I’m sharing a list of what I’m reading and watching, sorted to list the most recent entries first, in hopes of pointing you to some overlooked gems.
Moonfall. This flick delivers exactly what you’d expect: shallow characters working out their obligatory family issues while special effects wreak mayhem on the world around them. Given that you’ve seen everything this movie has to offer a thousand times, you’d do better to re-watch Independence Day than spend two hours exposing yourself to this weak sauce. Not recommended.
The Boy Behind the Door. Two kidnapped children battle to escape an abductor and a child-molesting client. The young actors in this film do their very best with the material, but they’re stuck in a script that demands they linger in situations reasonable people would flee. As a monster movie, it’s watchable, but after having seen it, I sort of which I hadn’t. Give this one a pass.
The Djinn. A mute boy finds a book of dark magic squirreled away in his father’s otherwise mundane apartment, then uses a spell within the tome to summon a djinn that will grant him a wish … but charge a terrible price. The writer/director duo of David Charbonier and Justin Power try to lend the material depth with a B-story about the boy’s mother’s suicide … but from about 15 minutes in, this one degenerates into an eye-roller. Meh.
Coming Home in the Dark. A family on holiday fall prey to the murderous intentions of two strangers they encounter in a national park. The secrets revealed in the course of the film should give the story greater depth, but our inability to connect with the main characters make this a pretty standard revenge flick. You can skip this one.
Lamb. Atmospheric, uneasy, and unnerving, Lamb knows what you expect … and doesn’t care. Set on a remote sheep farm in Iceland, this is a superb tale of broken hearts, parenthood, special needs children, and the poisonous nature of secrecy disguised as a horror flick. You will be talking and thinking about this one for days. Highly recommended.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Three episodes in, this prequel series is pitch perfect, tapping into everything a very young Mark loved about Star Trek: TOS. The theme song, the opening credits, the reimagined technology, the heavy-handed but earnest plots … it all works. Star Trek: Discovery has evolved into a good show; Strange New Worlds is superb right out of the gate. Highly recommended.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Telling you anything about this movie would spoil the fun. For now, you’ll have to trust me: go see this today, because this raucous, fast-paced, bedazzling kaleidoscope of a tale is going to sweep the award shows next year. Instantly one of my favorite films. Go. Now!
RuPaul’s Drag Race. Yes, we’re still watching. At this point, you either love t.v.’s best-edited show or you hate it. But we continue to be a little too invested in this reality show about drag queens competing for a crown than we ought to be. For us, Drag Race is the colorful friend we enjoy in short doses, but wouldn’t want to go on vacation with. It’s harmless fun.
From. In the tradition of Lost, this series has an intriguing premise (a town the residents can’t escape, plagued by gleeful, ravenous monsters that only come out at night), but I fear that (in the tradition of Lost) its creators may not have all the answers to the questions they’re raising. Time will tell! Meanwhile: we’re in.
Ghosts. We’re watching the BBC series — not the American remake. We use this harmless, shallow “haunted house” comedy as a mental palate cleanser before bed (so Clyde won’t have nightmares from the gory stuff on From). After a head injury (ha ha!), the main character sees a bevy of ghosts in her inherited house and learns to live with them.
Star Trek: Discovery. Glad to say following seasons of this show soar above Season 1’s painfully silly Klingon-centered plot. While this show wields its progressive social agenda with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Sonequa Martin-Green is splendid as the fierce-but-troubled female main character. Gay and trans characters, too? I’m all in.
Picard, Season 2. While Season 1 lost its way, Season Two’s schlocky time-travel drama resurrects all of the original series’ campiness and blends it with bittersweet observations about what it means to be growing older in a universe that is steadily passing you by.
Upload, Season 2. A fun and fluffy series based on the premise that uploaded versions of ourselves can continue to live on (and interact with the living) in a digital afterlife. There’s an ongoing mystery about who murdered the main character, but we tune in for the in-jokes and commentary on the pitfalls of “the metaverse.”
Severance. Holy smoke! Drop everything, don’t read any spoilers, and go watch this quirky, disturbing, visually dazzling series exploring an extreme effort to establish work-life balance. From the opening shot in episode one to the cliffhanger at the end of the all-too-short season, I was licking the screen. Just watch it.
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. One episode into this bleakly unfunny send-up of nosy-neighbor domestic dramas, and I bailed out. It’s dreadful.
Maid. Alex, an earnest but flailing young mother, struggles to keep her daughter healthy and happy while dealing with a manic depressive mother and a handsome but alcoholic husband. The series offers compelling insights into how hard it is to recover once the economic game is rigged against you … and Margaret Qualley’s portrayal of Alex will win your heart. Recommended.
The Power of the Dog. While probably not a favorite of the Bonanza and Marlboro crowd, this gothic western yarn about an angry cowboy, his meek brother, that brother’s new wife, and her apparently milquetoast son builds exquisite tension and delivers an ending as satisfying as it is disturbing. More like this, please.
The Colony. Sci Fi. Mad Max meets Waterworld in this squishy little sci fi flick about a colony of astronauts returning to a ruined Earth to check its viability. Feral survivors and family drama dominate the storyline, but once battle lines are drawn, everything’s by the numbers. Meh.
Jasper Mall. Documentary. This short, simple film witnesses the dying gasps of a local mall, its tenant businesses, the career of its dutiful manager, its customers, and their relationships. We used to drive by Jasper, AL, all the time when commuting from Atlanta to Mississippi. Once, their town motto (riffing off the expense of living in nearby Birmingham) was “Twice the living, half the price.” A claustrophobic, post-consumer portrait of small-town Southern life.
Raised by Wolves. SciFi Series/HBO Max. Rewatching season one in preparation for season two’s release. While the story gets stretched thin by the end of the season, the premiere episode includes some brutally effective storytelling. Mother’s speech about eschewing the fantasies of faith for the certainties of science makes my heart soar.
Bright Spark. Documentary. Trevor Southey was a brilliant artist, founding member of a successful artists’ colony, a husband and father, and an early convert to the LDS church. His dream of elevating the Mormon church’s use of art as a path for exploring, expressing, and evangelizing the faith eventually came into conflict with his homosexuality. This sweet, heartfelt piece moved me deeply, as I understand first-hand the struggle that arises when faith, doubt, art, and identity come into conflict. Recommended.
Call Me By Your Name. Movie. I’d seen this once before, but recently purchased it, watched it twice, consumed the excellent commentary track with Timothee Chalamet (Elio) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Mr. Perlman), and then watched the interview with director Luca Guadagnino. (Armie Hammer’s around, too, as this was shot before the creepy cannibalism story broke.) A lyrical, beautiful coming of age film. I can’t believe it got made, much less won an Academy Award. Highly recommended.
The Book of Boba Fett. Disney Plus Series. It’s no Mandalorian. Sticking with it for now, but if I don’t feel more of an attachment to the main character by the fourth episode, I’ll abandon it.
The Amazing Race (Paramount Plus, Season 33). Our favorite reality series didn’t fare well in the COVID era, but seeing it back in our stream has been like stumbling across an old friend. I liked this show better when contestants were “just folks” instead of attention-hungry social media influencers.
Z-Nation. Netflix Series. Please don’t tell people I’m still watching this zombie series. It’s goofier and less self-important than The Walking Dead, a series that outlasted my ability to care about it. These likable characters actually have a mission to fulfill, which gives Z-Nation a momentum the better-known franchise has lacked for years.
The Expanse. Amazon Prime Series. I came to this series late, watching four seasons in less than a month. (The sixth and final season wrapped up in January 2022.) This is definitely the smartest science-fiction show in recent memory. Don’t miss the related podcast, which reveals tasty behind-the-scenes details. Highly recommended.
Don’t Look Up. Netflix Movie. Flannery O’Connor said you have to speak loudly to the almost deaf and draw large figures for the almost blind — and that’s what this wry cautionary tale attempts to do regarding climate change and vaccine denial. Good, but needs to be about 10% smarter than it is.
Klara and the Sun. Novel. A haunting tale about an artificial girl — the companion of a sickly child — whose attempts to understand human motivations and the mechanics of nature drive a surprisingly sweet narrative about faith and selflessness. Recommended.
Hummingbird Salamander. Novel. I fell in love with Jeff Vanermeer’s protagonist, a smart, physically intimidating woman whose interior life is more intriguing that the (sometimes fairly arbitrary) mystery she seeks to solve. The ending is an unforgivable and unsatisfying cheat.
You. Netflix Series. We’ve completed two of three available seasons. The most compelling idea — getting inside the head of a charming, psychopathic obsessive stalker — has already started getting a little threadbare by the end of the second season … but Season One is a non-stop thrill ride.
Australian Survivor. Paramount Plus Series (several seasons). Compared to its American cousin, the Australian version of Survivor is rougher, tougher, and more satisfying. Expansive episodes allow for in-depth personal profiles of each player and more time for scheming — so we care more.
Write Useful Books. Non-Fiction. This books illuminates the process of writing and marketing (or not) self-published books, pairing common sense advice with insights from an author who’s been there and done that. Recommended. See my detailed book notes.
Lost in Space. Netflix Series. After an initially promising first season, season two unravels a bit, and the final season goes limp. Likable characters, generally, but, in the end, not enough of Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith to keep things going.
Midnight Mass. Netflix Series. A meditation on the meaning of life, a debate about the existence of God, and a prose poem on the nature of faith … wrapped up as a compelling monster movie? I’m in. Highly recommended.