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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2021.7

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.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) — 8/10

This movie is a love letter to the ESC (Eurovision Song Contest) from Will Ferrell, who plays Lars Erickssong, a no-longer-so-young man from Iceland. His singing partner Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) is from the same Icelandic village. The two really have no chance to even make the contest on their merits, despite Sigrit’s lovely voice. Lars is more enthusiasm than musical talent, though his stage presence fits perfectly for the ESC.

They pass the first hurdle when every other Icelandic contestant is killed in a freak boat accident (it explodes in the harbor during a party to which Lars and Sigrit had not been invited). The Icelandic committee is devastated about their chances to win—all but the head of the committee (Mikael Persbrandt), who knows that Iceland couldn’t afford to host the ESC the succeeding year should they win the contest.

The pair make it to the ESC and hijinks ensue. They lose faith, they lose each other, they come back together. They declare their love for each other, they switch songs at the end (artistic license; this is not allowed at the ESC), they win the whole damned thing. Lars gains the respect of his father Erick (Pierce Brosnan).

Ferrell wrote and produced the whole thing and he does a great job. He really doesn’t make fun on the ESC—he’s loved it ever since his Swedish wife and her family introduced him to it in the late 90s. It was a fun time with a lot of genuine laughs and heart. It captures the madness and feel of the ESC perfectly. Recommended. Would watch it again.

Turning Point (2021) — 7/10

E01

WTC attacks; background on Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, Sheik Mohammed, Sheik Rahban

The theme music for this mini-series reminds me very much of the music from The Americans. I honestly can’t figure out why they called this series “Turning Point”.

This episode starts by declaring 9/11 as the “[…] most consequential terrorist attack in the history of mankind”, which starts things off in what would become a typically historically ignorant treatment. I guess you can think something like that, if you think that history is only filled with American tragedies—and those where America is the tragic figure, not the one causing the tragedy. For example, you might disagree if you’d been in Nagasaki on August 9th in 1945. You might feel that having an atomic bomb dropped on your city might be a slightly bigger deal than having under 3,000 people killed in an attack on a city of 8 million. This documentary starts off by telling you that you’d be wrong and that you need to get some perspective and see that Americans are the only real victims.

The documentary continues by saying that “no-one could have ever foreseen that […]” the U.S. actions in Afghanistan in 1979 would lead to 9/11, defining world history in the 21st century. Well, I suppose, if you didn’t ask or listen to Noam Chomsky or Chalmers Johnson or Ray McGovern or Robert Fisk or William Blum or Diane Johnstone or any of the myriad others who’d been predicting that the U.S. had done more than enough for the “chickens to come home to roost”.

The documentary notes that the U.S.-fomented and -funded insurrection in Afghanistan led to a population where “a third had been killed, wounded, or driven into exile.” But the 9/11 attack was the most consequential terrorist attack, am I getting this right? Is that because Americans are important whereas Afghans are not?

“What was happening was a fusing of politics and religion […]”. This from a guy from a country whose rallying cry for its soldiers is to “fight for God and Country.” A bit later, we hear “We failed to understand the power of religion […]”. How stupid can you be? And all this, with no sense of irony?

One of the CIA guys they interview is basically bragging about how they “defeated the Soviets.” They provide no context as to what was really happening, what the Mujahadeen were really like. They’re interviewing Gulbadeen Hekmatyar as if he’s a great guy, a loyal ally, all without noting what atrocities he perpetrated in that war. Check out Robert Fisk’s giant book The Great War for Civilisation for much more information about that.

Then the documentary segues to Iraq and its “desire to exert control over the oil supplies of the world […]” as if there was any connection whatsoever. Iraq’s desire to control its own oil supplies, no? Without any irony, these people talk about Iraq’s oil as if it belongs to America, but happens to be stored under Iraq.

It is perfectly correct when Bin Laden says that the U.S. wants to take away the Muslim world’s oil supplies. That is 100% correct. They’d already been occupied. Their occupiers were never going to be satisfied until they had absolutely everything. This is how it had always been in the Middle East. They could either give it up without a fight or strike back.

As usual, the documentary presents the attack on the U.S.S. Cole as if it were a terrorist attack. It was not. The Cole was part of the occupying navy, clearly a military target.

E02

Pentagon attack and United 93 (went down in PA), collapse of the towers, one after the other, preparing for war.

The Pentagon was also a military target (like the Cole), much more defensible as a target than the WTC, which was almost exclusively civilian. There were claims that the CIA had offices in the WTC, which wouldn’t be surprising in the least.

They interviewed Barbara Lee; I wonder whether they’ll mention that she was the lone voice against the AUMF. They do! Well-done! They actually play a good part of her speech. Not the best parts, but at least some of it.

To their credit, they also covered the jumpers from the remaining building. That horrifying part has been elided from many other accounts.

Wow, they’re interviewing Andrew Card (White House Chief of Staff) and Alberto Gonzalez (White House Counsel), both portrayed as reasonable, competent people. Gonzalez: “[The president] knew right away that it was a war. This was not a police matter.” But it absolutely should have been a police matter, prosecuted as a crime. Wars are fought between nations.

Gonzalez portrays Bush as a competent, unwavering, determined president. Why are we listening to this guy? Why don’t we hear anyone countering Gonzalez? He’s given absolutely free rein to provide his own version of history, as if it had been inevitable. He’s a clown 🤡. He deserves to be forgotten, not lauded. And he certainly shouldn’t get to provide the definitive version of this history.

Also, why are we listening to Andrew Card? He’s an unreliable narrator non plus ultra.

Now they’ve segued to describing the attack on Afghanistan as if it had been a legitimate target, as if the invasion had been in any way sanctioned. They don’t waste any time talking about the AUMF other than to note that Barbara Lee voted against it. They don’t talk about how it gave away blanket powers, or how the Bush administration used it to attack a completely unrelated country—or how Obama and Trump and Biden continued to use it to justify anything and everything that the executive branch wanted to do for the next 15 years.

E03

Finding bodies and searching for loved ones, Guantánamo, Patriot Act

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the “architect of 9/11” or “The Planes Operation”, as he called it. The people interviewed sure make their intelligence fuckup looks like an accident that could have happened to anyone. The FBI is definitely blaming the CIA here.

Why is Alberto Gonzalez getting so much screen time? Now he’s saying “Figure out ways of questioning people to get better intelligence.” He rubber-stamped the torture program as AG. “We also had concerns about the rights that would attach to anyone we brought into the United States.” I can’t believe this guy gets a free hand to just joke and laugh and discuss 9/11 and its aftermath. Historical revisionism at its finest. History is written by the winners, I guess. But he’s not even a winner … or is he?

“Enemy Combatants”, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, “Extraordinary Rendition” … rape the language to absolve yourselves. Guantánamo is still open. It still has prisoners. Gonzalez is given enough rope to hang himself and he does, with that stupid smirk on his face, self-satisfied, secure in the knowledge that nothing will ever happen to him. He thinks he’s justified torture, he thinks it’s all OK. He lists a bunch of even more horrific things that they could have done, then pats himself on the back for not having authorized those things. He was the top cop in America. That’s what America thinks of the law.

The sanest voice interviewed tells the story more-or-less correctly, but he then discusses the torture programs as if they were a watershed moment in America’s history, as if they were a turning-away from a high road it’s hard to argue America had ever been on. At the very least, America hasn’t been on the high road for a very long time.

Next up is John McCain—who was himself tortured for five years after having been shot down on a bombing run over a country that he was helping to illegally invade and destroy—who emerges as the voice of sanity, if you can believe that. Back then, he hadn’t gone as far off the rails as he would in the subsequent 15 years, right up until his death. Donald Rumseld is a monster, completely unapologetic and full of braggadocio.

The Patriot Act added “sneak and peek” warrants, which allowed officers of the law (any branch) to break into people’s homes while they were away, taking what they thought was necessary. The homeowners would not need to be informed. Utter madness in a state that thinks of itself as lawful.

They interviewed Thomas Drake, a whistleblower, one of the first interviewees I can wholeheartedly agree with. I wonder what the younger generation thinks of this documentary? Do they understand how many rights they lost while they were still in primary school? The “Stellar Wind” program allowed collection of metadata of all American communications, with some collection of content as well, supposedly only for high-value targets. Once you’ve got everything set up and available, though, what prevents you from just collecting content from everyone? Spoiler alert: Nothing.

The White House overrode the justice department to extend its information collection. Unsurprising, but good that the documentary included it.

E04

WMD, Iraq, Abu-Ghraib, Ground-Zero Muslim YMCA, Afghanistan surge/Obama, IEDs, fraud/corruption/reconstruction in Afghanistan, abandoning of Afghanistan

Now we’re rolling along pretty well, with a near-complete denunciation of the invasion of Iraq.

They seem to be using a lot of modern stock footage, because a lot of people in these clips are wearing masks. That is suspicious, to say the least. Many clips are presented without timestamps or proper context.

The interview with the soldier who keeps choking up when talking about his fallen colleague was very good. He showed empathy and asked the right questions: what were they doing there? Why were we killing people when we were deeply aware of how losing our own hurt so much? Who were we even attacking?

The analysis of the IEDs was good. The guy described how the Americans became so leery of moving anywhere that they started blowing up vast swaths of territory just to know that all IEDs had been triggered. The locals said that the Taliban don’t blow everything up like the Americans do. That would explain their predilections.

They retell the tale we’ve heard so much about recently: that money disappeared into Afghanistan into dead-end projects and unusable equipment. But the money-laundering scheme for U.S. companies worked just fine. It worked as designed. 99% of the money was nicely laundered through Afghanistan and back into the private coffers of wealthy military-hardware corporations. They talk about Afghan corruption, but don’t mention how happy the U.S. was to feed money into that machine because U.S. companies were benefitting from it greatly.

“You can’t take an institution designed for violence and use it to build up safe communities.”

“The [Afghan people] didn’t like us at all. They figured out that we didn’t really care about Afghanistan.” Some of the people there did care and they’d signed up to help. But the mission didn’t care. One of the guys says that most of the soldiers ended up just trying to survive and to protect their buddies. Why were they even there, then? They would all have been much safer at home. And the Afghans would have been safer, too.

“What do we mean by American freedom? It’s a freedom to pretend, to believe in our fictions.”
“That’s when I realized that people don’t really give a shit what we’re doing over here [in Afghanistan]. Nobody even mentioned 9/11 anymore and that’s the only reason I even came over here.”

E05

The hunt for bin Laden, Guantánamo again, Pissing on Afghan corpses (that’s not who we are), Drone bombing, Anwar al-Awlaki

I’m totally wondering whether they’re going to address the fact that we said we killed bin Laden and then never showed anyone the body. We said we threw it in the ocean. They don’t even mention this in the documentary. Why in the name of God would we believe a word of it? Seymour Hersh poked a lot of holes in this narrative. See his immense write-up in The Killing of Osama bin Laden (London Review of Books). He was not consulted for this documentary. Instead, Rasmussen described the whole thing for us, from start to finish.

They only off-handedly mention that the U.S. was “not supposed to be” in Pakistan, a sovereign nation with which the U.S. is allied, not at war. How could we send our troops there? Easy. We just did it. It is said that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. But it’s even easier to do neither.

They fucking crashed the helicopter into the compound (Patreus is now narrating for us, because we hadn’t heard from enough war criminals). After the best of the best—Navy Seals—crash their helicopter, the mission is still 100% on track, despite worries that they all might get caught in a sovereign ally’s territory. Obama, (Hillary) Clinton, Biden—all there in the situation room. No mention of why the Seals couldn’t just arrest bin Laden. The “CIA identified him” but “his face had been too riddled by gunfire to identify him, but […] they were able to identify him by his ears.” I am fucking gut-laughing over here. Talk about some bullshit that we shouldn’t believe.

Then they show people celebrating in the streets for the death of a man who a lying government claims was the guy behind 9/11, killed in an illegal raid on an allied nation with no evidence, no trial, no body, and no reason to believe it was actually him. P.T. Barnum was absolutely right. It’s really too easy. No wonder Trump saw such a juicy opportunity with such an unquestioning ovine herd.

We meet a young lawyer who was assigned to defend Sheikh Khalid Mohammed. Gonzalez shows up again to open his garbage mouth to explain why people in Guantánamo couldn’t be tried in the U.S. He says that they might actually defend themselves and say bad things about America. 😱Also, that the court would be a terror target and that America would be incapable of stopping attacks. This is legitimate because America is super-shitty at stopping real attacks.

But, Gonzalez is a stupid liar; they really couldn’t be tried because the U.S. had no evidence other than a bunch of stuff obtained under torture. If they’d actually gotten to court, they’d have been released. The U.S. should actually have prosecuted the people involved for breaking the law and violating those people’s rights.

Obama is also a garbage person who used Guantánamo only for political gain. For eight years, he said he would close it. He never came close. Biden’s not going to do it either. No-one cares about the law.

The young lawyer says that the whole system was designed to “let the lawyer look like they’re doing just a good enough job for the process to look legitimate. […] It was about hiding war crimes.” The interviewer asks how the guy could have torpedoed his career for someone the interviewer describes as “it doesn’t get worse than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so how can you defend him?”

These people don’t believe in the rule of law. Listen carefully. It’s very simple. Everyone gets a lawyer. That lawyer doesn’t support their client’s goals; they are not friends; they are not allies; they are not like-minded. The lawyer is doing a job that society absolutely needs done, if it wants to call itself civilized. People that don’t understand this are savages, by definition. They believe that a trial is not necessary because they already know—without a trial—that the defendant is guilty. How? They’ve been told by the prosecution. The accusation suffices. The media even agrees. It’s obvious. Why even have a trial? Why defend this person? Why try to disprove something that’s so obviously true? Savages. No better than people from 60 years ago, who always thought that every black man hauled before court was guilty of whatever he’d been accused of.

They discuss the drone-bombing of Anwar al-Awlaki (an American citizen) as if it were more evil to kill an American citizen with no due process—“extrajudicial killing, with no judicial oversight”—than to kill “just” an Afghan…or 20. The documentary rightly shows images of babies in coffins while Bush and Obama talk about precision attacks and just killings and how “Congress authorized any means necessary” (citing Obama). A Pakistani Congress member says that for every 13 people killed, they create 3300 more enemies. An Afghan says, “If death is our only fate, then we would rather die fighting back.”

Trump: (on Afghanistan) “Why isn’t Russia there? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there? Why are we there? And we’re from 6000 miles away?” Sometimes even a blind pig finds a truffle.

During negotiations with the Taliban, they were called “really cocky. They said that it would take more time to negotiate than it would to just walk in and take Kabul.” Oops. In hindsight, they weren’t cocky; they were realistic.

A powerful voice for Afghan women said, “Afghanistan is one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman. How much more shall we sacrifice in order to have peace?”

They interview a bunch of troops from the Afghan Army, talking about how they will resist the Taliban until the “last drop of blood leaves their bodies”. Within five days, they’d all given up against overwhelming odds, mostly without firing a shot. “We are ready to defend our country ourselves.” Oops.

The guy at the end who talks about how good women have it in Afghanistan is kind of right: more women are involved in Afghanistan than in 1998 when the Taliban took over. But it’s still less than in the late 1970s, when the socialist government provided all of those things. The U.S. marched in and destroyed it all, setting the stage for the Taliban. They then spent $2.3T destroying the country more and beating the Taliban back, to get the shreds of a society that kind of was almost as good as it was 40 years before. That is not a success. That is not improvement. That is historic cruelty.

At the end, they play “America the Beautiful” on piano, showing rockets firing indiscriminately and someone burying a baby wrapped in a shroud under rocks.

Captain Marvel (2019) — 7/10
It held up reasonably well on a second viewing. See my review from 2020. Saw it in German this time.
Atomic Blonde (2017) — 9/10
Still an awesome movie on second viewing. See my review from 2017. Saw it in German this time.
I Am Legend (2007) — 8/10

This came on TV after another movie and drew me in enough for a second viewing. Will Smith is quite good in this. He plays U.S. Army virologist Robert Neville, who’s the last man standing in New York City after a virus conceived as a cancer treatment goes completely out of control and kills or turns most of humanity into zombies. He is alone in his armored apartment, scavenging on a schedule to avoid being out at night. The zombies can’t stand daylight. We see how this all came to be in several flashbacks, showing how Neville lost his wife and daughter…and then all of NYC.

He has his trusty dog Sam(antha) at his side through much of the film, until a lapse in judgment—he gets caught in one of his own zombie traps after having a bit of a mental breakdown—causes him and Sam to be trapped out at night. They escape back to his lab, but Sam has been bitten and does not respond to the latest “cure” that Robert has concocted. Neville is forced to put down his only companion.

Driven by grief, Neville joyrides out at night to attack a band of zombies, but they get the better of him, trapping him in his car. One Deus Ex Machina later and two other people show up to rescue him, bringing him back to his home. After three years alone with Sam, he is not accustomed to human contact. The woman Anna (Alice Braga) talks of escaping to Vermont with the boy Ethan (Charlie Tahan) to an enclave that has survived. Neville doesn’t believe that the place exists. He refuses to leave, claiming he needs to continue working on the cure.

Soon after, they are all trapped in the lab as the zombies attack, trying to get a test patient back that Neville is experimenting on. The last cure he cooks up seems to work, though. He gives Anna a sample, sends her and Ethan out the coal chute, then sacrifices himself on a grenade, taking out the invading horde, as well.

Anna and Ethan arrive in Vermont with the cure—happy ending! There was an alternate ending where Neville confronts the zombie only to discover that he only wanted his mate back. They part ways and Neville realizes that it is he who has become a monster, experimenting on other thinking creatures.

Neither of these narratives is how the book ends. In the book, Neville is the last remaining member of his species. The zombies/vampires are thinking creatures who are the natural inheritors of the Earth—as the Neanderthals gave way to modern humans—and Neville thinks “I am legend” i.e. I am still alive, but my race will only become a legend after I am gone.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) — 10/10
Seen it so many times. Still a ten. Last saw it in 2013.
Legion s01 (2017) — 9/10

This is a really unique bit of television that I stumbled across. The show is based on the Marvel Universe character Legion, who is the son of Professor X and Gabrielle Haller. In the show, we only hear of “David’s father” in oblique terms (at least so far). But we don’t know him as Legion in this show. He’s just David (Dan Stevens), a young man who thinks he’s schizophrenic and who’s been bouncing from one unsatisfactory situation to another until he ends up in a mental institution.

We slowly learn that he is not schizophrenic. Instead, his maladies are all related to his extraordinary mutant power and having been infected by a powerful parasitic mutant named Farouk when he was but a baby. That’s how we find him in the mental institution at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, which also houses fellow inmate Syd Barrett[1] (Rachel Keller), who becomes his girlfriend. They cannot touch because of her mutant power, which is kind of like Rogue’s, where she switches bodies with whomever she touches, in a kind of short-term Freaky Friday affair.

Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) is also there, a drug addict who’d had some great times with David as he was trying to deal with his mutant powers and brain virus on his own. David breaks out, but is hunted down.[2] Clark (Hamish Linklater) is his interlocutor—with The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) as his backup—but David is uncontrollable. He escapes in a fiery glory, with Syd’s help, burning and disfiguring Clark in the process.

He is rescued by members of a place called Summerland: Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin), whose mutant power is that he “shares” a self with an alternate Kerry (Amber Midthunder), and Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), whose power is that he can examine anyone’s memories and that he never forgets. They take him back to Melanie Bird (Jean Smart), another telepath or empath or something. She helps bridge Ptonomy to David’s mind so that they can try to find out what’s really going on with him (they don’t accept that he’s crazy).

David’s sister Amy (Katie Aselton) is looking for him and she’s taken prisoner by Summerland’s nemesis Division 3. David would eventually rescue her, but it was Farouk in the driver’s seat, not David, using David’s incredible power to lay waste to the whole Division 3 facility. David comes back, and continues to grow his relationship with Syd—into the astral plane, where they can touch without her stealing his body and powers.

The finale is a showdown between The Eye and his henchmen from Division 3 against the ragtag band from Summerland in a super slo-mo scene wherein a bullet traverses the length of a room over the span of at least two episodes. During this time, Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) returns from the astral plane to help them, after twenty years of wandering. Melanie, his wife, is delighted, at first, but he doesn’t remember her—he’s not the same.

David learns of Farouk; Cary builds a device to trap Farouk away in David’s mind; David gains more control over his powers and resolves the slow-bullet dilemma, saving everyone except for The Eye, who ends up killed by his own trap. Clark returns to the case for Division 3, but he seems to be willing to come over to Summerland’s side and work with them instead.

Farouk (in the form of Lenny) pounds on his cage, cracking it. David’s grip on him is slipping. Syd kisses David to take Farouk. but Farouk transfers to Kerry and fights his way out. David tracks him down and forces him out of Kerry…but Farouk’s “essence” finds Oliver and takes him away again, in a fancy car, singing,

“On the chest of a barmaid in Sailes
were tattooed the prices of ales.
And on her behind,
for the sake of the blind,
was the same information in braille.”

This is a story of people with extraordinary power, but without costumes or hero names. It’s a story about what it would be like to have powers like that in the real world—our world—and how that world would react to it (with violence and a desire to extinguish or control).

Much of this show takes place in the astral plane, where artistic license rules. They do a wonderful and interesting job of it, with gorgeous and inventive visuals, languorous pacing, long stretches of just letting the visuals do the talking, and a very interesting and balanced soundtrack. The aesthetics remind me a bit of American Gods, the layers of reality remind me a bit of Inception. The treatment of the heroes, perhaps a bit of Watchmen.

It is, however, it’s own unique thing that grows into its own as it progresses. I’m well into season 2 and it’s getting better and better. It is, of course, not for everyone—many would find it boring—but I am very glad it was made, that there is still room for auteurs to stretch their legs and spread their wings.


[1] Who I only just realized is named after the former front man of Pink Floyd, who left the band after having become addicted to psychedelics.
[2] I think that’s how it happened. Time is a bit squishy in this show. Not only are some segments shown repeatedly, from different angles and perspectives, but there are fantastical segments that never really happened or that didn’t happen in that way. The astral plane is a strange place, and this show makes that abundantly clear.
Ted Lasso S02 (2021) — 8/10

The second season finds Richmond City fighting its way through its first season after relegation. They’re seven draws deep so far, when Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) kills the team mascot Earl with a penalty kick. They end up tied. Rojas is devastated. To treat him, the team takes on a psychiatrist Sharon (Sarah Niles). She is so good that nearly the entirety of the team ends up making appointments. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) spends the season dancing around whether he needs therapy for his panic attacks, and eventually takes it.

Roy (Brett Goldstein) coaches little girls’ football but Keeley (Juno Temple) convinces him to try sports announcing. He likes it OK—and is funny and honest at it—but Ted convinces him to come onboard as another coach. Nate (Nick Mohammed), who has no self-confidence, is threatened. Beard (Brendan Hunt), who has plenty, likes it. Beard is on-again, off-again with his quirky girlfriend Jane throughout the season.

Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) has a fling with Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), but they break it off because she’s not ready for commitment. Sam turns down an offer to leave the club for a team in Morocco, owned and run by a billionaire by inheritance. Sam also rebels against sponsor Dubai Air and nothing bad happens when the whole team kills the deal with their top sponsor. Instead, they are now sponsored by Bantr, Keeley’s dating platform. Lucky, that. Keeley? Oh, she’s apparently not dumb as a post anymore—though amusing and sweet and kind and wise, in her own way—she’s now in charge of her own PR firm.

Jamie’s back in the club and seems to have completely changed his ways. Other than his odd eyebrow couture, he’s a pretty nice guy now. He professes his love to Keeley, causing waves in Roy and Keeley’s relationship, but everything’s OK there. Roy has grown considerably as a person.

Nate goes off the rails with jealousy, blows up at Ted and ends up coaching Rebecca’s ex-husband’s newly acquired team to set up season 3: Ted vs. Nate.

A lot happens in this season—like, a lot, a lot. It’s hard to keep track of everything. There were a couple of “character-building” episodes—the Christmas one and “Beard After Hours”—that were entertaining enough, but (almost thankfully) didn’t contribute to the story. Just fun stuff with fun characters. Almost like an old-school sitcom (without a laugh track). Rebecca’s dad’s funeral is also kind of fun?

A couple of the episodes were great and a couple felt like they’d been written by a completely different team. Sometimes Lasso’s dialogue was a bit cloying and over-the-top folksy. Sometimes it was great. Roy is very good, but the focus on him became almost a bit much. Overall a good effort, but not nearly as refreshingly fun as the first season. Let’s see what happens in season 3.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) — 9/10
Still just as solid as the first time I watched it. See review from 2012.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) — 8/10

This chapter starts with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) laying waste to a Russian compound, all to retrieve his Mustang, which is nearly destroyed in the process. Soon after, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up to make him an offer he can’t refuse. John swore an oath to help Santino in exchange for help in the first movie. Santino “insists” by blowing up Wick’s house. Wick holes up in the Continental where Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick) remind him of his obligations to the marker. Wick goes to Italy, where he ends up taking the contract—to kill Santino’s own sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). He completes the contract—although she goes out “her way” by slitting her own wrists first.

John escapes the Colosseum to the catacombs below, blowing away what seems like hundreds of Santino’s henchmen, who’ve been ordered to tied up loose ends. Wick is an absolute master of pistol marksmanship, executing headshot after headshot while sprinting in the other direction and pointing his gun behind him. Santino’s top guy Cassian (Common) is the last one standing, pursuing John into the Rome Continental Hotel, where they are required by the rules to stop fighting.

Wick returns to New York, where he is now being hunted by every hitman in the city because Santino has opened a $7M contract on him. Wick again slaughters legions of attackers in a spectacularly choreographed, incredibly long sequence (the second of the film), where he again faces off against Cassian, this time besting him in a subway car by sticking a knife in his aorta.

John seeks refuge with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), where he gets treatment and a single pistol with seven rounds to continue his pursuit of Santiago. John finds him at an art opening, where we get the third slaughter sequence as Wick picks off Santiago’s remaining henchmen, including his deaf chief henchman Ares (Ruby Rose), who goes down pretty easily actually. Santiago escapes to the Continental Hotel, where he can’t be touched…right?

Winston pleads with John to desist, but Wick shoots Santiago dead to rights, violating the chief tenet of the hotel and placing himself in dire jeopardy. The High Table doubles the price on his head; Winston excommunicates him—cutting him off from all privileges—but provides him with a marker and a one-hour head-start. The end. See you in part 3.

Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021) — 9/10

This show’s reputation preceded it, but that reputation was, as with Chappelle’s previous shows, unearned. He delivered a solid, heartfelt, funny, occasionally bawdy—sometimes a little distractingly so, but that’s a matter of taste—sensitive, interesting, informative, and somewhat preachy set.

It was funny, though, first and foremost. There were interesting new ideas mixed in with old standards presented well and with a bit of a new sheen. He didn’t shy away from any topics, although sometimes he seemed to be deliberately poking a hornet’s nest that I was only somewhat aware of. I didn’t really want to be made aware of the world he was mocking in a comedy set, but that was the only drawback.

He is a masterful storyteller, with an eye for funny detail. He discussed his relative wealth—Netflix paid him $60M for his five specials—saying,

“Let’s say that something goes horribly wrong and I’m shopping with the poor whites for mediocre goods and services in a Wal-mart.”

He started off slowly,

“Some guy came up to me on the street, looking worried.

“He said, “Dave, they’re after you.”

“[Looking everywhere at once, panicked] “Multiple they or singular they?””

Those who didn’t see the show just assumed he slagged on transgender people, but he compared the degree of approbation waiting for someone who expresses a forbidden opinion—virtual violence—versus actual, physical violence or the even stronger, lingering prejudice of racism. The progress in the fight against racism—though receiving a lot of lip service—seems to have been lapped by the progress in the fight against homophobia or transphobia.

“You guys are confusing your emotions. You think I hate gay people and, what you’re really seeing, is that I’m jealous of gay people.”

Or this one,

“Why is it so much easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it was for Cassius Clay to change his name? My problem has never been with trans-gender people—it’s always been with white people. Go back and watch my specials.”

Or this one about the spectrum of prejudices and how white people still have the privilege of being white in a society that still prefers that skin color.

“He stood up, towering over me. He must have been 6'5". A big, white, corn-fed, Texas homosexual. This nigga was ready to fight. […] I thought we were going to come to blows. I was ready and then…right when you think we would fight, guess what he did? He picked up his phone and he called the police. And this, this thing that I am describing, is a major issue that I have with that community. Gay people are minorities…until they need to be white again.

He went there again, talking about DaBaby and the homophobic rant he’d recently gone on,

“Now you know, I go hard in the paint, but even I saw that shit and was like, ‘God damn, DaBaby,

“Can’t do that. Can’t do that. But I do believe and I’ll make this point later that the kid made a very egregious mistake. I will acknowledge that. But, you know a lot of the LBGTQ community doesn’t know DaBaby’s history, he’s a wild guy. He once shot a nigga… and killed him, in Walmart. Oh, this is true, Google it. DaBaby shot and killed a nigga in Walmart in North Carolina. Nothing bad happened to his career.

“Do you see where I am going with this? In our country, you can shoot and kill a nigga, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”

He jokes about how men become woman and win awards that only women could win before. I mean, you’ve got to wonder how that all fits with feminism, right? Or maybe gender-specific awards should be passé? But it is funny-ironic.

“Caitlin Jenner won the award for woman of the year—the first year she was a woman. Beat every single one of you bitches in Detroit. Woman of the year! Never had a period! How about that?”

He makes the following crude joke about transgender genitals,

“That pussy they got … it’s … you know. It’s Impossible Pussy or Beyond Pussy. Something’s not quite the same. That ain’t blood, that’s beet juice.”

Mother of God, the man has stones of steel. He’s getting paid $24m for this show and he’s just provoking with a clever, if crude, joke that he knows will blow up Twitter. Especially for the army that will review his show without watching it, like an online version of that old game Telephone.

But he closes with a story about Daphne—a white-girl transvestite. It was funny as well as sweet, where he constantly reminds people that they were friends, but he had to set limits, e.g. “[…] I pushed her away from me, because I’m transphobic.”

He quoted one of her tweets,

“Punching down on someone requires you to think less of them, and I know him, and he doesn’t. He doesn’t punch up; he doesn’t punch down; he punches lines; and he’s a master at his craft.”

He’s not a fan of Twitter or the raging hordes there,

“Apparently, I’m getting dragged on Twitter. But I don’t give a fuck, because Twitter isn’t a real place.”

They ended up dragging Daphne for supporting Chappelle. She killed herself a week later. That wasn’t funny, but it was true. His words didn’t do that; their so-called defense of her did. Maybe the defenders of public mores should stop taking themselves so seriously. People are getting hurt.

The Office (US): S08–s09 (2012–2013) — 9/10

After having managed Dunder Mifflin for seven seasons, Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) left the show. At the end of season 7, the search for a replacement was executed in the typically bungling and amusing manner of the show. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) does not get the job; neither does Andy (Ed Helms); instead, it is Robert California (James Spader) who snatches the role. He is an already independently wealthy Scranton resident who convinces Jo (Kathy Bates) to not only let him manage the Scranton branch, but also be CEO. He chooses Andy as his successor to manage the Scranton branch. Darryl (Craig Robinson) and Dwight are not happy, but deal with it. This is the basic framework for the season.

Robert spends an inordinate amount of time with the Scranton branch, taking field trips (Gettysburg), attending or throwing parties (Andy’s party at Dwight’s, or Robert’s bacchanal at his own home). He eventually invites several of them to Tallahassee, Florida—Dwight, Stanley (Leslie David Baker), Jim (John Krasinski), Cathy (Lindsey Broad), and Erin (Ellie Kemper)—for a conference led by Nellie (Catherine Tate) to select a new Vice President to head up Sabre’s brick-and-mortar stores. Dwight ends up getting the VP job. Robert California hates the stores. Nellie is fired, as is Packer (David Koechner), who ends up taking the fall for Dwight. Without a VP job, Dwight returns to Scranton with his head salesman job as a consolation prize.

Erin decides to stay in Florida, working as an in-home caregiver for an older woman. Andy misses her and drives back down to get her. Nellie shows back up in Scranton and just takes Andy’s job. Robert California eventually just rewards her for her initiative. Andy is fired for an anger episode and re-hired as a salesman. At Andy’s behest, David Wallace (Andy Buckley) buys Dunder Mifflin from Sabre and reestablishes it as an independent company, with Andy at the helm of the Scranton branch. Robert California—ever the smooth talker—convinces Wallace to donate to his mentoring program before leaving forever.

The constellation is unchanged at the start of the ninth and final season—except for two new young guys in the annex, Clark (Clark Duke) and Pete (Jake Lacy). There are hijinks sprinkled throughout—”office bus” and “lice” (where Meredith (Kate Flannery) ends up shaving her head) being two of the better ones—but the main story arc is that Andy abandons the office to go on a sailing trip for three months after his father dies and leaves the family fortune in his hands. His Dad had loaded the family with debt and they’re forced to sell the sailboat. Andy decides to sail it to the Bahamas himself.

Oscar (Oscar Nunez) starts an affair with Angela’s husband, state senator Robert Lipton (Jack Coleman). Angela gets wind of it, but ends up teamed up with Oscar after Lipton reveals that he’s also cheating on Oscar. She leaves Lipton and moves in with Oscar with her son.

The documentary of the office (which had been filming the whole time) is finally coming out, so things get quite meta-meta. Andy is convinced that this will launch his acting career.

In Andy’s absence, Erin had started a dalliance with Pete. When Andy finally returns, she makes several attempts to break up with him, until one finally takes. The office tries to figure out how to reveal to David Wallace that Andy was gone for three months and is not responsible for their spate of success in that year. Andy would have been fired again, but he instead tells David Wallace that he needs to follow his muse instead, getting an agent Carla Fern (Roseanne Barr).

Jim starts a side-business with some friends, a sports-marketing idea that takes off pretty quickly. The headquarters is in Philadelphia, so he’s commuting and only working part-time at Dunder Mifflin and just generally putting stress on his relationship with Pam (Jenna Fischer). They have tribulations, but love wins out in the end (this is literally how they did it).

David Wallace offers the manager job to Jim, but he tells him to choose Dwight. Dwight finally becomes manager, handling it with more aplomb and modesty than expected. Jim chooses Pam over working at his new business Athleads, repairing their fairy-tale relationship. Darryl starts working at Athleads, doing quite well, but disappointed that Jim won’t be there. The company has a chance at opening up nationwide and Darryl wants Jim to come along on the initial three-month jaunt. Jim turns him down; Pamela overhears; she doesn’t know if he means it, but he proves to her that he does. Jim is promoted to Assistant to the Regional Manager and holds a competition for the Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager—which Dwight wins, transitively becoming his own assistant.

Andy’s career is off to a bumpy start. Erin finds her parents at a documentary interview (Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr.). Dwight and Angela get married (her child is actually his; she just wanted him to love her for her, not for her progeny). Oh, and Dwight finally gets his black belt from his new sensei (Michael Imperioli).

I’ve got the chronology a bit messed up above, but that’s the general gist of the last two seasons. They include some absolute gold-medal-funny episodes with some really clever writing and execution. A delight to the very end. Highly recommended. Will probably rewatch at some point, perhaps in a few years.

Shutter Island (2010) — 10/10

I’d already reviewed this movie in 2011, but I didn’t describe what it was actually about, so I do that a bit better below.

The movie is set sometime soon after WWII. Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a police officer, who visits Shutter Island with his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from the mental institution located there. Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) assists them where he can, but they suspect that he is hiding something. Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) is the chief clinician and Teddy is especially suspicious of him (because he’s German). The warden (Ted Levine) and deputy warden (John Carroll Lynch) are also sinister, but believably so for employees at such an institution. Teddy is searching for Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man who’d killed his wife and who is also interred there. No-one knows where he is; suspicion increases.

Teddy and Chuck investigate around the island, eventually getting to “Block C”, where Teddy thinks he’s found Laeddis (Jackie Earle Haley) again, this time looking much the worse for wear already. Teddy also spends a night outside on the island, holed up in a cave with the missing patient (Patricia Clarkson), who disappears the next morning. Teddy becomes obsessed with getting to the lighthouse, plagued by visions of his dead wife and a little girl.

He gets to the lighthouse, where he finds Dr. Cawley and Chuck, who turns out to be the doctor in whose care he’s been for over two years. It turns out that Teddy is Laeddis and that he’s the most violent patient in the institution (he turns out to have been responsible for the condition of the man whom he thought was Laeddis). They’d given Teddy two days to roam the island, working through his fantasy, to try to get a breakthrough. Teddy had a psychotic break, brought on by PTSD from having helped liberate Auschwitz, but also because his wife (Michelle Williams) had drowned their three children in the lake near their home, after which he’d murdered her.

He eventually accepts this reality, and Cawley and Chuck breathe a hesitant sigh of relief—they’d already been this far before. The next day, Chuck approaches Teddy/Laeddis, who whispers to him conspiratorially about finding Laeddis somewhere in the compound. Chuck signals to Cawley and Naehring that they will unfortunately have to proceed with the lobotomy.

Teddy Daniels: You know, this place makes me wonder.
Chuck Aule: Yeah, what’s that, boss?
Teddy Daniels: Which would be worse − to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?
Chuck Aule: Teddy?”

Still a 10/10 after a second viewing. Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Elias Koteas, and Max von Sydow were all amazing. Ted Levine and John Carroll Lynch as the warden and deputy warden were also perfectly cast.

Saw it in German.

Captain America: Return of the Winter Soldier (2014) — 8/10
I still can’t believe that the Captain America movies are some of the best ones in the whole MCU. I’d never read a single one of his comic books, even though I’d read almost everything else—mostly Spider-Man and X-Men, to be honest. I think it’s because Chris Evans is so good in the role. See my review from 2014.
Sex Education S03 (2021) — 8/10

Otis (Asa Butterfield) spent the summer in bed with Ruby (Mimi Keene), the most popular girl in school. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) are exploring their new relationship. Ola (Patricia Allison) and Lily (Tanya Reynolds) were doing the same. Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) is still working through her trauma from having been molested/raped on a bus the year prior. Maeve (Emma Mackey) is helping her through it, and ends up asking Otis’s mom Jean (Gillian Anderson) to help. Jean is very pregnant with Ola’s father Jakob’s (Mikael Persbrandt) child. Adam’s father Michael (Alistair Petrie) is out of a job as headmaster and has also been kicked out of the house by his wife Maureen (Samantha Spiro), who’s begun dating.

At the school, music teacher Colin (Jim Howick) is getting ready to put on the next musical. Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is working through anxiety issues—and also loses his job as head boy when the new headmistress Hope (Jemima Kirke) lays down the law, leading to single-file lines in the halls and uniforms for everyone. Rahim (Sami Outalbali) is the only one who seems to see what is coming.

The clamps come down harder on certain students, like Maeve, who’s made to remove her nose ring and cut her hair in order to participate in advanced scholastics. A new student Cal is made to choose a gender when she’d rather identify as non-binary. They all deal with relationship problems—Eric and Adam go back and forth, Otis doesn’t love Ruby back—and the sex-education curriculum has fallen back on abstinence and terror.

The students go on a field trip to France. Things happen. Ruby is still hurt about Otis. Maeve and Otis are stranded at a service station and have a heart-to-heart and then a lip-to-lip. Adam and Rahim grow closer. Rahim takes a giant shit in the bus toilet, clogs it, uses a sock to retrieve it, then chucks it out the tiny window onto a tiny French car. Mayhem ensues. Adam takes the fall for it, saying that no-one likes him anyway.

Jean has an absolutely justifiable shit-fit at the hospital, when several doctors turn her sonogram appointment into an opportunity to lecture her further on the risks of having a child at such an advanced age. She is huge and far past the stage where she can get an abortion. They’re just being dicks and she calls them on it. She ends up fighting with Jakob because he’s no longer sure it’s his child because she cops to her rather extreme promiscuity. He wants a paternity test.

Season 3 kind of hits the same notes as season 2, with the suck-up Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) finally having had enough of the abusive new head teacher Hope and starting a rebellion. The kids put on a giant, sexy show for the reporters. The school loses its funding and backers, Hope loses her job, etc.

Michael tries to get back with Maureen, but it stutters. His hobby is now cooking, which is a great start. He tells his obnoxious, empty brother Peter (Jason Isaacs) to go to hell. Maureen dumps her lover and focuses on Andrew’s life. Maureen finds out that Adam is gay. Adam and Rahim may be hitting it off. Adam takes up dog-training and enters a competition, winning honorable mention.

Eric fools around in Nigeria at his rich family’s wedding and dumps Andrew. Andrew handles being dumped by Eric reasonably well. All of the teenagers act out a bunch. Most of them in very selfish ways, constantly talking about how they have to look out for their own needs. It’s either an interesting comment on a generation or just documenting that generation without noticing that it looks kind of bad for them. The best people are Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling), Lily (Tanya Reynolds), Colin, and Emily (Rakhee Thakrar). The selfish ones this time around are Ola, Otis (50/50), Eric, and Cal (Dua Saleh).

So much stuff happens in this season, though. It’s almost too much—like a soap opera. Isaac (George Robinson) admits to Maeve that he’d deleted Otis’s phone message. Maeve forgives him and they get together. Then they break up. Then Maeve and Otis get back together. Then she leaves for America for a program for gifted students. Aimee and Steve get back together. Oh, also, Jean has her child very prematurely and almost dies (picture all of the doctors saying “I told you so; shouldn’t have gotten knocked up, you moistened bink”), Hope fails repeatedly at IVF, Otis counsels her, Jean sees him do it and is proud. Jakob turns out not to be the child’s father.

The Kominsky Method S03 — 7/10

Normal Newlander (Alan Arkin) has died. The season starts with his funeral, with some very odd eulogies from Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas) and Norman’s girlfriend Madelyn (Jane Seymour), who regales the attendees with a detailed rundown of the regularity of her sex life with Norman. Sandy’s daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) is there with her much older boyfriend Martin (Paul Reiser). Norman’s reprobate daughter Phoebe (Lisa Edelstein) is there, with her scientologist son Robby (Haley Joel Osment) in tow.

Mindy’s mother and Sandy’s ex-wife Roz (Kathleen Turner) returns from her work as a doctor in Africa. The whole family is back together for what might turn out to be Mindy’s marriage to Martin. But there are doubts. Mindy has inherited $5M from Norman—and Sandy wants to give her his $5M as well—but, as executor of the estate, he has some doubts about Martin’s ability to handle that kind of wealth. Sandy and Martin get along just great—they’re almost the same age, after all—but Martin isn’t the most stable personality.

Speaking of unstable, Phoebe and Robby have also gotten wind of Norman’s estate and expect much more than Sandy is doling out to them. They promise to lawyer up. Sandy is still teaching his class and learns more about the modern acting world—that it’s even more cutthroat and shitty than it was when he was coming up. One of his students, Margaret (Melissa Tang) is ostracized immediately after she gets a recurring role on a new series, where she would play assistant to Morgan Freeman’s reboot of Quincy as a non-binary coroner. Margaret thinks they may dump Freeman because he’s not actually non-binary and it would look bad for an actor to appear as something that they are not. That took a while for Sandy to work through, as well.

Mindy and Martin are getting married; then they’re not; then they are again. Roz has an incident related to her leukemia and now everyone knows that she has cancer. Sandy helps her out and they grow much closer again—the Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas repartee is a bit forced, but nice and nostalgic for someone who grew up on their films, Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile, and War of the Roses.

Sandy’s class seems to heed his advice and starts to treat Margaret better. Martin turns out to be just as frivolous as Sandy feared—but he can also be cowed by Sandy’s threats. Phoebe and Robby provide a form of comic relief with repeated, wacky proposals for how Sandy should give them a tremendous amount of the trust in exchange for doing nothing. Roz takes over the wedding and makes sure Martin’s mother Estelle (Christine Ebersole) is invited. She turns out to be quite a bitch on wheels, pretty much as Martin tried to explain to everyone. Roz officiates the wedding and everything turns out just fine. She gets to be on set while Sandy films Old Man and the Sea.

A year later and Roz finally succumbs to her leukemia. Everyone is sad. Estelle is still living with Martin and Mindy and is still going strong. She does have a stroke, though. Ten months after that and both Sandy and Margaret are accepting the Emmy Awards for their respective performances. Smiles all around. Estelle is still there, but now wearing a helmet. All’s well that ends well, I guess?

The series kind of hurries its way to wrapping things up—because this is the last season. It was a good ride and Douglas did a decent job without Arkin—but the pair of them were what really brought the first two seasons alive. In this season, you kind of notice more how old everyone is; Douglas and Turner speak in kind of a slur that is much more noticeable when it’s just the two of them. They don’t really enunciate well anymore. Sarah Baker and Paul Reiser were OK, but didn’t really shine.