Too many shows, too little time!
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
- Train to Busan (2016)
- Sherlock (Series 4) (2016–2017)
- Kill Zone 2 (2016)
- Green Room (2016)
- Sing Street (2016)
- Planet Earth II (2016)
- iBoy (2017)
- Spy (2015)
- Cinderella (2015)
- Chappie (2015)
- Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
Plus loads of shows that I started watching: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Not Going Out, The Crown, Medici: Masters of Florence, The OA, Riverdale, The Santa Clarita Diet, Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Legion.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
2016 | Diercted by Taika Waititi. With Julian Dennison, Sam Neill.
Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, this New Zealand movie was a wonderful surprise. It’s a coming-of-age story set up as an adventure/comedy, and “quirky” probably is the best way to describe it. It’s not epic or anything: just quite charming and often hilarious. I also love, love, love Sam Neill, so it’s got that going for it, as well.
Train to Busan
2016 | Directed by Yeon Sang-ho. With Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok.
Zombies on a train. Dawn of the Dead × Snowpiercer. And it’s awesome. Sure, characters are pretty one dimensional (the workaholic father who doesn’t pay enough attention to his little girl, the blue-collar tough guy and his pregnant wife, the heartless CEO, and so on), but as far as horror movies go, this is pretty cool. The movie gets really creative with some of its zombie set-pieces, and that’s really the main attraction. If you like zombie action-horror movies, watch this, now! If not, steer well clear.
Sherlock (Series 4)
2016 | With Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman.
I will be up front, here. I loved the first series of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock, but as the series has continued, I’ve liked each one less and less to the point that I don’t even look forward to watching the new couple of episodes each year. Just stick with the mystery-of-the-week (year) formula, guys. I don’t care about your attempts at creating some nonsensically complex story arc. The Abominable Bride, 2016’s special, was OK, but the most recent episodes were just too self-indulgent for my liking. I loved the setup for the last episode, The Final Problem, but it ended up being totally ridiculous. So much potential, wasted.
Kill Zone 2
2015 | Directed by Cheang Pou-soi. With Tony Jaa, Wu Jing.
I was a little tired while watching this Hong Kong movie starring Thai action star Tony Jaa, and I needed subtitles because my Chinese is really awful, but I still think this story was unnecessarily convoluted. The story barely matters, anyway, since this movie is all about the martial arts action. Basically, there’s cops, crime lords, drugs, kidnapping, black market organs, and a sick little girl. It was all right, I guess. Way too long and boring with too much pointless story. If you want a non-stop martial arts action movie, I’d much rather recommend The Raid (2011), which was awesome.
2015 | Directed by Jeremy Saulnier. With Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart.
Netflix recommended this one for me very highly, and they’re usually quite spot-on with their recommendations (I’m pretty good about rating stuff there), so I gave it a try. The premise is perfectly simple for a straightforward horror movie: after a gig, a punk band witness a murder and end up trapped by neo-Nazis in the venue’s green room. It’s really less a horror movie and more of a remarkably tense thriller with unnerving scenes of gore. I always love claustrophobia in a movie, and it’s played to great effect here.
2016 | Directed by John Carney. With Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton.
Like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, this was another lovely independent movie surprise. This Irish movie is also a coming-of-age story, but instead of being lost in the New Zealand wilderness, it’s also about a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The story is set in the 1980s, so there’s loads of wonderful ’80s and ’80s-inspired music in it. Yes, that means a lot of Duran Duran. All the young actors in this movie are wonderful, and there are short appearances by Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones‘ Littlefinger) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Tudors, Orphan Black) as the protagonist’s parents, as well. I loved this movie!
Planet Earth II
2016 | Narrated by David Attenborough.
Planet Earth (2006) was a groundbreaking nature documentary, and I loved every minute of it. Now, ten years later, the BBC have released its sequel, and it is simply mind-blowing. I’ve seen five out of six episodes, and I kind of feel like I’m saving up that last one (actually the fifth episode, as I saw the sixth episode earlier due to Toronto having a brief segment in it!). When I’ve finished the whole series, I’ll be sad. I hope they’ll release more of the Planet Earth II Diaries, as well. I love watching those 10-minute “making of” bits at the end of each episode.
2017 | Directed by Adam Randall. With Bill Milner, Maisie Williams.
I didn’t expect much from this Netflix sci-fi thriller, and it lived up to my expectations. The premise is pretty dumb: a teen gets shrapnel from his phone embedded in his head, and suddenly he can understand and manipulate digital transmissions. OK. I’d stop there but my husband wanted to continue (he’s a sucker for revenge stories the way I love claustrophobic thrillers). I think I fell asleep a couple of times, but I caught enough to know that the movie was generally ludicrous. The young actors were fine (Maisie Williams, Arya in Game of Thrones, is in it) but they’re let down by a dull script.
2015 | Directed by Paul Feig. With Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham.
I’d never seen much of Melissa McCarthy, and when Spy first came out, I thought it looked dumb. The trailer gave me the impression that her character would just be bumbling her way through a spy operation (like, “oh look, a bumbling fat person, how hilarious!”), so I passed on it. However, after her impressive turn on SNL last weekend, I was suddenly thinking I had judged her movies harshly. Spy was, to my surprise, one cited as one of her best, so I gave it a try. I’m terribly late to the party, but this is a fantastic comedy and it’s nothing like I thought it would be. McCarthy is brilliant in it, and the supporting cast is great, too: Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, and Jude Law. I want a sequel so badly, now!
2015 | Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden.
I tried watching this sometime last year, but I couldn’t get through the first ten minutes. Yawn. Not sure why I picked it up again recently, but I did and I actually made it all the way through this time. It’s an adaptation of Disney’s animated classic, and it strays to good effect at times, but certain aspects that stayed true should probably have been cut. For example, Cinderella has mouse friends in the cartoon, and the mice have their own adventures, too. Adorable, right? However, in the new live-action movie, the mice no longer talk and aren’t given much to do—Cinderella just occasionally talks to them, which makes her seem a bit insane. Overall, the movie is fine for its target audience of young girls. It’s just a bit of a snooze. Lily James (flighty Rose from Downton Abbey) and Richard Madden (Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) are suitable as Cinderella and the Prince; Cate Blanchett is quite wasted as the wicked stepmother, although she does get to wear some fabulous gowns. I’d much rather have re-watched Ella Enchanted or the original Disney Cinderella.
2015 | Directed by Neill Blomkamp. With Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman, the voice of Sharlto Copley.
Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is one of my favorite movies of the last ten years, so I was pretty keen to see Chappie even though I thought he didn’t do a great job with Elysium. I don’t like to get spoiled too much when watching movies, so all I knew going in was that it was about a robot. Chappie is the story of a genius scientist (Patel) who developed police robots. But now, he’s actually gone and developed a sentient AI in his spare time, and before he can test it out, he’s kidnapped by some small-time criminals who force him to make them a robot that can help them pull off a heist. Chappie is at its best in the middle, when we see this newborn AI learn about its new world the way a child would. The CG and the voicework by Copley (District 9‘s lead) are brilliant, and made Chappie the robot seem completely real. This is a wonderful, comedic, action-y science fiction movie and despite its plot holes, the core story is tremendously enjoyable. After watching the movie, I discovered that a lot of critics panned it at release, and this is one of the times that I really cannot understand the difference between their opinions and mine. I still prefer District 9 as it’s a very well-rounded, better thought-out movie, but Chappie is surprisingly charming and a lot of fun.
Death in Paradise (Series 6)
2017 | Created by Robert Thorogood. With Kris Marshall, Jósephine Jobert, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr.
We’ve just finished up the most recent series of this British detective show, and unlike most shows, I think it’s maintained its quality very consistently over its six-year run. Set on a fictional Caribbean island, it started off with Ben Miller and Sara Martins in the lead roles of a stuffy British Detective Inspector and local Detective Sergeant who work on a new murder investigation each week. The show keeps things light and comedic, and did well to recruit Marshall and Jobert after Miller and then Martins left just a couple of seasons in. This season was lead Kris Marshall’s last, and in the final two episodes, he was replaced by Ardal O’Hanlon, who seems to play an even nicer character than Marshall’s big softie was. The show may be getting a little too gentle.
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
2015 | Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. With Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple.
I watched this on Netflix thinking it was some BBC TV movie and not an actual feature film, and spent a good chunk of time thinking that they’d done so well to get Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen in it. I’m a massive sucker for Thomas Hardy novels (even Jude the Obscure, one of the most depressing books of all time) and I really like Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), so I obviously started watching this one weekend. My husband Wikipedia’d the story, rolled his eyes, and took our son out for a walk instead of watching the movie with me. I liked it, of course, though I’ve seen better in this genre. I feel like it’d actually have been better served as a BBC miniseries, since the story felt rushed at times. However, Mulligan, Schoenaerts, Sheen, and Sturridge were all well-cast and gave solid performances. It was a perfectly enjoyable way for me to while away a dreary Sunday afternoon.
What I Started Watching:
A Series of Unfortunate Events
2017 | Created by Mark Hudis, Barry Sonnenfeld. With Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Patrick Warburton, K. Todd Freeman.
We’re amongst those who really did enjoy Jim Carrey in the movie adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, but were still looking forward to seeing Netflix’s TV series version with Neil Patrick Harris as the central villain. We’re about halfway through the series, and overall it’s quite a good adaptation of the books. The look and feel is exceptionally done and stays true to the books, though at times I do think the series goes a little too over the top in a jarring fashion. The two older Baudelaire children are, as they were in the movie, well-cast; I find that the TV show’s Malina Weissman actually looks uncannily like Emily Browning from the 2004 movie.
Not Going Out (Series 1)
2006 | Created by Lee Mack. With Lee Mack, Megan Dodds, Tim Vine.
My husband and I know English comedian Lee Mack from UK panel shows like QI and Would I Lie To You?, but we only recently discovered that he’s been on a long-running BBC sitcom, as well. Not Going Out isn’t so much about an actual story as it is just a vehicle for delivering killer one-liners and gags in rapid-fire succession. It can be a little hard to keep up if you’re not used to the accents and any particularly British references—it took an episode or two for me to warm up to the show, but I love wordplay, and there’s loads of it in this series.
Tim: It was actually you I came to see. Can we talk?
Kate: About what?
Kate: There’s no “us”.
Tim: OK, can we talk about you and me?
Kate: There’s no “you and me”.
Tim: OK, let’s talk about business like show business.
Kate: There’s no “business like show…”
The Crown (Season 1)
2016 | Created by Peter Morgan. With Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, John Lithgow, Ben Miles, Stephen Dillane.
The Crown is a pretty straightforward drama about Queen Elizabeth II. I just saw the first episode and it seemed very well done. I am having trouble getting motivated to watch the rest, however. When I’m tired, I usually go for something a little more action-packed. The Crown requires a little more alertness in the watching.
Medici: Masters of Florence (Season 1)
2016 | Created by Frank Spotnitz, Nicholas Meyer. With Richard Madden, Dustin Hoffman, Stuart Martin, Annabel Scholey, Brian Cox.
I love a good historical drama, like Pillars of the Earth, Rome, and The Borgias, so I was looking forward to this series about the powerful Medici family of the Italian Renaissance. Richard Madden and Dustin Hoffman couldn’t hurt, either, right? Sadly, I watched about twenty minutes and it seemed like poorly-written dreck.
The OA (Season 1) (2017)
2016 | Created by Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij. With Brit Marling, Emory Cohen, Scott Wilson, Phyllis Smith, Alice Krige.
The OA is a Netflix sci-fi mystery about a young blind woman who reappears to her family after being missing for seven years—except now she has a scarred back and working eyesight. I’ve seen just the first episode, which was intriguing enough, though a little on the slow side. I usually like Brit Marling, so I had the patience to sit through it. At the end of the pilot, I couldn’t tell if I was going to really like this series or loathe it. Guess I should watch a couple more episodes.
Riverdale (Season 1) (2017)
2017 | Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. With KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry.
When I first heard about Riverdale, a supposedly dark mystery drama set in the Archie comic universe, I thought it sounded completely brilliant! Then it turned out that it’s a CW show and aimed at teens. There are a handful of teen dramas I’ve liked (Veronica Mars), but usually I steer clear of them entirely. I gave Riverdale 15 minutes, and switched it off. The production value is really nice, but that’s about it. The characters seemed vapid and there wasn’t much story going on: it felt a lot like a soap opera. I just don’t think I’m in the target audience for the show.
The Santa Clarita Diet (Season 1) (2017)
2017 | Created by Victor Fresco. With Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant, Liv Hewson, Skyler Gisondo.
Netflix’s new big sit-com is about a woman who dies and turns into a zombie. It stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, both of whom I always enjoy (except for Hitman, Tim, that was bad), so it was a no-brainer to give this a try. The first episode (which guest-starred Nathan Fillion!) felt a little forced and stilted at times, though I’m usually willing to cut pilots some slack. It was definitely funny enough for me to want to keep watching, though I haven’t gone back to it for a few weeks, now.
Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special (2017)
2017 | Directed by Akiva Schaffer, Scott Aukerman. With Michael Bolton, Andy Samberg and a plethora of other comedians.
I’ll just leave the plot synopsis from Wikipedia here: “When Santa’s elves make too many toys for Christmas, Michael Bolton must star in a Valentine’s Day special to encourage couples to make love and conceive 75,000 new children.”
Yes, it is the actual singer, Michael Bolton, who surprisingly has reasonably good comic timing. Loads of comedians show up in sketch comedies within this faux telethon. Honestly, this just sounded too bizarre to not watch. Andy Samberg plays Michael Bolton’s nemesis, Kenny G. The sketches got pretty old about halfway through, but some were fairly amusing. I haven’t finished it.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Season 1) (2016)
2016 | Created by Max Landis. With Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, Fiona Dourif, Mpho Koaho.
We’d already seen and really enjoyed the earlier BBC adaptation of Douglas Adams’ (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) series of Dirk Gently comedic sci-fi novels—which I have not read—so we were skeptical going into this BBC America version. Luckily, the American series has quite a different feel from the 4-episode original, and it’s much longer at 8 episodes in a season, with a second series already greenlit. We’ve gotten through maybe six episodes now, and while the first few were quite enjoyable, it’s gotten to be a little too much of the same in the last few. I do like Elijah Wood in the sidekick role, and most of the supporting actors are really engaging, too. However, Samuel Barnett is a little tiresome in the lead detective role; I much preferred Stephen Mangan in the original. If I had to recommend one series, I’d go with the original, but this new adaptation isn’t too bad, really. I have no idea how they compare with the novels they’re based on, though.
Legion (Season 1) (2017)
2017 | Created by Noah Hawley. With Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Jean Smart, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris.
This new FX sci-fi series is based on a Marvel Comics character in the X-Men universe. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, The Guest) is the son of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and he’s a mutant who does not yet realize the powers he has. We’re several episodes in and it’s been a wild and trippy ride, so far. The acting is a little weak at times, though Stevens in the title role, and Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), perform well and are standouts. It’s the most interesting show we’re watching for the moment.
What I’m Looking Forward To:
Finally, I’m so psyched that The Americans (Season 5) will be starting on March 7. If you haven’t yet checked out this show, you absolutely must.