Hot Takes

Now that we're fully immersed into the fall television season, I need to get into gear and mention all those shows that helped fill the summer doldrums. Summer TV has the reputation of being awful, but thanks to the rise of streaming, it's become a season of debuting interesting experimental shows, and for catching up on all those shows we missed over the previous year. I had a healthy mix of both of these types of programming, and for the most part, everything was pretty good! There is one internet sensation that needs a little air let out of its balloon, but otherwise, it was an entertaining season.

First up was the new version of Voltron: Legendary Defender. I never watched the '80s show, so I came in with zero expectations and zero nostalgia to live up to. Maybe that's why I wound up liking it more than the general population. Five teenagers discover an affinity with five mechanical lions, each with their own special powers. When the lions combine, they form Voltron, a mega-robot who comes to the defense of helpless citizens of the universe. The bad guys are your run-of-the-mill imperialistic overlords trying to seize control of Voltron themselves, while the teens are mentored by Princess Allura, who directs them to wherever they're needed. It was a perfectly decent inaugural season, that did a lot more with interpersonal relationships than you'd expect in a show about battle robots. None of the episodes left me doing cartwheels, but as far as lore-based cartoons go, you could do a lot worse, and I'm looking forward to seeing if a second season is being planned.

Next up was the sophomore season of Steven Universe. You may remember my strong feelings about Season 1, and I was itching to see if it would maintain its firm grip on my heartstrings. Long story short: Yes, to an extent. Season 2 continues to build on the town and its denizens, with detours into stories about Onion's family and Connie's family. The real expansion, though, comes with a long story arc about Peridot. In Season 1, Peridot was just a slightly-villainous nuisance. In Season 2, she reluctantly joins forces with the Crystal Gems to track down the potentially Earth-destroying Cluster. The episodes are as warm and emotional as in the previous season, but none of them hit me in the gut as much as the Season 1 episodes did. It remains a hugely compelling show, though, and if Cartoon Network ever gets their act together when it comes to making their shows more widely available to cord-cutters, I'll willingly dive into Season 3.

The most pleasant surprise of the summer was Man Seeking Woman, an FXX show that I was able to stream through Hulu. The book this show is based on was my second-favorite read of 2013, and the television version does a great job of adapting the absurdity and surrealism of the stories. Jay Baruchel stars as Josh, a guy who can't seem to make anything about his life work, from his near invisibility at his temp job to his lack of skill in relating to women. All of the woes Josh goes through in his dating life are taken to their extreme. If you're forced to attend a wedding at which your ex-girlfriend is seated at the same table with her perfect new man, you feel like you're in Hell, which is exactly where the reception is. Having wandering thoughts when you're supposed to be devoted to your girlfriend feels like being hauled into court, and so Josh is. And of course, no matter how nice someone's personality is, she can still be...shall we say "not your type"? So Josh is set up on a date with a literal troll.

It takes a certain kind of personality to hook into this type of storytelling device, and I am definitely on board. I've always been a fan of magical realism, and using it to wryly comment on the challenges of modern dating is all kinds of genius.

OK, I've been putting it off, but it's time to talk about Stranger Things. If you haven't heard about this show, please allow me to congratulate you on finally escaping that rock you were living under. Stranger Things is a throwback love letter to the sci-fi of the '80s. A group of nerdy kids stumble across an young escapee from a military installation who has creepy powers, and with her help, begin to untangle the dark designs the agents have for their town and the monster that lurks beneath it. Everyone has been collectively having spontaneous orgasms over this show. It's the biggest hit of the summer, if not the year. I've already seen Stranger Things cosplay and Halloween costume ideas. All of this for a show that was...fine, I guess?

I have absolutely no complaints about the production design. Everything from the sets to the costumes to the hair is perfectly '80s. The story premise works, too. Mix ET, The Goonies, Super 8, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and you'll have a good idea of the aesthetic this show successfully achieves. So what's the problem? The writing, mostly. All of the dialogue is completely unnatural. People react to things in ways they never would in real life. The action beats work, but whenever those stop and people start talking, I found myself losing interest rapidly. And while I tend to like Winona Ryder, she's at a level 11 of hysteria throughout the season, which got grating.

I didn't dislike this show. It was worth the watch, and I'll be tuning in when Season 2 is released. But when a gazillion articles are written about a character who has seventeen lines and four minutes of screentime, I get rankled. I tend to treat things more harshly when they're getting praise I don't think they deserve, but I'm trying to fight against that urge here. Stranger Things was an eminently watchable show. But it'll inevitably be added to those best-of-the-year lists you see in December, and it shouldn't be.

Voltron: Legendary Defender - Season 1: B
Steven Universe - Season 2: B+
Man Seeking Woman - Season 1: A-
Stranger Things - Season 1: B

Prove It

With the autumnal TV season upon us, I really need to get into gear to wrap up and talk about the shows I watched over the summer. I've got one episode left of a massive cultural hit that I will have some...contrary opinions about. For today, though, let's talk about an old favorite. The other shows might get rolled into a single post, but something as special as The Great British Baking Show deserves a space of its own.

Any regular reader already knows how I feel about this show, but for the uninitiated, I think it's the best show in recent history, and when it entered my life, it skyrocketed to the top of my favorites list. There are metric tons of both food shows and reality shows on the air, but none of the others come close to capturing the warm, life-affirming tone this show does. You can even listen to a friend and I wax rhapsodic over it if you like.

If you follow the show at all, you know that nothing good lasts forever, and the better something is, the more you'd better treasure it while it exists. We'll get to that momentarily, though. For now, let's talk about this most recent season. As far as the general structure goes, it was as fantastic as ever. Beautiful photography, engaging contestants, good challenge design, fair judging, fun hosts... You've heard it all from me before, and nothing's changed. The initial contestant pool was perhaps not as stacked with intriguing personalities as in seasons past, but once we got down to the final handful, I was as in love with the bakers as I always am. Early standouts included Flora, who often sacrificed flavor for ornate decoration, Paul the prison warden who struggled in early challenges but consistently nailed the Showstopper, and Mat, the adorable fireman. The final three were also an intriguing bunch. Ian was inventive, Nadiya was intensely-focused, and Tamal was a wizard with flavors. Oh, and on a personal note...also super-hot.

So, everything was top-notch as far as the production went, but circumstances surrounding it impeded some of the joy I'd usually get out of my favorite show. Whoever is in charge of scheduling at PBS is clearly in the final throes of dementia. Episodes had no consistency in their airing, be it the day or the time. When it came down to the final two episodes, my local affiliate decided to take a few weeks off from airing it at all. The season's winner was spoiled online. It was as if people were actively trying to ruin a good thing.

And that's not even getting into what's coming next. News is still rolling in about this, so by the time I post, it may well have changed again, but here's how it stands now. First, BBC had the rights to the show bought out from under them by Channel 4. That means it's going from a station funded by governmental license fees to an advertising-supported one. If you're American, this would be akin to Masterpiece Theater going from PBS to NBC. That's not a good thing.

Know who else doesn't think it's a good thing? Hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who quit the show when it was announced it was making the move. Know who else doesn't think it's a good thing? Judge Mary Berry, who quit shortly thereafter. Right after that happened, it was announced that Paul Hollywood is sticking around as judge of whatever the new version of the show will look like, and that Mel and Sue have already scored a new show of their own.

A new season of Great British Baking Show is currently airing in Britain, so we've got that to look forward to. Plus, there are the three initial seasons that never aired in America, so tracking those down could keep this amazing program in our collective consciousness for a while. But as far as what the future will bring in terms of this franchise? It would appear that the cookie is crumbling.

The Great British Baking Show - Season 3: A

Shorties #20

The days are rapidly getting shorter, so that must mean it's time for some Shorties! OK, fine, that was a weak transition. Give me some coffee, and I'll do better. In the meantime, how about we take a quick look at a handful of movies?

#1: World of Tomorrow: This 2015 short film (it clocks in at 17 minutes) was nominated for an Animated Short Oscar for last year's awards. It was made by Don Hertzfeldt, whose work I've liked before. It becoming available on Netflix streaming was the final incentive I needed to watch it, and I'm glad I did! It tells the story of a little girl who is visited by a future version of herself. Future Emily tells Emily Prime in a flat, dispassionate voice about all the wonders and horrors that await in the future world, but since Emily Prime is just a little kid, she's more interested in pretty flashing colors than in the plight of clones. It's amazing how much pathos and story can be packed into just a handful of minutes, and World of Tomorrow is definitely worth your time. (Grade: A-)

#2: The Heat: I liked Bridesmaids and Spy, and Ghostbusters was decent enough, so I felt I had to fill in my final Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy gap with 2013's movie about mismatched police partners (McCarthy and Sandra Bullock) attempting to take down a drug ring. It was okay, and I laughed out loud a few times, but it didn't blow me away. It seemed like an excuse for Melissa McCarthy to cut loose with some off-the-cuff profanity for an hour or so, and the humor that can be wrung from that is limited. Still, it was worth a Netflix watch. (Grade: B-)

#3: Force Majeure: This 2014 drama from Sweden made waves in international film chatter, and I remember reading how surprised everyone was when it wasn't nominated for an Oscar. My friend Kyle and I were looking for a movie to watch after dinner one evening, and this one had floated to the top of both our lists. A Swiss family is taking a ski vacation at a resort in the French Alps. One afternoon, as they sit on the patio enjoying lunch, a minor avalanche descends on the guests, freaking everyone out. Nobody is hurt, but when he sees the snow coming, the dad Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) hightails it out of the restaurant, leaving his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) behind, along with his children. At first, everyone is relieved that no harm was done, but the fact that Tomas' first instinct was to abandon his loved ones pulls a thread that threatens the entire family dynamic. It's a really fascinating movie that leads in interesting and realistic directions about how people react when their fight-or-flight response kicks in, and what that means about our relationships with others. (Grade: B+)

#4: The Peanuts Movie: I'll admit, I was suspicious of a modern take on Peanuts, which is such a classic property. Most remakes of childhood favorites are terrible, and I didn't want a smudge on Charlie Brown's legacy. But when this 2015 movie started getting decent word-of-mouth, I decided it was worth a Netflix rental. Happily, the filmmakers know how special these characters are, and were very respectful of the source material. That doesn't mean nothing's changed, of course. The animation has been updated, and for the first time ever, we actually meet the little red-haired girl that Charlie Brown has been so enamored with for decades. Though there was too much focus on Snoppy over the the kids, I know I'm in the minority on that opinion. Overall, though, this movie really captured the heartfelt, sincere tone of the original comic strip and cartoon specials. (Grade: B)

#5: The Overnight: I read a couple of things about this 2015 comedy, and figured Adam Scott was enough of a draw to check it out. He and Taylor Schilling play husband and wife, who are new in their neighborhood, and are looking for other friends. Their kid sparks an acquaintance with another child, whose dad is Jason Schwartzman. He invites them over for dinner with him and his wife (Judith Godrèche), and after a lot of liquor, the relationship forming between these people who find each other so fascinating starts to take a strange turn. The movie has its charms, and wasn't a waste of time or anything, but it seems to think itself really daring for "transgressions" that aren't that wild. It's not a bad movie, but nothing about it stands out as particularly noteworthy. (Grade: B-)

This World is Worth Fighting For!

It can be a challenge to review video games without a story (and thus, without an ending). You're never truly "done", and the mechanics could change at any moment, so any judgement calls you make could be irrelevant in a month. Still, I have to make the attempt, because I've been playing Overwatch for more than a month now, and it doesn't seem to be waning at all. I'm far from the only person it's hooked; currently it sits as Blizzard's best selling game ever (even topping World of Warcraft) and has something like 10 million players worldwide.

Normally, I'm on record as enjoying the more quiet, single-player, narrative-based games. What would I be doing playing a shooter with other gamers, a lot of whom are complete garbage humans?

Easy! All you have to do is make an impeccably-tailored game that excels at character design, sound design, map design, and has intuitive controls for beginners while leaving room to improve into an expert role. That's all there is to it! That's not to say the game is perfect, but a lot of its flaws aren't the designers' faults. Most of the issues result from those other gamers I just mentioned. When the entire game is based on teamwork with strangers, may of whom are basement-dwelling teenagers with inflated egos, of course some of the matches will be less than civil. Really, there's only one business practice that I've had a problem with, which I'll mention below. First, let's get to the good stuff.

I cannot overstate how cool this game's cast of characters is, and how much thought clearly went into it. You can play as any of twenty-two characters (with more in development!), and you can tell from that pic up there how diverse they are. They range not only in nationality, age, and abilities, but in temperament. Want to play as a wise, salty old woman? Meet Ana. An anarchic pyromaniac? Junkrat! A kindly Swiss doctor? Mercy! A semi-intelligent robot fascinated with birds? Bastion! Currently, my favorite character to play is Mei, a Chinese research scientist with an ice gun that excels in frustrating opponents by freezing them to the spot or walling them off from their destinations. In a lesser game, I'd figure out the three characters I enjoy playing and just focus on them. So it's an incredible feat that I've found something to enjoy about each and every one of these heroes. Sure, I don't really play as Genji or Bastion much, but there isn't one who's wholly unplayable to me, and I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Each character is adept against some of the others, and is vulnerable to some of the others. You and five other players form a team of six and either attack or defend an objective on one of thirteen current maps (again, more are in development, and each of the thirteen have multiple locales). Whoever is able to remain in control of a certain spot (or is able to escort/prevent a moving object from reaching a destination) wins, and then it's on to the next match.

It's deceptively simple, yet there are countless strategies to employ. There are also multiple game modes. You can play against AI robots. You can play a goof-around match against other people. You can design your own custom match. Or you can join the competitive ladder and work towards rewards for the best players. This is also a game that emphasizes positive teamwork; it features good plays and doesn't display your mistakes for others to see. There are built-in ways to congratulate and thank people. There really isn't much to criticize in the way of gameplay. It's all been terrific so far.

The only sticking point has been the leveling/loot system. Each hero has a bunch of cool cosmetic things to acquire, from voice lines to costumes to spray paint tags. Every time you level up, you receive a loot box with four of these items in it (or credits that can be used to purchase them). But the loot system is random, so it'll often give you the crappy little things you already own, offering a miniscule credit bump to compensate for duplicates. This is obviously a ploy to get people to spend real money on loot boxes, which I'm ashamed to admit I've done. It's irritating, but it was only a real problem during the Olympics, in which they offered games-themed items. Again, they were randomly generated, often duplicated, and you're not allowed to use in-game credits to purchase them. That means people who just want a simple costume could either spend an inordinate amount of money to get the chance to obtain it, or they can wait a year and try again. That seems overly greedy to me.

Besides that, Overwatch has been a joy to play, and has been sucking up all of my free time. Even as I type this, I wish I could go home and fire up a match, and am still thinking of ways to cajole my friends into joining up. Lines from the game have been infecting my everyday speech. Like I said at the top, though, this is a dynamic game, and they could change it whenever the whim strikes them. For now, though, it's been an extremely pleasant obsession.

Overwatch: A

Song of the Summer 2016

Well, it's dark by dinnertime now, so that must mean that summer is soon drawing to a close. As always, it's been a musical mix this season, between the catchy pop tunes, the inexplicably popular tracks, and the songs that aren't by a Big Name and thus fly under the radar.

And as always, the song that wound up most appealing to me is somewhat of a bridge between the pop and indie world. The songs that tend to draw me in have aspects of both worlds: It generally has the hook and earworminess of a pop song, but isn't an overplayed anthem on commercial radio.

I'm a big fan of Tegan and Sara, so it comes as no surprise that the winner of this year's Song of the Summer contest in my heart goes to their song, "U-Turn".

Just ignore the goofy video and enjoy the music. It had some competition, though. I'm also awfully fond of Lizzo's "Good as Hell", Wolf Alice's "Freazy", the Miguel/Kacey Musgraves version of "waves", and naturally, Carly Rae Jepsen's entire "Emotion - Side B" album.

It's been a pretty mellow season, musically, which I enjoy. There's plenty of lighthearted summer tunes, but nothing that smacks of trying too hard to capture the seasonal market. There also hasn't been an outright terrible song that other people like for some reason, so I don't have to walk around carping about kids these days. That's always refreshing.

So let's all grab a glass of wine, kick back with a 2016 summer playlist, and welcome the incoming season of amazing autumnal foods!

Young Adult

One of the themes of my entertainment consumption is that I like to pinball between genres pretty rapidly. If I've just read a weighty non-fiction book, the next one will likely be light and funny. If I've just shotgunned a bunch of sitcom episodes, I'll probably follow it up with a pensive drama. This pattern held firm with my two recent visits to the theater, with a duo of animated movies that couldn't have had more different tones.

The first was Sausage Party, the latest movie from Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. I found a lot to like about This Is The End, though I'm not as enamored with "funny" gore as these guys are. But hey, here's an easy way to get around that problem: Make an animated movie about food. It's a lot easier for me to handle the death of a cartoon carton of milk than a live action evisceration. The hero of Sausage Party is Frank (Rogen), a supermarket hot dog that desperately wants to be chosen by Human Gods alongside his bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) to go to the Great Beyond, where they'll finally be free to consummate their relationship.

It's not just them. All the denizens of the store assume that nothing but wonderful things await them once they're chosen. When a jar of honey mustard returns with tales of the horrors that really await the chosen food, it sets off a chain reaction of events involving a murderous douche (Nick Kroll), a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek), and the solution of the Israel/Palestine conflict via vigorous rimjobs. Nope, not kidding.

The movie isn't bad, per se. It's just so...obvious. The metaphor about blind faith in religion is fine, but pretty low-hanging fruit (no pun intended). And the rest of the comedy is derived from a combination of food puns, racial and sexual stereotyping, and extreme violence. Which, if you're into that, is fine. It's just not my bag, generally. I'm actually glad I saw this movie in the theater, because I wouldn't have liked it half so much without having the reactions of the other audience members to bounce off of. I'm already on the record as being emphatically fine with stupid comedy. But the best stupid comedies have a lot of brains behind them, and Sausage Party doesn't really have anything on its mind. It's just an excuse to goof around.

A few days later, it was time for an animated movie that has plenty on its mind. I'd heard a recommendation for Kubo and the Two Strings from the /Filmcast podcast, and based on that (plus it coming from the studio that made Coraline and ParaNorman), I sprinted to the theater with some friends for a 3D screening of it.

Kubo and the Two Strings is basically an Asian hero's journey movie, with all that entails (legends, fairy tales, epic heroism, ancestral heirlooms, and so on). Kubo lives in a small cave with his taciturn mother, who warns him never to venture to the nearby village past dark, because his grandfather and aunts are powerful enemies who have already plucked one of his eyes and are now after the remaining one. Kubo has the ability to animate origami paper with his music, and puts on shows for the delighted villagers, but when he spots the community conducting a twilight ritual honoring their dead relatives, he can't help but become enamored with participating to honor his dead father. This keeps him out past dark, and the shadows come for him. What follows is his journey to collect the mystical armor necessary to fighting off the evil. He's helped by a monkey (a figurine brought to life by his mother's magic) and an amnesiac soldier who's been cursed to be half beetle.

It's a terrific story, at times hauntingly sad, but always visually stunning. If there's one complaint to be made, it's that most of the Asian characters are voiced by white actors, which seems unnecessary at best, but in all but one case, it doesn't distract from the performances, which are excellent. Nobody knows quite to make of this film. It's too adult to be a kids' movie and too quiet to be a summer blockbuster. That doesn't mean it's any less gorgeous, though, and I wish more people were seeing it.

Sausage Party: C+
Kubo and the Two Strings: A-

Manic Depressive

When television shows want to make an attempt at addressing deep psychological issues, the traditional method would be to produce an intense character drama. Gritty, serious scenes are delivered by actors whose faces are perpetually grim, and the air hangs heavy with weighty dialogue.

Recently, though, television shows have been branching out into a new way to explore mental anguish: Comedy! And it's been working! Last year, I described how Steven Universe could take a simple show for kids and use it to reach in and yank my heartstrings. This year, it's the adults' turn, as two shows mined our common psychoses for giggles.

I've enthused over the first one before. Season 2 of Bojack Horseman ranked among my favorite shows of 2015, and Season 3 is similarly incredible. Bojack is riding a temporary high from the Oscar buzz surrounding his "performance" in Secretariat, and plenty of Hollywoo hangers-on are happy to ride his coattails. Those who know him best, however, know that Bojack excels at destroying anything positive in his life, and despite their best efforts to help, his depression and narcissism continue to drag him down, taking his friends with him. Sounds like a hoot, right? It actually is. Though the show is often intense, it never forgets to throw in plenty of jokes, visual gags, and anthropomorphic animal humor. But just as it builds up a steady stream of laughs, it pulls the rug out and hits you with some truly dark material.

I keep encouraging people to power through the relatively blah set-up of Season 1 to get to this wonderful stretch of episodes, and after watching another strong season, I'm going to keep at it. WATCH THIS SHOW.

The other journey into mental illness comes courtesy of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), now that the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is finally on Netflix. This show does a lot of off-kilter things. As I mentioned, it uses humor to describe some pretty serious emotions, but that's just the beginning. It also has hour-long episodes, which is unusual for a comedy show, and every episode is peppered with insanely catchy songs.

The songs parody all sorts of styles, from Broadway to Disney movies to rap battles to bubblegum pop groups. But as joyous as those songs usually are, in this show, they can be describing insecurity, terrible advice, or smug arrogance. Though Rebecca is ostensibly the heroine of the show, she's often doing awful things in order to get her hooks into her childhood crush. It's a unique take on the romantic comedy genre, and the fact that the music is so goddamn good turns what would be a clever show into an unmissable one.

Bojack Horseman - Season 3: A-
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season 1: A-

Stars and Bars

Being in an era of "Peak TV" has made master schedulers of us all. We now need to conscientiously put aside time for specific shows to keep up with as they air, time for shows we know we'll need to catch up with later, and shows we'll allow to pass us by. This past week, I was able to put away multiple shows, and feel absurdly good about myself, as if I've just completed an important work project or something.

One of the show I just wrapped was the fourth season of Orange is the New Black, but in looking at this blog, I also realized that I'd never written about a show I watched several months ago, Making a Murderer. Since both shows revolve around the justice system, I figured I'd roll them together now.

I was among the people that rather liked the slower pace of Season 3 of Orange is the New Black, but I do have to admit that raising the stakes certainly got tongues to wag. The tension in Season 4 is significantly heightened. Loads of new inmates have arrived, and the problems they bring with them are far more dangerous than mere overcrowding. Adding to the powder keg is a new batch of guards, most of whom alternate between laziness and sadism.

As usual, there are so many stories to tell in a season that I can't mention them all, lest this wind up being a laundry list of who's up to what. But there are major changes afoot in Season 4. Piper is convinced that she's queen of the yard after her success with the panty business, and is clearly setting herself up for some major comeuppance. A new, famous inmate named Judy King (Blair Brown) appears to be a blend of Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, and is given special treatment, a move that both frustrates the other inmates and gives them ideas about cashing in. A figure from Alex's past comes to menace her, with far-reaching consequences for everyone in the entire prison.

With everything that's been in the news recently about how our law enforcement and justice systems treat African-American citizens, Orange is the New Black does not shy away from depicting the depressing reality of the abuse that minority populations suffer, taking it to a shocking and saddening extent. That doesn't mean that this is a Homework Show, though. It's still thoroughly entertaining, at times hilariously funny, and always a good watch.

I should have mentioned the Netflix true crime documentary series Making a Murderer back when everyone was talking about it, but it somehow slipped through the cracks. This show explores the story of Steven Avery, a man who was unjustly locked up for 18 years for sexual assault. Two years after he was exonerated, he was arrested again, this time for murder. His trial was a circus of inept police work and prosecutorial malfeasance, and yet he was convicted.

That's not to say that Avery is obviously innocent. Though the documentary goes to great lengths to show just how much reasonable doubt exists in this case, it still seems as though Avery is most likely guilty. That's not how the judicial system is supposed to work, though, and this documentary makes an almost unassailable case that Manitowoc County, Wisconsin did everything in their power to put Avery away, no matter what facet of the system they had to corrupt.

It's a very sad state of affairs, where nobody comes out looking good, and nobody wins. By the same token, though, it's an utterly fascinating case, and an extremely well-made show. It's certainly edited to be one-sided, but hey, it's a TV show, not an affidavit. The saga of Steven Avery continues, and they've announced that they'll be making more episodes, which I'm certainly looking forward to. Though I won't be one of those tiresome internet commentators who proclaim to know the truth of the situation, I will be one of those tiresome internet commentators who urge you to watch this show. It's gripping.

Orange is the New Black - Season 4: B+
Making a Murderer - Season 1: A-

Shaky Premise

I'm fortunate in that 95% of the entertainment I consume is by my choice. Sure, I may not have a loving husband to come home to, but that means I get full control of the remote. No kids means no suffering through whatever Chipmunk claptrap is oozing into theaters. And my circle of friends has diverse tastes, so there's nearly always someone ready and willing to accompany me to whatever happens to be catching my attention, whether it's a superhero blockbuster or an art-house character study.

Once in a while, though, I agree to ride in the sidecar to something someone else has chosen. Sometimes, it doesn't turn out too badly, but for the most part, if I was avoiding or ignoring a property, it's for a reason. That theory was put to the test again this week, when a friend wanted to go see the new Jason Bourne movie, a franchise I have minimal interest in. I dimly remember liking the original movie, but when the sequels got increasingly dependent on the scourge of the cinema known as ShakyCam, I officially checked out.

I keep up on film news, so I'm familiar with the strange path these movies have taken, including an entry without the star or director that made them popular in the first place. That divergence implied that when star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returned to the series, it must be because the new movie was simply too awesome for them to pass up.

Nope. Everything that drove me away from the Bourne movies is still present in full force, with the newly-added detriment of making absolutely no sense, plot-wise. Characters ally with each other for no reason. Characters attack each other for no reason. Characters betray each other for no reason. Beyond some poorly-developed daddy issues, Bourne doesn't really have any motivation at all, really. He just reacts to things, and a lot of his decisions are straight-up terrible. At the heart of the movie is a big social media company that supposedly affects more than a billion people. What does the company do? Good question! They never bother to tell us. Want the audience to know that a flash drive has encrypted files on it? How about you just write "ENCRYPTED" in big block letters on the side, with a folder helpfully labeled "BLACK OPS" front-and-center? So dumb. Matt Damon phones in his performance, but I can't tell if that's because he's as bored as I was, or if he was just hung out to dry by the script. Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander do their best in supporting roles, but again, there's not much there to work with.

If the plot didn't make sense, at least the film-making was cool and exciting, right? Well, I can't really answer that, since hardly any of the shots last longer than 1/3 of a second. As I said on Facebook, a more appropriate title for this movie would be Caffeine-Addicted Parkinson's Sufferer on a Trampoline During an Earthquake. The ShakyCam is horrible, making even non-action scenes a chore to watch. And when the camera finally does settle down for a moment, it only reveals how shoddy the stunts and action beats are.

So really, the only interesting question this movie brings to mind is how fair it is for me to judge. After all, I didn't really want to see it in the first place; is me not liking it just confirmation bias? Well, after reading/listening to some reviews from people who went in ready to be dazzled, I think I'm good. But this movie sure as hell isn't.

Jason Bourne: C-

Goof Troop

In my last entry, I talked about a pretty serious trio of movies. They were all good, but none of them could be accused of being a bundle of laughs. Let's switch it up today, and talk about a trio of movies meant to tickle the funny bone. How successful were they? Read on!

The first was the new Pixar movie, Finding Dory. Once I finally get around to seeing The Good Dinosaur, I'll have to put them into the Rank and File project, but for now, let's just consider it on its own. Aside from shifting its focus from Marlin to Dory, Finding Dory has pretty much the same rhythm as Finding Nemo. Character sets off on a personal quest and is pursued across the ocean by concerned friends/family, all of whom have adventures along the way. Though the new movie borrows heavily from the old, it doesn't mean it worked just as well. Ellen DeGeneres is as winning as ever as the unfortunate fish with short-term memory problems, but the side characters aren't as compelling, and there are too many scenes that take place far from the aquatic atmosphere we've all come to love. A scene on a crowded highway is particularly egregious in its out-of-placeness. That's not to say it was a bad movie; it was perfectly enjoyable, and Sigourney Weaver's cameo was particularly awesome. But sequels often don't measure up to their predecessors, and this one is no exception.

Wanna hear about a sequel that does measure up? It's called Pee-Wee's Big Holiday. OK, maybe "sequel" is a stretch, since the character of Pee-Wee in this movie doesn't seem to have any connection with the Pee-Wee of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Still, it's essentially the same structure. In this universe, Pee-Wee is a beloved member of a small town community, who has never ventured outside his own small corner of the world, and doesn't feel any particular need to. That all changes when charismatic actor Joe Manganiello stops by for a milkshake and invites Pee-Wee to his upcoming birthday party in New York. Pee-Wee sets off on a road trip, and encounters all kinds of odd sorts, from a farmer with nine love-starved daughters to a trio of leonine bank robbers who can't help but be charmed by him to an aviatrix who's better at small talk than at staying aloft. I couldn't stop giggling throughout this whole movie. Paul Reubens' sense of childlike humor is still a delight, and every actor in this movie is totally game to share in the silliness.

OK, that brings us to the final movie, about which more internet ink has been spilled than every other film of the year combined. I'll avoid retreading all of the hubbub about the new Ghostbusters and just concentrate on the movie itself. It's funny. Good night, everyone!

Fine, I suppose I owe you more than that. Reboots of classics are always a challenge, and this update doesn't come close to capturing the hilarity and chemistry that the 1984 movie does. It's got structural issues, and there are parts that drag. Rating it PG-13 was good for getting families in the door, but it also meant that actors like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig couldn't cut loose as much as they usually do. That said, I laughed plenty, which is all I can really ask from a comedy, right? Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones all have a chance to show off their comedic chops, with Wiig somewhat unfortunately relegated to the straight-woman role. Flipping the gender dynamic by casting Chris Hemsworth as a dumb himbo receptionist was a real treat, and most of the cameos by original cast members were cute (Sigourney Weaver was still better in Finding Dory, though). Was this a genius piece of cinema destined to grace the Hall of Fame forever? No. Was it a dumpster fire that ruined anyone's childhood? No. Sorry to disappoint anyone in this culture of thinking everything is either the best or worst thing ever, but Ghostbusters is a perfectly capable, middle-of-the-road comedy. I'm guessing nobody's going to write a thinkpiece with that title, but it doesn't make it any less true.

Finding Dory: B
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday: A
Ghostbusters (2016): B
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