What I Watched This Week: 22 Apr 2018

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Gray Star Mutual” (B+)
Even if I wouldn’t mark this episode as one of the best of the season, the fact that all three subplots hum along AND advance the plot is an example of this show firing on all cylinders, and I’m going to miss that when it’s gone.

Silicon Valley – “Facial Recognition” (B+)
2018 is probably a little late for an Ex Machina parody, but Todd Louiso is bringing his A-game as a creepy A.I. programmer. Also, Zach Woods continues to be the best actor on this show.

Barry – “Do Your Job” (A)
Maybe having Barry do a Macbeth monologue is too on-the-nose, but who cares. This is the show’s best episode yet, balancing its off-kilter humor with horrifying violence. It was already confident, but now it knows for sure where it’s headed.

Westworld – “Journey into Night” (B-) / season premiere
A lot of exposition. So much exposition. Too much exposition, but damn if it didn’t look gorgeous. Depending on if the show picks up, this might be the first casualty of the busy spring season.

Legion – “Chapter 12” (B)
An episode where the visuals are more than just cool, they have meaning. It’s just too bad that this emotional journey into Syd’s past is spelled out as obviously as possible.

The Handmaid’s Tale
“June” (A) / season premiere
“Unwomen” (A)
Two startling episodes that both raise the stakes and change the game for this series. June on the run sets up the tension for Season Two, while spending an entire episode in the Colonies with Emily (Alexis Bledel) and diving into her backstory gives us another character to root for. Also, it’s early, but so far John Carroll Lynch and Marisa Tomei deserve Best Guest Actor and Guest Actress in a Drama Series.

The Americans – “The Great Patriotic War” (A)
One of the series’ best episodes, as Philip loses his shit after finding out the depth of the training Elizabeth has been imparting on Paige. That causes him to tip off Kimmy, which sets off a chain reaction for the rest of the season.

A.P. Bio – “Walleye” (B+)
Jack pushes too hard in his quest to embarrass Miles, hurting a student in the process. But he may have gotten what he wanted: out of Toledo. Props to NBC for shooting on-location, but I think we know Jack’s going to want to stay.

Atlanta – “North of the Border” (A-)
This is what this show does best when it’s not experimenting: starting out fairly traditionally, turning a corner and going wild, then having that experience change a character’s perspective. This also proves it could go anywhere next season, even if Earn and Paper Boi aren’t on speaking terms.

Andre the Giant (B+)
A satisfying documentary about a larger-than-life character. Also tells the story of how wrestling became a national phenomenon, which is explained elegantly for a non-fan like me, but that’s the least interesting aspect.

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The Optimist’s Summer Movie Preview 2018

Marvel has thrown down the (Infinity) gauntlet, by moving their big tentpole to kick off the summer movie season back to the end of April. It traditionally started around Memorial Day, and moved up to the first weekend of May some time in 2001. But in 2018, those distinctions are nearly irrelevant. Read on for the 10 movies I’m most excited about, plus some bonus picks I’m not including because we have yet to see a trailer.

Some of the massive cast of Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War
(April 27)
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt
Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
The MCU finally reaches its inevitable conclusion as a cast of dozens of heroes unite to take on Thanos (Josh Brolin, in one of three giant movies this summer). There’s the possibility that this is just staid going-through-the-motions, but that seems highly unlikely, since almost every Marvel movie (especially in Phase Three) has a lot to recommend.

Charlize Theron in Tully
(May 4)
Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
My most-anticipated non-IP movie of the summer. Diablo Cody’s last collaborations have given us Juno and Young Adult, two of my favorite movies ever. Even though I’m not a parent and probably never will be, I’m sure to find a lot to love about this ode to motherhood in 2018.

Julian Dennison in Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2
(May 18)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison
Screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Directed by David Leitch
As with the first one, there’s always the risk that this film tips all the way over into pure obnoxiousness, and that expanding its roster undercuts some of the profane magic that made the 2016 film such a phenomenon. There’s also the T.J. Miller problem. But with excellent casting (including Terry Crews), this has the potential to surpass the original, and put it near another time-hopping sequel about protecting a punk kid from a stoic assassin.

Donald Glover in Solo
(May 25)
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Screenplay by Jon & Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by Ron Howard
*Deep breath* While of course I’d much rather see what Lord & Miller could have done with a Star Wars universe that needs some shaking up, Ron Howard is a great choice to bring a troubled production in for a smooth landing. We’ll see if reports of Alden Ehrenreich’s performance are true, or if they were just exaggerated because he’s not instantly iconic. (The opposite is true of Donald Glover’s fur-covered intro as Lando.) This one won’t be a disaster, but we’ll see if it lives up to what it could have been.

Continue reading

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What I Watched This Week: 15 Apr 2018

Saturday Night Live – “John Mulaney/Jack White” (A-)
Former writer John Mulaney (creator of some of my favorite characters and sketches) returns to the show as host, and lets his freak flag fly, with hilarious sketches about revenge drag, a musical about diner lobster and an interview about a creepy ’90s sitcom. Bring him back regularly, Lorne.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“NutriBoom” (B+)
“DFW” (A-)
Two extraordinarily funny episodes as the season (and possibly series) comes to a close. The former takes on multi-level marketers and Amy’s first day as a sergeant, while the latter features a killer guest turn from former SNL star Nasim Pedrad as Jake’s sketchy but affable half-sister, who keeps a bag of glass shards with her to get free meals and casually asks Amy for a Plan B pill. I hope we see more of her (and this show) in 2019.

Silicon Valley – “Tech Evangelist” (A)
The season’s best episode and one of the show’s highlights. A.D. Miles (Role Models) guest stars as the developer of a gay dating site who threatens Pied Piper’s growth simply because Richard outs him as a Christian, a no-no in uber-liberal Northern California. It’s a great recurring gag, and taps on the hypocrisy of even the most tolerant Millennials.

Barry – “Commit… To You” (A-)
Barry learns the limits of the advice he gets. He doesn’t realize the line between being assertive and being an asshole, and that causes everything to spiral out of control. Hader’s so good that he genuinely seems like he can’t understand what happened.

Legion – “Chapter 11” (A-)
The most inventive episode of the season, even if it doesn’t really advance the plot too much. Its ability to give each character their own distinct personae is really remarkable.

The Americans – “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” (B+)
A mission goes wrong, in one of the show’s best setpieces. But Philip’s money woes grow deeper, and Elizabeth is too wrapped up in her own responsibilities to be a good spouse and shoulder to cry on anymore.

A.P. Bio – “Eight Pigs and a Rat” (A-)
Started as another standard episode, but developed into one of the season’s most clever and heartfelt. Really hoping this show gets a second season.

Atlanta – “Woods” (A-)
Brian Tyree Henry gets another acting showcase in an intense and intimate episode, where even his fans are out to steal from him.

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30 Before 30: The Recap

Last year, I had just turned 29, and I was realizing how much my film education was sorely lacking. Sure, I’ve probably seen far more films than many of my friends will ever see, even if I stopped seeing movies altogether. But the real classics, or at least efforts from the filmmakers who really changed cinema, were a real blindspot for me. So while I couldn’t get through some directors with vast filmographies, I at least saw what many people would say is their best or most representative work. I also made sure a third of the slots were reserved for female directors, since I’m not committed enough to do #52filmsbywomen, let alone devoted to see an older film every week anyway. I was a week late in finishing this project, but I’m glad I did. Below, I break down the films I saw by tiers. Almost everything was good, and a few films were truly great. I won’t rank them all from top to bottom, but John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence would be at the top, while Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless would be at the bottom. That might seem like blasphemy, but that’s my take.


(Federico Fellini, 1963)
The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)
Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)

13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001)
The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)
The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)
Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1928)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)

Blow-up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)

By the numbers:
1929 – oldest film (Man with a Movie Camera)
2016 – most recent film (13th)
68 minutes – shortest film (Man with a Movie Camera)
155 minutes – longest film (A Woman Under the Influence)
1 – Best Picture nominee (The Piano)

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What I Watched This Week: 8 Apr 2018

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Puzzle Master” (B+)
A solid “normal” episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, with Jake and Amy collaborating on their last case before she gets promoted to sergeant. We also get a rare Holt-Gina pairing, which leads to great, deadpan burns. Also, was not expecting Alison Tolman as the antagonist for this final stretch of episodes, but I’m definitely here for it.

Silicon Valley – “Chief Operating Officer” (A-)
A whirlwind episode, with Dinesh drunkenly leaking information to his new roommate, a resulting lawsuit, a new deal, and a search for a new COO that ends in one of the show’s few heartwarming moments.

Barry – “Make the Unsafe Choice” (A-)
While I’m less interested in the continuing machinations of Chechen organized crime, Barry prepping to do Mamet is a dream come true, and Sally’s sad audition gave her some real depth.

Legion – “Chapter 10” (B+)
Stylishly explores Farouk’s shadowy (pun intended) plans, while once again forcing David to unravel, not knowing who he can trust, even himself. There’s potential for this to get repetitive, but so far so good.

The Americans – “Urban Transport Planning” (B+)
Philip channels his best Don Draper as mounting bills have him teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Elizabeth and Paige deal with the aftermath of the former’s disastrous meeting with the general. But really this episode is about two fracturing marriages that may be too late to save.

A.P. Bio – “Durbin Crashes” (B+)
Patton Oswalt gives his best performance on this show to date, suffering the wrath of his insane wife (Angela Kirsey) for daring to watch a popular show after she forbade him from it, then holing up at Jack’s place. It’s quite funny, and doesn’t feature any unnecessary B-plotting, but then kind of just ends. Hopefully there’s more to the arc for the rest of the season.

Atlanta – “Champagne Papi” (A-)
An excellent Van-centric episode that’s essentially Waiting for Drake, who we knew wasn’t going to show up. This is exactly the kind of episode that makes Atlanta great, where any night out has a ton of potential, but mostly to go wrong.

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What I Watched This Week: 1 Apr 2018

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Box” (A+)
The best episode the show has ever done. Masterfully stages an interrogation of a murder suspect (Sterling K. Brown, who has locked up this year’s Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy) for the entire 22 minutes. It’s so beautifully done, with perfect delivery from all three principal actors, that you don’t even miss the rest of the squad.

Silicon Valley – “Reorientation” (B+)
Richard finally finds some inspiration, which of course doesn’t get him anywhere. Top-notch Guilfoyle-Dinesh bickering and another appearance from Andy Daly keep this season moving in the right direction.

Barry – “Use It” (B+)
I was already in the tank for this show, but Bill Hader wondering about the comedic potential of a scene from Doubt sealed the deal. A fleet episode that left me wanting more, this sets up the rest of the season but still manages to take its time.

Legion – “Chapter 9” (A-) / season premiere
Throws even the most attentive viewers into the narrative deep end, starting with David’s rescue, then circling and zig-zagging back to reveal what happened in the year since the events of last season’s finale. It’s as stylish as ever, even if this premiere feels a mile wide and an inch deep. Still, there’s absolutely nothing like it on the air, so I’m more than willing to simply be dazzled for an hour each week.

The Americans – “Tchaikovsky” (A)
Professional turmoil affects both Philip and Elizabeth, but only one ends with them being held at gunpoint. One of the most devastating endings this show has ever produced.

A.P. Bio – “Rosemary’s Boyfriend” (A)
Another incredible, darkly funny episode. Michael Gross is wonderful as the lover of Jack’s now-dead mother, the health-class baby subplot is creepy with a horrifying but cathartic end and the not-dating-janitors C-plot sidesteps cruelty by making it about petty revenge.

Atlanta – “Teddy Perkins” (A-)
So, I’m still not sure how I feel about this episode. It’s extremely well-executed and the weirdest thing this show has ever done, but it also feels like just a detour. You might have said that about “Barbershop,” but that at least felt relevant to Alfred’s character. This is just another weird story for Darius, that doesn’t add anything to him (despite Lakeith Stanfield crushing it as usual).

A.P. Bio – “We Don’t Party” (A-)
Arguably the best episode of the season thus far, with Jack meeting his immature match in Chase, the doctor boyfriend of Meredith (the luminous Collette Wolfe), the nurse he’s pining for. It’s a magnificent display of childishness. Meanwhile, the class gets drunk (or in Victor’s case, fake drunk) and grows closer. Plus, the reveal of a hunky party guest who’s into “toes clothes.”

Atlanta – “Barbershop” (B+)
Brian Tyree Henry’s finest hour yet on the show, as Atlanta proves once again it can do anything. The entire episode is devoted to Paper Boi’s ongoing efforts to look fresh for his photoshoot, and the obstacles his con artist barber puts in his way. It’s magnificent and the funniest episode of the season thus far.

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Things I Wrote: February and March 2018

So I failed to keep up with this two months in a row, so here’s a refresher on my published works for February and March.

Entanglement – Fresh Fiction
The Party – Fresh Fiction
Gringo – College Movie Review
A Wrinkle in Time – College Movie Review
Love, Simon – College Movie Review
Pacific Rim: Uprising – College Movie Review
Isle of Dogs – College Movie Review
Ready Player One – College Movie Review

Coming Attractions (February) – Central Track
Coming Attractions (March) – Central Track

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What I Watched This Week: 25 Mar 2018

The Simpsons – “Three Scenes (Plus a Tag) from a Marriage” (B+)
Another relationship ret-con episode, but one that isn’t trying to go for dramatics or pathos. It’s just a well-executed, very funny exercise in keeping things semi-fresh. Bonus points for actually getting J.K. Simmons as Marge’s J. Jonah Jameson-like editor.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Negotiation” (A-)
Any Doug Judy episode is going to get high marks from me anyway, but this one is exceedingly clever, even if we all know Doug Judy will always be the scorpion to Jake’s frog. Plus, there’s karaoke of 4 Non-Blondes, Hitchcock acting professional and Boyle going all Gordon Ramsey on Amy and Gina.

Silicon Valley – “Grow Fast or Die Slow” (B+) / season premiere
Deftly maneuvers into Pied Piper’s “successful period” by showing just how unprepared Richard is for it. (We already knew how good Dinesh and Guilfoyle were at wasting time.) It also finds a worthy adversary in the creator of Sliceline, who loses his awful (but funded) company in a hostile takeover by Richard.

Barry – “Make Your Mark” (A-) / series premiere
One of the better pilots in recent years. It knows exactly what it is, yet has seemingly unlimited potential to turn into something even better. Both Bill Hader (who also shows off his directing chops) and Henry Winkler are excellent.

The Americans – “Dead Hand” (A-) / season premiere
Jumps forward in time without losing much. That opening montage is one of the best things the show has ever done. Beautifully sets up the new reality we’re in while also raising the stakes pretty much immediately. Sad to see this show end.

Collateral (B+ average)
As much as I want shows to have shorter runs, this four-episode British import actually could have used two more hours to flesh out its characters more and make its many strands tie together better. And while there are no plans for a sequel, I would absolutely watch more seasons of Kip Glasby (Carey Mulligan, who should absolutely be remembered come Emmy time) solving crimes with empathy.

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Streaming Picks: April 2018

Top Picks
50/50 – Hulu 4/1
Mystery Team – Amazon 4/1
The Florida Project – Amazon 4/1 (Academy Award nominee)
Call me indecisive, but I just couldn’t pick between all these films, which I adore for different reasons. 50/50 is the underrated 2011 dramedy about a young writer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) diagnosed with cancer. Mystery Team is the wild, hilarious Encyclopedia Brown-esque adventure from Derrick Comedy, which featured pre-fame Donald Glover and Bobby Moynihan. Few comedies from the last decade are this quotable. And The Florida Project is the latest from master filmmaker and empathizer Sean Baker. Willem Dafoe should have won his first Oscar for his performance as the caretaker of a transient motel near Orlando, but his rare nice guy role is just one of many wonderful things about this great film.

Recent Selections
So B. It – Hulu 4/4
Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall – Netflix 4/5
Despicable Me 3 – Netflix 4/5
Dina – Hulu 4/5
Ram Dass: Going Home – Netflix 4/6
Take My Nose… Please! – Hulu 4/9
Augie – Hulu 4/11
Dealt – Hulu 4/14
The Relationtrip – Hulu 4/16
Tragedy Girls – Hulu 4/18
Loving Vincent – Hulu 4/19 (Academy Award nominee)
Bill Nye: Science Guy – Netflix 4/25
Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death – Hulu 4/26
Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie – Hulu 4/27
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene – Hulu 4/28
Permanent – Hulu 4/29
A Thousand Junkies – Hulu 4/30

6 Balloons – Netflix 4/6
Amateur – Netflix 4/6
Orbiter 9 – Netflix 4/6
The 4th Company – Netflix 4/6
Pickpockets – Netflix 4/12
Come Sunday – Netflix 4/13
I Am Not an Easy Man – Netflix 4/13
Dude – Netflix 4/20
Kodachrome – Netflix 4/20
Mercury 13 – Netflix 4/20
Psychokinesis – Netflix 4/25
Bobby Kennedy for President – Netflix 4/27
Candy Jar – Netflix 4/27
The Week Of – Netflix 4/27

Top Pick
The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 2) – Hulu 4/25
Your current Emmy champ for drama series had a bumpy first season, but started and finished strong. The second season opens up a lot of possibilities, especially for seeing the world beyond Gilead.

Wakfu (Season 3) – Netflix 4/1
The Crossing – Hulu 4/3
National Treasure: Kiri – Hulu 4/4
Bosch (Season 4) – Amazon 4/4
Fastest Car (Season 1) – Netflix 4/6
Money Heist (Part 2) – Netflix 4/6
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman: JAY Z – Netflix 4/6
The Boss Baby: Back in Business (Season 1) – Netflix 4/6
Troy: Fall of a City (Season 1) – Netflix 4/6
AMO (Season 1) – Netflix 4/9
Chef’s Table: Pastry – Netflix 4/13
Lost in Space (Season 1) – Netflix 4/13
The Magic School Bus Rides Again (Season 2) – Netflix 4/13
The Chalet (Season 1) – Netflix 4/17
Charité (Season 1) – Netflix 4/19
Aggretsuko (Season 1) – Netflix 4/20
Dope (Season 2) – Netflix 4/20
Spy Kids: Mission Critical (Season 1) – Netflix 4/20
The Letdown (Season 1) – Netflix 4/21
3% (Season 2) – Netflix 4/27
The New Legends of Monkey (Season 1) – Netflix 4/27

Merlin (Seasons 1-5) – Amazon 4/1
La Piloto (Season 1) – Netflix 4/2
The Missing (Season 2) – Amazon 4/2
Black Sails (Season 4) – Hulu 4/2
Preacher (Season 2) – Hulu 4/10
Red Rock (Season 3) – Amazon 4/23
Call the Midwife: Christmas Special 2017 – Netflix 4/24
Vikings (Season 5) – Hulu and Amazon 4/24
Jane the Virgin (Season 4) – Netflix 4/27
The Carmichael Show (Season 3) – Hulu 4/30

Top Pick
The Honeymoon Stand-Up Special – Netflix 4/17
Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher got married in 2015. But instead of celebrating like mostly newlyweds, they went on tour and did stand-up together. This series of specials highlights their routines and relationship advice.

Other Specials
Fary Is the New Black – Netflix 4/3
Todo lo que sería Lucas Lauriente – Netflix 4/6
Greg Davies: You Magnificent Beast – Netflix 4/10
Kevin James: Never Don’t Give Up – Netflix 4/24
Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity – Netflix TBD

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What I Watched This Week: 18 Mar 2018

Saturday Night Live – “Bill Hader/Arcade Fire” (B+)
A couple sketches whiffed on the promise of their premise, but Hader is so good in all of them. Like much of the cast, I was in stitches pretty much the entire time.

The Simpsons – “Homer Is Where the Art Isn’t” (B)
No one in 2018 needed a parody of the forgotten ’70s caper Banacek, but it’s well-executed and Bill Hader does exceptional guest work as the insurance investigator trying to determine who stole a Joan Miró painting beloved by Homer.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Safe House” (B+)
The show wraps up its last big plotline (which doesn’t seem good for its long-term prospects, even if it did get its highest ratings of the season) in hilarious fashion, with Jake and Kevin kept in a safe house while the FBI and the Nine-Nine try to bring down Seamus Murphy.

A.P. Bio – “Selling Out” (B+)
A very funny if sleight episode that ends exactly where you expect it to, but has some of the season’s biggest laughs getting there.

Atlanta – “Helen” (B-)
Had a tough time with this one, which is frequently harsh where the show usually has a lighter touch. Plus, Earn, whom we sympathize with throughout most of the series, is just a straight-up dick the entire episode, making it hard to find a center.

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