Shorties #22

Spring has sprung, and that means spring cleaning! Not only does the apartment need some tidying, but the Netflix queue needs a good pruning as well. I've been able to catch up on a few of the things that have been clogging my lists, which means it's the perfect time to fire off another Shorties entry.

#1: Under the Skin: Once in a while, I'll take note of a movie, but intentionally let it pass me by, since it doesn't sound like it would be to my tastes. But then, it'll keep getting talked up by people whose opinions I trust, so I'll circle back around and give it a shot. Such was the case with this 2013 sci-fi movie, which stars Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien. You definitely have to be in the mood for such a quiet, thoughtful movie about the nature of attraction, violence, and empathy, and luckily, it struck me just right. It's very difficult to make an art film that functions as a genre film (and vice versa), and Under the Skin pulls it off. (Grade: A-)

#2: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: This is another movie I let slip by until I couldn't ignore its critical praise anymore. I used to have little use for Andy Samberg, but then I became a huge fan of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so I decided to give this Lonely Island movie a fair shot. And once again, I'm glad I did! This 2016 send-up of Behind the Music style documentaries follows superstar Conner4Real from his days in a mega-popular boy band to his implosion as a solo artist. Comedies are an automatic success when they make me belly laugh several times, so there you go. Both the songs and script are reliably funny, and there are tons of great cameos from celebrities who are totally game to make fun of the culture surrounding stardom. (Grade: B+)

#3: The Lobster: I have a long track record of preferring movies that attempt something interesting. Even if it fails, I like to see something that approaches the story in a refreshing way. That's definitely the case with the 2015 movie The Lobster, which takes place in a universe where single people are rounded up and forced to forge some sort of monogamous commitment. If they can't do so successfully, they are turned into the animal of their choice. Colin Farrell plays David, who is sent to a hotel to find a mate, and we follow his attempts to do so, followed by additional obstacles when he leaves. People have asked me if I liked this movie, and I always respond with a few moments of silence, followed by: "I'm glad I watched it". I don't know that I can say I enjoyed it, per se, but I'm still thinking about it long after I watched it, and there aren't many movies I can say that about. (Grade: B)

#4: Stay Up With Me: Short story collections are a favorite of mine, so when one gets positively reviewed somewhere, I'll usually make an effort to grab a copy from the library. The most recent collection I read was Tom Barbash's 2013 book, Stay Up With Me. Back when I talked about Single, Carefree, Mellow, I praised the stories for kind of being about nothing; they simply explored the inner lives of their protagonists. It turns out there's an art to observational stories where nothing major happens, because this book takes the same approach, but less successfully in my estimation. If there's a unifying theme, it's the fragility of human relationships, and the stories do a lot of ruminating on broken marriages, tense family bonds, and crumbling professional connections. I do want to single out "Letters from the Academy", which was a great story, and somehow creepy and relatable simultaneously. Overall, though, these stories were as melancholy as George Saunders', but not as engaging. (Grade: B-)

#5: Muppets Most Wanted: As a child of the '80s, how could I not be a Muppets fan? By the same token, as a child of the '80s, how could any modern Muppets movie possibly stack up to the classics? Short answer: They can't. Still, I took this 2014 movie for a spin, and was reasonably satisfied. I did like the story, in which the Muppet gang that just reunited in 2011's The Muppets are talked into going on a world tour so that their manager and Kermit's evil doppelganger Constantine can rob nearby museums. The cameos are fun, and the musical numbers are as jolly as ever. It's just that they'll never be able to recapture the magic of The Great Muppet Caper (Grade: B)

The Lion Kings

As I mentioned in my post about Season 1 of Voltron: Legendary Defender, I never watched the original '80s show that the reboot is based on. Turns out that's a good thing, because as a special treat to go with Season 2, they re-released some of the old episodes. I watched one, and wow. That original show was...not good. What the hell was Pidge's voice actor trying to accomplish?

Happily, the new Voltron showrunners have a more thoughtful approach, and Season 2 built on Season 1 in really interesting ways. It would be easy to just have our heroes thwart the evil Zarkon's scheme-of-the-week, then retreat to safety, but this sophomore season does something a lot more daring: The paladins take the fight directly to the Galra. Each episode fits into a larger arc that explores the greater plan for a long-lasting solution to keeping the universe safe, while reserving plenty of time to be goofy.

The interpersonal relationships are more developed this season, too, as Allura must face some uncomfortable truths about the people she's allied with, and Keith strives to learn more about his mysterious past. Shiro fights to stay connected with his lion, Pidge makes some progress in tracking down her missing family members, and even Hunk gets a chance to shine with some newly-discovered lion powers, as well as impressing a demanding chef in the season's best episode, "Space Mall".

Honestly, I never thought I'd wind up enjoying Voltron, since I have no nostalgia about the original to tie it to. I just agreed to watch it with some friends as a lark. It's been such a nice surprise to not only find that I like the show quite a bit, but that it's clearly improving as it goes along.

Voltron: Legendary Defender - Season 2: B+
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