A feature-length TV season, so every characters gets their moment, and it all feels squished and irrelevant, all “okay that’s out of the way, now here’s this.” Still mostly enjoyable, even for charlatans like me who quit the series after season 3.

Branson (the Irish chauffeur-turned-family-widower) is the star here, saving the king from assassination by Claire Foy’s husband, helping the princess (Kate Phillips of Peaky Blinders) figure out her marriage, and possibly falling in love with an heiress (Sense8 star Tuppence Middleton), the secret daughter of Imelda Staunton (great, her addition to the movie helps offset Elizabeth McGovern being reliably awful).

Eight years ago I introduced the characters – but where are they now?

Branson played Queen’s manager in Bohemian Rhapsody. Lady Mary starred in the series Godless, and was in that Jim Broadbent movie Sense of an Ending with her barely-in-the-movie husband Matthew Goode. Maggie Smith, who anticlimactically tells Mary she’s dying, is keeping it classy – after the Harry Potter and Marigold Hotel movies, she appeared in Sherlock Gnomes. I saw McGovern in The Commuter and she’ll star in a War of the Worlds miniseries with Gabriel Byrne. Lady Edith (pregnant again) is in another British period royalty drama series, and big daddy Hugh Bonneville is following Paddington 2 with a Christmas movie about a magic toymaker. Shaun’s mom followed The BFG with a Ricky Gervais series.

Bates (Mary Queen of Scots) and Anna (Bob the Builder) trick the royal servants so the locals can kowtow to the king personally, recruiting Carson (con-man movie The Good Liar) and Hughes (starring in Girlfriends with Miranda Richardson). Daisy (Iannucci’s David Copperfield movie) flirts with the plumber, is set to marry some footman. Thomas (netflix horror The Ritual) discovers a gay bar and gets into a side plot with some thudding dialogue, Molesley (plays a “ghost detective” on a British series) says some dumb things, and Patmore (an India-set period drama) does the usual. I was hoping the king and queen would be someone exciting, but she’s from Little Britain and he played Arthur Dent in the original Hitchhiker’s Guide, so, nope. The same writer & director made the dull-looking Elizabeth McGovern movie The Chaperone earlier this year.

Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

Yorgos has been refining his bold visual style from Alps to Lobster to Sacred Deer, but it’s hard to notice while you’re busy making sense of his oddball characters and dialogue. So now something amazing has happened, and he’s applied those bold visuals (now featuring more fisheye lens than I’ve ever seen in a movie theater) to someone else’s script, a period comedy about women in high court behaving badly. The result wipes the floor with last year’s The Death of Stalin. And YL’s actors have always been splendid, but it’s been hard to tell since they fall into an uncanny valley of almost-not-quite human behavior, so now that they’re playing recognizable humans with killer comic insult dialogue, they’re all getting award nominations.

Queen Olivia Colman’s best friend Rachel Weisz handles all the complex policy issues while the queen hides away in her rabbit room, and this is fine until Rachel’s cousin Emma Stone shows up and starts insinuating herself. These are all based on real people according to the wiki, though it doesn’t mention whether the real Queen had 17 pet rabbits representing all her miscarried children. Nicholas “Beast/Nux” Hoult plays a parliament member who tries to get Emma to spy for him, and maybe if I see him in a few more movies I’ll start to recognize him, but probably not. Premiered at Venice with Roma, Buster Scruggs, Suspiria and Vox Lux, and sold out Phipps on a Sunday matinee, which I thought was impressive until I realized Phipps got those gigantic lounge seats and now only 24 people can fit in their tiny theaters.

Oh no, it’s a bunch of right proper British people. Just looking at them in their identical suits, I can tell they’re going to tell the most tame unscary ghost stories and the others will act like it’s just so horrible they might spill their tea.

Mr. Craig (Mervyn Johns, 1951’s Bob Cratchit) arrives at a hotel, says he’s never been there and doesn’t know anyone but he has dreamt this and knows what will happen. Series of stories/flashbacks ensue, while a doubting psychologist with an overdone accent (German Frederick Valk) observes.

Cratchit and the German:

First we’ve got auto racer Hugh (Anthony Baird), who had a premonition of a creepy hearse driver that reminded me of the first story of The King in Yellow, skips riding a bus that ends up crashing. Not a terribly spooky way to start the movie, if you haven’t just read The King in Yellow, directed by Basil Dearden of The League of Gentlemen fame.

Next, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) recalls a party, and the only thing worse than uptight proper British adults is British youngsters. She meets a ghost boy who lives in the walls, and either this segment was quite short and nothing much happens, or I’m just blocking it from my mind due to all the youngsters.

A good one next, by Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets), in which a wife (Googie Withers of One of Our Aircraft is Missing) gives her new husband (Ralph Michael) a haunted mirror, which shows him an alternate reality that entrances him for hours at a time.

Charles Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) directs the weirdest segment, a love triangle between two sportsmen who propose a golf game to win the hand of Mary (Peggy Bryan), who is delighted by the idea instead of appalled, because it was the 1940’s. The older Michael Caine-looking guy wins by cheating, so the other guy suicides into the water hazard, then returns as a ghost to torment his buddy during golf games. The two guys are Charters and Caldicott of The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich and Crook’s Tour, and I wouldn’t normally welcome a wacky comedy golfing bit in the middle of my ghoul anthology, but they pull it off.

Finally, the obligatory ventriloquist dummy story, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, who also did the framing story and the youngsters with the ghost in the walls. I’ve seen Cavalcanti’s gonzo silent Nothing But Time, but he has fully adjusted to the sound era, because all the characters talk too often and use too many words. Hartley Power is a balding ventriloquist who crashes the show of Michael Redgrave (also The Lady Vanishes, and The Go-Between), annoyingly creates a rivalry where there didn’t need to be one, while the psychologist has himself a flashback-in-a-flashback. I think one of the dummies is alive, but I was focused on the movie having a Harry Parker and a Larry Potter, and how close they came. Whole bunch of writers, including H.G. Wells, who did the golf story of all things.

This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.

These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.

It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.

I finished two of these shows on the same day, deciding that’s a good amount of TV to write about, and wondering what to watch next. Looking through the archives I started numbering these posts retroactively, just to amuse myself, and this is roughly the 44th roundup of TV shows.


The Knick season 1 (2014)

It’s so hard to decide which Prestige TV Drama I am gonna waste 8-13 hours watching when they churn out a hundred per year and I get around to watching maybe one. This seemed safe, since it’s where Soderbergh had ended up after “retiring” from the film industry. But it took me a year to finish watching, and in that time Soderbergh has released two new films to theaters, so his fake retirement needn’t have been a factor. First half of the season is rocky, mostly unfun, with gruesome surgery scenes (most patients die) and a hella unlikable lead (moody racist drug addict Clive Owen), establishing a whole pile of characters, then the second half lets loose raining down all the drama in the world upon their heads. The writing is trash, actors mostly good, and the style pretty cool, with a terrifically unusual shot every couple scenes and bloopy Cliff Martinez music. Mobile camera, longish takes, some crazy subjective shots and a couple wicked angles per episode. But that trash writing weighs heavy upon the show, and after hate-watching the last couple eps, I’m skipping season two.

Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen, last seen in Valerian) is our hero, a brilliant doctor thinking ahead of his time, addicted to cocaine and morphine and a huge racist, though he becomes enlightened and suddenly stops being racist in episode six, just in time to defend against race-rioting whites in episode seven.

Nurse Elkins (Eve Hewson, a Hanks family member in Bridge of Spies) is the new nurse, sent to awaken Thack with coke injections before surgery. They’re having an affair by the end, and she’s on the drugs but not as hopelessly as he is.

Nurse Elkins:

Cornelia (Juliet Rylance of Sinister) is one of the hospital’s all-important rich benefactors. She goes on adventures with the health inspector tracking Typhoid Mary through the city, is a childhood friend of Dr. Edwards, and they have an affair but she decides to marry another rich white person with a pervert father instead.

Cornelia in distress:

Dr. Edwards (André Holland, Kevin in Moonlight) is just as brilliant as Thack, but black, so nobody respects him except Cornelia and post-racism Thack and he ends up opening his own secret clinic in the hospital basement. He’s asked to abort his own baby after getting Cornelia pregnant, is an excellent boxer, and likes to get his ass kicked in bar fights when frustrated.

The hospital boss is Barrow (Jeremy Bobb of the show Godless and Under the Silver Lake) who sometimes seems underwater from all the drama but can be very determined, like when he hires Thack’s opium dealer Wu to murder the gangsters who punched him in the dick. Other major doctors include young upcomer Bertie (Michael Angarano of Red State) whose dad wants him to work someplace nicer with a better salary, and pissy Everett (Eric Johnson, Flash Gordon in 2007) who was supposed to get the position that Edwards holds.

Doctors Edwards, Bertie, Everett Gallinger, Thackery:

And the others… Dr. Christiansen (Matt Frewer: Max Headroom, Trashcan Man in The Stand) was Thack’s mentor, kills himself in the first episode after the failure of an operation that the others later perfect. Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan of Guardians of the Galaxy 2) is an ambulance driver who steals other hospitals’ patients and starts an underground business with abortionist nun Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour, abused Aunt Linda in Jack & Diane). Everett’s wife Eleanor (Zoe’s sister Maya Kazan, who would play a character named Zoe on Sleepy Hollow) loses her baby, kills the adopted replacement baby, then is sent to the booby hatch where they pull all her teeth. Dr. Zinberg (Michael Nathanson of TV’s The Punisher) is the Jewish doctor who Thack feels is his greatest rival. And Bunky (Danny Hoch of We Own the Night) was the lead gangster/loanshark/pimp killed by foot fetishist Wu (Perry Yung of John Wick 2). John Hodgman does not appear, despite a bunch of people kinda looking like John Hodgman.

Cleary and Barrow:

Bad Medicine: a pregnant woman is told to stick her belly in ice water. A nurse dies putting out an electrical fire with a bucket of water. Barrow puts his head in an x-ray machine for an hour. Thack’s ex Abby loses her nose to syphilis and gets her arm and nose grafted together. Holes are drilled in peoples’ heads, limbs are lost, things are burned and severed and pulled, and towards the end it’s all done without anesthesia because war in the Philippines has caused a cocaine shortage, causing Thack to go increasingly mental from withdrawal and kill a kid with a bad blood transfusion after misunderstanding how blood types work.

The stinger ending is the hospital shareholders vote to move uptown and Thack is given a new drug called heroin to cure his coke addiction.

The lighting is often quite nice:

Weirdly, the writer/creators are best known for a Kate Hudson romantic comedy, a Tim Allen Disney remake, and short-lived sitcoms starring Tony Danza and Jeff Foxworthy.

To make sure I don’t watch season 2, I’m spoiling it on wikipedia… looks like the abortionist nun goes to jail and Cleary blackmails their former clients into bailing her out. Bertie goes to work for Dr. Zinberg then quits after killing his own mom during cancer surgery. The guys start a prostitute clinic, discover radiation therapy, learn how to cure syphillis, and separate conjoined twins. Thack studies addiction, trying lobotomy and hypnotism. Everett becomes a eugenicist, decides to sterilize the poor, and sabotages Edwards’ surgeries. Edwards’ secret wife arrives, and he considers black nationalism. Abby dies during nose surgery. Barrow kicks out his wife, who then blackmails him over the money he’s stolen from the hospital. Nurse Elkins murders her abusive preacher father. Cornelia’s rich dad dies saving her from a fire set by her brother. And Thack performs surgery on himself, passes out, and the show was mercifully cancelled before his fate was revealed.


Assy McGee season 1 (2006)

Animated cop-show parody starring a drunken, mumbling ass with legs who often shoots innocent civilians while failing to solve silly crimes. Not a good show, but the whole season is only an hour so I let it keep running. Larry Murphy (Teddy in Bob’s Burgers) does most of the voices, including Assy, his partner Sanchez, and his angry supervisor. The creators have cred: Carl Adams wrote for Dr. Katz and Matt Harrigan for Space Ghost C2C. Director David SanAngelo worked on Home Movies and WordGirl.

Related shows to check out(?): Ugly Americans, O’Grady, 12 oz. Mouse


BoJack Horseman season 2 (2015)

Maybe the most consistently funny show about depression. BoJack gets everything he wants in this season – a perfect girlfriend who’s never seen his TV show, the leading role in his dream film, renewed friendship with his first girlfriend, and a big-ass boat – and throws it all away because he’s a self-destructive prick. Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn starts a new agency with a coworker/lover, Diane falls into a funk and hides at BoJack’s house for months, Mr. Peanutbutter hosts a hit game show produced by JD Salinger, and Todd joins an improv-comedy cult.


The Good Place season 2 (2018)

I didn’t watch most of season 1, but after hearing about its ending (it was the Bad Place all along and the entire neighborhood is Ted Danson’s torture experiment, which is why there are so many frozen yogurt stores), I joined Katy for this one, which was terrific, opening with hundreds of “reboots” of the experiment, until a desperate Danson confesses and enlists the others to play along so they all don’t get sent to the real Bad Place. Also: Chidi teaches ethics classes, Janet becomes more powerful and erratic and creates a boyfriend named Derek, they sneak into Bad Place HQ and ask mercy from a goofball Judge, then are sent back to Earth for further study.


Tales from the Tour Bus season 1 (2017)

“Paycheck stole Patsy Cline’s car!” I only heard about this from a Robbie Fulks post, am assuming it mostly flew under the radar. Good-natured stories of the highs and (mostly) lows on tour with some country legends, with generous song clips balancing out the bad behavior, animated and rotoed by Mike Judge, who clearly loves this stuff. Will be interesting to see if the new Blaze Foley movie can stand up to his episode here, and how the less country-focused second season will go.

Tammy and the President:

Johnny Cash cameo in the Waylon Jennings story:


Master of None season 2 (2017)

Bookended by double episodes with Dev’s almost-girlfriend Francesca, first in Italy then New York, the middle half has Dev hosting a cupcake show. More movie references than ever, a couple standalone/gimmick episodes, some good flashbacks in a Denise-focused episode (with Angela Bassett as her mom) and lots and lots of food.


Big Train season 2

This belongs in the pantheon of absurd sketch shows, with Mr. Show and Kids in the Hall and Human Giant and Chappelle’s Show. Created by the writers of Father Ted… so maybe that show is good? The three guys from season 1 are now joined by The Dark Haired Woman (Rebecca Front of The Day Today, The Thick of It season 3) and The Woman With The Bouncy Curls (Tracy-Ann Oberman of EastEnders).

Scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Working Class”:


And we watched enough of the Great British Bake Off to last a lifetime – though I’m slightly curious to check out the Boosh-hosted season. Also watched a Todd Barry standup special, the Fred Armisen one about drumming, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten. With limited TV time we still haven’t finished The Deuce or the new Mystery Science Theater 3000, gotten back to Atlanta or Blackish or Steven Universe, or started the latest seasons of Kimmy Schmidt or Search Party or Black Mirror [edit: one of these things is no longer true – stay tuned for details in Season 45].

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”

Uptight fashion designer is spellbound by a young waitress and pulls her into his wondrous world, then loses interest and goes back to his old bitchy, needy ways. She resents her treatment and finds a way to make herself needed once again. Retired movie star Daniel Day-Lewis appears with upcoming movie star Vicky Krieps (Gutland, The Young Karl Marx) and, as the designer’s sister who runs the business while he stomps around being a fragile genius, Lesley Manville (of most Mike Leigh movies). Katy did not like it. Apparently the third movie of the year in which men are poisoned by mushrooms (I haven’t caught Lady Macbeth yet).

Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Woodcock is reminded more than once of his place in the class system, that he doesn’t own the house in which his House is located; he’s paying rent to a wealthy client landlord. Like an architect, he’s bound to these clients, financially and spiritually: their bodies inspire his designs, and their money allows him to pay the rent. The thematic connection of designers and architects to filmmakers, and thus to the dreaded autobiographical thread, is never too fruitful for critics to follow, and it doesn’t work here at all. But what this project does reveal about Anderson is his interest in turning away from isolated obsessives toward the alchemy of collaboration.

Happy SHOCKtober!

This is pretty advanced for a low-budget hour-long mid-1980’s British horror, beginning with a closeup of a sleeping head, crossfading to a naked tree, its branches recalling the nervous system. “Just a bad dream” – Marion (1970’s TV actress Heather Page) is awakened by gentle husband Alex (Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas). They’re having guests for dinner: her old friend Angela (Joanna David of Secret Friends) and husband Richard (Nickolas Grace of Salome’s Last Dance), who we’ll soon learn is an absolute ass. The home-cooked meal is ruined by a window blown in by the storm, so they go out to a restaurant run by the Captain from Fraggle Rock, and the bulk of the movie seems to be an extremely painful dinner conversation. Drunken sniping rules the meal, mixed with references to sleepwalking and hypnosis.

L-R: Alex, Marion, Richard, Angela:

What with the storm and the drinking and the late hour, Angela and Richard reluctantly agree to spend the night. And as the dark synth music rises, a sleepwalking Marion kills everyone in the house with a knife. Perhaps that’s what happens, anyway.