For a range of reasons, I’m about a year behind on these worth watching posts. But over that entire time I have taken notes on every film I watched. I thought it was about time to write them all up and start churning these out. It will take me a little while, but you have about 200 or so reviews coming your way.
- Jessica Jones Season 1 (2015), Melissa Rosenberg – Hard-boiled detective tropes with a strong filter of a disturbingly well-realised PTSD. I really liked this. But it’s super intense and took me a long time to work my way through it. Kirsten Ritter excels as the weary, put-upon, but brilliant Jones. And as Kilgore, David Tennant is a remarkable, brutal vision of misogynist power with Jedi abilities. Utilises a lot of horror techniques to ramp the intensity up even more. A searing indictment of male privilege
- Riverdale Season 1 (2017), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa – I don’t really have a grounding in the Archie mythos, so took me a while to get into this one. It’s a weird fuckin show. Some stylish visuals and the two lead female performances are excellent. Though the character of Archie is the least interesting thing about the whole show. The pulpy mystery elements are really interesting and some of the romance stuff is really sharply written. Crafts a nice heightened small town full of secrets vibe. Even with all the truly daft teen dialogue flying about, this show makes it work. Notably is really strong at parsing the differences between adulthood and being a kid, as well as that element of teendom that everyone’s a little fucked up.
- Mildred Pierce (2011), Todd Haynes – Does a good job of presenting a women facing off against a society that dismisses her and does not care for her (and by extension her kids). Miniseries format really gives the adaptation space to breathe. It’s great, subtle work by both Haynes and Winslet. It’s quite flat narratively. But you are made to ache for the central character by the creative team with this really bleak rumination on life and humanity.
- Santa Clarita Season 1 (2017), Victor Fresco – This doesn’t seem to be one of the Netflix originals that has a lot of people talking about it. But I think it’s my favourite so far. Gross and over the top visceral in a gleefully yuck way, with some great practical effects. All four of the lead performances are really nice and the connections grow over the course of the season. The mix of comedy and cannibalism you’ve been looking for. Even though the last ep was a slight let down, I am hanging out for season 2.
- The Terror Live (2013), Byung-woo Kim – Great setup. Dude calls a radio station threatening to blow up a bridge, gets dismissed, then does it. This then escalates into a live TV event. Showcasing the callous, cynical nature of the media. Also focuses in on inequality in contemporary, supposedly developed, South Korea. A very chatty thriller that gets a little silly at times. Second half is certainly not as tight, in part because it feels the need to make the story too complex.
- Personal Shopper (2016), Olivier Assayas – There’s a lot of really complex stuff going on in this film. It’s one I really liked but perhaps hard to articulate exactly why. For starters, it functions deceptively well as a straight horror film. And Kirsten Stewart gives a pretty extraordinary performance. Much of it is hard to pin down, in a nice not frustrating way though. It’s a film about forbidden desires, personal ambition, mortality and the meaning of life.
- T2 Trainspotting (2017), Danny Boyle – Densely edited and shot. This is not a sequel I was particularly anticipating, but the approach is admirable. Reflects on what it feels like to have fulfilled none of your potential. The difficulty of coming to terms with a ‘normal’ life. Nice mix of older characters moving through these thematic concerns and new ones giving a fresh set of eyes on these blokes who are both tired and refreshed.
- The Burbs (1989), Joe Dante – Young Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher & Bruce Dern is a hell of a start to a cast. Such a Joe Dante film, with his unique storytelling knack. Fisher in sardonic mode can’t be beat whilst Hanks is great as a put-upon suburbanite. Corey Feldman is nicely precocious too. The plot is suburban concern elevated to live & death struggle, lots of slow-motion and soaring music (the score from Jerry Goldsmith is excellent).
- Batman Returns (1992), Tim Burton – At his best, as he is here, Burton is so good at creating these unique, heightened worlds. Very much helped along by Danny Elfman’s expansive, but not over the top, score. The plot is full of holes & undercooked elements, But that actually plays as charming, doesn’t feel workshopped to death. A superhero film with sharp moments of real darkness, but not an oppressive vibe. Danny DeVito gives a performance that’s both lovely and menacing. One that could so easily have come across as mere gurning.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Steven Spielberg – For me this is the weakest of the whole series. Suffers from being in a single location, lacking the globetrotting elements that are the series’ strength. But at the same time, there’s some brilliant stuff here. The John Williams score is the best of the series. And there is plenty of secret passageways and booby traps. The dude getting his heart ripped out of his chest is a striking sequence and the mine cart chase is Spielberg at his absolute best. It’s also cool to see an Asian American sidekick – Short Round – who is really capable. I was surprised at how much I was into that character.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Steven Spielberg – Starts shakily. The River Phoenix Young Indy flashback is a great set piece, but the exposition of how he got his hat, scar etc is daft. But that kicks off a rollicking adventure that is my personal favourite of the series, with five or so truly great set pieces. Plus the added bonus of father and son banter that stays just the right side of silly. Helped by Connery utterly hamming it up. The film also never forgets to convey the gravity of a scenes’ actions, especially those that involve Nazis. Spielberg really shoots the shit out of this one.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Steven Spielberg – Much better than I recall. Watching them close together smooths some of the more egregious issues (aliens basically). On paper the best cast of the series. And the opening section I think does a nice job of re-purposing the Indy mythology (yes the nuke the fridge thing is hella-daft). Refracts various tropes really well, grabbing the snake to escape quicksand for example. Though the second half is too CGI heavy which undercuts its charms. Overall though, I dug it.
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), Chad Stahelski – Seems to have gotten lost this year, but this is another excellent action flick. Love that Wick is this borderline mythological figure. That extends to everything really. This is action film as mythology – gold coins, secret codes and blood oaths. Totally abandons plot for long stretches. But it doesn’t matter when the action is this good. Cleanly and creatively shot ‘gun-fu’. Thin characterisation is saved by excellent performances. Especially by Keanu, who by this point is an all-time action great.
- Alien: Covenant (2017), Ridley Scott – I loved this, which following the totally uninspiring marketing, was a nice surprise. Gnarly, bloody space horror action with some cool exploration aspects and solid characters. The design, as always in this series, is excellent. Even having a CGI xenomorph, works well here. Personally I actually find the focus on the Fassbender androids not that interesting. For me Waterson is the star and I would have loved to see her be the focal point of the narrative. But overall, I liked this a lot.
- The Sea Wolves (1980), Andrew V. McLaglen – Crusty concept with a stuffy script that is totally elevated by a great cast – Roger Moore, Gregory Peck and David Niven. They bring the charisma to make the material work. Decently shot on location. Builds nicely to the final, somewhat tense mission which is delivered well in borderline silent way.
- Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), Tim Burton – Surprisingly for a decent Tim Burton film, the worldbuilding is pretty limp here. Lacks atmosphere, thought the characters and intrigue are nice, as is some of the visual stuff. It’s distracting enough, but can’t help thinking that this would have totally kicked arse if in the hands of early 1990s Burton. The last act has a cool YA fantasy team-up vibe going for it.
- Stranger Things Season 1 (2016), The Duffer Brothers – This took a while to grow on me. It felt too derivative initially. The hype suggested I would be all in from the start, but it took me four or five eps for the commitment to horror imagery to really cement itself and I was into it from there. Winona Ryder is great as a mum under incredible stress and the kids really bring a lot to their characters. I was perhaps never totally engrossed in the actual plot, but I really liked the vibe and a lot of the ways it was put together – score and styling for example. That said, it’s a great emotional release at the end.
- Secret Agent (2016), Charles McDougall – One of my favourite books gets a pretty uneven BBC adaptation. The costuming and set design is typically great. Characterisations are stark and solid. Despite the miniseries length, some of the book’s complexities are definitely smoothed. Some vicious barbarism brought to life. The high point drama wise is undone to an extent by super shoddy special effects. Toby Jones is excellent – needy, ineffectual, powerless and conflicted. He brings all that to life.
- Master of None Season 2 (2017), Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang – So loving and stylish. Amazing how the episodes feel so uniquely individual, yet the season has a coherence to it. Though the early parts don’t flow together the way we are used to in the streaming age. On occasion it is too ambitious and the experiments impact the watchability. But the best episodes (first dates and thanksgiving) are also experimental so it is understandable that’s what they are chasing. The performances are excellent too – Ansari is super genuine, Bobby Cannavale feels like a good addition whilst Lena Waithe and Eric Wareheim’s characters provide a valuable bridge to season 1.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Girl on the Train (2016), Tate Taylor – Some nice early twists which is a plot conceit I dig. But even from the beginning – the intro of characters – it’s a little jumbled. The mystery never feels deeper than a structural contrivance. Have to fill in the gaps cause she’s drunk. The jumping back and forth in time is even more unnecessary here than that technique is usually. This is essentially a really good Emily Blunt performance in a meh movie.
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 (2017), James Gunn – Utterly unremarkable. Not awful, was just nothing really of anything for me. Humour feels really forced and too omnipresent. Bautista’s Drax is the only source of humour that feels at all genuine or organic. He, and Michael Rooker as Yondu, give the clear standout performances. Takes the approach of splitting up the crew, which eliminates much needed sources of banter. And the main plot involving Quill’s father simply never engages. Neither Pratt or Kurt Russell are given enough to chew on.
- Superman (1978), Richard Donner – Despite some nice elements, this one doesn’t quite hold up anymore. The production design is still utterly incredible. And it starts strong with the snappy Brando cameo and a ‘down home’ kinda charm to it. But the over the top bumbling Clark Kent is not the best use of Reeves’ charm. A looong time before we actually get to see Superman. Too long for me. But a lot of the extended end sequence is really good. Supes racing all of California trying to save people.
- The Dazzling Light of Sunset (2016), Salome Jashi – This doco focussed on the news coverage in a small Georgian community very slight and needed a stronger focus. Though guess it does succeed in exposing the viewer to an experience totally outside their own. Best when considering the engagement between subject and filmmaker. Would have loved to see that, or more of an authorial hand coming through.
If you only have time to watch one Santa Clarita Diet Season 1
Avoid at all costs The Girl on the Train