Chillin’ With Netflix (2018 edition)

Chillin’ With Netflix (2018 edition)


Really well done, family friendly space opera.  Top notch production values, good / smart writing, superlative cast.

And despite all this, it couldn’t keep my attention past episode 4.

I put the blame on me, not this new series by writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.  

As a preteen, I was in the prime target audience for the original Lost In Space back in the mid-1960s, and that series -- despite its wildly varying tone -- created an iconic show that, try as they might, every subsequent re-make struggles to overcome.

Seriously, it’s like trying to remake I Love Lucy only without Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley.

Yeah, it can be done, but why bother?  Use that talent and energy to do something in the same vein but different.

That being said, I deny no one their pleasure.  If you haven’t seen / loved the original, try this version; you might very well like it.

. . .


Excellent production / writing / cast / performances.

I started out really liking it.

That enthusiasm faded.

I ended up enjoying this new retelling of The Haunting Of Hill House but came away feeling it fell short of 1963’s The Haunting, the first and still best adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story.

First off, a definition of terms (which will explain my enthusiasm fade):  In order to work, a ghost story must take place in the audience’s head.

That is to say, the reader / viewer must be left with two equally possibly yet mutually exclusive possibilities:  There are such things as ghost, or the haunting is purely psychological in the mind/s of the character/s.

Even in stories such as the original novel or the 1963 film where the possibility is presented that at least one of the characters is mentally unstable and is either imagining / causing the manifestations, the book / movie / series must never come down concretely in either camp.

To make it purely psychological turns it into a drama about mental illness, to make it supernatural moves it from the realm of “ghost story” into “monster movie” where the monster happens to be a ghost.

A ghost story doesn’t have to be scary, simply…haunting.  Portrait Of Jenny is a bitter-sweet romance that despite a lack of spookiness remains a bona fide ghost story.

(Ghost comedies such as Topper, Blythe Spirit, Ghost Busters, etc. are a different genre entirely akin to leprechaun / alien comedies where a fantastic being disrupts the lives of the human protagonists.)

This version works well, even though it doesn’t maintain the high level it starts with.  The family dynamics are well done, the performances excellent.

For the first couple of episodes the series tries to walk the line, raising the possibility and eventually confirming that mental illness runs through the family that moved into Hill House, but the moment the ghosts begin manifesting themselves, it paradoxically stops being a ghost story and becomes a booga-booga story.  Virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity also works against the production, occasionally dragging audiences out of the story to admire how clever the film makers are.

It also gets a little too convoluted and overly melodramatic towards the end, however (ghost stories work best at their simplicity).

And it is not an upbeat ending but a really horrific one as the family in question literally consumes itself.  

This version inhabits a godless universe, and the apparent “good” ending is really a terrible one of eternal damnation (albeit not in the Christian sense).

I recognize and appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into this, and recommend it to people who like scary stories.

But it ain’t what I’d call a ghost story, and it sure ain’t what Jackson would call one, either.

. . .


I'm not the target audience for She-Ra in either incarnation.

That being said, I watched episodes 1-3 and 12-13.

It looks good to me.  The story was familiar, but like old B-Westerns it's the kind of genre where familiarity breeds affection, so no complaints there.

Pacing seemed slow, but the design and animation was good, voices top notch. Clearly a heavy anime influence.

Really liked the wide range of physical types and acknowledgement of LGBT characters. Lots of fun with the various interpersonal relationships and characterizations, especially Swift Wind, the smartass flying unicorn.

They did a really good job with this show and the characters seemed more like real teens than the previous incarnation.

. . .


Well, this one I can recommend whole heartedly and without reservation.  

Joel and Ethan Coen have shown a remarkable penchant for period films and a strong affinity for Westerns in the past, and this anthology film offers a dazzling grab bag of good / off beat stories that range from the ridiculous to the realistic, though a couple of them are Westerns by location only as they don’t really rely on any of the themes that define the Western genre. 

The stories are:

“The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs” -- a hilarious send up of old Hollywood Western clichés starting with the quintessential sing cowboy trope and spiraling into full bore craziness from there.

“Near Algodones” -- a would-be bank robber has a really bad day.  Despite its dazzling editorial style, one of the more conventional stories -- and yet it manages to evoke both classic Buddhism, the crucifixion, and the ultimate sardonic joke all in the last 30 seconds.

“Meal Ticket” -- a Twilight Zone-ish story about a backwoods impresario and his limbless performer, told almost entirely silently except for quotes from poems and dramatic works and the occasional song.  While it makes good use of its Western locale, there’s really nothing in the story to tie it to the West; it could just as easily occur on a Mississippi riverboat, the back alleys of White Chapel, or the slums of Mumbai.

“All Gold Canyon” -- based on a story by Jack London, it’s a look at how hard and demanding a prospector’s life could be (with a virtually unrecognizable Tom Waits as the grizzled old prospector).  The Coen Brothers use their location to the fullest advantage, recreating the feel of what such land must have felt like before the first settlers moved in.

“The Gal Who Got Rattled” -- the longest, most realistic, and most bitter-sweet of the stories, set on a wagon train heading to Oregon, and focusing on a young woman who is definitely not the sort who should be making such a trip.  While we can look back from our safe vantage point in the 21stcentury and recognize the Indian Wars were the direct result of rapacious land grabbing by Western settlers, this story does an excellent job of showing just how terrifying it would be to sit on the receiving end of a tribal attack.  The ending is a morally complex one, well worth pondering, and especially ambiguous given the nature of the story’s framing element.

“The Mortal Remains” -- weakest of the stories, but salvaged by strong performances.  Another Twilight Zone style story, and if you didn’t guess the ending by the one minute mark I’ve got a bridge in Florida made of solid gold bricks I’d like to sell you.

. . .


Yowza!  This is one of the best series I’ve ever seen, and it’s perfect in damn near every way.

On the surface it’s a parody of various true crime documentary series, especially Netflix’ own Making A Murderer.  It’s told from the point of view of two students in their high school’s audio-visual club who make a documentary about an act of vandalism directed at the school’s teachers and the student who is blamed for it.

Of course, as they investigate, they turn up evidence that the accused student did not commit the vandalism, and in their pursuit of the truth uncover several more secrets on their way to the big reveal.

At first blush, the makings of a solid show.

But what co-creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault manage to pull off with this is nothing short of astounding, a fun parody of a genre that raises interesting questions about both the genre they’re parodying and the issue of truth and guilt, while on top of that adding an incredibly complex yet easy to follow overlay of conflicting characters and emotions.

They get every single detail right, and even seemingly throw away lines / scenes / characters get fleshed out in amazing and unexpected ways (for example, one extremely minor character, with no significant dialog, who appears only briefly on camera as comic relief in one or two early episodes is later revealed to be severely alcoholic, and in recalling his earlier appearances, one realizes the character must be suffering through a genuinely hellish existence).

Dylan, the accused student, starts out as a character of fun and amusement, a high school goofball of Spicoli proportions, only to come to a sad and ultimately terrifying end as he realizes just how dumb and dead-end his life is.

I cannot praise thise series enough.  Very rarely will I look at someone else’s work and say “I wish I had done that.” American Vandal is one of the rare exceptions.

The series has two seasons, the first involving Dylan and the vandalism of the teachers’ cars, the second involving a food poisoning incident at a private school the original two students are invited to investigate.  Season two is very strong but lacks “the shock of the new” that season one provided; it’s high quality and entertaining, but not as compelling as the original.

. . .

© Buzz Dixon

a writer rambles

a writer rambles

What's Wrong With Christian Pop Culture (Part Seven)

What's Wrong With Christian Pop Culture (Part Seven)