I apologize for being AWOL this week—a stomach bug hit our household again, and while Peanut and I have gotten off fairly scot-free, Mr. Fivezero and baby Olive were not so lucky. On the plus side, everyone’s on the mend, and having a fairly braindead week meant the husband and I were able to bingewatch the first season of The Blacklist.
Honestly, there is just so much on my current watchlist! Newer things like Alias Grace, Blue Planet II, The Punisher, and Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets hang out with stuff from the last few years I never got around to seeing, like Hidden Figures, Sicario, and Intruders S1. And, of course, there’s always stuff I totally missed a while back that have come back onto my radar: About Time, Flight of the Conchords, and MacGruber.
There’s never enough time to see everything I want to! Here’s the piddly amount that I managed in November (with many thanks to my MIL for babysitting so we could get out and watch our most highly anticipated movies of the fall, It and Thor: Ragnarok):
What I Saw
- Thor: Ragnarok 
- It: Chapter One 
- The Good Place (Season 1) 
- Free Fire 
- American Gods (Season 1) 
- The Blacklist (Season 1) 
What I’m Still Watching
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 5) 
- Mr. Robot (Season 3) 
Here are reviews of the shows I saw:
2017 | Directed by Taika Waititi. With Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo.
I won’t lie: I really disliked the first two Thor movies, though obviously the crapness of the first one didn’t dissuade me from watching the second! Happily, the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, had an awesome trailer that showed it was moving the franchise in an entirely new direction. It makes total sense, since there was never anything wrong with the actors (except Natalie Portman—how bad was she?!), only the script and director. Sorry, Kenneth Branagh.
Third time’s the charm, and the new director is Taika Waititi, who can apparently do no wrong (Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows are fantastic). He ropes in a wendigo-channeling Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum-channeling Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, and my perennial favorite Karl Urban into what was a solid existing cast of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins.
Ragnarok is, from start to finish, a rollercoaster of an action-comedy. It looks and feels like it’s set inside an ’80s arcade machine. Waititi was sure lucky that leading man Hemsworth has fine comedic timing (I’m not sure I could see Chris Evans as Captain America pulling off the same humor, but then again, maybe that’s the fault of the Cap being so very earnest). Honestly, in some places, I thought it was actually a bit too silly—I’d still rate Guardians of the Galaxy above it as an overall movie in the same genre. Still, this is a mighty improvement over the first two Thor movies, and I certainly look forward to more.
As a side note, I think there was probably a lot of Kiwi humor I missed: Waititi is from New Zealand and also cast a number of New Zealanders (Urban, Rachel House, and Waititi himself have supporting roles; Sam Neill has a fun cameo) in the film. Of course, Hemsworth and Blanchett are from nearby Australia.
Finally, I love me some character posters:
It: Chapter One
2017 | Directed by Andy Muschietti. With Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs.
As most other North Americans who were kids in the early ’90s, I saw the Stephen King It television miniseries as a child and became forever terrified of clowns.
The miniseries was not exactly a masterpiece—the best thing about it by far was Tim Curry as Pennywise, the evil clown. So, as Hollywood is so fond of doing these days, It was ripe for a reboot.
It didn’t matter that I’d never heard of the director or any of the actors before—apart from young Finn Wolfhard who’s wonderful in Stranger Things—and I vaguely knew that new Pennywise was being played by the less famous son of actor Stellan Skarsgård. I was probably more excited about the cinematographer being the same guy who shot Oldboy (amazing movie, do watch it—the original Korean version, I mean). But I knew I was going to see It. And I knew I wanted to see it in the cinema.
I’ve never, ever seen a horror movie in the theatre before, apart from Cabin in the Woods, which I don’t think really counts. It would be my first, and we were lucky enough to catch it in its 9th week, when it had already broken the record for highest grossing horror film of all time. Well, the theatre ended up being pretty empty—about twelve of us in the whole room. Not quite the atmosphere I wanted, but what can you do?
It surpassed all my expectations from the opening scene. The movie is really well written, acted, directed, designed—everything. I cared about the characters, I understood their motivations and their actions, and Pennywise was goddamn terrifying. One great thing about wearing glasses is that I can watch scarier parts of movies over the top of my glasses, so I can get the gist of what is going on but not see the details that will scar me for life. Ha! Take that, Pennywise. You can’t scare me if I can’t see you properly.
One thing I really loved about the movie is that unlike a lot of other horror movies I’ve seen, which leave me with an utterly disgusted feeling that there is no redeeming value in humankind—that’s you, Event Horizon and Silent Hill—It is actually uplifting. I mean, don’t watch it if you specifically want an uplifting movie, but there’s so much more to this story than just being gross.
I cannot wait for Part II.
[Note: Please don’t bring your little kids (about 12 and under) to this movie. Unless you have an unusually hardy child who isn’t bothered by this sort of thing—this movie will very likely scar a child for life. Child’s Play was that movie for me when I was about ten, and it’s literally like child’s play compared with It.]
The Good Place [Season 1]
2016 | Created by Michael Schur. With Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, D’Arcy Carden.
I’ve yet to get around to watching Veronica Mars properly—I enjoyed a few episodes here and there when it was running in the mid 2000s—but I generally dig Kristen Bell and the plot of this comedy sounded promising.
Bell plays a young woman who dies and is sent to The Good Place, which is where only extremely good people go in the afterlife. The catch is: she knows she isn’t really supposed to be there.
The cast is really very funny (Ted Danson, as a godlike character, is in especially fine form) and the writing is a lot cleverer than I expected it to be. The story arc moves along at a surprisingly quick clip, and the overall feel is a little reminiscent of Pushing Daisies—but more sly.
We’ll be binging Season 2 as soon as it shows up on Netflix.
2016 | Directed by Ben Wheatley. With Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley.
Another Ben Wheatley film, High Rise, was already on my watchlist, but I ended up watching Free Fire first, since it happened to pop up on Netflix. It’s the kind of movie that, on paper, is right down my alley: a well-assembled ensemble cast in a budget-friendly story about two groups of criminals who are stuck together in a warehouse when their transaction goes quite wrong. It’s set in the 1970s, so obviously everyone looks fabulous in various shades of brown and rust orange.
I found the type of humor to be rather off at times, particularly in the beginning. It does improve a lot once you meet all the characters and start to see the story more clearly. All of the actors play their parts well, particularly Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, and Jack Reynor (who also had a memorable part in the wonderful Sing Street). And I always like to see Sharlto Copley (District 9) and Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) in pretty much anything.
The movie does leave you with an “eh” feeling overall, however. It’s a somewhat clever and diverting movie that doesn’t amount to very much impact in the end.
It does have some cool character posters, though:
American Gods [Season 1]
2017 | Created by Bryan Fuller, Michael Green. With Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber.
I love pretty much everything I’ve ever seen from Bryan Fuller (a bit of Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) and while I’ve never read any of Neil Gaiman’s work, some of the movies based on his work have been excellent (Stardust, Coraline)—so American Gods was a show I was really hyped up to see.
It is a work of fantasy, imagining a world in which gods from all cultures exist. The story is darkly humorous and kept me guessing at every turn. Visually (and aurally), the show is very reminiscent of Fuller’s previous work, as if Hannibal and Pushing Daisies had a baby, if you can imagine that at all.
The cast is uniformly strong—though I’d have loved to have seen more of Gillian Anderson and Crispin Glover—and I am eagerly anticipating the second season.
And even more character posters (I have no idea why Gillian Anderson doesn’t have one! I suppose her look does change in just about every scene…):
The Blacklist [Season 1]
2013 | Created by Jon Bokenkamp. With James Spader, Megan Boone, Harry Lennix, Ryan Eggold, Parminder Nagra, Diego Klattenhoff, Amir Arison.
James Spader is one of those movie actors I’ve always liked a lot, and wished he’d get more and better work. (No, the voice of Ultron doesn’t count.) Somehow, the television work he’s done has never really made it onto my radar, though I knew he was widely acclaimed on Boston Legal back in the 2000s, and had a recurring part on the US version of The Office.
Back in 2013, when his new show, The Blacklist, premiered, I gave it a chance almost solely because of him—and, despite Spader playing an intriguing character, my husband and I found the pilot kind of dumb and unbelievable. So, we let four years pass until we decided to pick it up again, for no real reason at all. We rewatched the pilot, found it more compelling this time around (no idea why, but this does happen with us sometimes), and after a couple of episodes, we got completely hooked.
The best thing about the show is the great attention paid to the story arc. Spader plays Raymond Reddington—a rather silly name for a very ruthless character—a high-profile criminal who surrenders himself to the FBI for reasons that remain fairly unbeknownst to us until near the end of the season. He insists on working with a rookie FBI agent, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), and along with a team, they cross off some seriously revolting criminals on his personal “blacklist.”
The show can be quite ludicrous, so a modicum of suspension of belief is required. However, the writing is particularly good for what I expected to be an utterly formulaic show, and it does feel like the writers actually do have an endgame in mind, and are not just making stuff up episode by episode. The ensemble cast do a good job, though Diego Klattenhoff’s character (he plays Keen’s dodgy husband) annoys the everliving crap out of me.
There are five seasons of The Blacklist at this point in time; I think I know what will be eating up our binge time, for now! It may not be the world’s best show, but it knows how to entertain.
Thanks for reading!
If you have any movie or television recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for something great to watch!