Five months since the last instalment of this supposedly monthly series means that there’s a lot of music, movies and TV to catch up on. Catching up on movies and TV—if not music—seemed to be all that half the population was doing in lockdown, but with two school-age kids at home I didn’t have much time for box-set bingeing. I watched a few movies with them, though.
My daughter and I rounded off our MCU marathon with Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), before working through Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy (which I saw back in the day; the first two are great, the third too busy) and both instalments of The Amazing Spider-Man, which I hadn’t seen, and enjoyed—even though, thanks to mixing up the DVDs, we watched the second before the first (it didn’t really matter). My favourite scene of all these movies remains the one where an exhausted Spidey gets passed reverently down the train by the passengers he has rescued in Spider-Man 2.
A few weeks ago we revisited superheroes by watching the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four, which I read afterwards was panned by critics and fans. Without having seen the originals, or knowing the comics, it seemed fine to us, although ending at the point they truly become the Fantastic Four was disappointing knowing that the planned sequel was scrapped. I suppose all that’s left now is to work through the X-Men series with her, but it might be a bit dark. Nolan’s Batman can wait, for the same reason. Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018), which we watched last week, was a bit like a superhero movie, too; it was fun, but full of plot holes.
When I look through the other movies I’ve watched since March, half of them were with the kids. Hotel Transylvania 3 (2019) was a better sequel than I’d expected; The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) wasn’t; Frozen II (2019) was okay. Pachamama (2018) was a surprisingly effective animated tale of the Incas and the Conquistadors. The Jungle Bunch (2017) was a bizarre French animation featuring a penguin raised by a tiger whose arch-enemy was an evil koala. My daughter liked it, so that’s a thumbs-up from the target age of 8 or 9 (I can’t recall if we watched it before or after her birthday). During lockdown I also showed her E.T. for the first time, which always goes down well. Recently we watched the Aardman flick Early Man (2018), which was enjoyable enough but not their finest (Mary and Max from 2009 was a much better dose of stop-motion). Over the last couple of nights (because it was so long) we watched the original 1964 Mary Poppins, which I’d never seen; Dick van Dyke’s accent was even more ridiculous than I’d imagined it would be, but his dancing was fun, and Julie Andrews was captivating.
My teenage son’s lockdown viewing has been a bit different. I’ve enjoyed a few movies with him: 2011’s Tower Heist with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy was good fun, and we loved the recent Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; it won us over when the boat exploded. We followed it immediately with 2007’s Blades of Glory to keep the Will Ferrell goodness going. He even liked one of my favourite old movies, Jacques Tati’s 1953 Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, which I used to love watching with my Dad on late-night summer television in my teens. Lately, though, he’s been binge-watching American sitcoms on Amazon Prime, starting with the US version of The Office. I started that with him too, but couldn’t keep up. One by-product was that I watched both series of Ricky Gervais’s After Life on Netflix, which is a bit fraught, but contains some of his best work.
I’ve watched some movies for myself as well. The Favourite and Transit from 2018 were both critical darlings, and I enjoyed the first, less-so the second, although it had its merits. 1917 and Parasite from last year were both terrific, the latter especially—a worthy Best Picture winner. Then there were the random ones: John Wick 3: Parabellum was a bit relentless and silly; 2012’s Total Recall wasn’t as good as Arnie’s; 2011’s The Thing was a decent prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic; Good Time (2017) was okay, but Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2016) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) were better; Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013) was chilling and gripping, and his Enemy (2013) weird yet compelling; the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters was pretty good; and Lady Bird (2017) didn’t hook me as much as Booksmart had.
After bingeing both seasons of What We Do in the Shadows on iPlayer I tracked down Boy (2010) to fill another Taika Waititi gap, which was intensely Kiwi and as good as gold. Another retro-Kiwi classic I enjoyed was The Navigator (1988), which I knew about at the time but had never seen; a quirky tale of mediaeval Cumbrians tunnelling to modern-day New Zealand.
Oh, and I watched Stephen Soderberg’s 2011 Contagion to see how much he got right. Some aspects, quite well; others, not so much.
On the small screen—which is to say, the same screen—I’ve worked my way through various TV shows on Netflix, Disney+ (which we subscribed to a couple of months ago, and are getting our money’s worth so far) and iPlayer, with or without the rest of the family. In the peak months of lockdown the BBC and Channel 4 attempted to work around the constraints of the situation by adapting familiar formats to video-conferencing technology. I lasted about five minutes into the Zoom-ified Have I Got News For You minus studio audience, which revealed just how mirthless the show has become. The Mash Report made a much better go of it, and kept our attention for its entire latest series in April. A friend recommended a repeat of Retreat on BBC Four, following the monks of three different British monasteries through hour-long episodes of silent day-to-day routine, which matched the vibe of lockdown well. The best series to come out of this strange time, though, has been Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4, where national treasure Grayson invited us into his locked-down studio and highlighted submissions from the general public on a different theme each week, chatting via video-call with various artists and comedians along the way. The series captured the moment better than anything else on TV, apart from the documentaries and Panorama reports about how grim things were in hospitals.
A different kind of grimness turned up on the BBC recently in the form of Once Upon a Time in Iraq, a strong documentary series from the makers of the excellent Exodus, covering the build-up and aftermath of the Iraq War from the viewpoint of people on the ground. What a senseless waste it all was. I also enjoyed, if that’s the right word, the BBC docudrama The Salisbury Poisonings, which again focussed on people on the ground in the 2018 Novichok assassination attempts. A whole city locking down to contain a deadly substance, who would have thought it.
Other TV worth highlighting: season five of Better Call Saul left me desperate for the sixth and last season, and hoping that the pandemic won’t prevent it from being made. Season three of Killing Eve reminded me how great the show and Jodie Comer are. What We Do in the Shadows reminded me how great Matt Berry is (and the rest of the cast matched him; I loved Nandor, and Guillermo’s arc in the second season was particularly good). Inside Number 9 (all five seasons of it) was consistently excellent and often outstanding.
My daughter and I have been watching a lot of Mythbusters, after I tracked down some DVD box sets of seasons 6 and 10 to add to our old box of season two (I had to find Australian DVDs on eBay, because the UK ones apparently replace the American voiceovers and mess around with the format and sequencing). My son and I have just watched the excellent sitcom Great News on Netflix, which was cruelly cut short by (the US) ABC after two seasons, and the very good so far (and better than the name implies) fish-out-of-water sitcom Schitt’s Creek—we’re partway through season two. We also loved the trio of improv Netflix specials by Middleditch and Schwartz; and for some Netflix light relief, have all been watching a random sampling of Nailed It and Queer Eye. On Disney+, we’re hooked on the new series of Muppets Now, which will probably keep me subscribing at least until it’s done, and the National Geographic series Ice Road Rescue about road rescue teams in Norway. I haven’t convinced anyone to watch The Mandalorian with me yet.
Finally, we made a few appointments with that lockdown phenomenon of streaming theatre (and missed the boat on a few more time-limited streams, but never mind). The 2012 staging of Jesus Christ Superstar on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s The Shows Must Go On channel was worth it for Tim Minchin alone. The National Theatre‘s Treasure Island from 2014 was a lot of fun, and intensely theatrical. Best of all, though, was what prompted us to sign up to Disney+ in the first place: the 2016 staging of Hamilton, which was even better than listening to the soundtrack a dozen times on my iPod on my ride to and from work that year.
Even if it didn’t seem like a lot of viewing at the time, I guess it added up over five months. I’ll have to save the listening for another post, or I’ll never finish this one.