and well-earned conclusions.
The main character is definitely Leslie Knope (the irrepressible and amazing Amy Poehler), the deputy director and later councilwoman of Pawnee. She is a great believer in government and an ethos of general goodness and civic-minded leftishness.
Her boss is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her political polar opposite but still eventual and somewhat grudging ally.
Andy Dwyer is a dumb but nice shoeshine guy (Chris Pratt), former boyfriend of Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), nurse and part-time Parks employee.
April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a former intern turned Ron’s assistant turned deputy director of the Parks department who struggles to balance her innate weirdness with a respect for Leslie’s optimism and ethics.
Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) works there too, managing publicity and events.
Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) is the office klutz.
Donna Meagle (Retta) has an unknown function, but is a cool and calm and collected addition to the office who owns property in Seattle as well as Pawnee (and a piece of the club that Tom owns as well). She and Tom have a lot in common, but the schtick works much better for her than Tom.
Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) shows up early as the “bad cop” half of a budget-cleanup team sent to Pawnee. He and Leslie fall in love, marry and move on to one success after another (as well as having triplets).
Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) is a diehard optimist and health fanatic and is an all-around spectacular character as well. He ends up with Ann Perkins.
Once you’ve met them, you can’t imagine any of the characters being played by other actors. They inhabit the roles in completely believable ways. There are a ton of recurring characters, each with their own unique characteristics (Tom’s ridiculous friend Jean Ralphio, or his father, nemesis to Tom, played by Henry Winkler).
There is no laugh track and the format is a semi-documentary with much breaking of the fourth wall via glances (á la The Office). Highly recommended. Funny as hell and well-intentioned to a fault: there are no really mean characters. Uplifting.
- Black Sea (2014) — 7/10
Jude Law is a former British Navy man let go by the salvage company he works for. From a friend, he learns of a Nazi submarine full of Soviet gold at the bottom of the Black Sea.
This is kind of like a somewhat smarter Armageddon. There is a ton of tension. The Russian crew and the British crew fight. The banker who goes with them just wants them to abandon the gold when the going gets tough, because he knows that the mission was funded by Law’s old company Agora, which is funding the dive and will confiscate the gold from the poor suckers who get it off the ocean floor. The rich come out on top, no matter what.
The motor blows out and they go down, but close enough to the other sub to steal its drive and the gold. The banker owns up to the fact that they were never meant to get a dime. They threaten to kill him, but Law protects him, pleading that they need him to help drive the sub to a secret port in Turkey.
But first they have to navigate ludicrously narrow shallows, using only sonar and luck. They are on the edge of mutiny at all times, with the banker sowing unrest, trying to save his own ass. Law is going mad, but he’s determined not to go home poor—or let any of the other sad sacks on board do so.
He is flouted by Fraser killing the machinist Zaytsev at the banker’s behest, so that they don’t have enough people to run the sub. They try to lie and pretend that Zaytsev just hit his head on something, but they all know the banker and Fraser are lying. The others know what happened and Daniels the banker demands that they now go up, just as he wanted. I have no idea why they don’t just shoot him. Perhaps so that he is allowed to cause even more trouble later. He is already rich and will be richly rewarded anyway. Fraser now has killed two people and has Peters’s death on his conscience, but he’s also allowed to continue onward.
Something blows up on the old sub and they start to drop again, dropping very, very, very far into the depths. The crew now just wants to survive rather than get out with the gold. Of course, if they hadn’t all sabotaged the damned boat the whole time, it would be doing a bit better.
Instead, there is a lot of water and fire in the boat. Fucking Daniels is still alive, somehow. He somehow figures out how to lock a hatch and dooms a few more men to their deaths by drowning them. He gets stuck in the hatch and Morozov leaves him in the lurch on purpose. He rejoins Robinson and Tobin above. They are the only ones remaining.
Robinson admits that he was hiding the escape suits (although there are only three of them) because he didn’t want anyone to give up too early. Morozov demands to know why they all had to die for Robinson’s quest to stick it to the man. Morozov and Tobin go out the tubes; the sub is lost. Robinson is left alone, with no-one to release the tube for him, alone with the gold.
He smokes a last cigarette while sitting on his gold, surrounded by levers and dials and valve handles, with water spraying in everywhere.
A suit does pop up to join Morozov and Tobin, but it’s just got a picture of Robinson’s kid and dozens of gold bars.
- Mark Maron: End Times Fun (2020) — 7/10
I really like the first half, which played to Mark’s conversational comic’s strengths. He’s razor-sharp and smart and very witty. He has a great voice and a lovely, soothing tempo. I liked the first half much better than the second half, where he got mired down in a giant, long story that reminded me of how Bill Burr lost his way in his recent special Paper Tiger. Overall, I’d watch it again, but the first half was twice as good as the second.
If you watch it now, during the Corona Quarantine, you’ll be struck by his bit at the 27-minute mark, Maron says,“Haven’t we been entertained enough? Like, isn’t there something that will could bring everyone together and make us realize that we’ve like got to put a stop to like almost everything. Right? Oh my God. What would it take? Something terrible. That’s what brings people together. Nothing good. Occasionally a concert outdoors, but that never really goes anywhere. It’s gotta be something bad … and big … to get everyone to fucking snap out of this … whatever it is … trance, of like … well, I think we kind of do it adaptively, I think it’s sort of like, “I’m doing what I can in my life”, well, you know, that’s not good enough. I don’t know what it would it would take. What? Would the sky have to catch on fire? Would we all just have to walk outside and look up and … oh, we fucked it. The fucking sky’s on fire. Goddammit. I knew we were in trouble, but fuck, it made the jump from land to sky.”
- Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis (2020) — 9/10
She’s young, pretty, and tells jokes that speak of experience that is far beyond what her 25 years could possibly encompass. But she makes it work. She makes it believable. She’s not a filthy comic, but she doesn’t work clean. She’s wickedly funny and has spent time tuning her material. Unlike Maron, it didn’t feel like she was stretching her set to fit Netflix’s 1-hour requirement.
Her set is well-worth checking out