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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2021.2

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1600 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film 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.

Unorthodox (2020) — 8/10

This is the story of Esther aka Esty (Shira Hass), a 19-year–old woman living in an ultra-orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. We see most of her story in flashbacks while we watch her escape to Berlin, Germany.

Esty is only 19 but has been married to Yanky (Amit Rahav) for a year. They have no children, which is a source of concern to the rest of the family and extended community, to put it mildly. Esty’s mother Leah (Alex Reid) lives in Berlin, having escaped her alcoholic husband and been subsequently ostracized from the community. We see at the wedding that she is barely tolerated and eventually escorted away, while the father of the bride Mordecai (Gera Sandler) is allowed to participate in the holiest rituals despite being falling-down drunk.

We are offered a frank and relatively detailed look into the rituals of an “ultra-orthodox” Jewish family and community. Their costumes are intricate and uniform. The men are all dressed the same, with gigantic, furry hats on Shabbat. The women are more demure and are very definitely a second class, if that.

Upon discovering that Esty has fled to Berlin, the family organizes a rescue committee consisting of the super-shy Yanky, who can’t look anyone in the eye and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch), a brash gangster who acts like he’s a loaded weapon and the world is his target. He gambles on his smartphone constantly—he’s neither allowed to gamble nor allowed to have a smartphone.

Esty arrives in Berlin and tried to visit her mother, but she’s not home. She eventually sees her in the street in the neighborhood, but with her partner (a woman). Instead of approaching, Esty runs off. It is unclear whether she’s decided to completely abandon her plan to meet up with her mother after having traveled across the Atlantic to find her, or if she’s put off by lesbianism…or what.

Instead, she meets up with a group of musicians from various countries, who all conveniently speak English fluently. They are a Benetton ad of genders, colors, origins, and sexualities, none of which matter in the least. Esty sleeps in the conservatory and is taken under the wing of the musical director, who believes her immediately when she says she can play the piano well enough to attend his school for the gifted.

She swims in the Wannsee with her friends, questioning their ability to just shrug off 75 years of history instead of wallowing in it, as she’s been taught.

Meanwhile Moishe and Yanky have also arrived in Berlin and visited Leah, with Moishe trying to terrorize her into giving up Esty’s location. Leah has no idea what they’re talking about. Moishe starts tailing Esty while Yanky goes to the old-age home where Yanky works to try to reason with her. Leah throws away his number as soon as he leaves (It’s honestly a mystery as to which number he gave her because he doesn’t have a phone—and certainly not one that works in that country).

We see more flashbacks of Yanky and Esty’s life together in Williamsburg. She complains about extreme pain during sex and Yanky is 100% not equipped to deal with any deviations from the plan. Having gone almost a year without knocking up his wife is already enough of a Schande that he can’t process it. His mother and sister step in to get Esty on the straight and narrow, with all of the compassion your would expect. They buy her vaginal inserts to make things work better. Problem solved.

Esty dithers about her audition, then decides to go for it—with the help of Robert. She jumps into the deep end, going out with her conservatory friends to a techno club that is 100% not corona-compatible. She ends up at Robert’s apartment.

The next morning, she has a day left until the recital, but she’s hatched a plan with Robert—they visit a friend of his to ask for his help. Moishe tracks Esty down and confronts her in a children’s playground. It seems like he thinks he’s making quite a strong argument, but he’s a boorish, terrible person. If Esty can keep her wits about her, she would wonder what kind of a community sends this type of person as its representative? A terrible one. Moishe threatens her six ways from Sunday, then leaves her a gun with which she should kill herself if she doesn’t come back. Poor Esty has to take the gun with her because the asshole left it in a children’s playground.

Esty goes to Leah’s house, dropping off the gun and finally learning of how she’d been taken from Leah by the Williamsburg community—she’d been disowned in court. Leah asks whether Moishe gave her the gun? “You know Moishe?” (Esty is horrifed.) Leah says, “There’s always a Moishe.”

Yanky goes to Leah’s house—just barging the fuck in like he owns the place—and confronts her about Esty’s audition. Leah rolls with it much better than I would, reining in the sad bastard and convincing him not to do anything stupid.

They all end up at the audition, where Esty sings a song from Handel, with piano accompaniment from Robert’s friend. This goes OK, but the auditors ask for another song, one more appropriate to her mezzo-soprano. She sings a plaintive song in Yiddish, a cappella. This goes much better, but we don’t learn whether she’s accepted. Her friends are confident.

Yanky saw it as well. She accompanies him back to his hotel, where he tries to win her back, but he doesn’t realize what an utterly shitty deal he’s offering her. He cuts off his payots (side locks) in a Van Goghian attempt to guilt her into coming back, but she stands strong. On her way out, she dumps a drunken Moishe on his ass—he’s returning from an all-night poker game where he’d actually won quite a lot of money. He yells at her that “we’ll be back for the baby.”

We see Esty meeting her friends at a café. The end.

We saw the show in Yiddish[1] with English subtitles, German, and English.

Wilder S03 (2021) — 8/10

Wilder and Kägi are back, this time on the trail of a serial killer who’s taking revenge on dirty cops. The first victim is thrown off of a roof—emulating the murder of a young man whom he’d thrown off a balcony years before. The second victim is killed with an axe to the head—similar to how he’d murdered his daughter’s addict boyfriend.

The killer sends videos to a small online media organization “Reporter” (which is made up), which considers whether to publish them in interesting discussions about whether the information is real, whether a transcript would work, too, whether to anonymize the video, and so on. They clash with Attorney General Mettler (who’s dating Wilder, by the way), who accuses them of interfering with an ongoing investigation, which is, quite frankly, bullshit.

Wilder and Kägi hunt down and sort out possible suspects, finding out more about the crimes of the police than about those of their suspects. Kägi looks up an old friend of his, who lives in an absolute M.C.Escher-esque house full of mirrors and stairs and thousands of photos in frames, dotted with animal trophies. The friend tells Kägi to search for the “White Wolf” on the Darknet.

This probably won’t work because we’re already following the killer: Jesch. He delivers eggs throughout the countryside, in a Fargo-esque white wilderness. He lives in a very rudimentary home with fixings from at least a hundred years back. He lives with a woman and young girl. It is unclear how they are related to him: the woman doesn’t really treat him as a husband and the daughter hasn’t made a peep yet.

The next victim goes missing—a female prison guard who Jesch catches while jogging—and he releases a film of her confessing to having let a prisoner freeze to death. The young journalist Jenny Langenegger (Anna Schinz) is off the chain, releasing the video on her own blog, even though her editor wouldn’t let her release it from the magazine. She doesn’t give a fuck and knows she’s right and is a loose cannon and will have been retroactively justified for having been right when everyone else is always wrong, especially her boss, who should just shut up and support her. The rest of the newspaper is not on-board, despite her being way more awesome than all of them put together and they have the gall to let her go for having gone behind everyone’s back and ignored their opinions.

Jesch goes to dinner at a neighbor’s house. She doesn’t think he has a family, but we’ve seen them at the house—when he returns, he opens a memory chest under the bed. Are they dead? They are. He’d lost them in a traffic accident—we have yet to find out how he thinks the police failed him then.

Wilder and Kägi take Aebi (the White Wolf) in for questioning, with him pretty much winning the first round of questioning. He brings up Kägi’s shooting of a man in the street in the last season, where Wilder helped him cover it up. Now Kägi is concerned that he might be the next victim.

Instead, it’s a “Fahrlehrer” who was probably a cop in his previous career. Jesch messes up, though, failing to inject him and then trying to choke him out with his seatbelt. A man walking his dog happens by and Jesch flees the scene, leaving his victim unconscious, but alive.

The latest victim is in a deep coma, barely alive. Kägi, Rosa (Wilder), and her boyfriend, Michael Mettler (the DA on the case) watch him die—along with their hopes that he would be able to identify his attacker. They hatch a plan to lure the killer into the hospital—which seems like a pretty dangerous proposition. They get Jenny to write a fake article that the victim is on the road to recovery. Then Wilder, Kägi, and their young computer-savvy colleague Jakob (Julian Koechlin)—he’s actually the brother of her baby-daddy—set up a watch with dozens of cameras.

Jesch sneaks into the hospital as a janitor, then sets off a smoke bomb that triggers all of the fire alarms. He dresses as a fireman and gets into the victim’s room, but finds a dummy instead. Wilder chases him down the stairwell, to the garage, commandeering a vehicle, and racing off wildly, backwards, to try to run Jesch down. Instead, she smashes into Jakob, who’d run down there to help.

Literally nothing happens to Wilder for her attempted vehicular manslaughter and grossly negligent driving (grobfahrlässiges Verhalten) and lack of control over the vehicle (Nicht Beherrschen des Fahrzeugs). Not only is she not arrested, she is Jakob’s contact at the hospital. Talk about police getting special treatment—no wonder Jesch is pissed. She goes to her baby daddy to tell him that she’d almost killed and probably paralyzed his brother. When he dares to be anything but sympathetic to her situation, she tells him to stop being such an asshole.

Jesch flees the scene, wounded from one or more falls. He heads back to one of his hidey-holes to patch himself up, but Kägi surprises him there, having found a clue to the location in one of the videos. Jesch gets the drop on Kägi and takes him hostage. He heads back home to find his dinner date waiting in the cold outside. He asks her inside—for the first time—and she helps patch him up. He sees his wife in his mind’s eye, reproachful.

A parallel plot follows two police officers—brothers—in the region where Jesch lives and works. One is sleeping with the other’s wife. This comes out and causes much psychic angst. The cuckold has even more on his mind: he was the one driving the car that drove Jesch’s car off the road many years ago, killing the man’s wife and daughter. There were two other guys in the car: one of them is Mettler (Wilder’s boyfriend and the DA on the case). The cuckold calls Mettler to meet him in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, to tell Mettler that he will confess. Mettler says he will do no such thing (as he would be implicated as well). They agree to disagree and Mettler kills the cuckold.

Jesch meets up with Jonas, Mettler’s son, playing the role of a hockey talent-scout, but only taking a picture to panic Mettler, not doing anything to Jonas. Jesch sends the picture and waits for Mettler at the hockey arena, showing up in the back seat of his car after a frustrated Mettler returns. Jesch gets a confession from Mettler to both having been at the scene of the accident when Jesch’s wife and child were killed (and having covered up his involvement and that of his companions) as well as having killed the cuckold.

Mettler and Wilder both text and call and drive the whole time—it’s no wonder that people are constantly driving in the wrong lane. I’m not sure what they’re going for, but the “star” is not a very nice person. She texts and drives, she has appalling table manners (every time you see her eating with someone, she just digs in without waiting or saying anything, which is odd for Switzerland). They inhale half their pizzas in crouches around a kitchen island, barely remembering to have a glass of wine. Appalling.

Meanwhile, Jesch has captured Kägi, who was snooping around. Rosa looks for him at his Airstream trailer, where Kägi has left the door unlocked, so she can waltz right in. Oh, and also he doesn’t have a password on his laptop, which is just so unbelievable that it’s basically just lazy writing. This is also lucky for Rosa, who sends the laptop to Jakob for analysis—something friends just do for one another, I guess. Rosa involves Jakob so that he can feel “useful” again after she crippled him with reckless driving that somehow hasn’t gotten her banned from the case or even arrested.

Rosa doesn’t see what Kägi saw in the pictures, but Jakob does. Jesch eventually just lets Kagi go, telling him “you’re not on my list”. It’s a little anticlimactic. And it doesn’t really matter that they found one of Jesch’s hidey-holes.

Jesch is tiring of his visions of his dead family and he’s tiring of his crusade against the cops. He returns to his neighbor’s house to try to…move on. The noose tightens and the police are onto him, showing up at his girlfriend’s home soon after he’d left. She lies and covers for him, but another cop (brother of Lukas, who Miller, not Jesch, had killed) shows up and Jesch is forced to subdue him.

The whole crew (Kägi, Mettler, Wilder, and co.) show up at Jesch’s home to find the unconscious cop and Jesch on the run. While Wilder and Kägi investigate upstairs, Mike ransacks the desk to find the memory card from the video camera on which Jesch had recorded his confession. He finds tracks in the snow leading away from the back door and pursues Jesch into the woods.

Jesch lures him in, then confronts him as the last of the three who’d ruined his life. He has Mettler dead to rights, but is distracted by visions of his wife and daughter. Mettler blubbers a bit, promising everything, but then takes advantage of Jesch’s confusion and shoots him in the heart. Jesch shoots back, winging Miller.

Miller searches the corpse to find the memory card before passing out. Wilder finds them both, yelling for help. Case closed?

The aftermath finds the federal police pleased with themselves that the case is finally closed. There is an adversarial press conference where the police chief wants to just “move on”, sweeping any open questions and issues under the rug. In a discussion with him, Kägi calls the police chief a “wirbelloser Hasenfurtz”.

Kägi wonders why Jesch took down just a few low-level cops and can’t explain Lukas at all—especially because the shoe size is wrong. Wilder is also still wondering. Mettler picks her up and surprises her by bringing her to “their” house (a Corbusier original). She is not thrilled. They sit down to eat and she starts to interrogate him, pretending it’s a game. She elicits a confession.

Unlike previous seasons, it’s not clear how Wilder came to her conclusions. She just guessed and tricked Mike into confessing. The end sees Kägi headed for Portugal to retire? Wilder also seems to have quit her job as a federal cop. Jakob is on crutches and visits her in the office, begging her to stay.

Disenchantment S02 (2020) — 8/10

I thought the first season was a bit weak and only started this second one as filler. The first couple of episodes felt the same, but the rest of the season brought more interesting stories. The journey to hell was a bit overblown, but the travel to Bean’s mother’s homeland was interesting, as was the introduction of Steamland, a Steampunk-based culture, balancing out Dreamland’s culture based on dysfunctional and unreliable magic.

This season also tackles Zøg’s subjugation of the elves more, which is interesting on a class level. Merkimer the pig (Matt Berry) is back and given a lot of room in the story.

Bean ends up shooting her father by accident—using the Steampunk pistol, which they all think is a magic wand—and Odval and the Arch Druidess take control of (now) King Derek and have him blame Bean, Luci, and Elfo for King Zøg’s attack (and impending death). Knowing that Zøg is being killed by his doctors, Bean goes to his room to pry out the bullet. She is caught and accused (again) of being a murderess and, now, a witch.

The trial (with King Derek as judge) is swift and they burn her (with Luci and Elfo) at the stake. They all drop through the heat-weakened cobbles into the world of the Trøgs—where they discover the Trøg-queen, none other than Dagmar herself (Bean’s mom).

Street Fighter (1994) — 8/10

Honestly, you had me at Raul Julia and Jean Claude Van Damme, who both turn in pitch-perfect performances. I’m convinced that this movie is much more tongue-in-cheek than many viewers noted. It’s much more like Airplane or Big Trouble in Little China than perhaps the adoring fans who’d expected to see a movie that looked literally like the 2-D fighting game they’d played at the arcade.

Instead of doing that, it fleshes out its own GI-Joe–like world with the AN (Allied Nations) opposed by General Bison (Raul Julia[2])—who only talks about himself and only in the third person—and his Army, which take over the fictional country of Shadaloo. He kidnaps a bunch of hostages, then demands $20B as ransom. The AN lands with their fighting forces, led by Colonel Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme). The reporter on the scene is Chun-Li (Ming Na-Wen), accompanied by Honda, the driver (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo[3]), and Balrog[4] (Grand L. Bush). Ryu Hoshi (Byron Mann) and Ken Masters (Damian Chapa) round out the cast of characters from the game. Oh wait, there’s also Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski), Bison’s Russian-tinged right-hand man.

Bison is teaming up with some local weapons merchants and underground fight organizers, but grows dissatisfied with them. Look, the plot doesn’t really matter. There’s not a ton of hand-to-hand combat, but there is a ton going on. And Guile gets to drive a pretty bitching, black speedboat that looks like Airwolf, but on water, has an utterly inexplicable stealth mode, and is bulletproof. His co-pilot is Cammy White (Kylie Minogue[5]). Bison uses technology to grow Guile’s best friend (whom he’s captured) into a greenish, hulk-like, steroid-infused fighting machine, the first of his army of super-soldiers.

Chun-Li confronts Bison about the day he came to her village and destroyed it, killing her father. He responds as follows,

“I’m sorry. I don’t remember any of it. […] for you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.”

OMGBURN. God, I miss Raul Julia.

Obviously, they storm the fortress, rescue the hostages, and escape before the whole thing explodes. Guile and Bison show down against one another—twice, because Bison is reanimated by his armor—as do several other pairings of fighters (obviously). It’s 1994, so it’s almost all practical effects and stuntwork—and it’s goddamned relaxing.

I honestly enjoyed the hell out of the campiness and earnestness and the pretty damned good sets. This movie was a lot of fun and you could tell they had fun shooting it.

It’s from 1994 and had a post-credits scene, breaking new ground there. The soundtrack is filled with leading lights of the time: Ice Cube, Nas, The Pharcyde, LL Cool J, MC Hammer and Deion Sanders, Chuck D, Angélique Kidjo.

The movie is dedicated to Raul Julia, who died soon after it finished shooting.

Bison: Something wrong, Colonel? You came here prepared to fight a madman, and instead you found a god?”

Bison descends majestically. RIP Raul Julia.

Ready Player One (2018) — 8/10

This is a movie about an online world called the Oasis. It was invented by James Halliday, a computer-programming and game-design genius. He grew up in the 80s, and died in the early 2040s, leaving behind an easter egg in his massive online game. The first player to solve his 80s-based puzzles to find three keys wins 50% of the company that runs the Oasis—effectively winning a controlling interest in the digital world in which much of humanity spends its escapist time (because their real lives in the real world are subjugated and squalid).

The easter egg spawns a cottage industry of companies whose whole purpose is to find the keys. In particular, Innovate Online Industries (IOI) is a gigantic corporation led by Nolan Sorrento that buys up people’s debt and sends them to “loyalty camps” to play in the game, working for IOI on other tasks, making it money to fund its army of egg-hunters.

Parzival/Wade Watts is an egg-hunter, who ends up teaming up with Art3mis/Samantha (on whom he has a crush), as well as a few other avatars to work the challenge together. Parzival visits the Halliday archives (in-game) all the time to try to figure out clues from Halliday’s life that will lead him to the keys. He is the first to find a key, followed closely by his compatriots. They win money, upgrade their real-world equipment and continue the search.

  • The first key is found in a car race—Parzival drives the DeLorean from Back to the Future—where the contestants are attacked by Godzilla and King Kong. Parzival finds an archive clip of Halliday where he says he’d like to make everything go backwards again, real fast, which turns out to be the secret to winning.
  • The second key is about “taking a leap”. The search at a club where Halliday had one of his rare dates, but didn’t dance with his date (they watched a movie instead), regretting it for the rest of his life. The club isn’t quite right, but the Overlook Hotel from The Shining is better. It was Halliday’s favorite film. The effects here are absolutely top-notch. Art3mis ends up dancing with Halliday’s crush, which gets her the second key. The others follow her through this challenge to get it, as well.
  • The third key is on Planet Doom (from Voltron) where there is an epic battle with IOI troops, using a ton of recognizable avatars like Gundam (Daito), Mecha-zilla (Sorrento), and Iron Giant (Aech). On this planet, there is an Atari 2600, where you have to select a game and play it to find the third key. Parzival chooses Adventure, but doesn’t try to win—instead he seeks out the dark room where you can find the world’s first easter egg that shows the game’s creator’s Warren Robinett’s name.

Sorrento gets the mercenary i-R0k (T.J. Miller) to find him expensive artifacts and to try to kill the team (in-game) … and then out-of-game, as well. Artemis is captured soon after they find the second key, but the team rescues her from the loyalty center and she rejoins them in-game from the IOI center. There is a gigantic, fancy battle and Parzival finds the third key because he knows the most about Halliday, refuses the initial contract (it was a test, like the gobstopper in Willy Wonka) and then wins for real, sharing it with his friends. The curator of the archives turns out to have been Halliday’s original partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

The effects are really well-done, as is the handling of avatars vs. real-world presence. There are a ton of 80s references—because of Halliday’s obsession with the culture of his youth—like the Zemeckis Cube (turns back time), the Holy Hand Grenade (kills all people in sight), Chucky, The Iron Giant, the DeLorean and many more make it even more fun for my generation. The least believable part was where Sorrento is the only one with a gun in an American trailer park. The movie is a lot cleverer than I’d expected and the acting is pretty strong. Recommended.

Disenchantment S03 (2021) — 8/10

Bean, Luci, and Elfo start the season in Trøgtown, as “guests” of Dagmar, who seems to be seeking reconciliation with Bean. Luci tells Bean to roll with it, faking it until she makes it, in order to figure out how to get out of there. Meanwhile, on the surface, Odval and the Arch Druidess are ever-more-nakedly consolidating their power (and also together nakedly, if the near-constant innuendo is to be believed).

Zøg realizes they’re planning to kill him (for real this time) and hatches a plan with Pendergast (his most loyal knight) to sneak out in a coffin. The plan falls apart immediately, as Pendergast is caught and killed—and the other two guards forget about Zøg—so the Arch Druidess ends up burying Zøg in a pauper’s graveyard. They replace Zøg with a walrus to fool Derek (who is not fooled, but is too gentle a soul to really rebel—although he does keep asking when he’s going to be allowed to found a “socialist paradise”).

Bean, Luci, and Elfo try to escape, revealing their treachery to Dagmar, who is relieved that she also no longer needs to fake love for Bean. In the dungeon, they hatch and execute a plan to escape, eventually dressing Bean up as Dagmar to get her to convince a Trøg or two to lead them to the surface.

The Trøgs “harvest” Zøg from his certain death by digging up to his grave and pulling him out—from the bottom, spilling into their subterranean mines. He escapes and wanders the tunnels of Trøgtown until he meets up with Bean and Dagmar, in the middle of their confrontation. Dagmar fools Bean—once again—in order to escape—again.

Dagmar, Zøg, Elfo and Luci return to the surface to find Odval and the Arch Druidess nervous that they’re going to be discovered, but still trying to roll with it. The trio sneak around the castle, searching for the murder weapon.

Derek, meanwhile, has spent a night in the forest, with many fairies, and “become a man”. He decides to marry a fairy and receives Odval’s and the Druidess’s blessing. Zøg has a further breakdown at the wedding, Derek sees that the Druidess has the gun under her robes. He outs her and she goes on the lam, escaping on a motorcycle, back to Steamland, whence she came.

Bean and Elfo follow her, with Luci left behind to guard (and play “cat” for) an increasingly erratic Zøg. Bean befriends Alva, the president of Gunderson’s Steamworks (which look, probably not coincidentally, like the factory in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). There she meets up with the Arch Druidess again, who is apparently an agent of Gunderson’s. The Druidess warns Bean against trusting Alva.

Bean finds out after Alva’s incessant wooing that he wants to merge their kingdoms—that he wants access to Dreamland’s magic. Instead, she escapes and finds Elfo at the Freak Show, where she helps him and all of his friends escape. They return to rescue Mora the Mermaid, who accompanies them as they escape with Alva’s boat, the Miss Behavin’

After a long night with Bean that goes frustratingly nowhere, Mora abandons ship—just before Elfo runs it aground on the shores of Dreamland. Bean is despondent because Mora is gone—she isn’t sure which parts she dreamed and which were real, but she feels loss—and she’s useless, at first, at preventing the overthrow of an increasingly unstable Zøg.

Bean and Oona work together to try to thwart the overthrow, but they don’t realize that Odval is onto them and manipulates them into helping push Zøg completely over the edge. The kingdom of Dreamland is in dire straits, with no soldiers and no weapons and little money. Merkimer’s body appears again and the crew hatches a plan to go to Merkimer’s home, the exceedingly rich kingdom of Bentwood, to ask his parents for money and assistance. Merkimer turns on them once home, at first, before deciding to remain a pig and help them flee—with a large supply of arrows, collected when shot, and gold, purloined accidentally when Elfo inhaled it during torture.

Back in Dreamland, Oona is impatient to leave, leaving Zøg in Bean’s hands. Bean tries to nurse her father back to sanity—he discovers a ventriloquist’s dummy through which he can communicate. He tells her that she has to become queen, to let him go “before he can never come back”. He assures Bean that she can handle the green cloud of smoke approaching on the horizon and that she’s already running the kingdom well. He is carted away in a poignant scene that addresses mental illness much more seriously than I’d expected from this show.

Bean is crowned Queen, just in time to order her people to flee from the green smoke. The smoke turns out to be nothing scary—just an old schemer who’s friends with Odval. Bean tosses him into the dungeon. At the same time, an ogre horde attacks Dreamland, wanting revenge for Elfo having stabbed out the eyes of their king (who’s blind, but leading the charge). Elfo sacrifices himself to the ogres, who take him away instead of ripping him limb from limb.

Dagmar shows up again, out of nowhere, to take Bean back to hell to marry a demon who looks like Alva. Luci dies (decapitation) trying to stop her. Luci wakes up in heaven.

To Have and Have Not (1944) — 8/10

This is an adaptation of a novel by Ernest Hemingway by screenwriter William Faulkner and director Howard Hawkes. They moved the location from Miami to Fort-de-France on the French island of Martinique. It is 1944 and the pro-German Vichy French regime is in charge, personified by the odious Capt. M. Renard (Dan Seymour) and his small gang of ghouls.

We meet Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) at the tail-end of a two-week–long fishing trip with Mr. Johnson (Walter Sande), who’s fixing to take a flyer early next morning, in order to avoid paying Harry what he’s owed. Eddie (Walter Brennan) is Harry’s “rummy” right-hand man on the boat.

After a long day of marlin-fishing (during which Johnson loses two giant fish), they end up at Frenchy’s bar (Marcel Dalio), where Harry meets Marie “Slim” (Lauren Bacall). Cricket (Hoagy Carmichael) is wonderful on the piano—really hauntingly beautiful tunes. Slim sings along (though I’m not a big fan of her voice) before schmoozing with Johnson and swiping his wallet. Harry makes her return it, but he makes Johnson sign over some of his traveler’s checks. Before he can do so, though, rebels appear and the police shoot up the bar, killing Johnson with a stray bullet.

Renard take Harry and Slim in, releasing them only after some tough questioning and after confiscating their passports and money. They make do, gaining a bottle on Slim’s light fingers, but arguing instead of drinking. Frenchy approaches Harry with a job helping out the resistance, but Harry doesn’t want to get involved—until he does, since he has no other options.

He and Eddie head around the island to pick up Mme. Hellene de Bursac (Dolores Moran) and Paul de Bursac (Walter Szurovy). They are accosted by a French patrol boat. Harry shoots out their spotlight, but not before Paul takes a shot to the upper-right shoulder. They return to Frenchy’s and stow the couple away in the cellar. Frenchy asks Harry to remove the bullet before the infection gets worse. Harry saves Paul, learning of his plan to go to Devil’s Island to spring a leader of the resistance. When Paul asks him to help, Harry turns him down again, not wanting to get further involved.

Paul: You don’t think much of me, Captain Morgan. You’re wondering why they have chosen me for this mission. I wonder too. As you know, I’m not a brave man. On the contrary, I’m always frightened. I wish I could borrow your nature for a while, Captain.

When you meet danger, you never think of anything except how you will circumvent it. The word “failure” does not even exist for you, while I… I think always: “Suppose I fail”, and then I’m frightened. (Emphasis added.)”

The police, led by Renard, kidnaps Eddie and tries to make him talk. They then barge into Harry’s room, where he manages to hide Helene and Slim in the bathroom. Renard and his men get even pushier and Harry has enough. He shoots the biggest, scariest one, cowing the others into submission. He forces Renard to release Eddie and sign harbor passes. He, Slim, Eddie, and the de Bursacs escape on Harry’s boat, bound for Devil’s Island.

Bogart is fantastic—a class for himself—the music is wonderful, the simplicity and pacing are much appreciated. I love that they ended the movie after Harry’s conversion, with the whole “big action ending” as an exercise left up to the viewer’s imagination.

X-Men Apocalypse (2016) — 7/10

Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) unearths Apocalypse nee En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaacs, nearly unrecognizable under the makeup) from ruins in Egypt in the mid-1980s. He is a 5000-year–old mutant—the original mutant—with enormous power. They do not explain how he was initially subdued, only that he had been betrayed.

Apocalypse recruits Ororo (Alexandra Shipp), enhancing her power, then seeks more allies. Back in Westchester, Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Jean Gray/Phoenix (Sophie Turner) are teaching a school full of mutant children to use their powers.

Elsewhere, Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) helps Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) by way of Callisto’s mutant-finding service, where she meets Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who’s the most clearly unlikely to end up on the X-Men. Psylocke ends up on Apocalypse’s team, recruiting Archangel (Ben Hardy) to the team.

In Communist Poland, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has settled in to a new life, with a wife and daughter. He reveals his powers when he saves a co-worker at an ironworks from a falling bessemer container. Predictably, his co-workers snitch on him, the police show up for him, and (mostly) inadvertently kill his wife and daughter. Magneto is back—he dispatches the police with a flick of his hand and a tiny piece of metal.

We also meet Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who’s Magneto’s son, but living with his mother. Magneto doesn’t know he exists. Apocalypse picks up Magneto as well, showing him how powerful he really is. They beam in to the School for the Gifted, homing in on Charles Xavier, with Apocalypse trying to conquer his mind—and nearly succeeding. Instead, Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till) looses his power under the mansion and ends up blowing everything all to hell. Quicksilver arrives just in the nick of time to save everyone. He’s very fast and the effect is very neat, but it goes on forever.

They regroup, but are then kidnapped by Colonel Striker’s (Josh Helman) forces. They break out of there with the help of Weapon X (an uncredited Hugh Jackman). The forces are now pretty much aligned. Apocalypse wants to transfer his consciousness into Xavier and rule the world. Magneto is going along to get along, for now.

They each pair off, with Psylocke fighting Beast, Archangel fighting Nightcrawler, Cyclops fighting Ororo, and Xavier fighting Apocalypse in the astral plane. It’s all a bit of a crazy mess, with Magneto showing up at the end, to attack Apocalypse as well. Finally, Phoenix lets loose and delivers the killer blow.

As you can tell just from the character listing, they squeezed every last possible X-person into this movie, but it kind of worked out ok? The acting was decent and the script navigated the waters more or less capably. Apocalypse was a bit of a deus ex, but it was fine, entertaining enough.

The Expanse S04 (2019) — 9/10

Klaes: Marco is a nihilist—in the guise of a patriot. His way is not the way forward for the Belt. I have seen blood spilled my entire life—and I have spilt enough—to know that the future—our future—cannot be built on violence.

Camina: You sound like a politician.

Klaes: No, I’m just old. Age changes you in ways you don’t expect. My focus isn’t as narrow as it once was.”

Commander Klaes Ashford (Expanse S04E08 21:45)

We start where we left off: humanity is grappling with the implications of the protomolecule, but also with the thousands of gates that have opened on remote galaxies. The area near the gates is patrolled and controlled by an Earth-Mars-Belter alliance, but nothing has addressed the underlying animosities and prejudices. Earth acts like the royal ruler—headed by the honestly insufferable Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo)—shitting on Mars at every chance, and barely recognizing the Belter’s existence as anything other than a captured workforce.

The original crew is back on the Rocinante: Holden (Steven Strait, now with beard), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Amos (Wes Chatham), and Alex (Cas Anvar). Miller (Thomas Jane) is still knocking around inside Holden’s head, trying to figure out the alien race’s plan and trying to figure out how to deal with the protomolecule, should it pop up again.

On Mars, Bobbie (Frankie Adams) has been busted down to private and is working for a living. She’s living at home and dealing with local gangs who are using her nephew David to cook drugs for them. The gangs are actually the police and they kidnap David to blackmail Bobbie into helping them break into military facilities. She tries to turn herself in, but her supervisor is more interested in getting a taste of the smuggling action. He turns her in, which forces her to again work with the smugglers, in order to stay out of jail. She can’t win for losing.

Stationed near the gates are Belters Klaes (David Strathairn) and Camina (Cara Gee), who are trying their damnedest to stick to the alliance while dealing with reprobation from their fellow Belters and scorn from Earth and Mars.

The Rocinante goes through a gate, following in the wake of a Belter ship that got through and has colonized an Earth-like planet they call Ilus (and many in the arrogant U.N. call New Terra). They are preceded by a mission from Earth that comes in like they own the planet and treats the Belters like scum—especially Murtry (Burn Gorman), who shoots one point-blank, for making a vague threat. Amos is not pleased and you can see him hatching an appropriate payback at some point in the future. Amos is still pretty awesome.

Meanwhile, Nagata has trained her body to accept planetary gravity, but she’s pushing it too far, too fast. Alex and Holden go to the giant, billion-year–old artifacts to investigate their purpose—and their possible relation to suspicions that the protomolecule has followed mankind through the gates and to this bounty of planets. They are beautiful and intricate machines and wonderfully made. They remind me a bit of the ruins from Prometheus. Alex and Holden (under Miller’s guidance) free up the machines and they swing into action, firing lightning strikes in patterns all over the planet.

The Belter’s equipment is heavily damaged, but the Earthers don’t lift a finger to help. They’re still sore because their ship was shot down, killing dozens, and they suspect the Belters. It’s just as likely that it was a reflexive defense mechanism in the planet itself. At any rate, Amos requisitions/commandeers equipment and dares them to shoot him.

Back on Earth, Avasarala is more-or-less consumed with a political attack on her by a younger opponent who even-more-arrogantly-than-Avasarala-if-that’s-even-possible thinks that Earth alone should decide how to apportion the wealth of Ring Space. Avasarala’s team unearths dirt on her, though—she got an unfair leg up in getting a scholarship that launched her career.

Meanwhile, on Ilus, Murtry and his men are on a lawless, murderous rampage, searching for the people who killed their 23 comrades on landing. They capture Amos and chase Nagata and the Belter doctor Lucia (who was actually the one who shot down the lander). Holden orders Murtry to stand down, telling him that they’ve got bigger fish to fry because the planet is waking up. One of the artifacts has started moving toward the settlement, but Holden orders the Roci to fire a rocket into it, rendering it inert (if not dead).

Murtry pins down Lucia and Nagata, but Holden and Alex pin down Murtry and his lynch mob with suppressing fire from the Roci, and rescue them. Holden elects to stay behind, as the Roci takes Lucia, Nagata, and Alex back to orbit. In a flashback, we find out that, although Lucia planted the bombs, she wanted to blow up the landing pad before they even started descent. The others wanted to blow it when they landed. She got a hold of the trigger and blew the charges early, but still close enough to hit the shuttle.

Holden goes back to camp, protected by his status as envoy of the U.N. Murtry is a giant asshole who’s enjoying the hell out of being able to exact revenge for his lost crew on the deplorable scum of the Belters. He doesn’t really care who he has to kill—he’s happy to eliminate them all.

Holden calls a truce and tells them that they have to leave the planet because there are things much bigger than their squabble going on. Murtry acts like he has some sort of jurisdiction to tell everyone else what to do—but he only can because he and his crew have better weapons. They are light years from anything else and he keeps calling the Belters “squatters” as if there were a fucking zoning authority anywhere in sight. Basically, everything belongs to Earth first and then we’ll see who else gets a few table scraps. Nothing ever changes.

Holden tries to tell them that it doesn’t matter right now because everyone is going to die. The protomolecule and the ancient machines are going to run them all over if they don’t clear out. The Belters want their claim to be respected—they’re from Ganymede, which was destroyed by Earth/Mars squabbling and they have nowhere else to go.

Klaes and Camina capture the rogue Belter pirate Marco Inaros, who’s basically a terrorist, but their tribunal (with 3 other Belters) agrees to let him live and go back to his ship. He promises to behave from now on—until the first sign of betrayal by Earth (the Inners), which he claims is an inevitability. He’s almost certainly right that the Belters will never be an equal party at the table—although it’s only through their mining work that Earth and Mars have any fleet at all (sound familiar?).

One lady looks like she’s got a bit of the protomolecule, but no-one else has noticed yet. The machines are on the move, on the surface and below. A giant explosion interrupts their squabbles. Speaking of squabbles, Avasarala and her opponent have an insufferably stupid debate that we could all have done without. Avasarala has a couple more soliloquies where she yells at Holden across hours of lag, demanding that he report back more often—for all the good it will do.

The giant explosion releases a planet-wide shockwave headed for the encampment in 8 hours. In orbit, the ships lose all fusion power and can’t rescue anyone. The planet-bound take their mutual animosity to an artifact, blow their way in and barely escape the tsunami. They’re trapped under the artifact now, with limited water and food, split into factions with unequal supplies, plagued by madman Murtry, who’s looking to thin the herd, and everyone has a “virus” that’s almost certainly the protomolecule and will blind them all in a day—except for Holden, who’s not infected.

Episode 7 has terrible writing, leaning on dialogue and exposition for everything. The Lucia/Nagata “explanation” of orbital mechanics from one fucking Belter to another is so ham-handed, it’s ridiculous. I hope that Avasarala’s thrashing about and chewing the scenery is meant to express her discomposure—because it’s pretty tough to sit through. It continues with absolutely laughable shit like having Lucia’s daughter—a teenage stowaway on another ship—answering its comms and planning rescues like she’s the captain or has any clue about orbital mechanics. Lucia and Felcia to the rescue! Naturally, it was perfectly fine for Lucia to not care at all about the safety of the plan because the other ship has to be saved, no matter what.

Meanwhile, the UN military is able to hit targets entire star systems away with a railgun, and can intercept in hours. There is instant video feed everywhere in the solar system—hi-def, of course, with audio and vitals-signs-monitoring for all soldiers—in real-time. Of course.

On the ground, in the artifacts, everyone’s going blind but Holden. Amos is also blind and trying to keep his shit together. Holden is sedating anyone who freaks out. There are space-slugs falling from everywhere, killing people pretty much on contact. It’s looking pretty grim. Murtry is angling to kill Holden to make sure that no-one interferes with his claim to the planet and its lithium and alien artifacts. Like that’s how it’s going to work out. At the moment, he’s blind and it’s eating him alive that he’s dependent on Holden for survival. Amos and Holden have a moment, which was actually quite nicely done.

It turns out that Holden’s ongoing cancer treatment for his radiation exposure on Eros is what’s protected him from the blindness that afflicts everyone else. The doctor mixes up a lot more of the treatment and administers it to the others, bringing them all back. Murtry starts scheming again immediately, accelerating his plans because (A) Holden is now missing and (B) the plans to tow the Barbi with the Roci to a higher orbit seem to be working.

Holden is missing because Miller has returned—this time as himself rather than as a simulacrum put together by the quasi-sentient protomolecule. He shows Holden a secret passage and takes him to a wormhole-like tunnel in the artifact that will lead Holden closer to a place that the “protomolecule can’t go”, according to Miller. Holden jumps in.

Avasarala schemes further, faking empathy like a true sociopath and gaining back a ton of favor among voters—but losing her husband’s previously unshakeable respect in the process. Klaes takes off after Marco Inaros to bring capital justice, once and for all. Camina considers going with him, but begs off, in the end. She has other work to do—but not for the alliance, as she’s quit that job too.

The Rocinante maneuver mostly works to save the Barb, but they’re forced to emergency action, using a railgun to provide impetus. Lucia is still insipid and Naomi is taking on the annoying character that she had in previous seasons. Nobody who claims to be a Belter seems to have any intuitive feel for orbital mechanics. Alex is awesome throughout, playing the cool-ass, Han Solo-like pilot.

Holden and Miller arrive at the “bomb”, which is a Sauron-like eye that is, like, connected to everything. Miller thinks he can trigger it, but he has to inhabit a Johnny Five-like contraption of junk and be guided up to it, so he can “gather everything else” and jump in, taking out his old masters (the beings that are somehow intrinsically linked with the protomolecule and who’d eradicated the billion-year-old civilization on the planet they’re on).

Murtry and Esai follow Holden, followed closely by Dr. Okoye and Amos. Wei tries to stop Amos with words, then threatens him, so he shoots her, only to be ambushed by Murtry, whom he wounds even worse. They’re both out of it. While Holden runs back to help Amos, Okoye helps Miller shut down the planet and also take out his masters (maybe). Amos and Murtry glower at each other, but the standoff ends there, with the Rocinante landing delicately on the side of the artifact to pick them all up.

The standoff ends with the planet dead, but with its technological “ribs” exposed, Miller is gone, Murtry is headed for trial, Lucia has been forgiven, everyone else is saved, the Belters have their ore, and most are staying to continue building their colony, along with the RCE science team. Amos is regrowing fingers and glowering at Murtry. Avasarala is mad because this is a bad spin for her campaign—which is obviously all that matters.

Bobbie on Mars tries to save Esai and crew from themselves, but arrives too late to stop the ambush. Klaes is closing in on Inaros, but hits some bumps along the way, with a Martian that he tried to play good cop with. Klaes eventually catches up to Marco’s ship, but neither Marco nor Klaes is in any way limited by orbital mechanics like mere mortals. This show used to do much better in that regard. At least if they’re using Star Wars-style physics, they’re at least preserving the grungy look as well.

I suppose the actor playing Klaes (David Strathairn) really had to go do other things—because he went out super-stupid. He bad-assed his way into Marco’s ship, then dropped his guard completely, letting Marco and Nagata’s stupid son get the drop on him in a “reveal” that surprised no-one. Instead of at least shooting Marco, he gets captured and goes out like … a man? Out of the airlock? Spaced by two smug cunts? That part felt pretty lazy and not really worthy of the character, but his song was pretty cool. Hey, maybe everybody fucks up and gets dropped at some point. At least he seems to have managed to fire off some final intel before he freezes up. Marco—now, suddenly with a full crew again—launches his asteroid toward Earth.

Amos and Murtry are both relatively healed. Amos gives him a visit. Amos tells him it’s go time. Murtry takes the first poke. Amos twists away, turning slowly back to Murtry, with bloody grin and wild eyes. Gleefully: “thanks”. End scene.

This is a really beautifully shot show, much more convincing and visually interesting than Star Trek: Discovery. Instead of multiple small shows with a large story arc, they have just the large story arc. It’s fine for Discovery—which is following the age-old Star Trek formula of doing just that—but it’s also nice to shift gears.

Middleditch & Schwartz S01 (2020) — 8/10

Thomas Middleditch (Richard Hendricks of Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio of Parks and Recreation) are a two-man, “long-form”, improvisational comedy duo. They quiz the audience for a few minutes to get the basic data for a scenario, then launch into 45 minutes of improvisational comedy that flows with callbacks, side-jokes, and raw talent. They roll with everything and make it work, true pros.

The first episode is a wedding where they switch amongst 15 members, with each playing whoever needs to be played at the moment. You know who they are by accents, what they say, and sometimes their location on the stage. The stage is bare, except for them and two chairs.

The second episode is a classroom for Contract Law, where they start slowly using the few scraps of information they gathered at the beginning, but slowly build to a story of a young alien boy who is in a secret room at the back. It’s more dream-like and odd than the first one (which was more solid overall), but Middleditch really balances Schwartz well. Schwartz stays a bit of a guiding hand whereas Middleditch riffs more.

The third episode is my favorite. They’re at a job interview and Middleditch is visibly incensed at the insanity of what the audience member described as his experience interviewing with SNL for a photography internship. They start with Schwartz interviewing by video where he has to read the questions himself, with Middleditch off-screen playing the remote voice. He humiliates him by making him act like a gazelle, but cutting it short before the male gazelle appears. They weave the friend in, who also wants the job. They discuss their experiences—including how far they got with the gazelle. Sawson has been offered a job at the NYT as a foreign correspondent/war photographer—he would end up traveling to war-torn Norway—split east-west in a primarily north-south country—while Kyle takes funny pictures for a new feature in the NYT as well. Neither got the job at SNL and both want the other’s job. In a dreamlike sequence, they end up in a JFK bathroom, lined up and pooping, along with a couple of died-in-the-wool New Yorkers, who offer not just life advice, but also a kind of Freaky Friday ritual that lets them switch places, but not before Middleditch can hold forth on how wasteful his New Yorker character is—“I don’t care! What’s the point? The UN says we only have 11 years left anyway!”. The ritual has them both on the ground like gazelles playing rock-paper-scissors to see who has to play the lady gazelle. Middleditch loses; the New Yorker breaks it up because that’s not how the ritual goes. Instead, they mime a sort of Human Centipede journey and pop up in each other’s bodies, temporarily and severely confused about who is Sawson in Kyle and who is Kyle in Sawson and who has which dream job now. Truly inspired and pretty brilliant. I’d watch that one again.

We used to watch a lot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the incomparable Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and Drew Carey. I love this low-tech, pure-talent form of comedy. Comedy without a script is magical; it’s like your super-funny and super-clever friend, but professional. It’s down-to-Earth. It’s why I like Bill Burr’s impromptu stuff almost more than his specials (at least recently; I’m Sorry You Feel That Way was a masterpiece)—he’s a naturally funny person who doesn’t need a script. He just needs a bit of kindling and he’s off and running. Middleditch and Schwartz do a different thing, but their ability to riff is wonderful.


[1] Yiddish is about 60% Swiss German. I can understand almost everything without subtitles. I remember thinking the same whenever I went food-shopping at C-Town in Kew Gardens and would overhear YIddish and wonder whether I had discovered an enclave of Swiss Germans.
[2] Who should have gotten an Oscar for “best use of a cape”.
[3] He’s not famous or anything, I just wanted to write his name.
[4] I am not kidding about that name. Nobody in the movie bats an eye calling him that.
[5] Yes, totally, that Kylie Minoque.