Command Z (2023, Steven Soderbergh)
A grungy little show that feels unsettlingly like an advertisement, with substandard writing by a couple of podcasters. Heart’s in the right place I suppose, with a vidscreen Michael Cera ordering some shabby quantum-leapers to change history by talking evil billionaires out of destroying the planet. Among the culprits for killing the world are businessman Liev Schreiber, the Christian church, weak-willed dem congresspeople, a Ready Player One-style VR game, and Michael Cera (played in the present by Kevin Pollack, haha). Our saviours: standup comic Chloe Radcliffe, musical theater producer JJ Maley, and Roy Wood Jr.
The Underground Railroad (2021, Barry Jenkins)
This took me two years to finish watching, after opening unpromisingly (sound design all rumbling portent, slow-mo slavery-is-bad violence), setting up lead characters Cora (escaping from horrible conditions) and bounty hunter Blackhat Ridgeway with his dapper little companion Homer.
Cora rides the literally subterranean train line to enlightened South Carolina, where she works in a museum of slavery and fellow escapee Caesar works in an explosion factory, but the town’s Negro Betterment Society turns out to be sinister medical experimenters. In hostile North Carolina she finds a supposedly sympathetic family who had no plan beyond letting her live in their attic forever. Blackhat captures Cora here, and we pause to explore his background and family situation… a whole episode of a white guy talking about manifest destiny and the American imperative, oh no. Cora escapes, is joined by Fanny from the attic, finds cute William Jackson Harper at a vineyard town. We know he’s going to die – everyone in this show dies – but while the town is debating Cora’s fate, speechifying in church, putting America on trial, a white posse barges in to massacre them. Cora takes Blackhat to the railroad, finally kills him in an endless scene. More flashbacks, then Cora and Fanny head west.
The music is usually bad, dialogue often shaky, streaming compression fucks up the inky blackness of the train tunnels. Some next-level photography, but if you are a modern master at capturing light on prores video, why make a grueling 10 hour slavery drama with actors doing big corny accents?
Head writer Jihan Crowther did Man in the High Castle, others worked on Moon and The Leftovers. Cora and her mom Mabel costarred in The Woman King… Blackhat Joel Edgerton is the Master Gardener guy… The kid Chase Dillon did a Haunted Mansion remake. Fellow escapee Caesar was Mid-Sized Sedan in Old. Attic homeowners are Charlie Manson (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mindhunter) and Lily Rabe (American Horror Story). Slaver Foghorn Terence is Benjamin Walker, title star of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Blackhat’s dad Peter Mullan played the Top of the Lake drug lord, and Will Poulter of Midsommar played a photographer.
Cora and Chidi:
Caesar and Poulter:
MVP Chase Dillon as the dapper companion:
Yellowjackets season 1 (2021)
Exasperating to watch this for ten hours and somehow they never get around to the dark-secret culty stuff from the plane crash until the final few minutes, setting up a second season that I don’t have the energy to watch despite now liking the lead actors more than ever. It’s very into its 1990s soundtrack, and I guess so am I, since my choice of favorite scenes was based on whether a Belly song was playing.
Present-day housewife Melanie Lynskey is married to Warren Kole (of Pick Me Up, a fellow high schooler who wasn’t on the plane) and sleeping with mysterious Franco-looking Peter Gadiot. Tawny Cypress (of that “save the cheerleader” series) is running for office, straining relationships with her wife and their messed-up son. Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci are wildcards in their own way. Somebody dangerous is after them, may have murdered fellow survivor Travis, but is it the mysterious boyfriend, the husband, the kidnapped reporter, a political rival, a follower of freaky crash-kid Lottie, or nobody and they’re all being paranoid? If anybody watched season two, please let me know.
After pilot director Karyn Kusama sets the tone, a Norwegian who worked on American Gods alternates with Deepa Mehta(!), an original Blair Witch director, a guy from Empire, a Top of the Lake veteran, and an actual 1990s director (who made the Frances McDormand Madeline). The creators previously did a show called Narcos – joined here by writers from Animal Kingdom, How to Get Away with Murder, 90210 Reboot, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, and Hacks.
The Kingdom season 2 (1997, Lars Von Trier)
Hospital director Moesgaard gets hypnotized by a makeshift-office basement weirdo while the brotherhood is trying to root out occult influences. Bondo gets his cancerous transplant removed, but too late. Hook becomes a zombie due to Helmer malfeasance, becoming a murderous megalomaniac. New guy Christian wants to impress the cute Sanna by becoming the masked ambulance racer Falcon. Mrs. Drusse keeps looking for ghosts, including by helicopter. Rigmor shoots Helmer, who then kidnaps brain-damaged Mona, then loses her. Most importantly, Udo Kier is a gigantic baby in constant agony. Ends on a cliffhanger, but we’ll see you again in 25 years.
The Twilight Zone, Vol. 1 (1959)
I thought I’d do a morning routine of exercising to a Twilight Zone episode, but quit (for now!) after three. Doubtful that I’ve seen more than half of the original show, and not in a couple decades anyway.
101. Where Is Everybody
Earl Holliman (Forbidden Planet, Nightman) doesn’t recall who he is or how he arrived in a completely empty town, becomes increasingly panicked as he searches for human life or some explanation. Right after he logically determines that the town is too detailed for this to be a dream or delusion, we discover it’s a delusion – he’s a would-be astronaut losing his marbles after spending weeks in an isolation chamber.
This aired in Fall 1959, so before the Apollo program was developed. Director Robert Stevens was a veteran of this sort of thing from the early 1950’s Suspense and then-current Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Of the guys in the final scene, one played a senator in The Manchurian Candidate, another would later find TV fame on Peyton Place.
Earl stops to watch an obscure Douglas Sirk film:
102. One for the Angels
TV star and Disney’s Mad Hatter Ed Wynn is good as a street vendor who makes a deal with death (Murray Hamilton, mayor of Jaws) and death deals back. Laboriously told story, but that’s per 2023 me, who is well used to seeing Death in movies. Love how the plot hinges on Death himself getting so mesmerized by modern advertising techniques that he starts buying stuff he doesn’t need – he’s tried to tell us that the hereafter doesn’t consider work/professional achievements noteworthy, but capitalism triumphs over the heavens.
Death checks out the amazing tensile strength of that thread:
103. Mr Denton on Doomsday
Right after the Death episode we’ve got a guy named Fate. Hopefully these head-clunkingly obvious episodes are meant to ease viewers into the supernatural concept and things will get more elegant later on. Killer cast here – Lang regular Dan Duryea is a top gun-turned-town drunk, tormented by local bully Martin Landau (same year as his North by Northwest breakout), until Fate (Malcolm Atterbury of Rio Bravo) steps in and gives Dan a pistol and a fastest-gun-in-the-west elixir (ingredients: hightail lizard, rushroom). It’s not clear whether Fate is to credit for Dan’s weird ability to skillfully defend himself while waving his gun around blindly, though his rum shakes prevent him from shooting straight on purpose. This being The West, a young dude (Ken Lynch, a cop in NxNW) appears instantly to prove himself in a gundown with Dan, but they both drink the same elixir and only blast each other’s hands, Fate’s complex scheme to pacify the West a couple gunmen at a time. This is the first episode with a real lady in it: Jeanne Cooper, last-billed in The Intruder.
Also watched Dina Hashem’s new thing, which was low-key and good.