The 3rd Annual ERPs


A year in movies isn’t just about the new releases. In addition to the EMOs, now I present the 3rd annual Ethan’s Repertory Picks, running down some of the best, worst and most memorable games of cinematic catch-up that I played in 2017. Enjoy!

For Marilyn Monroe Really Going For It With the Crazy: “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952), Roy Ward Baker

For Marilyn Monroe Really Bored: “Niagara” (1953), Henry Hathaway

For the Origin of Every Think-Piece and Opinion You’ve Ever Seen or Had About Marilyn Monroe: “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), Billy Wilder


For “Deliverance” But More Martial and Also Insane: “Southern Comfort” (1981), Walter Hill

For the Silliest Vin Diesel Hair: “The Last Witch Hunter” (2015), Breck Eisner

For When Your “Stranger Things” ’80s Nostalgia Isn’t Ultra-Violent Enough: “Turbo Kid” (2015), Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell


For When You Want to Yell At Protagonists Who Are Not Nearly Freaked Out Enough About the Circumstances They Find Themselves In: “Children of the Corn” (1984), Fritz Kiersch


For Cary Grant In Some Really Primo Hats: “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939), Howard Hawks

For Faye Dunaway Really Going For It in a Movie with Unclear Reasons for Existing: “Mommie Dearest” (1981), Frank Perry

For a Great Le Carre Adaptation Done in By Bizarre Casting: “The Little Drummer Girl” (1984), George Roy Hill

For A So-So Le Carre Adaptation Elevated By Great Casting: “The Russia House” (1990), Fred Schepisi


For Sexy Mermaids That Will Eat the Patriarchy: “The Lure” (2015), Agnieszka Smoczynska

For the Particular Delight of Rock Hudson Trying to Fit Into a Car That’s Too Small For Him, Which Is Really What We Should Be Talking About When We Say That They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To: “Pillow Talk” (1959), Michael Gordon

For a Thriller About Revenge Against the 1% and Nazis That, Somehow, Feels Even Less Timely: “Inside Man” (2006), Spike Lee

For Checking Your Goddamn Narrative Logic At the Door, We’re Making a Soviet Avant-Garde War Movie and Just Go With It: “Story of the Flaming Years” (1961), Yulia Solntseva


For Super Super Fashionable Murder: “Blood and Black Lace” (1964), Mario Bava

For the Good Old Days When Charles Durning Could Be An Action/Thriller Hero: “When a Stranger Calls” (1979), Fred Walton


For When You Really Feel Like Suspending Disbelief, Sure Orson Welles Could Hide Out in Small-Town Connecticut Without Attracting Any Attention: “The Stranger” (1946), Orson Welles

For The Most Xtreme Xaction Xaround: “xXx” (2002), Rob Cohen

For Half of a Pretty Good Movie Just Repeated Twice: “Sully” (2016), Clint Eastwood

Top 10 Repertory Picks of 2017

10. “Train to Busan” (2016), Sang-ho Yeon


A clever, zippy take on the zombie outbreak genre, follows through on its killer conceit with claustrophobic action and character work. The third act really starts to lag, but terrific set-pieces and likable leads make for a real romp that manages to sneak in some feeling.

9. “Woman of the Year” (1942), George Stevens


A contradictory movie – obvious reshoots and edits reveal paradoxical attitudes towards femininity and Hepburn’s fierce investigative journalist Tess Harding in particular. Her independent spirit is both validated by a refreshingly oddball-yet-realistic romance with Tracy’s kind but emotionally stunted sports reporter; yet knocked down by that grafted-on ending that clearly needs to put the character “in her place” for a 1940s American wife. But when it’s embracing the eccentricities and fumbling of Tess and Sam’s relationship, “Woman of the Year” feels surprisingly ahead of its time and quite unlike contemporary screwball romances – and, while that re-shot ending sequence is awkward, poorly written and problematic against the rest of the film, it *does* give Hepburn one of the best purely comic set-pieces of her career.

8. “The Women” (1939), George Cukor


Likewise – it’s rough that even when investing in a rare all-female production, it’s tough to say whether Golden Age Hollywood could quite pass the Bechdel Test. But even if the story can’t stray past typical character confinements – “The Women” is all socialite machinations, gossip, and affairs – it’s impossible to put such an incredible cast together and not get something special. Shearer, Crawford, Russell, Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Marjorie Main, Ruth Hussey – letting these superb actresses bounce off each other, without a rote Melvyn Douglas performance or somesuch to get in the way, remains (sadly) a unique experience.

7. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1941), William Dieterle


Dieterle, a Hollywood transplant from Weimar Germany, leans into the gothic horror of Stephen Vincent Benet’s colonial New England fable, with playful special effects and haunting imagery. Walter Huston has a near criminal amount of fun as the demonic Mr. Scratch.

6. “Repo Man” (1984), Alex Cox


Cox’s encyclopedic knowledge of and affinity with the L.A. punk scene of the early ’80s may provide the easy hook, but it’s one thing to be referential and another to actually translate punk’s off-kilter humor and disregard for social norms into a movie so viscerally. A send-up of wacky conspiratorial sci-fi B-movies, a satirical critique of consumer dystopia, a punk rock coming-of-age story – none of it should add up to anything coherent, and maybe it doesn’t, but you can’t help but think about the makers laughing at you for being square enough to try to square it, and go along for the ride.

5. “Mildred Pierce” (1945), Michael Curtiz


Anyone who’s only seen Joan Crawford second-hand: filtered through “Mommie Dearest” or “Feud”, really owes it to themselves to see her at the height of her own power. “Mildred Pierce” ain’t a bad place to start. Narrative casts her as both heel and patsy, but the expressionistic noir wasteland of Curtiz’s California coastline, along with Crawford’s nuanced, powerhouse performance, suggest the deeper tragedy of circumstance going on here in Mildred Pierce’s story.

4. “Paprika” (2006), Satoshi Kon


A trippy, balls-to-the-wall thriller that appropriately abandons all logic in favor of stunning, dreamy imagery. Rather than some of its Hollywood equivalents – think “Inception” – Satoshi Kon’s anime classic leans into the absurdity and spontaneity of subconscious thought, trading precision plotting for a zippy, delightful journey that *feels* sensical, even when the details can, and should, fall by the wayside.

3. “Pather Panchali” (1955), Satyajit Ray


Ray’s loose, eminently empathetic masterpiece practically defines humanist cinema. Effortlessly gorgeous (the Criterion Collection and Academy’s painstaking 2015 restoration is truly something to behold), gently heart-breaking, “Pather Panchali” tells the story of a childhood with minimal bluster and excess. It’s a triumph of understatement and sensitivity.

2. “Poem of an Inland Sea” (1958), Yulia Solntseva


A deep cut – and even among the small crowd of New York cinephiles who happened to catch all three of Yulia Solntseva’s gorgeous Ukraine trilogy at Museum of the Moving Image this past summer, perhaps the oddball choice. The consensus pick for best of the bunch seemed to be the Tarkovsky-esque “Enchanted Desna”, and Solntseva won Best Director at Cannes for “Story of the Flaming Years”. But “Poem of an Inland Sea” really captured my fascination – precisely because it is in many ways the most stilted of the three. The most overtly “propagandistic”, it is also by far the queasiest about those propagandistic elements – building up the Soviet achievement of a new dam with visual grandeur while at the same time mourning the loss of the Ukrainian communities about to be flooded with a thoroughly anti-Party sense of melancholy and romanticism for the past. Though Solntseva’s visual style had clearly not yet fully matured, the characters in “Poem of an Inland Sea” are fleshed out and empathized with in a way the later films abandon for pure sensual stimulation – and it’s still hardly skimpy on stunning shots. A fascinating relic of the cultural/generational/ethnic tensions contained within the USSR.

1. “Dekalog: One” (1989), Krzysztof Kieslowski


No other filmmaker gives me chills in quite the same way as Kieslowski. I’m still only partially through the Dekalog, his cinematic series of loosely Biblical morality tales, but the distressing, bitter opening chapter sets a pall that is not easily shaken. As queasy and probing about the relationship between humanity and technology as the best episodes of “Black Mirror”, Kieslowski manages to ask some of the most unsettling, existential questions with the simplest of images.


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The 11th Annual EMOs


It’s that time again! Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars give me a chance to reflect on my year in film that was 2017. As always, to qualify, a film both had to be released in 2017, and I had to see it within the year as well (so, I still have a lot to catch up on – and I’ll just say that “Lady Bird”, which is not represented here because I didn’t see it until Jan. 5, would’ve been a power player). As with last year, I’m just diving straight into winners in each category, before listing others “receiving votes”: that is, not my top pick but other films, performances and elements worthy of a shout-out.

Before diving into the EMOs themselves, I do want to note two things about 2017, at least as regards my film-going. First, this is the year that an inundation of original content on streaming platforms, Netflix in particular, really challenged my conception of a “new release” and what content to cover here. Sure, pleasant but relatively trifling fare like “Win It All” and “The Incredible Jessica James” fit the traditional bill of a “movie” thanks to their one-off nature and hour-and-a-half run-time – but can I really say that they were more central to my cinematic experience this year than, say, HBO’s “The Young Pope”? Netflix’s “Wormwood”? Or (though I’m only partially through the series still), Showtime’s “Twin Peaks: The Return”? Should I really spend time praising Nicole Kidman’s performance in a misfire like “The Beguiled” (though, rest assured, she is a gem in it) when your time would probably better be spent watching her in “Big Little Lies”? Is a sprawling, ambitious work like Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” better compared against a theatrical barn-buster like “Get Out” – or its Netflix neighbor, “Godless”?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. The EMOs are already, um, a little unwieldy and going full Golden Globes and adding a whole bunch of new categories to recognize the growing influence and experimentation of episodic content is an exhausting thought. I’ll chew it over, for another year at least.

The second thing I wanted to point out was the overall roaring success of Hollywood genre entertainment this year. This stuff tends to go in cycles, so perhaps next year we’ll be right back to bemoaning the billion-or-bust attitude of current tentpole productions. But, at least this year, the studios seemed to figure out how to deliver popcorn thrills with a dash of genuine, adult emotion. The middle-of-the-road adult drama may be dead, but you know, if we have more “Logans” and fewer “The Judges”, it might not be the worst thing.

In any case – on with the awards!

Best Action: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Receiving votes:
Baby Driver
Atomic Blonde
War for the Planet of the Apes

Funniest Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Receiving votes:
Logan Lucky
The Trip to Spain
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Big Sick
Baby Driver

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist: Justine, Raw

Receiving votes:
Travis, It Comes At Night
Terry and Bob, War on Everyone
Logan, Logan

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Fiery Painful Death Just For Making Me Watching the Trailer: Monster Trucks

Receiving votes:
The Book of Henry
The Space Between Us
Transformers: The Last Knight

Best Cameo: Frank Oz, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
(spoilers oops whatever)

Receiving votes:
Tilda Swinton #2, Okja
Stephen Root, Get Out
Luke Evans, The Fate of the Furious

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Jessica Williams, The Incredible Jessica James
Garance Marillier, Raw
Kelvin Harrison, Jr., It Comes At Night
Grace Van Patten, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Poster:
It Comes At Night

Receiving votes:
Proud Mary
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Get Out
Ingrid Goes West
The Shape of Water
Phantom Thread
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Trailer: Black Panther

Receiving votes:
It Comes At Night
The Florida Project
Thor: Ragnarok
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Atomic Blonde
Blade Runner 2049
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Death of Stalin

Best Scene: “Now you’re in the sunken place”, Get Out

Receiving votes:
throne room fight, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Tom Hardy’s landing, Dunkirk
bikini wax, Raw
opening heist through opening credits, Baby Driver
ALF truck heist, Okja
staircase fight, Atomic Blonde

Best Use of an Existing Song: “Bellbottoms”, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Baby Driver

Receiving votes:
“Harlem Shuffle”, Bob & Joe, Baby Driver
Leia’s theme, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
“Father Figure”, George Michael, Atomic Blonde
“Take Me Home, Country Roads”, John Denver, Logan Lucky

Best Original Song: “Genius Girl”, perf. Adam Sandler and Grace Van Patten, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Original Score: Tamar-kali, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Wind River

Best Cinematography: Rachel Morrison, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Philippe Le Sourd, The Beguiled
Dan Lausten, The Shape of Water
Steve Yedlin, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Ben Richardson, Wind River
Ruben Impens, Raw

Best Adapted Screenplay: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams, Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night
Rebecca Blunt, Logan Lucky
Julia Ducournau, Raw
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson, Okja
Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Supporting Actor: Gil Birmingham, Wind River

Receiving votes:
Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water
Rob Morgan, Mudbound
Daniel Craig, Logan Lucky
Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound
Mark Rylance, Dunkirk
Stephen Merchant, Logan
John C. Reilly, Kong: Skull Island

Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Elizabeth Marvel, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Tilda Swinton, Okja
Ella Rumpf, Raw
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Emma Thompson, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Robin Wright, Wonder Woman

Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Receiving votes:
Hugh Jackman, Logan
Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
Channing Tatum, Logan Lucky
Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Receiving votes:
Nicole Kidman, The Beguiled
Garance Marillier, Raw
Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Jessica Williams, The Incredible Jessica James
Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde

Best Acting Ensemble: Get Out

Receiving votes:
It Comes At Night
Logan Lucky
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Spider-Man: Homecoming

Best Director: Dee Rees, Mudbound

Receiving votes:
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Julia Ducournau, Raw
Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky
Bong Joon-ho, Okja
Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
James Mangold, Logan

Best Movie: Get Out

Receiving votes:
It Comes At Night
The Shape of Water
Logan Lucky
Star Wars: The Last Jedi


The “I Ain’t Even Mad” Award for When Reese Witherspoon Self-Produces a Movie Where She Shtups a Twenty-Year-Old: Home Again

Most Deflating Revelation That One of Your Favorite Up-and-Coming Writer/Directors Wants To Be Tarantino: War on Everyone

Craziest Heigl: Unforgettable

Most Surprisingly Bland Film Featuring Furries, Bigfoot, and Michael Shannon: Pottersville

Best Solution to Mansplaining: talk over it with an extended Roger Moore/Moor bit, “The Trip to Spain”

Most Flagrant Abuse of the After-Credits Scene: Kong: Skull Island

Most Flagrant Abuse of De-Aging CGI: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Most Flagrant Abuse of “Narrative”: Atomic Blonde

Most Troubling Appropriation: The Beguiled

Least Convincing Candidate for “God of War”: David Thewlis, “Wonder Woman”

Fuzziest Friends: Kedi

Most Absurdly Satisfying Payoff to the Mythology of a Franchise About Cars Going Fast: The Fate of the Furious

The Most Brooklyn-ized Irishman Since David Neary: Chris O’Dowd, “The Incredible Jessica James”

Most Mixed Messages About Gambling: Win It All

*Endless Screaming*: Get Me Roger Stone

About As Feminist As A Movie That Puts Its Female Lead in a Coma for Half the Running Time Can Be, I Guess: The Big Sick

Most Unexpected Use of John Denver In a Year Full of Unexpected Uses of John Denver: Free Fire

Most Irresponsible Recruitment of a Minor Into, Like, Highly Dangerous Superhero Bullshit: Tony Stark in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

I, For One, Welcome Our New Ape Overlords: War for the Planet of the Apes

Troubling Evidence That Taylor Sheridan Has No Idea How to Write a Female Character: Wind River

Most Surprisingly Coherent Mash-up of “Freaky Friday” and “Armageddon”: Your Name

Your Once-a-Decade Reminder That Adam Sandler Can Act If He Wants To, He Just Doesn’t Want To: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Most Needs To Learn from Ryan Gosling in “Drive” and Never Open His Mouth: Ansel Elgort, “Baby Driver”

Sylvester Stallone in “Creed” Award for Making Me Suddenly Care About a Character Despite Not Having Any Emotional Attachment¬† Whatsoever to His Previous 17 Franchise Entries: Hugh Jackman, “Logan”

Most Cleverly Meta Blockbuster That’s Kinda Ruined By Everyone Being Obsessed With How Cleverly Meta It Is: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Cutest Pig-Cow That I Would Definitely Still Eat: Okja

Most Gleeful Daniel Craig: Logan Lucky

Weirdest Shade Thrown at Baltimore: The Shape of Water

Most Likely to Not Think About At All For Eight Months Until That One Night You Suddenly Wake up Soaked In Cold Sweat: It Comes At Night

Better At Convincing Me To Go Vegetarian Than “Okja”: Raw

Most Milked Out of Kenneth Branagh’s Two Days On Set: Dunkirk

Whatever the Opposite of Escapist Entertainment Is: Mudbound

If I Could, I Would Have Voted for It For a Second EMO: Get Out

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Screen Watch: July 21, 2017

Thoughts on movies, TV, and other things seen on flat screens

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Jamie Foxx;Eiza Gonzalez

Baby Driver

I’ve pretty much always been along for an Edgar Wright ride, even “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – and, while “Baby Driver” is better than that oft-maligned flop, it shares and drastically augments my growing concern that Wright has no idea how to cast his leads if Simon Pegg isn’t involved. Michael Cera’s lack of range and off-putting nebbishness tanked “Scott Pilgrim”‘s emotional core, and likewise whatever heights “Baby Driver”reaches are very frequently in spite of, not thanks to, Ansel Elgort’s black hole of charisma. He’s not *bad* exactly, as Baby, the getaway driver with a heart of gold, but he’s utterly boring, and when your narrative is nothing but familiar genre tropes strung together, boring is a cardinal sin.

There’s an exception or two of course: when Elgort gets to show off his training in ballet, as in the way he dances to himself in the car of the film’s opening, outstanding heist sequence, you practically weep wondering what “La La Land” could’ve been with actual dancers leading the way. But mostly Elgort is relegated to playing straight man to a more eclectic (and more fun) cast of supporting characters. Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm spice up the patter, finding room to play in the too-long gaps between undeniably exquisite chase scenes.

Wright’s been one of the best action directors in the world the past decade, hiding behind the comic facade “Hot Fuzz”, “Scott Pilgrim” and “The World’s End”; “Baby Driver” drops much of the parodic pretense, and it’s exhilarating. The chase scenes are slick, sweet, crowd-pleasing; it’s just too bad Wright’s formal mastery is paired with an utter disinterest in narrative innovation. “Baby Driver” is totally content, for instance, to let Lily James’ character be exactly a genre cliche, practically stepped straight out of a James Cagney flick. I still whole-heartedly believe Wright’s got a masterpiece in him, but gods it won’t be “Baby Driver 2”.


The Beguiled

As usual, Sofia Coppola’s latest is utterly ravishing, and its opening shots of a misty, murky, overgrown Virginian estate immediately sets your mind for a moody, complex thriller – that simply never arrives. Coppola’s particular, repeated treatise on repressed white femininity has played out before with more engaging and engaged characters and style (“The Virgin Suicides”, “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” are all hardly perfect, but they are bold messes).

Here, she ventures into historic drama and a loaded premise (a house full of Southern women who shelter a wounded, handsome Union soldier) – while apparently uninterested in most any of the implications of setting the story in a specific time, and a specific place. As told by Coppola, you could transplant this story to any war, in any time; and while universality can be a legitimate point to make, in this case the vagueness simply leaves more questions than connections: beyond the lazy explanation of “that’s the source material”, why the Civil War? Why Virginia? Why dismiss the house’s slaves with a literal one-liner of hand-waving dialogue? It is difficult to get engaged with a story that feels like it is only half-heartedly justifying itself.



Bong Joon-ho’s ability to pull off a kitchen-sink approach to genre and tone remains unparalleled – it’s difficult to think of any other director who can slip from black comedy to thrilling action to quiet drama and back again so quickly, and so easily.

Like his previous high-profile international effort, “Snowpiercer”, “Okja” features a blatantly off-key performance that threatens to tip his delicately balanced boat over. In “Snowpiercer”, Chris Evans unfortunately never seemed to receive the “satire” memo; here, Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have taken it too close to heart, putting in such an outrageously cartoonish performance that it becomes impossible to focus on what is actually happening in any of his scenes, much less get emotionally invested in them.

But, far more finely calibrated performances from Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and lead Ahn Seo-Hyun make “Okja” a winning, if not overpowering, modern fable. The heist/chase scene that arrives mid-second-act is one of the best setpieces of Bong’s career, and the early scenes of Ahn and her charming super-pig together in the forest channel Miyazaki in the best way.



War for the Planet of the Apes

The “shock” that we can empathize with digital creations is, at this point, entirely stale – we can’t pretend like Pixar hasn’t been at it for 20 years now. Less examined, and less truly appreciated, is the ability to create utterly seamless blends of CGI and physical realities. I have yet to really be *convinced*, for instance, by literally any Marvel movie, in which weightless blurry robots are destroyed by weightless blurry humanoids, with Chris Hemsworth’s face grafted on to the blur most resembling a human head. Suspension of disbelief means that I can still carry on, and even greatly enjoy, most of these movies. But Hollywood has a problem, and it has to do with weight, and the under-explored (at least, when it comes to the cultural conversation around movies) psychological correspondence between physical and emotional presence.

I’m a newcomer to the new “Apes” trilogy, so yes, I’ll join the party and confirm that “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a shining example of movies that do *not* have this problem. Despite largely taking place in a “real” setting (that is, not Thanos’ asteroid, or a Death Star, or some other completely fantastical green-screen environment), Woody Harrelson’s character is more or less the only human character of note, the entire film otherwise being carried by the apes that seem to be equal parts performance-capture and VFX artistry. Film criticism and discourse has long resisted the true appreciation of collaborative efforts – witness, most everyone’s tendency (including my own) to continue referring to movies by their director as “author”, despite us all objectively recognizing that every movie is a herculean mosaic of group effort – and thus, credit for Caesar the chimp seems destined to be handed disproportionately either to Andy Serkis or Weta Digital, when the truth is likely an un-categorizable middle ground.

Regardless. Caesar’s struggle to consider what a leader can or should be, and the tension between those impulses, is a resonant and affecting creation. The third-act prison-escape drama of “War” threatens to drag out the story too long, but it comes roaring back to a thrilling conclusion thanks to Reeves’ sterling craft and canny eye for set-pieces.


Veep, season 6 / Silicon Valley, season 4

Both HBO stalwarts had solid seasons of comedy, but neither really came close to their respective peaks. The best moments came from those mid- to late-run magic moments of actors and writers who so thoroughly know their characters by now that they’re free to just revel in the wriggly, weird details – see: Zach Woods’ Jared in “Silicon Valley”, revealing ever more hilariously disturbing pieces of his childhood and nearly creating a spinoff show with his schizophrenic side personality, tech bro “Jim Chambers”; or Tony Hale, Matt Walsh and Timothy Simons in “Veep” all somehow finding new depths of empathy and disgust in what, five seasons ago, were already one-note characters (Sam Richardson and Clea DuVall, secret MVPs over the past couple seasons of the show, were generally under-served this time around, but still came through with 101 mph fastballs in limited screentime).

I pair these two together because they’ve also both lost pretty much any narrative engagement to the cyclical nature of sitcoms at this point: the perpetual up-and-down fortunes of Pied Piper and Selina Meyer’s presidential hopes are, at this point, in dire need of a Daenerys Targaryen wheel-breaking. Perhaps, with T.J. Miller’s departure from “Silicon Valley”, that show will at last leave behind Ehrlich’s goddamn living room (or, at least, give us more Jian-Yang).


House of Cards, season 5

Boy, speaking of wheel-spinning. Does this show have an endgame? A point to make that it didn’t make in season two? Any reason for existing at all? I mean, the ending of season five puts us back in literally the exact same place that season three ended, with the promise of Underwood vs. Underwood. Last time turned out to be a roughly two-episode-long feint; why should I believe the political thriller that cried wolf? Especially when there’s barely even fun to be had in the supporting cast anymore? (Does Lars Mikkelsen even know he’s still on this show???) The only glimmer of life here is Patricia Clarkson more or less playing Tammy One Goes to Washington.


GLOW, season 1

Where “House of Cards” has grown utterly stale despite self-serious insistence that it’s “relevant”, “GLOW” feels fresh by embracing familiar, comfortable formula done well. We are in true boom times for half-hour comedy, but even so “GLOW” stands out for its snappy and savvy writing and top-to-bottom charming cast of established (Alison Brie, Marc Maron) and should-be (Sunita Mani, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young) stars. It won’t inspire as many thinkpieces as many other peak-TV offerings because it’s message, and implications, are straightforward and not terribly ambitious, but that’s most increasingly welcome in a bloated landscape of cultural conversation.

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