For me, the best thing about the holidays is all time we get to spend with family! Often, we end up catching up on movies missed over the previous year, so I have a longer-than-usual list of movies watched this month.
We’ll probably slow down in January, though I am extremely psyched to see the TV-adaptation of The Alienist (which I’ve basically been waiting for since the early 1990s), which is out at the end of this month. Less anticipated but I’ll still watch: The X-Files (Season 11), which premiered on Wednesday.
What I Saw
- Flight of the Conchords (Season 1) 
- Psych: The Movie 
- Coco 
- Mr. Robot (Season 3) 
- Power Rangers 
- The Foreigner 
- The Hitman’s Bodyguard 
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
- Spider-Man: Homecoming 
- Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets  (unfinished)
- It: Chapter One  (rewatch; reviewed in November 2017)
- Lord of War  (rewatch)
- John Wick: Chapter 2  (rewatch; reviewed in May/June 2017)
What I’m Still Watching
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 5) 
- Flight of the Conchords (Season 2) 
- The Grand Tour (Season 2) 
- Blue Planet II 
- The X-Files (Season 11) 
Here are reviews of the shows I saw:
Flight of the Conchords (Season 1)
2007 | Created by James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie. With Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby.
Flight of the Conchords, which ran on HBO from 2007–2009, follows the fictionalized versions of the New Zealand comedy folk-rock duo of the same name.
Jemaine Clement (Moana, What We Do In the Shadows, Legion) and Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) play “themselves” as they try to find fame and fortune in New York City. The band and their manager (a show-stealing Rhys Darby) are equally inept, and while the situations they find themselves in are quite amusing, the majority of the laughs come from the two or three multi-genre musical pieces appearing in each episode. My favorites: “The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room (Part-Time Model)” and “Pencils in the Wind/Sellotape“.
The low-key humor won’t appeal to everybody (though the songs are decidedly more amped up), but if you like this sort of thing, you’ll love Flight of the Conchords. We’re just disappointed it took us so long to discover it for ourselves.
Psych: The Movie🍍
2017 | Directed by Steve Franks. With James Roday, Dulé Hill, Maggie Lawson, Kristen Nelson, Corbin Bernson, Zachary Levi.
Psych isn’t one of my favorite comedies of all time, but it is certainly highly watchable and entertaining, especially if you’re a child of the 1980s to early 1990s, as its stars are. My husband and I both fall into that generation, too, and fully appreciate the show’s barrage of retro pop culture references.
At its heart, Psych was a buddy show, a total bromance—and the detective show framework was just an excuse for Shawn (Roday) and Gus (Hill) to goof around. After the show’s 8-season run ended in 2014, I wasn’t especially torn up, but my husband loves this show, so the 2017 Christmas movie special was always going to be on our watchlist.
Sadly, co-star Timothy Omundson suffered a stroke earlier in the year, so he was unable to have more than a very small role in the movie. The other main cast members all appear, and as usual, 80s- and 90s-famous actors pop up: Zachary Levi, Ralph Macchio, and Mena Suvari.
I didn’t think the movie aspired to more than a typical Psych episode that just happened to be feature-length, but existing fans of the show will appreciate the hijinks and the cast chemistry that made Psych such a hit in the first place. I’m just glad I’m not the only one who thinks Jimmi Simpson looks a bit like Richard Thomas.
2017 | Directed by Lee Unkrich. With the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach.
Seeing Coco in the theatre will forever be a historic event in our family, because Mr. Fivezero and I took 3.5 year-old Peanut to see it as his very first cinema movie. He’d previously sat through over an hour of children’s musical theatre impressively well, so we thought we’d give movies a try. As we’d expected, he did great! Near the last third of the movie, he was getting a bit antsy, but he remained quiet and well-behaved. Obviously, I’m going to have to bring him to see Pacific Rim 2, next. (Just kidding!)
I was a little concerned about the movie’s subject matter, which is about the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, but I don’t think he understood the plot that well, and just enjoyed seeing “skeletons!” I think his interest would have been held much better if there was more musical content, though, so I’d say Coco is a better movie for kids a bit older than Peanut—perhaps 5 and up.
It’s a beautifully animated film, as you’d expect. I think there was maybe a bit too much effort put into detailed storytelling—it could have used a bit more levity—and there definitely should have been more music! The main song, “Remember Me,” is lovely but not really worthy of being heard multiple times in the same movie. I felt a bit manipulated into crying by the end, but overall it was enjoyable and well-made.
Mr. Robot (Season 3)
2017 | Created by Sam Esmail. With Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Christian Slater, Martin Wallström, Grace Gummer, Bobby Cannavale.
There aren’t many dramatic/suspenseful shows that I’m really into at the moment—Mr. Robot is one of the very few that has kept me me fully rapt with every episode of its three seasons. Seriously, the sheer consistency of its high-quality writing, directing, and acting is incredible.
It reminds me a little bit of Fringe (another of my all-time faves) in that you start watching it and become quite engrossed—and after a while you realize you’re descending into a rabbit hole that you totally did not see coming. Kudos to Mr. Robot for using multiple rabbit holes, as well.
I have no wish to spoil anything for anybody, so I’ll just say that season 3 is just as strong as the previous two seasons. It’s also great to see more of Grace Gummer as a dogged FBI agent and B.D. Wong as the coolly enigmatic White Rose. Bobby Cannavale is an intriguing addition to the cast, playing someone even creepier than Martin Wallström’s unhinged Tyrell Wellick. (I also just realized while watching Blade Runner 2049 that the Replicant inventor in the original Blade Runner is named Tyrell…that can’t be a coincidence.)
[As a final note, I want to add a little prediction of mine: I think Angela may be Elliott’s sister (highlight to read).]
2017 | Directed by Dean Israelite. With Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston.
I knew almost nothing about the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (why is there no apostrophe after morphin?) before watching this movie. My younger brothers watched the cartoon as kids, so I had a vague notion of there being people in colorful racing outfits who were apparently superheroes of some kind.
Over the holidays, my brothers were visiting, so for a giggle I put the Power Rangers movie on. Everyone groaned, yet we all proceeded to watch. I suppose there was no point at which it became quite so bad that it overcame our laziness to get up and switch the movie to something else, so we all ended up watching the movie in its entirety.
Frankly, I expected total garbage, and what I got was just a mildly incompetently made movie—in sum, Power Rangers surpassed my rock bottom expectations. To be fair, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks do play significant parts in the movie, so that certainly helped boost the quality a bit. I also noticed that the main Power Ranger (or rather, the guy who would become the main Power Ranger, since this is of course an origin story) was played by the same guy who was the asshatty, Dippity Do’d bully in Stranger Things 2. I didn’t recognize any of the other young actors, but they were pretty much all somewhat-to-incredibly annoying.
I’ve written way too much about this movie so far—suffice to say it was barely passable but I’m sure it’s fun if you know this is the sort of stuff you like. I just don’t get why the uniforms have to be so damn shiny.
2017 | Directed by Martin Campbell. With Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Orla Brady.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a serious drama-action film starring Jackie Chan, as most of us have only ever seen him in action-comedies! (I know he’s most famous in the West for the Rush Hour movies, but my personal favorite is Shanghai Knights, which is tremendously silly and full of anachronistic fun.)
The Foreigner, set mostly in Belfast, tells a common tale of revenge: when a father (Chan) loses his daughter to a terrorist attack, he hunts down the people responsible. Chan barely cracks a smile in this movie, and, frankly, I think he’s at his best in less serious fare. That said, he acquits himself well, for the most part, and where the movie falls flat is in its predictable script and lackluster direction. Overall, it feels very much like a made-for-television thriller, albeit with better action sequences. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say almost everyone in the film is a baddie except for our hero, so the story also feels overly manufactured.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
2017 | Directed by Patrick Hughes. With Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Élodie Yung.
I’m gonna admit I’m a bigger Chris fan than I am a Ryan fan. Yes, I prefer Evans-Hemsworth-Pine-Pratt to Gosling-Reynolds. That said, if I gotta pick a Ryan, I’m gonna go with…
…I can’t pick. I really don’t care for either one.
That said, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is pretty solid. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson basically play themselves, bicker, and do some action stuff on the side. One of the movie’s posters spoofs the poster for the 1993 Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston vehicle, The Bodyguard. It’s fun.
Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung (Elektra in Netflix’s Daredevil), and especially Salma Hayek do some fine work in supporting roles.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2014 | Directed by Matt Reeves. With Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman.
I actually started watching this movie a couple of years ago, since I surprised myself by really enjoying the first of the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies, but I really didn’t take a shine to the lead human actor, Jason Clarke, so I stopped about thirty minutes in.
Rarely does an actor cause me to stop watching a movie completely—I have even watched Kevin Costner movies in their entirety—but I just disliked Clarke in his role, as I’ve disliked him in Death Race, White House Down, and Terminator Genisys. (Yes, I saw all of those movies. Don’t judge me.) Nothing against the actor personally, of course.
Over Christmas, I decided I should be more generous to the much-maligned (probably by only me) Mr. Clarke and watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from the start. (OK, I really just wanted to watch the new one, but I hate to skip a movie in a series.) He started off annoying me again, which was quite a feat considering Kirk Acevedo (Fringe) was playing the resident jackass. But, about halfway through the movie, I warmed to him a little and the rest of the movie was all right. I mean, I love Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell in The Americans, but the CG chimpanzee, Caesar (Andy Serkis), was far and away the best actor in the whole thing. It did set up the story nicely for the third installment, though. I should be reviewing War of the Planet of the Apes in next month’s roundup!
2017 | Directed by Jon Watts. With Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.
Background: I know little about comic books, though I do enjoy many of the superhero movies and TV series that have been made in recent years. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, is a favorite of mine—so much that the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield held very little interest for me. (How is that dude Peter Parker? Way too suave, surely. And, like Tobey Maguire in 2002, looked to be about thirty!)
The latest Spidey outing (though, seriously, how many reboots does one superhero need in a fifteen year span?) stars teenager Tom Holland, who actually seems totally perfect for the role. He actually showed up as Spider-Man in a minor role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War—his scenes really brightened up a dour movie, so I had higher hopes for his full-length Spider-Man movie.
And the casting is actually where this new reboot really shines. Holland is fantastic: maybe not quite downtrodden enough but even that fits in well with the movie’s happy, shiny new feel. No mopey Pete in this one. Even his high school nemesis, Flash, isn’t quite as bad a dude his previous incarnations have been. Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, and Marisa Tomei turn in some good performances, and all the younger actors are pretty solid. My main problem with the movie comes down to the fact that I personally just don’t like Iron Man as a character, and Robert Downey Jr. is in the movie too much for my taste. Yeah, I know everyone loves Tony Stark, but I just find him grating and it’s worse when Pepper Potts (an insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow) shows up, too. More Marisa Tomei, please. I did love that her Aunt May was a woman in her 50s. I did always wonder why teenaged Peter Parker had an 80-something year-old aunt in the comics.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is uneven—the villain’s plot feels like a separate movie—but the strength of the cast and the overall bounciness of the movie make for a winning, feel-good summer blockbuster.
Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets
2017 | Directed by Luc Besson. With Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke.
I know I fully admitted above that I watched all of Death Race, White House Down, and Terminator Genisys, but I gotta tell you that I had to turn off Valerian after about half an hour. I’ll probably try to get back into it one day, but…uh…not that soon.
Written and directed by Luc Besson but lacking any of the charm and enthusiasm of The Fifth Element, Valerian is based on a French comic series called Valérian & Laureline, about two “spatio-temporal” agents who travel through space and time to “[guard] against temporal paradoxes“. Sounds fun, yes? Especially with Besson at the reins with $180 million, right?
[As a side note: now, obviously I didn’t finish the movie, but I do wonder why they felt the need to delete half the duo, Laureline, from the title and replace her name with something even longer: “and the City of a Thousand Planets.”]
From the first thirty minutes that I watched, Valerian is chock full of enchanting, bizarre, and stunning visuals—but it also cast two of the most annoying actors of all time in the lead roles. That’s probably too harsh on model-turned-actress Cara Delevigne, she of the famous eyebrows, who plays Laureline. To be fair, she’s not that bad from what I saw. Her character’s annoyingness can also be almost fully attributed to the fact that she has to work alongside (and is inexplicably in a romantic relationship with) Valerian, who is played by Dane DeHaan. I had no clue who he was, though if I’d just sucked it up and watched the second Amazing Spider-Man movie with Andrew Garfield, I’d have seen him play Harry Osborn. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll take James Franco instead, thanks.
DeHaan talks like he’s channeling Keanu Reeves circa Point Break, except with none of the charm. The dialogue is also really terrible and cringy, which, admittedly, is not the actor’s fault. But together, it all adds up to Valerian being an obnoxious twit who has no business being the hero of a space epic.
Lord of War
2005 | Directed by Andrew Niccol. With Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, Ethan Hawke, Eamonn Walker, Ian Holm.
Over the holidays, one of my brothers went off on Nicolas Cage and how he’s never been in anything good, with the exception of Leaving Las Vegas (for which he won a Best Actor Oscar, and a movie I haven’t seen since I went to see Bio-Dome instead). Another brother and I leaped to Mr. Cage’s defense, saying that Raising Arizona, Matchstick Men, and Lord of War were most certainly good and worthy movies. (Looking in his filmography, I’m also partial to Moonstruck, Honeymoon in Vegas, Red Rock West, Face/Off, and Kick-Ass. I also really enjoyed National Treasure, but I get roundly mocked for that by most people.) We also explained that many of his more recent films have been garbage because he has financial issues and needs the money. And hey, The Wicker Man may have been terrible, but this scene is priceless.
My point is, don’t let a dislike of Nicolas Cage prevent you from watching Lord of War. It’s a thought-provoking movie about an illegal arms dealer, made by the same guy who did the excellent Gattaca. The film was also endorsed by Amnesty International.
The Golden Globes 2018
The Golden Globes just wrapped up, and while I wasn’t paying too much attention, I was pleased with the wins for The Handmaid’s Tale, and these other nominees/winners have been added to my watchlist, if they weren’t already:
- All the Money in the World 
- The Breadwinner 
- Call Me by Your Name 
- The Deuce (Season 1) 
- The Disaster Artist 
- Downsizing 
- The Florida Project 
- Get Out 
- Glow (Season 1) 
- I, Tonya 
- In the Fade 
- Lady Bird 
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 1) 
- Molly’s Game 
- Mudbound 
- The Shape of Water 
- The Sinner (Season 1) 
- SMILF (Season 1) 
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
- Victoria & Abdul 
This year, most Golden Globe attendees dressed in black, in a show of solidarity with victims of systemic sexual harrassment and assault, and to stand for workforce equality. The New York Times is updating its coverage of red carpet events, in light of the recent events in Hollywood—I’ve enjoyed looking through the Golden Globes red carpet photos they’ve posted: