I watched one movie every day in the month of August. This is quite unusual for me as I usually average about 15 movies a month. I’m back in my normal track this month as there is just too much good TV out there to only watch movies. So much TV that I made a pact with myself awhile back that I would not watch any new shows until I’d caught up with all the ones I’m currently watching. As you’ll see I’ve already broken that pact.
Top of the Lake: China Girl
Top of the Lake was originally intended to be a stand-alone, "one season and its done" series, but after it started winning awards, writer/creator/director Jane Campion turned to star Elisabeth Moss and asked if she wanted to do another season. That first season was a terrific feminist crime drama that found Moss’ character Detective Griffin, returning to her home in rural New Zealand where she discovers a pedophilia ring.
Season Two brings her to Sydney where she will be investigating the murder of a Chinese sex worker whose corpse washes up on the beach. It also stars Nicole Kidman as a bourgeois mom and Gwendoline Christie as a rookie cop. I’m only one episode in so I can’t say how it's going to turn out just yet. The first episode was filled with a lot of characters doing a lot of different things. It wasn’t so much table setting as it was unpacking a suitcase to see what things might fit on the table. But I’m very excited to see where it goes.
Doctor Who: Reign of Terror
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, then you know I like to watch Classic Who. I mostly watch in a pretty random order. I buy various stories when they are on sale or stream them when I can find them. But I am also, very slowly, purchasing and watching the show in chronological order. After a long break, I finally caught back up with the first Doctor as played by William Hartnell.
In Story #8, the last one of the very first season, the Doctor plus his companions Susan, Ian, and Barbara, land just north of Paris during, as the title suggest, the latter part of the French Revolution. In its early years, the show often landed in parts of history one might read about in a textbook and attempted to be a bit educational. These stories sound interesting on paper, but the trouble is since the Doctor can have no actual effect on real history, the stories often become a bit toothless. This one also suffers from having too many episodes to fill and not enough sorry to tell.
Very quickly everyone but the Doctor find themselves captured by Robespierre’s men. They soon escape only to be recaptured and locked back up again. Most of the story revolves around each of them either being incarcerated, escaping, or trying to free those who are locked up. It swiftly grows tedious.
What does work well is that for most of the story the Doctor finds himself without a companion and we get several fun scenes where he is left to his own devices, which inevitably means he’s conniving, lying and talking his way out of (or into) some scheme or another. It's always a hoot to see what he is capable of when left alone.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
For its 35th anniversary Fathom Events put what is arguably the best Star Trek movie back on the big screen. I took my wife and it was every bit as fun as I had hoped. You can read my full review here.
There is a moment in Jonathan Demme’s road romp of a film when this little girl approaches a sleeping-in-his-car Jeff Daniels and asks him if he’s all right. It is a perfect Demme moment.
Allow me to explain. Daniels plays a stuck up, conservative banker. He meets Melanie Griffith’s wild and crazy beauty. They go off and have an zany, impromptu weekend together. Along the way, they run into Griffith’s husband (played with the sort of intensity that can only come from Ray Liotta) who has just gotten out of jail. Liotta takes over the rest of their weekend, which eventually becomes too intense of Jeff Daniels. He leaves, then reconsiders, and starts following them looking for a way to get Griffith out of there.
Staking them out, he falls asleep in the parking lot of an African American church. This is where the little girl comes in. It is the tiniest of scenes. Nothing happens other than her checking on him. It doesn’t move the plot forward, she doesn’t appear later, its just a moment in a movie.
Demme fills his films with these little moments. He loves creating realistic characters to fill up his films as side characters, as real people. In any other movie, Daniels would have been caught by Liotta, or some other crook would have stolen something, or some zany comedy would have happened. Here, it's just a little girl asking if he’s ok, because that’s what little girls who see dudes asleep in their cars in their church parking lot do.
Something Wild isn’t top-tier Demme, but it's good and there are lots of nice little moments in it.
The Good Place
Kristen Bell and Ted Danson star in this very silly comedy about a very selfish woman who, through a clerical error, winds up in Heaven after she dies. That’s a premise that’s played out numerous times in lots of movies and shows, but usually the protagonist is taken back to Earth where they are given one more chance to live a good life and earn their place in eternal bliss. The twist here is that no one else knows she doesn’t belong so she must pretend that she’s an actual good person to keep herself out of the bad place.
I’m just a few episodes in, but it's a lot of fun. Bell and Danson (who plays a sort-of Heavenly guide) are great and it's the sort of light-hearted goof-ball comedy that I can enjoy on my lunch break but not have to think to hard about it afterwards.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro's latest film just got a redband trailer. It looks like a weird cross between a '60s era political thriller, a neo-noir, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I'm excited.