Midnight Mass

Mike Flanagan, the creative force behind The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, returns with Midnight Mass, a new limited series on Netflix.  Similar to his two previous series, Midnight Mass is a combination of earnest performances, thoughtful, introspective dialog and stealth horror elements.  This time around, Flanagan has decided to de-emphasize the scary stuff, and the result is incredibly underwhelming, to the point where the series should have been titled Tedium.

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The Woman in the Window

In The Woman in the Window, Amy Adams plays Anna, an agorophobic-asexual-alcoholic child psychologist who’s life turns into a weak copy of Rear Window.  The movie mainly exists as a device to persecute and torture Amy Adams’s character.  If you enjoyed seeing Adams essentially repeat her character from Sharp Objects, you may enjoy this movie.  As it stands, the movie doesn’t let her take any pleasure from her voyeurism, and instead repeatedly punishes Anna for her transgressions, past and present.  She’s Joan of Arc with a telephoto lens.  Not recommended.

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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (Netflix)

This limited series focuses on the mysterious disappearance and death of Elisa Lam while staying at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  This story could have served as a fascinating single episode of Unsolved Mysteries.  Unfortunately, what we get is four overly padded episodes that eventually confirm what I suspected all along.  Worse still, significant time was devoted to talking head commentary that is irrelevant to the case, especially the commentary made by several self-described “YouTubers”, “web sleuths” and “journalists”.  The commentary they made online at the time was entirely baseless speculation on what happened to Ms. Lam.  The decision to include them along with the interviews of the actual detectives and forensic specialists involved in the case was a decision that turned what could have been a serious examination into the case into laugh-inducing material.  Not recommended.

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Murder on Middle Beach (HBO)

A true crime documentary series where filmmaker Madison Hamburg attempts to figure out who murdered his mother.  The series contains several moments that are very moving, while the segments constructed to induce tension come off as contrived.  While only four episodes, the series feels brief and padded at the same time.  Moderately recommended.

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Unsolved Mysteries (season 15, vol. 2)

As was the case with volume 1, the six episodes released as volume 2 of season 15 are a mixed bag.  Back in 1981, the rock band Genesis decided to name their latest album after the grades they gave the songs contained within (ABACAB).  I’ve used their simple but effective method of categorization on the episodes included in volume 2, and grouped them accordingly.

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The Mandalorian (Season 2, Disney+)

This post is full of spoilers.  If you have not watched all of season 2 yet, you have been warned!

The arc of Season 2 of The Mandalorian shows the title character slowly changing his ways, acting less like an independent bounty hunter and more like a collaborator and friend.  From here on out, whenever I’m referring to the title character in The Mandalorian and not the show itself, I’ll refer to him as “Mando”.  This seems appropriate since most everyone who talks and writes about this show on the internet refers to him as “Mando”.  Heck, even a character within the show (Greef Karga) calls him by that nickname.  Mando actually has a name, Din Djarin, but calling him “Din” all the time would sound weird.  (Not as weird as calling someone “Greef”, but  weird enough.)  Rest assured, I’m going along with calling Din “Mando” out of expediency.  I still think it sounds too much like Lando, as in Calrissian.  Calling him “Man” would have been ridiculous.  But I digress.

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The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

What exactly is “The Queen’s Gambit”?  According to Wikipedia, it is a chess opening by the white player.  This opening is mentioned once or twice in the series, and pieces are moved on the board accordingly. Since I’ve never played chess, I couldn’t explain to you what the strategy actually involves if my life depended on it, however.  Nevertheless, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed everything about The Queen’s Gambit: the acting, the direction, the characters, the story, the fashion and music, all of it.  This has been one of the best, if not the best series I’ve watched all year.  I highly recommend it, regardless of your understanding of chess.

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The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)

So far in my life, I’ve seen Kaley Cuoco in TV three series: Charmed, The Big Bang Theory and now The Flight Attendant.  I don’t remember her making much of an impression in Charmed beyond being young and pretty.  As someone who liked and enjoyed The Big Bang Theory, I appreciated how she transformed Penny from essentially eye candy to a person with self-awareness, vulnerability and the ability to deliver a punchline.  With The Flight Attendant, Cuoco managed to destroy twelve years of good will over what I can only describe as a mess.

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The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)

The Haunting of Hill House, released on Netflix in 2018, was regarded as both a commercial and critical success.  The series was a retelling of the novel by Shirley Jackson published in 1959.  While two movies based on the novel have been released (the 1963 being far superior to the 1999 version), the Netflix series felt fresh due to a new take on the material, one which retained the scary elements at its core, but moved the story to a modern setting and tweaked the plot in ways that defied expectations.

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