Streaming Picks: June 2020

Top Picks
Shirley – Hulu 6/5
First up is Neon’s Sundance hit, with another great performance from Elisabeth Moss. She plays horror author Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery,” “The Haunting”) in this fictional take on her life, one that’s a scarier than the real thing. Between this and The Invisible Man, look for Moss to be a real threat come awards season.

Da 5 Bloods – Netflix 6/12
Spike Lee rides his latest comeback (which included a long overdue Oscar win) with this Vietnam story about a mostly black platoon and their return to the country decades later in search of buried treasure. Easily the movie I’ve been most excited for so far in 2020.

Knives Out – Prime 6/12
One of last year’s very best movies (and biggest hits) hits streaming, where your conservative family members can finally see the roasting they deserve, all while enjoying themselves with a compelling mystery.

Recent Selections
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Hulu 6/2
Miss Snake Charmer – Hulu 6/4
Intrigo: Dear Agnes – Hulu 6/5
The Appearance – Hulu 6/6
Intrigo: Samaria – Hulu 6/12
Child’s Play – Hulu and Prime 6/12
Milea – Netflix 6/13
Dustwalker – Hulu 6/15
Crawl – Hulu and Prime 6/18
Goldie – Netflix 6/19
Straight Up – Netflix 6/26
Clemency – Hulu 6/22
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band – Hulu 6/25
Charlie’s Angels – Hulu 6/25
Guns Akimbo – Prime 6/27
Carrion – Hulu 6/29
The Gallows, Act II – Hulu and Prime 6/30

Spelling the Dream – Netflix 6/3
The Last Days of American Crime – Netflix 6/5
We Are Freestyle Supreme – Hulu 6/5
A Whisker Away – Netflix 6/18
7500 – Prime 6/19
Father Soldier Son – Netflix 6/19
Feel the Beat – Netflix 6/19
Lost Bullet – Netflix 6/19
One Way to Tomorrow – Netflix 6/19
Wasp Network – Netflix 6/19
Athlete A – Netflix 6/24
Nobody Knows I’m Here – Netflix 6/24
Home Game – Netflix 6/26
Adú – Netflix 6/30
One Take – Netflix TBD

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What I Watched This Week: 24 May 2020

“New France” (B+) / series premiere
“The Turtle King” (B)
Not exactly my cup of tea, but this New World-set historical drama is well-acted and well-directed by David Slade (Hannibal). Its treatment of native characters is not what I expected based on its opening minutes, but it’s clear early on that the white characters are the savage ones. The accents are all over the place, though.

Mrs. America – “Reagan” (B) / limited series finale
Ties a nice bow on everything, but should have ended last week, with a newly radicalized Alice (Sarah Paulson) watching in horror as busloads of religious nuts arrive for a counter-rally.

Homecoming – Season 2 (B+ average)
While it’s certainly not as good or as bold as its Julia Roberts-led first season, this is another compelling mystery, with great acting across the board. Janelle Monáe, in her first starring role, is particularly impressive, playing one of the most fascinating, duplicitous characters in recent TV history.

Everybody Loves Raymond (Season 5) – “Marie’s Sculpture” (A-)
Had a chance to browse Universal’s new streaming service Peacock, and while its library and interface aren’t anything to write home about, it does have every episode of the last great multi-cam sitcom. I chose to revisit this classic episode, in which Marie takes a sculpture class and turns out a very “ladylike” piece. Like Seinfeld‘s The Contest, it’s uproariously funny and I still can’t believe a broadcast network let them do it. 20 years on, some of the jokes are a little creaky, but mostly gut-busting.

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Streaming Picks: May 2020, Part 2

Unlike Disney+ (which had a massive library) and AppleTV+ (which didn’t), WarnerMedia is being awfully coy about what, exactly, will be on their new streaming service HBO MAX. So here’s what they’ve confirmed so far will be available at the May 27 launch (though even that is fuzzy). I’ve intentionally excluded every HBO movie, series and special, as that’s already part of the deal. Unfortunately, the app won’t be available on the two most popular streaming platforms: Roku and Amazon Fire. It’s also not available to Comcast cable subscribers, even if they already have HBO. Love it when corporations quibble over pennies and screw over customers.

Top Pick
Studio Ghibli
For the first time ever, the brilliant works of Hayao Miyazaki are legally streaming in the U.S. I sadly know too few of the master’s films, so this will be a chance for me to finally check out the likes of Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke.

Recent Selections
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Downton Abbey 
Ready or Not

On the Record

Top Picks
Love Life
While hitting it big with the Pitch Perfect franchise, Anna Kendrick hasn’t quite found a role as, ahem, pitch perfect as her Oscar-nominated turn in Up in the Air. I’m not sure if this rom-com will be it, but it sure seems to be the right choice at the moment.

The Honourable Woman
One of my the best shows of the 2010s, this unflinching limited series stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the titular character, caught in the crosshairs of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Looney Tunes Cartoons
The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo

The Alienist (Season 1)
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Complete Series)
Batwoman (Season 1)
The Big Bang Theory (Complete Series)
The Boondocks (Complete Series)
Doctor Who (Seasons 1-11)
Doom Patrol (Season 1)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Complete Series)
Friends (Complete Series)
Impractical Jokers (Seasons 1-8)
Katy Keene (Season 1)
Luther (Seasons 1-5)
Nancy Drew (Season 1)
The O.C. (Complete Series)
The Office (Complete UK Series)
Pretty Little Liars (Complete Series)
Rick and Morty (Seasons 1-3)
Robot Chicken (Seasons 1-10)
Search Party (Seasons 1-2)
Steven Universe (Complete Series)
Torchwood (Complete Series)
We Bare Bears (Seasons 1-4)

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What I Watched This Week: 17 May 2020

Community – “Cooperative Polygraphy: Live Table Read” (A)
Everything I wanted from the Parks and Rec special I got here. A joyful, hilarious reunion that uses one of the show’s all-time best scripts into a seamless recreation, with plenty of in-the-moment jokes and commentary to make it feel organic. Now we just need that movie.

Mrs. America – “Houston” (A-)
A trippy episode wonderfully directed by Janicza Bravo puts the spotlight on Alice (Sarah Paulson), a composite character who has a change of heart after taking drugs at the National Women’s Convention, realizing the STOP ERA movement she’s a part of has gone too far, becoming anti-woman, anti-education, bigoted and stubborn. It comes a little too neatly, but this is one of the most fascinating hours of television of the year so far.

Terriers – Season 1 (A average)
Essentially a perfect season of television, and arguably the best show canceled after one season. A compelling mystery with richly drawn characters in a series that was equal parts tragic and comic.

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The List: Top 10 Summer Blockbusters

With no new summer movies on the horizon until at least July (if then), I decided to take a look back on my favorite blockbusters. Certainly, there are better movies to choose in some cases (including superior sequels), but I wanted to represent a decent swath of blockbusters, especially since they seem to have homogenized. I’m limiting this to movies from 2000 on, since that’s when I started really seeing movies. I also limited this to movies I saw in theaters during their initial release. I wanted to capture that feeling when you walk out of the air-conditioned theater into the hot sun and you’re exhilarated because you’ve just seen something awesome.

Willem Dafoe and Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man
Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)
While X-Men was an excellent warm-up for the comic book-obsessed era to follow, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was the first great comic book movie of the century. A great blend of CGI and practical effects, with a semi-grounded story and cheesy moments that leapt off the page. This was everything 14-year-old me wanted. Its sequel was even better.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)
“And here… we… go!” A record-breaking event that dominated the back half of the summer, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film upped the ante. Unfortunately, fans and filmmakers took all the wrong lessons from it. But few things compare to that midnight screening – interruptions and all – and talking about it in the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning.

Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Tarantino was still something of a niche director. That all changed with Inglourious Basterds, which obliterated the competition in a mostly weak summer. I saw it three times, the first of which was part of an epic all-night birthday celebration. A film that’s mostly not in English earning $321 million worldwide and eight Oscar nominations? “That’s a bingo!”

Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011, David Yates)
The last midnight screening I ever went to (and with good reason; I had to work the next day and was exhausted my whole shift). David Yates’ epic finale of the Harry Potter saga was appropriately mega-sized and featured a heartbreaking turn from Alan Rickman. And if it weren’t for that embarrassing coda and one of the worst kisses in blockbuster history, it would be perfect.

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Every Episode of Community, Ranked in Tiers

I recently finished a rewatch of Community on Netflix, and figured I’d try something new. I’ll rank every episode, but in tiers. (Ranking each one 1-110 would take too long, and I’ve already done a top 10 list.)

Some rules: Really, nothing after Season 3 can truly be considered “Classic,” except for one Season 5 episode (which was recently the subject of a stellar virtual table read). Even though I like some of these later episodes (and put them in my top 10), those are personal favorites, and they really can’t compare with those first three seasons. Overall, most of the show is strong. The only bad episodes belong to Season 4, and even the weakest episodes from other seasons have some good or interesting things in them.

So here are my rankings. Disagree away!

Season 1
“Comparative Religion”
“Contemporary American Poultry”
“Modern Warfare”

Season 2
“Accounting for Lawyers”
“Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples”
“Cooperative Calligraphy”
“Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”
“Mixology Certification”
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
“Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
“Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”
“Paradigms of Human Memory”
“A Fistful of Paintballs”
“For a Few Paintballs More”

Season 3
“Remedial Chaos Theory”
“Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”
“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”
“Regional Holiday Music”
“Digital Exploration of Interior Design”
“Pillows and Blankets”
“Basic Lupine Urology”

Season 4

Season 5
“Cooperative Polygraphy”

Season 6

Season 1
“Introduction to Statistics”
“Investigative Journalism”
“Physical Education”
“The Art of Discourse”
“English as a Second Language”

Season 2
“Anthropology 101”
“The Psychology of Letting Go”
“Aerodynamics of Gender”
“Early 21st Century Romanticism”
“Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy”
“Critical Film Studies”

Season 3
“Origins of Vampire Mythology”
“Curriculum Unavailable”
“The First Chang Dynasty”
“Introduction to Finality”

Season 4
“Paranormal Parentage”
“Advanced Documentary Filmmaking”
“Herstory of Dance”
“Basic Human Anatomy”
“Heroic Origins”

Season 5
“Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”
“VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing”
“Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”
“Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
“Basic Story”

Season 6
“Basic Crisis Room Decorum”
“Queer Studies and Advanced Waxing”
“Basic Email Security”
“Grifting 101”
“Modern Espionage”
“Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”

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What I Watched This Week: 10 May 2020

Mrs. America – “Bella” (A)
By focusing on Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), the show hones in on the dangers of compromise. Often times compromise can be beneficial. But make too many concessions and your movement gets watered down and robbed of its power. It also reveals the trap for progressive causes: Try to move more toward the center, and the right will keep pushing further right, and often win.

Community – Season 6 (B+ average)
The longer runtimes gave the writers license to explore bits that were funnier in brief. Still, this was an excellent final season that integrated two new characters well, giving them their own personalities. Now if we could just get that movie.

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What I Watched This Week: 3 May 2020

The Simpsons – “Warrin’ Priests, Part 2” (B-)
A lackluster ending to a promising episode. The Bible verse showdown and megachurch gags were pretty good, though.

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (B)
Exactly what I’ve come to expect from retirement-age Jerry’s stand-up: a mix of genuinely funny, well-observed jokes and some seriously lazy, hacky, borderline conservative jokes.

Mrs. America – “Jill” (A-)
Elizabeth Banks redeems herself for that “Fight Song” video with her performance as Jill Ruckelshaus, the strongest GOP ally in the fight for the ERA, which costs her family dearly when the party nearly splits in 1976. Gerald Ford remained the nominee, but would lose the White House, and give way to much more conservative, religiously fanatical version of the party led by Ronald Reagan.

Mrs. America
“Phyllis” (A-)
“Gloria” (B+)
“Shirley” (A)
“Betty” (A)
“Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” (B+)
Through its first five episodes, Mrs. America is strong, pointed piece of historical adaptation, giving its main women (mostly Cate Blanchett’s Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne’s Gloria Steinem) rich, complicated lives. What’s most fascinating is how its depiction of internal conflict in both parties rings true today.

Ozark – Season 3 (B+ average)
This is big-budget trash TV that occasionally have moments of real brilliance. In that regard, it’s done very well. It’s compelling and well-acted, despite being poorly written and plotted. I was hooked once again. But comparing this to something like Better Call Saul? Not even close.

Community – Season 5 (B+ average)
While its Black Mirror-predicting mid-season episode was a swing and a miss, returning Dan Harmon to pilot this crazy thing brought the show back to life. Even losing Donald Glover after five episodes wasn’t enough to keep it from being wildly creative and heartfelt.

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What I Watched This Week: 26 Apr 2020

The Simpsons – “Warrin’ Priests, Part 1” (B+)
Pete Holmes arrives as writer and guest star in this two-parter about a more tolerant minister who comes to Springfield and wins the souls of many of its inhabitants, forcing Rev. Lovejoy out. It’s one of the smartest and sweetest episodes the show has done in a long time.

Parks and Recreation – “A Parks and Recreation Special” (B-)
Part of me wants to give it a free pass because it was so warm and thoughtful. But right now I’m pretty cynical, and I have to admit much of the first “phone tree” segment caused only the occasional chuckle. Even grading on a curve for the technology element, a lot of it felt extremely forced. The middle segments, which give us an update on Pawnee’s minor and awful and residents, felt the strongest. Everything else seemed designed to push you to do a rewatch on Peacock (which was advertised a lot).

The Sopranos – Season 6, Part 2 (A average)
These last nine episodes comprise the very best stretch of the show, as each hour is marked by at least one death, leading to that terrific final shot. Whether Tony dies at that moment is irrelevant. What the show has taught us is that he either “won’t hear it coming,” or will die in a cell (literally like Johnny Sack or figuratively like Uncle Junior), and won’t truly appreciate what he has either way.

Tiger King (A- average)
A four-alarm dumpster fire. It’s hillbilly hilarity until the ugliness of the kingdom shows itself and the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin turns tragic. By the end of the first episode, it’s clear none of these people (nor anyone in the world) should own big cats as pets. By the end of the series, it’s clear none of these people are good.

Community – Season 4 (B average)
In many ways, it’s a lot better than I gave it credit for. Still, it’s got two of the show’s worst episodes (“Conventions of Space and Time” and that godawful finale) and its biggest swing-and-a-miss (“Intro to Felt Surrogacy”). This was the only season thus far that hasn’t been a total joy to revisit.

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Streaming Picks: May 2020, Part 1

I’ll be doing a big preview of HBO MAX when/if they reveal a full list of what will be available at launch. This post will cover the Big Three (Netflix, Hulu, Prime).

Top Picks
Inferno – Prime 5/1
Monster House – Hulu 5/1
Uncut Gems – Netflix 5/25
Some intense selections this month. Inferno is Dario Argento’s sequel to Suspiria. Obviously it can’t compete (especially in the music department), but its production design and pure batshit plot are up there.

Monster House is the rightful Best Animated Feature winner from 2006, which riffs on It and presages Stranger Things, with its kids-on-bikes and haunted house story.

And finally, after it premiered internationally on the service, A24’s highest-grossing movie comes to U.S. Netflix. It’s got an incredible performance by Sandler, a high-wire plot and extremely high meme potential.

Recent Selections
Arctic Dogs – Netflix 5/4
The Hustle – Prime 5/7
The Goldfinch – Prime 5/8
Spaceship Earth – Hulu 5/8
Seberg – Prime 5/15
Trial by Fire – Hulu and Prime 5/19
Rocketman – Hulu and Prime 5/22
Premature – Hulu 5/22
Top End Wedding – Hulu 5/22
Painter and the Thief – Hulu 5/22
Come to Daddy – Prime 5/23
Ne Zha – Netflix 5/25
Norm of the North: Family Vacation – Netflix 5/25
The Tracker – Hulu and Prime 5/25
I Still Believe – Hulu 5/26
Disappearance at Clifton Hill – Hulu 5/29
High Strung Free Dance – Netflix 5/31

All Day and a Night – Netflix 5/1
Get In – Netflix 5/1
The Half of It – Netflix 5/1
Mrs. Serial Killer – Netflix 5/1
18 regali – Netflix 5/8
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics – Netflix 5/11
The Wrong Missy – Netflix 5/13
I Love You, Stupid – Netflix 5/15
Ben Platt: Live from Radio City Music Hall – Netflix 5/20
Rebelión de los Godinez – Netflix 5/20
The Lovebirds – Netflix 5/20
I’m No Longer Here – Netflix 5/27
La Corozonada – Netflix 5/28
The Vast of Night – Prime 5/29

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