After putting together any home theater setup big or small, there's always one last question: What are you going to watch? Our editors have already opened up about some of the games they're playing and what they're listening to, but this edition of IRL is all about video.
Sometimes we'll talk about the latest series we've binge watched, or maybe a new movie that you just can't miss. Today we have a little bit of everything as one editor revisits the roots of his anime fandom, another powers through Jenji Kohan's latest release on Netflix and, finally, one of us is watching Jurassic Park for the very first time.
2017 was the year I decided to get myself some culture. I've been trying one recipe a week. I discovered I love podcasts. And I've been streaming a lot of movies and television. If that sounds unimpressive, you have to keep in mind: Until recently (and particularly in the months following the election), I had only been watching HGTV. (That and Mean Girls or Legally Blonde, which you can always seem to catch on cable.) At a time when the news cycle can keep me glued to Twitter until late into the night, there's something comforting about watching a rerun of Fixer Upper, where nothing goes wrong in the renovation and you know just how beautiful the house will be by the bottom of the hour.
I can't remember exactly when I had a change of heart, but I'm pretty sure it stemmed from a conversation with my colleague Devindra, who was a movie reviewer in a previous life and still co-hosts a film podcast. He likened my brand of passive re-run watching to mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, seeing but not necessarily engaging. Sufficiently shamed, I agreed to what has been a one-sided challenge: If I can't catch up with Dev's years of movie watching, I will have fun trying.
I started with a list of classic movies, curated mostly by my co-editor Terrence, with the idea that I would turn my weekly "assignments" into a recurring segment on the Engadget podcast. The list is over 100-strong, with submissions spanning multiple genres and decades. There is enough material for more than two years' worth of viewings, and that's if I kept a consistent schedule, which I don't.
So far, I've crossed off my list Jurassic Park, Jaws, Little Shop of Horrors, Heathers and Caddyshack. I was less impressed with Jurassic Park than I thought I'd be, and sparked the ire of several coworkers when I suggested it has a generic narrative arc, similar to Armageddon. Re Jaws: I didn't think I could be so scared by a movie with 42-year-old special effects, and I know now that they never did get a bigger boat. Heathers and Little Shop of Horrors are both darker than I realized: Heathers could not possibly be billed as a dark comedy if it were released today, and why is no one talking about the fact that Rick Moranis in Little Shop is basically a serial killer?
As for Caddyshack, I didn't think I liked Rodney Dangerfield, but now I want to watch all his movies.
My next assignment was supposed to be Being John Malkovich, but I've been busy -- first with new episodes of House of Cards (was this really filmed pre-Trump?) and binge-watching all three seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (why wasn't I watching this earlier?). By now, I have a dedicated page in my Notes app where I jot down things of interest, with one thing invariably bumping another out of the top spot. I even take occasional trips to the movies, though, with outings like the bad new King Arthur movie, you could argue that I (or my dates) need better taste. In any case, I'm sure I'll get to both Being John Malkovich and Citizen Kane eventually.
Senior News Editor
Bloodline doesn't get the same buzz that surrounds other Netflix original series like House of Cards, Narcos, Orange is the New Black and others. However, the show one of the best in the streaming service's lineup. In fact, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) won an Emmy for his role as Danny Rayburn and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) has also been nominated. The critics agree that it's worth your time.
'Bloodline' deserves recognition as one of Netflix's best. It's a shame the third installment will be its last.
The show centers on a well-known family in the Florida Keys. Despite running a popular waterfront inn, not everything is as it seems. Bloodline goes back and forth between past and present, revealing bits of the backstory at a time as to why this family's issues run so deep. It makes for really interesting storytelling, especially during the first season. There are some parts where you realize that these people are terrible criminals, but it doesn't matter. Events continue to spiral out of control straight through the third season that debuted last month. It's like watching a car wreck at times -- you just can't look away.
It starts a little slow, but if you stick with it, you'll be hooked about three of four episodes into season one. Both Mendelsohn and Chandler give stellar performances as brothers at odds, battling each other to keep the family's secrets from coming to light. I'll admit to being a little partial to Coach Taylor (I'm only human), but Bloodline deserves recognition as one of Netflix's best because it's certainly worthy of the honor. It's a shame the third installment will be its last.
Senior News Editor
While many films and series have dived into the disturbing possibilities of technology that evolves beyond what its human creators intended (Her, Ex Machina, most of Black Mirror, Morgan), I'm more intrigued by the people building that dystopian future. The 2016 direct to video release Operator focuses on Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Silicon Valley), playing a programmer tasked with building an AI assistant for his company's customer service app. A decision to use his wife, played by Mae Whitman (Parenthood, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as its voice becomes more complicated once he prefers the controlled, comforting program to its messy real-life equivalent.
Starr brings something very different to this role than what we've seen from his sarcastic characters like Silicon Valley programmer Gilfoyle, or Party Down's tortured sci-fi writer Roman DeBeers. Instead, the character suffers from crippling anxiety that is exacerbated by a nearly impossible to meet deadline for the project. Still, he's excellent here, as is Whitman, who is realistically qualified for the voice job, thanks to her extensive voice over credits on projects like Johnny Bravo and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This movie isn't quite the comedy that Netflix primarily tags it as -- despite a few really funny moments thanks to actors like Retta and Nat Faxon -- and could disappoint viewers looking strictly for laughs or a darker technology spin. If you're wondering why it scored 100 percent fresh with critics on Rotten Tomatoes but only 61 percent from audiences, misguided expectations may play a big part.
Instead, it's a romantic comedy where Pygmalion builds his own manic pixie dream girl in a more believable way than other takes like Ruby Sparks. Given how the movie ends, I'm not completely sure if I found it as good as it is interesting, but at just 87 minutes it doesn't take long to check out yourself.
Operator is currently available on Netflix in the US, Canada and UK, as well as video on-demand.
I did something I don't normally do this past weekend: I sat down and binged an entire season of a Netflix series, specifically the '80s women's wrestling comedy, GLOW. And given how so enthrallingly entertaining it proved to be, I'd have gladly sat through six more.
You can immediately, almost viscerally, feel Jenji Kohan's influence on this show. It has the same hectic energy seen in early Orange is the New Black episodes -- as if the show runners had too much story to pack into GLOW's initial ten episodes. And like OITNB, even though the main arc began by focusing heavily on the antagonistically symbiotic relationship between Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin's characters, the supporting cast was far more than set dressing.
Marc Maron's grumpy, "I'm too old for this shit" attitude was pitch-perfect, as was his onscreen coke habit (note his use of stash bindles torn from magazine pages rather than glass vials). Gayle Rankin also impressed. Her depiction of "Sheila the She Wolf" was equally quirky and tear-jerking -- not unlike Uzo Aduba as Suzanne in the first season of OITNB. Britney Young, however, stole the show. Though her arc was minuscule compared to the main one, Young's character's struggle to earn validation from her "wrestling royalty" family serves as the perfect palate cleanser against Brie and Gilpin's near-constant fighting and helps guide viewers otherwise unfamiliar with professional wrestling through the subculture's norms and mores.
It's the same for the entire supporting cast. We were afforded small nuggets, mere glimpses, of their characters' personalities and backstories this season. From Ellen Wong's and Sunita Mani's characters confronting the rampant, nearly casual, use of racist stereotypes in '80s America to figuring out where Jackie Tohn's character scored her sweet limo, there are plenty of stories spooled up for future seasons. The next one of which can't arrive soon enough.
Attack on Titan
It's difficult to like Attack on Titan sometimes. I'm not a massive fan of action-oriented anime, for starters, and the first season suffered from terrible pacing, both within individual episodes and the overall arc. The dialog was wooden at times, and anime over-exposition was everywhere. That's not to mention the almost three-year wait for new episodes.
If you've never heard of Attack on Titan before, the plot isn't exactly the easiest to summarize. The elevator pitch is that the last vestiges of humanity are holed up in cities surrounded a series of huge walls, constantly under attack by giant humanoid creatures called titans. Despite its issues, it had gorgeous art, a fascinating and mysterious world and, in spite of myself, I fell in love with the beautifully choreographed action.
Season two, which concluded last week, very nearly lost me completely a couple of times, though. Luckily, I don't really have anything else left to watch on Crunchyroll, so I persisted and was rewarded. The second half of the latest run is fantastic, advancing the story while entertaining with the action that hooked me in the first place. There's even titan MMA, in a neat coalescence of my disparate interests.
If you didn't like the first series, I wouldn't suggest you watch the second. But if you just haven't gotten around watching the latest episodes, it's well worth returning to. Especially now that season three is confirmed for next year.
Edgar Wright's newest flick about a young getaway driver is a seasoned evolution of the kinetic style he refined with The Cornetto Trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The writer-director drops his usual frenetic shot sequences in favor of slower, extended takes that still deliver his signature clever audio-visual jokes, but in a more elegant synchronicity with the film's wonderful, Motown-filled soundtrack.
The eponymous Baby, a young driver toting around revolving trios of bank robbers with baffling getaway skill, soft-shoes and rattle-taps around his world to the beat of whatever's on his iPod. He keeps the tunes flowing because, as Kevin Spacey's sinister heist-planning Doc puts it, he's got "a hum in his drum" but don't worry about it, because he's "Mozart in a go-kart." Even the dialogue -- silly on paper, greased joy from every castmember's mouths -- is a melodic susurrus to the movie's invisible groove.
Romance with waitress Debora kicks Baby out of neutral and he tries to get out of the game, but how can you stay away from the thrill of the drive? Even if Baby Driver doesn't end up topping Wright's high-water mark of Hot Fuzz, it's wonderful to see him back at the cinematic canvas after he walked away from being the Ant-Man cog in the Marvel Cinematic Universe machine a few years ago. Baby Driver is worth forking over $15 for another great ride in Wright's frenetic imagination.
The Twin Peaks revival on Showtime is a miracle. Not just because it pays off a throwaway line from one of the original series' iconic dream sequences — it also gives co-creator David Lynch full rein to deliver his surreal, enigmatic, hilarious and sometimes terrifying vision without any compromises. That's incredible to see from an American auteur who hasn't been able to direct a feature in 11 years.
Before you ask -- yes, you need to see the original Twin Peaks episodes, as well as the prequel film Fire Walk with Me, to even begin to understand what's going on. And even then, there's no guarantee that you will. But placing you in a perpetual dream-state of wonder and confusion is precisely what Lynch does best. So far, the new episodes have built on the supernatural mythology of the series, while also giving us plenty of new mysteries to follow. And all the while, Kyle MacLachlan, along with the show's plethora of guest stars and returning characters, are as compelling as ever.
It's not for everyone, but it really doesn't have to be.
"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.