Now, these are not the only things I watched, these are just the most notable movies and shows, the ones that haunted me afterward, or just wouldn’t go away after seeing them. It does not necessarily mean the movie was any good (I enjoyed all of these, btw), it just means that after several days I’m still thinking very deeply about them. The most recent stuff I watched was: the first three episodes of Vikings: Valhalla, the fourth season of Star Trek Discovery, The Book of Boba Fett, the movie Reno 911: The Search for QAnon, and the Japanese series Kotaro Lives Alone, which I watched on a whim. I’m currently watching Moon Knight, and since it only lasts six episodes, I’ll wait until the finale to fully discuss that one (but I really, really liked the first episode, and I’m looking forward to the rest, mostly on the acting strength of Oscar Isaac.)
Here are some of the series/movies I enjoyed in the past two months,
The Power of the Dog
This was an emotionally devastating film. I have generally paid little attention to the films of Jane Campion outside of The Piano, which is one of my favorite films of the 90s. I both love and hate this film. I don’t normally like watching films where people get bullied, so I was reluctant to watch it, but I kept hearing about how good it was, and it was available on Netflix. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I have to give major commendations to Kody Smit-McPhee, who was excellent in the vampire remake Let Me In, as once again, a child being bullied. There’s something about his delicate features and quiet demeanor that seems to call for him to play these roles.
One of my moderately favorite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a character (Phil) that’s sort of against type, as a manly-masculine cowboy, who is insecure enough that he needs to constantly prove it by denigrating and mocking Kody’s character, (Peter), who is the son of his sister-in-law, Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst. Phil has contempt for everyone, including Rose and his brother George, but only because he’s trying to cover up a long-held secret. He drives Rose to drink, and Peter, who is very protective of his mother and has a special relationship with her, makes it his responsibility to alleviate her misery. That’s as much of the plot as I’m willing to tell, because I didn’t see what happened coming, and I should have because while it’s not exactly a twist, I did get sidetracked by all the other things in the plot, and wasn’t paying close enough attention.
Jane Campion is one of the few directors that can make you sympathize with all of the characters in her movies, no matter how reprehensibly they behave. She makes all of the character’s motivations understandable and believable and that’s what is so devastating about it. I wasn’t expecting to care so much about Phil, and I wasn’t expecting to hate Peter. I was totally caught up, which is what the best movies do so that when the ending comes, you need to readjust to reality. Campion’s Oscar is well deserved.
This is another movie set in the old West and covers one of my favorite themes in Westerns. The old grizzled gunslinger, filled with regret, trying to leave the lifestyle that comes back to haunt him. Tim Blake Nelson, who played Looking Glass in the Watchmen television series, stars as Henry, a farmer with a mysterious past, who must protect his son and home from a group of vigilantes hunting an outlaw he rescued, named Curry. The movie wasn’t as emotionally entangling as The Power of the Dog, but it was still very good, with the usual tropes covered pretty well, and a typically melancholy ending.
I remember being frustrated at Henry’s son, Wyatt, constantly belittling the father who was trying to protect him from becoming entangled in a life he’s been avoiding for a while. Wyatt has no gunmanship skills, but still thinks that’s an exciting road to head down, while his father doesn’t make a lot of effort to dissuade him from that kind of thinking because he’s afraid/ashamed of his secret past. So no one in the cast is looking too great as far as their character.
Stephen Dorff also stars in this movie, and I am definitely not a fan of his, but his acting here is alright. I think the reason I didn’t get as emotionally caught up in this movie is that this is an unknown director who is simply mediocre. They’re not bad but the movie lacks the layers it would have possessed if the directing had been better. It’s not a bad film, (it’s actually pretty good), but the plot, direction, and acting are very straightforward and therefore unremarkable. It’s a good solid Western with some competent gunfighting scenes. I don’t normally like to number films but if I had to I’d give it an 8/10.
OMG! This is quite possibly one of the funniest, most nerve-wracking television series to ever exist. It really had me clutching my pearls and talking to my TV screen, although I suspect that’s because I’m American. The premise of the show is a Japanese children’s ritual where kids as young as 2 are sent out on their first errand alone. They are given one, two, or sometimes multiple tasks to perform, like going to the store to pick up some curry, going to a neighbor’s house to drop off a hat, or going home from the rice fields, to make some orange juice and bring it back to their parents.
See, I live in the US, but I can get the sending kids on an errand thing alone because my Mom did this with me and my younger brother. Only we started at about 7 and 8 years old after she was certain we understood about paying attention, crossing streets, not talking to strangers, and getting back to the house in a timely manner. This was something we did only after putting in many, many, hours of successfully walking to school, several blocks away. Truthfully, the distances the kids have to walk aren’t really that far, although they seemed pretty far to me. It’s just the age of the kids that’s giving me palpitations.
To be fair, the kids are not entirely alone. There are multiple cameramen nearby, and there are adults in and around the event as passersby who are there to keep a close eye on the babies, help them reach for something in the store, or help them cross the street. This is kind of what my mom did too. She had several lady friends in the neighborhood who would watch our progress and report back to her. We were given instructions (sometimes written), and a specific amount of money, although unlike these little kids we were given a time limit. One little girl took until dark to get home because she misunderstood her instructions. My brother and I, our primary tasks were to stay focused, follow the instructions on the list and do that in a timely manner. Seriously y’all, watching this show brought back all kinds of memories, although my brother and I pretty much still behave like this today!
In the first episode, a two-year-old boy is given money and the task of going to the store to get some flowers for grandma’s shrine and a package of curry for dinner. I’m telling ya’, watching this little baby navigate the streets of his suburban neighborhood was some of the most tension-filled, nerve-wracking viewing I’ve had in the past few months! Even after I understood he was never in any real danger and adults would’ve been there for him if he asked for help or ran into trouble. And this was even with my understanding that Japan’s streets are safe enough to do things like this and this is a daily ritual in that culture. He actually successfully completed the task with only a minor hitch. (He almost forgot the curry.)
The absolutely funniest one is the little 4-6-year-old boy who is told to go back to the house from his family’s rice fields to make some refreshing orange juice and bring it back to the workers. He took two hours to make orange juice because he spent at least an hour trying to catch the family dog with a fishing net, playing with his trucks, and eating a leftover seaweed roll he found in the fridge. Oh, he definitely made the orange juice, and he made it correctly, but the boy was totally lacking in focus. His momma had to call the house multiple times to check if he was gonna come back.
An interesting story: My mom made me stop our car in traffic once, so she could save a little baby that she saw wandering too near the street. We were on a main thoroughfare, with cars zipping past at 40+ miles per hour and I was sort of farting along at 35 when my mom yelled at me to stop the car. She’d spotted this baby, he was walking but couldn’t have been more than two, and in a diaper, standing very close to the little devil’s strip of grass next to the sidewalk. I think he just got away from his mom and wandered out of the fenced-in yard. I stopped the car, and my mom, at 70 years old, sprang out of the vehicle, grabbed up this kid, and carried him to his front door where the father was looking for him.
My mom absolutely loved kids and I don’t know how many kid’s lives she saved in her life, and that includes my own life at least twice. She would have absolutely loved this series though, and probably would have been screaming at her TV too.
I genuinely really enjoyed this movie which is streaming on the Disney app right now. I’d heard good things about it, liked the trailer, and decided to try it out, although I have not been watching most of the kid’s movies released there.
You might or might not have heard of the little brouhaha surrounding a white male critic on the CinemaBlend website, panning the movie because he couldn’t relate, and thought that because it was about a little Asian-Canadian tween girl, it was not a universal story. I’ve said before that I give white male critics short shrift when it comes to reviewing movies that they are not in the center of. Many of them make the classic mistake of giving bad reviews to movies simply because they were not to their tastes or weren’t about subjects that were of interest to them.
It’s okay to not like something but to determine a movie was bad simply because it wasn’t made with your tastes in mind, or didn’t suit you personally is, I feel, a hole you want to avoid falling into. There are layers of misogyny and racism to his critique that I’ve talked about in other posts. I’m not even mad at the guy because all he did was say the quiet part out loud, as I long suspected this kind of behavior. Youtube is full of such men whining about how some movie wasn’t made for them, so therefore the movie sucks.
No, my question is why did he watch it in the first place? I mean, it’s Disney, the trailers are pretty obvious that the movie is aimed at teenage girls who love boy bands. What was he expecting it to be like? Was he expecting car chases, explosions, and titties? The review of course has since been removed and the creators and actresses had to come out in support of the film. I will probably talk about this more later because there are many layers to unwrap here.
Anyway, I loved the movie, but then I’m a woman who has gone through puberty. I don’t think the movie resonated in a certain way with me because I didn’t really see myself in any of the little girls, as my life was pretty different from theirs, but it’s a perfectly funny and enjoyable film. I enjoyed the relationship between Mei and her Mom because I understood what Mei was going through and why her mom acted the way she did, and we got some giant Panda Kaiju, which I totally was not expecting at all. I laughed a lot and even cried a little bit. Also, red pandas are some of the cutest bear-like creatures on the planet! I had to pause the movie at the boy band concert because I was just laughing too damn hard. I totally remember my girlfriends acting like this over New Edition. I mean I didn’t because I was not interested but I always got a kick out of watching them act like total fools.
I loved the relationships between the little girls and how lovely and supportive they were to Mei. There’s no unnecessary drama between them, just to have drama, and their friendship was really sweet. My favorite character was Priya, because she always looked like she was so over whatever was happening, and because Abby was just waaay too much for me. Although truthfully, Abby would have been the kind of girl who would have adopted me as her friend entirely against my will. (Having the most popular girl in class latch on to me and become my bestie, whether I wanted it or not, was actually a thing that happened to me pretty often!)
But my ultimate appraisal is for The Aunties! I loved the Aunties. The movie did resonate with me in that one way at least. I too grew up with a whole pack of Aunties, whose homes I lived in as much as my own, and whose personalities were as wild, and wildly divergent, as the women here. And I am now officially an auntie too! Seeing them was especially bittersweet, because due to age, I’ve lost at least half my aunties along with my Mom, and I felt some kind of way about seeing them reflected in this movie. So although I didn’t particularly resonate with Mei as a character, I was still able to emotionally connect to this movie in other ways.
Kotaro Lives Alone
This is another children’s series that is tangentially related to the other Netflix series I talked about, Old Enough. I watched this completely on a whim as part of my ongoing task of watching more anime. It wasn’t really recommended to me by the Netflix algorithm, but I decided to check it out because I thought Kotaro was really cute, and I was deeply curious about why, at the ripe old age of about four or five years old, he was renting an apartment all alone. I have not actually encountered the episode that talks about why he is alone, but there are some small flashbacks that hint that his parents may have simply neglected him.
A lot of the plot of the show is rooted in the Japanese cultural ideas of community aid and support just like the show Old Enough, in which small children are pushed to be very independent, but at the same time, they are looked after and carefully watched by all the other adults in their vicinity. As I said, Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean Japanese parents don’t worry about their kids, and I was puzzled as to where Kotaro’s parents were, if they knew what he was doing, and if they are they looking for him.
Anyway, Kotaro shows up at an apartment complex all alone, but soon develops relationships with at least three of his neighbors. His next-door neighbor, a disaffected young man who won some cartoonists awards but is now experiencing writer’s block, a young lady who works as a bar hostess who Kotaro develops a little boy crush on, and the downstairs number who has decided to adopt Kotaro as his own because he reminds him of the son he can no longer interact with. It’s a surprisingly sweet show. I was expecting it to be a little darker, but it has a great deal of wholesomeness that I found refreshing.
Kotaro, like a lot of imaginative young boys, thinks he’s on a grand adventure. He actually is pretty lonely but wants to seem grown up and independent, so is reluctant to sometimes ask for help. I’m not sure where his money comes from but he buys a tiny sword that he is constantly challenging his neighbor to duels with because the young man insists on accompanying him on his errands and outings (for safety reasons, he says). Kotaro insists he doesn’t want to be treated like a baby but after a while, he accepts the care and attention of his neighbors and develops a crush on his lady neighbor, the hostess, visiting her at her job for a date, after he spends the night in her apartment because he got scared.
I haven’t finished the series, so I don’t yet know how it ends, but if after the episode where I watched his neighbors all show up on his first day of kindergarten, for father/son day, and he doesn’t end up formally adopted by them, I’m gonna feel some kinda way about that.
Our Flag IMeans Death
This show was produced and starred in by none other than Taika Waittit, a director whom I have grown to love since he helped to create one of the best vampire movies of the past decade, What We Do in the Shadows, and one of the finest and funniest MCU films, Thor Ragnarok! I trust Taika to deliver the funny without passive-aggressive meanness, and/or the ritual humiliation of his characters.
I’m a big pirate movie fan, (no, I have not yet watched Black Sails), but I do know most of the tropes, and here Taika parodies and neatly turns over most of them, in this ridiculous comedy series about a well to do man, forced to marry a woman he didn’t love, who dreams about becoming a pirate. So he buys a ship and sets sail with a delightfully silly crew (who keep unexpectedly making various well thought out points about life and love) and his major domo, who is semi-openly gay. They are all very bad at pirating, and Stede becomes the laughingstock of his social class.
Even though some of his men are bloodthirsty enough to be good pirates, Stede, their Captain isn’t. He is a polite, high society man who meets his idol in Blackbeard, played by Taika. The two of them become close friends and Blackbeard, aka Edward, teaches Stede how to be a pirate, but finds his own temperament being influenced by Stede’s gentility. (And yes, they eventually fall in love!)
One of my favorite characters is Spanish Jackie, played by comedian Leslie Jones, whose name is not Jackie, nor is she Spanish, and who has 20…no 18 husbands because she was betrayed by one of Stede’s crew, a character who was raised by nuns to be an assassin. One of my favorite scenes was the Pirate Flag creation scene where the crew is tasked to create the best flag, but Stede can’t pick one and just chooses all of them, so now there are multiple flags flying on the mast. That’s a scene that is never shown but you deduce it because of a later shot. Blackbeard himself is played by Taika, and he gives a warm and sensitive performance of a man who likes pretty things, is dissatisfied with his reputation as a menacing killer, and longs to experience a finer life outside of simply being a pirate. (Plus Taika looks fine as hell in black leather!)
There is a little blood and gore, a little bit of killing, and lots of adventures involving revenge narratives and fake identities but the show is actually pretty wholesome, and most if not all the characters are really likable. Taika often uses comedy to make pointed statements about the relationships between men as he did in Thor, in What We Do…, and here he uses the characters to comment on male friendship, loneliness, love, and loyalty.
Yet to be watched:
Raising Dion Season 2
Everything Everywhere All At Once