Claire Foy (of Nicolas Cage monk-actioner Season of the Witch) makes the huge mistake of confessing suicidal thoughts to her therapist, gets admitted to a psychiatric ward for evaluation for a couple days, which gets extended to a week because she keeps railing against her confinement. She sees her stalker ex-boyfriend working at the clinic, and I thought the whole movie was gonna be the old “are these things really happening or is she actually crazy” routine, but it becomes clear only a few scenes later that he is a dangerous stalker abusing his position of power and her inability to escape. I haven’t seen Side Effects yet, but between this and The Knick and Contagion, Soderbergh has got a thing for dangerous hospitals.

“There is no path to happiness from here.” The stalker is Joshua Leonard of the Blair Witch Project. SNL’s Jay Pharoah helps Claire out, claims to be a recovering drug addict who checked himself in, but is actually an undercover reporter exposing the hospital, or he would have if Josh hadn’t murdered him. Josh also kills unstable patient Juno Temple (the blonde one in Jack & Diane) and Claire’s mom, then miseries Claire’s foot when she runs away. I think she kills his ass in the end, the hospital gets busted for being run like a secret prison, and Claire gets a promotion at work. Whole movie was shot on a phone, with some unique angles and fishbowl views.

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 (AndrĂ© 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].

Maybe a weird choice when my parents were visiting, but everyone loves sexy dancing. I guess it’s about friendship and forgiveness, following your dreams, and sexy, sexy dancing. Good movie, unusual looking in the usual Soderbergh style, all muted colors except inside the club.

Mike (Tater Channing) works at McConaughey’s strip club while saving up to open his own furniture business. He picks up a protege (Alex Pettyfer, star of spy-kid flick Alex Rider) at his construction day-job, who turns out to be a fuckup, and Mike loses his savings bailing the dummy out of trouble. Mike gets a semi-happy ending with the fuckup’s sister (Cody Horn) and the rest of the gang is moving to a new club in another city – despite this, it looks like Tater and all the dancers, but not the fuckup or his sister or McConaughey, appear in the sequel.

The Logans (Tater Channing, Riley Keough and one-armed Adam Driver) would like to rob the Motor Speedway, so they break heistmaster Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison. Joe brings along his dimwit brothers (Brendan Gleeson’s son and Dennis Quaid’s son) and they get to work, avoiding Tater’s nemesis, the loudmouth sponsor of an energy-drink racing team (Seth MacFarlane?).

It’s been a month and I forgot to take notes, so I’ll make this quick. There’s light fun in watching the plan come together, then a bunch of additional fun afterwards when the plan seems to have failed, the FBI investigation by Hilary Swank and Macon Blair has come up empty, and they unveil the plan-behind-the-plan, enriching the locals who helped them along the way. Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking was fully satisfying (I couldn’t wait, so have also started watching The Knick). Writer Rebecca Blunt is the subject of some controversy. Mostly it made me wanna watch the Oceans trilogy again, but there are some suspicious user reviews of the blu-ray multi-pack on amazon.

Matt Damon is Scott, who gets introduced to Liberace (Lee to his friends) by laid-back mustache dude Scott Bakula in the late 1970’s, beginning an affair/family/employee situation that lasts until Lee (Michael Douglas) finally kicks out Scott in favor of a new, younger, less-drug-addicted, less-contentious boy. It comes full circle from when Scott replaced gloomy pretty-boy Cheyenne Jackson (Danny, the new cast member on 30 Rock) at Lee’s house. Liberace dies of AIDS, but Scott is cut out of the will, Lee’s verbal promises not carrying any legal weight, so Scott writes a tell-all memoir.

Performances are great, storytelling is effective, costumes and period details are spot-on, but it can’t break out of the “bio-pic based on tell-all memoir” genre. A squinty Rob Lowe is the highlight as a plastic surgeon who makes Douglas look younger and Damon look weirder with shiny cheeks. Dan Aykroyd plays Lee’s manager and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy and the Bachelor, Susan Slept Here) his mother. Adapted from Scott’s book by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King).

A. Cook: “I don’t know if any other American filmmaker is more inventive right now with choosing where to place the camera, how to frame the image, how to use focus, etc.” I get what he’s saying – in this and Haywire and Contagion I notice unusual editing and shot choices – but the movies’ standard Hollywood storytelling and starpower get in the way. If I was dedicated enough, I might rewatch Haywire paying attention only to its framing and technical qualities, but maybe instead Soderbergh needs more interesting scripts to go with his artistic filmmaking intentions – The Informant being a good example.

Back with his rival/writer Lem Dobbs of The Limey and Kafka, but I don’t see much point in celebrating the reunion since this was a straightforward double-crossed super-spy story. If not for the Soderbergh name and the A-list cast that always follows the Soderbergh name, this would be filler content on HBO starring Edward Furlong or the like. I’m starting to think that I’ve been suckered into believing that Soderbergh is some important auteur, when really he just makes slick entertainments rather well. But I guess he goes back and forth – some turns out better than others – and this one is firmly on the slick-entertainments side of things.

The reviews focused entirely on whether action hero Gina Carano can act in the non-action scenes, and the answer is “well enough”. More surprising is that the stars (particularly Fassbender and Tater) can keep up with Gina in the fighting scenes, also well enough.

Gina is a spy/mercenary/thing working for Ewan McGregor’s private organization, rescues a Chinese fellow from kidnappers along with her buddy “Tater” Channing, then accepts a quick follow-up assignment with British agent Michael Fassbender at the house of Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie‘s photo-booth boyfriend), where she finds the dead Chinese guy, realizes she’s being framed, gets jumped by Fassbender and shoots him dead after a struggle.

But wait, the movie starts in the middle, where she’s met by Tater in a diner while being tracked by Ewan’s people, kicks Tater’s ass but does not kill him, then kidnaps a dude named Scott (the kid who was shot by Stephen Root in Red State) to escape. Now she’s off to clear her name, tracking down Ewan (traitor with a bad haircut who gets left to drown Ted Danson-style), Tater (killed by Ewan), Michael Douglas (gov’t good guy who helps slightly). We know the big baddie at the end will be Antonio Banderas, since we saw him with a Castro beard early in the film then he never came back, and he wouldn’t just have the one cameo. Help also comes from her dad Bill Paxton (his first movie since 2007, and the first I’ve heard of since ’04).

According to the IMDB, shot and edited by Soderbergh under pseudonyms, well enough.

On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?

Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:

Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:

The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).

Jude Law in puffy suit:

Soderbergh made a sort of Spalding Gray autobiography, stitching together monologues and interviews from across Gray’s career into a new monologue – not one Gray would have scripted himself in precisely this way, but thoroughly captivating. The picture is nothing special, lots of 4:3 video sources – Gray’s story is everything.

The open is perfect, revealing the out-take nature of the film, a rough videotape of Spalding sitting down, attaching his microphone and beginning a story. Lots of talk about death – maybe that was always present in his stories, but you really notice it now.

Topics: childhood, christian science, his parents, his mother’s suicide, beginnings in acting, sex, conversations with audience members, his movies (three of them anyway – nobody ever mentions Terrors of Pleasure), his two wives and his children, and the car accident a couple years before he died, with mentions of R.D. Laing, Gray’s work in pornographic film, “poetic journalism,” dancing to Tubthumping and the meaning of life. It’s like the best Inside the Actor’s Studio episode, with no interviewer.

I don’t know why, but for a whole segment he is holding up a Playboy.

While Soderbergh’s studio movies with George Clooney and Matt Damon have been humming along at a regular pace, he’s been inconsistent with his smaller, more personal movies: Bubble and Girlfriend Experience were kind of crappy, no fun to watch, but Che was overwhelming. So yeah, Katy and I are glad we didn’t save this one for a hot date movie, since it was neither hot nor very good. A couple of unappealing actors play a story that doesn’t seem to matter, told in random-ass chronology with camerawork alternating between intriguing, decent and appalling.

Bored-looking “bona fide porn star” (as Netflix proclaims her) Sasha Grey (of Grand Theft Anal 11, Meet the Fuckers 7 and Fox Holes) is a professional escort, dating muscle-bound personal trainer Chris Santos. She is into astrology, takes notes on her encounters read to us in voiceover. He is considering going on a trip to Vegas with his work buddies. The only two scenes I liked were when he somewhat awkwardly requests a promotion from his boss and when she reads a negative review of her services online.

From the writers of Ocean’s 13, surprisingly. In fact I’m half-surprised that it had writers at all. At least it was short.