What I Watched This Week: 6 Jun 2021

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Progress” (B-)
The show doesn’t address any of the things it’s brought up. Instead, characters act completely unlike themselves. You keep waiting for another shoe to drop, but it never does. It’s still made at a high level, but it can’t help but feel a little frustrating.

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What I Watched This Week: 30 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Sacrament” (A-) / limited series finale
A satisfying, devastating finale, with acting showcases from Kate Winslet and Julianne Nicholson. This is going to be hard for any show to top.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Testimony” (A-)
Finally, the gambles the show is taking are paying off. It’s a bold move to have June, finally free, regaining her power to become a worse person, thriving on others’ misery and anger. There seems to be no way this will end positively, but I have no idea where they’re going to take it.

Bo Burnham: Inside (A-)
All descriptions of this show being “revolutionary” or “essential” are overblown. This is essentially Bo’s usual shtick, but the single location forced him to be even more creative than usual.

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Streaming Picks: June 2021

Top Picks
Dr. Strangelove – HBO Max 6/1
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Prime 6/1
Gone Girl – Hulu 6/15
Luca – Disney+ 6/18

It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.

Stanley Kubrick’s satire hasn’t aged a day, especially if you view it in light of the government’s response to COVID-19. It’s one of the sharpest, funniest movies ever made.

Lorene Scafaria is one of the most underrated filmmakers of her generation, and this moving dramedy marked her arrival. It was a flop, but it’s a movie that means a lot to me.

And Gone Girl is of course the supremely fucked-up love story from David Fincher, the last thing he did before working exclusively for Netflix. It gets better every time I watch it, and it’s all the more baffling it only picked up Oscar nomination.

Finally, Disney continues to give Pixar short shrift, with yet another animated film going straight to their streaming service instead of getting a theatrical run (or at least a hybrid situation). It’s bound to be another beautiful story of friendship, but don’t expect anything explicitly queer from this mega-corporation.

Recent Selections
Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know – Netflix 6/1
Doctor Sleep (Director’s Cut) – HBO Max 6/1
Hurley – Prime 6/1
Keith Haring: Street Art Boy – Prime 6/1
Kajillionaire – HBO Max 6/1
Shazam! – HBO Max 6/1
The Wedding Guest – Netflix 6/1
The Wind – Netflix 6/1
2 Hearts – Netflix 6/2
A Glitch in the Matrix – Hulu 6/3
Night of the Kings – Hulu 6/3
Raya and the Last Dragon – Disney+ 6/4
Rams – Hulu 6/5
Killerman – HBO Max 6/8
The Croods: A New Age – Hulu 6/9
Young Hearts – HBO Max 6/9
Camellia Sisters – Netflix 6/10
Trust – Hulu 6/10
Two of Us – Hulu 6/10
Come True – Hulu 6/11
Pinocchio – Prime 6/11
The Devil Below – Netflix 6/13
Picture a Scientist – Netflix 6/13
Willy’s Wonderland – Hulu 6/13
Born to Play – Hulu 6/15
Her Deadly Sugar Daddy – Hulu 6/15
Her Name Is Chef – Hulu 6/15
Michael Smerconish: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking – Hulu 6/15
Nasrin – Hulu 6/15
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson – Hulu 6/15
The Outside Story – Hulu 6/15
Secret Life of a Celebrity Surrogate – Hulu 6/15
Phobias – Hulu 6/17
Fatale – HBO Max 6/19
The Seventh Day – Netflix 6/24
Safer at Home – Hulu 6/27
Harvie & the Magic Museum – Hulu 6/29
Lying and Stealing – Netflix 6/30

El Nombre del Hijo – HBO Max 6/1
Carnaval – Netflix 6/2
Dancing Queens – Netflix 6/3
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie – Netflix 6/3
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – HBO Max 6/4
El Ultimo Balsero – HBO Max 6/4
Trippin’ with the Kandasamys – Netflix 6/4
Xtreme – Netflix 6/4
Awake – Netflix 6/9
Tragic Jungle – Netflix 6/9
In the Heights – HBO Max 6/11
Skater Girl – Netflix 6/11
Silver Skates – Netflix 6/16
A Family – Netflix 6/18
Fatherhood – Netflix 6/18
Jagame Thandhiram – Netflix 6/18
Good on Paper – Netflix 6/23
False Positive – Hulu 6/25
The Ice Road – Netflix 6/25
America: The Motion Picture – Netflix 6/30

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What I Watched This Week: 23 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Sore Must Be the Storm” (A-)
Felt a little overstuffed, but once again the emotions and the incredible acting took this to another level. And we had another lump-in-the-throat cliffhanger, plus more Jean Smart greatness.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Home” (A)
The first truly great episode of the season, as June adjusts to a land where she’s allowed to do all the things she was forbidden in Gilead: Sleep as long as she likes, shower, shop, read, and have sex that’s strictly about her pleasure. But she’ll still be dealing with her psychological wounds for a long time, and her ways of coping thus far aren’t necessarily healthy.

Friends: The Reunion (C)
For a show that was and remains extremely popular, this felt wildly unnecessary and overlong. And I say that as a fan of the show. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of Matthew Perry with a fresh set of dentures.

The X-Files – Season 4 (A- average)
The best season yet, with even more all-time episodes. Gillian Anderson is simply on another level. It’s no surprise she won the Emmy for this season.

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What I Watched This Week: 16 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Illusions” (A)
I wanted a breakthrough in the case, but not like this. The last 15 minutes or so were a masterclass in tension. Unless they blow it in these last two episodes, I don’t think I’ll see a better show this year.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Vows” (B-)
The shortest episode to date, but one supercharged with emotions. There were times I felt compelled and empathetic, but others when I just wanted to shake June and tell her to shut up. Knowing there are four episodes left, and at least one more season, I’m not sure how they’ll be able to keep this going without dragging their feet.

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What I Watched This Week: 9 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Poor Sisyphus” (B+)
A bit overstuffed, but it’s still rich with deeply human emotion and moments of levity. Enid Graham makes a play for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series with a subplot that seemed a little too ridiculous at first but resolved in a deeply sad way.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Chicago” (B-)
The show seems stuck in a weird pattern where former handmaids are getting picked off one by one, yet things keep going back to normal in Gilead, usually by someone blackmailing Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). It’s making it harder to be invested in the show, though that may change since this is clearly a pivot episode.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Season 2 (A-)
The show somehow got even better, and the parallels in the back half of the season to the Iraq War are unmistakable.

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What I Watched This Week: 2 May 2021

Mare of Easttown – “Enter Number Two” (A-)
Mare’s self-destructive tendencies catch up with her, with damaging results. But those results are less than she deserves. In this town, everyone covers for each other, which might be why there are two unsolved murders.

The Handmaid’s Tale – “Milk” (B)
A thoroughly unpleasant episode, but one that gives Rita and Madeline the attention they deserve. The former gets to move on, while the latter’s flashbacks reveal someone who’s not just a fuck-up.

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The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2021

The pandemic robbed us of not just a summer movie season, but a year’s worth of theatrical experiences. But with more than 100 million vaccinated and many theaters reopening – even if not at full capacity – it’s time to once again to load up on popcorn and soda and let the images wash over us.

Wrath of Man (May 7)
Starring Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan
Screenplay by Guy Ritchie & Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson
Directed by Guy Ritchie
After a decade of diminishing returns with IP, Guy Ritchie got back to his roots with The Gentlemen, which featured all the best and worst qualities of a Guy Ritchie film. Here, he reunites with Statham, who plays an mob boss who goes undercover as an armored truck driver to find out who killed his son. If theaters hadn’t been closed, this absolutely would have been a “dumped in January” film, but a movie this low-rent being the summer opener is fitting.

Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14)
Starring Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Finn Little
Screenplay by Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt and Taylor Sheridan
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
A lot of people seem to absolutely despise Taylor Sheridan, but his movies have worked for me, except for that horrendous Sicario sequel. This is his second directorial effort, after the underrated Wind River. It marks the return of Angelina Jolie, action star. She plays a fire tower watcher forced into a life-or-death situation when she comes across a boy on the run from assassins.

A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)
Starring Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy
Written and directed by John Krasinski
The first film was an incredible in-theater experience, but it didn’t hold up on repeat viewings. That script was pretty bad and relied on some maudlin parental sacrifice stuff. But this sequel ditches Krasinski (who appears only in flashbacks) and expands the scope as the family looks for other survivors.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor, Julian Hilliard
Story by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & James Wan
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Directed by Michael Chaves
Losing James Wan as director means there’s no way this will be as good as the first two films. But there’s still a chance this will offer some serious scares.

In the Heights (June 11)
Starring Anthony Ramos, Jimmy Smits, Dascha Polanco, Stephanie Beatriz
Screenplay by Quaiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Lin Manuel-Miranda’s first musical phenomenon gets the big-screen treatment, almost a year after it was originally supposed to hit theaters. Not only is this our first major musical since Christmas 2018 (when The Greatest Showman opened), it’s actually directed by someone with serious dance and musical experience. This should be the non-superhero film of the summer.

The Sparks Brothers (June 18)
Directed by Edgar Wright
The Maels have been crafting endlessly clever pop music for more than 50 years, but are widely unknown to all but the biggest music nerds in the U.S. Thankfully, superfan Edgar Wright dedicated months to putting out a definitive documentary, interviewing dozens of collaborators and fans, including Beck, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Patton Oswalt.

Zola (June 30)
Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun
Screenplay by Janicza Bravo & Jeremy O. Harris
Directed by Janicza Bravo
The first, and to date I believe the only, film based off a Twitter thread, Zola is the wild semi-true story of the titular woman (Taylour Paige) and the crazy trip through Florida’s underbelly she took with Stefani (Riley Keough). Will it live up to the original story? Reviews from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival suggest it does.

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What I Watched This Week: 25 Apr 2021

93rd Annual Academy Awards (B-)
There were some interesting new directions with pacing and structure. No songs and only one bit of banter that resulted in eight-time nominee Glenn Close putting that backfield in motion. But then they whiffed the ending. Moving Best Picture was a big mistake, and ending on an award where the expected posthumous winner lost, and the actual winner was MIA was an outright disaster.

Mare of Easttown – “Fathers” (A)
Basically on par with the tremendous premiere, only now there’s an even more potent mix of humor and dread. We’ve got a new partner (Evan Peters, finally getting to work on a miniseries that has an idea of where it’s going), a stalker (the parent of an especially nasty girl who assaulted the murder victim) and another possible homicide (courtesy of the father of the dead girl). Oh, and a potentially horrifying revelation about the father of the dead girl’s baby.

The Handmaid’s Tale
“Pigs” (B) / season premiere
“Nightshade” (B+)
“The Crossing” (A-)
Takes a while to get going, but it all culminates in an intense third episode. It would get an A were it not for the last-second killing of two characters that came out of nowhere and felt cruelly unnecessary.

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Streaming Picks: May 2021

Top Picks
Robot & Frank – Prime and Hulu 5/9
Those Who Wish Me Dead – HBO Max 5/14
The Woman in the Window – Netflix 5/14
Cruella – Disney+ 5/24

This month we’ve got a hidden gem and three originals that have an increasing level of risk of being awful.

Robot & Frank is a delightful soft sci-fi adventure about a retired jewel thief (Frank Langella) who uses his robot companion as his accomplice in a new series of crimes.

Those Who Wish Me Dead heralds the return of Angelina Jolie, action star. She plays a fire tower watchwoman who takes in a boy on the run from contract killers (Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillan) and a raging forest fire. Aside from a disastrous and unnecessary sequel to Sicario, I’m all in on Taylor Sheridan, but I know there are a lot of people who can’t stand anything he puts his name on.

The Woman in the Window has had a frankly concerning journey to its release. Filming wrapped on Joe Wright’s adaptation in 2018, then Tony Gilroy was brought in for rewrites and reshoots, then it was delayed after test audiences didn’t respond. Then COVID hit and Fox eventually sold the film to Netflix. It should be a slam dunk: a hit mystery novel with an incredible cast (including Amy Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, Brian Tyree Henry and Gary Oldman) and a script by Tracy Letts. But who knows? After waiting so long, it might be perfectly suited for the low stakes of firing up Netflix on a Friday night.

Finally we get to the movie that’s most likely to be terrible, but it was slim pickings on Disney+ this month. There’s absolutely no reason for a film like Cruella to exist. We didn’t need an origin story for the villain from 101 Dalmatians, and we already have an iconic live-action performance from Glenn Close. But the script is by Tony McNamara, who made The Favourite and The Great, two of my most enjoyed pieces of entertainment of the last few years. Between that and the outstanding costumes, that might be enough.

Recent Selections
The Legend of Baron To’a – Hulu 5/3
Love Sarah – Hulu 5/4
Shadow in the Cloud – Hulu 5/5
Little Fish – Hulu 5/7
Greenland – HBO Max 5/8
Wander Darkly – Hulu 5/10
Saint Maud – Prime and Hulu 5/13
Some Kind of Heaven – Hulu 5/13
Wonder Woman 1984 – HBO Max 5/13
MLK/FBI – Hulu 5/14
Cowboys – Hulu 5/15
Good Kisser – Hulu 5/15
The Personal History of David Copperfield – HBO Max 5/15
Breach – Prime 5/17
Supernova – Hulu 5/18
The Vigil – Hulu 5/21
Sam Smith: Love Goes Live at Abbey Road Studios – Netflix 5/22
The Donut King – Hulu 5/31
The World to Come – Hulu 5/31
Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir – Netflix TBD

Generation Por Que? – HBO Max 5/1
Para Rosa – HBO Max 5/1
The Boy from Medellín – Prime 5/7
La Boda de Rosa – HBO Max 5/7
Milestone – Netflix 5/7
Monster – Netflix 5/7
Mine – Netflix 5/8
Dance of the Forty One – Netflix 5/12
Oxygen – Netflix 5/12
Ferry – Netflix 5/14
I Am All Girls – Netflix 5/14
The Strange House – Netflix 5/14
Sardar Ka Grandson – Netflix 5/18
Territorio – HBO Max 5/20
Army of the Dead – Netflix 5/21
Pink: All I Know So Far – Prime 5/21
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail – Netflix 5/26
Plan B – Hulu 5/28

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