So, once again, I decided to break the Netflix model and only pay for one month instead of a full year. Here’s a brief recap of the shows and movies I found (or re-watched, in the case of…)
House of Cards – one deck worth (the first four seasons, thirteen episodes each)
Democracy is so overrated… Thankfully, this show isn’t. If you can stomach Kevin Spacey in the lead role, it’s a fantastic political drama with a first-rate cast and a killer opening theme song. Just be sure to stop after season 4 (I’ve heard 5 and 6 drop in quality).
Bad Trip – starring Eric André and unwitting bystanders
In the spirit of Borat, Bad Trip technically has a story, but it’s told through a series of candid-camera pranks. The pranks are occasionally crude, but watching real people react never gets old – Tiffany Haddish in particular has a blast playing an escaped convict. Overall, it’s just a goofy, dumb, entertaining experience, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
Always Be My Maybe – Featuring Keanu Reeves as himself
Most of the film is fine – it’s a rom-com with some funny moments, a generic plot, and a happy ending. But the sequence where Keanu Reeves shows up as himself is comedy gold. What an icon…
Deidra and Laney Rob a Train – starring Ashleigh Murray and Rachel Crow
The title says it all – when Deidra and Laney’s mother goes to jail (and likes it!), they have to take care of themselves by robbing trains. The writing is consistently funny, the performances are excellent, and it doesn’t rely on typical high school dramedy tropes (I don’t recall any love interests for either sister). It’s a fresh, original story, and of the three comedy films on the list, it’s easily my favorite.
Godless – starring Jeff Daniels and Jack O’Connell
Switching gears from comedies… Godless is a seven-part, self-contained miniseries about Old West stuff happening in the Old West. There are shootouts, sheriffs, cowboys, scenes of people riding horses, journeys for self-discovery… It feels like every trope in the Western playbook gets used. But it also has enough ‘new’ additions to be worth watching: for instance, a town that’s almost entirely female (the men died in a mining accident). At the very least, it’s worth watching for Jeff Daniels as the iconic evil outlaw.
The Queen’s Gambit – starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the photoshopped protagonist
For the record, Anya Taylor-Joy is a phenomenal actress – but she looks airbrushed, both in this, and in Last Night in Soho. But I digress… The Queen’s Gambit isn’t bad. I wasn’t blown away, but I enjoyed it, and I understand the hype. Mr. Sculpin has a more detailed review here.
My only complaint is that the sexism of the 60’s seems to be a major plot point, except it’s not. Every time somebody makes a comment like ‘women can’t play chess’, Anya doesn’t seem to hear them, and suddenly they don’t care. She overcomes obstacles so effortlessly that they might as well not exist – which is fine I guess? It’s just tonally confusing. That aside… It’s pretty good.
Passing – starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga
Speaking of period dramas starring women and feminism… Passing is based on a novel about two black women in the 1920s, Clare and Irene. After reuniting by chance, the women begin a complex relationship, and a key source of tension between them is their opinions on ‘passing’: pretending to be white. The term also applies to their romantic relationship, which, given the mores of the era, only manifests itself through secretive glances and platonic encounters.
Whereas The Queen’s Gambit presents sexism as a non-obstacle, the racism in Passing drives the narrative and creates tension. When Clare’s husband makes disparaging remarks about black people (not knowing that Clare and Irene are both black), it’s genuinely unsettling. When Irene and her husband argue about how much prejudice to expose their sons to, it’s not a trivial argument. On the whole, the film is well-produced and thought-provoking – although it meanders at times – but the climax is chilling, and is undeniably worth the wait.
The Hater – starring Maciej Musialowski
From Polish director Jan Komasa, The Hater has rightly been considered a modern Taxi Driver. It follows Tomasz, a troubled, tech-savvy college dropout who uses Facebook, video games, and memes to destroy lives and incite political instability. At times, the story is uncomfortably relevant – there’s a scene where a radicalized nationalist shoots up a political rally, and it’s unnerving on several levels.
What’s even more unnerving though is Tomasz… The way he pits mobs against each other on social media; the disillusionment he experiences from toxic partisanship; the ruthless detachment that allows him to justify his actions; and above all, the rejection that leads him to stalk the girl he ‘loves’… He’s the quintessential 21st century mercenary, a lonely shell of a human who thrives on deception and manipulation instead of actual human connection. It’s a dense, difficult-to-watch character study, but the director clearly has his pulse on the modern social climate, and it’s as impressive as it is devastating.
Midnight Mass – the third season of the Mike Flanagan haunted universe
When Stranger Things came out, Mr. Sculpin and I discussed the idea of doing a different ‘strange thing’ with each season, but with an all new set of characters, perhaps a new locale, and a new monster/phenomenon. Mike Flanagan has done just that: first Hill House, then Bly Manor, and now Midnight Mass.
This show, much like the other two, engulfs you in its otherworldly, yet surprisingly grounded reality. I think it’s my favorite of the three, and I may be discussing it further in an upcoming podcast………..
But suffice to say, it’s… a lot. It’s consuming, and I love it, but it’s a lot, and that’s all for now.