Yellowjackets, False Positive, and more!
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
OMFG was this so friggin' boring! Now that that’s out of the way, this is a fiction book about gay awakening in communist-era Poland and, while I ultimately DNFed at 25%, it really took everything I had even to make it that far. Look, culture has changed with regard for sexuality so, even if a book is set in the past when that wasn't the case, reading an endless stream of repetitive and overblown phrases about a young man's closeted feelings for another guy is just excruciating, unless you happen to like romance novels which are more or less solely built around pining and physical descriptions, in which case this book will be right up your alley. I guess what I thought I was going to be reading was something a la Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library in which sexual coming-out during the same era (though in England not Poland) was the backdrop for a larger political and family story, i.e. I thought I was going to get a book about the specific type of oppression that existed in Poland during that time but through the lens of sexuality. Instead, I got an endless stream of crazy boring crap about some dude’s thick muscular arms how even saying his name would reveal all the narrator's roiling feelings etc. etc. etc. It all just felt very generic and going nowhere as in, by the 9000th time I've heard the narrator obsessing about a guy and not knowing how to repress his feelings or whatever, like what am I, the reader, getting out of that? Nothing. If a story eventually appears in the book, the author surely needed to get to it significantly sooner and there was nothing about that first chunk that gave me a lick of confidence that any of the writing would go anywhere other than where it was already, i.e. to ensuring I slept sooner. I can only imagine the adulations for this book were based on some kind of spillover from the equally dull and yearning Call Me By Your Name (the movie at least though never having read the book I can only imagine it’s at least 30x as boring as the film) in which foreign authors discussing gay stuff during particular time periods in their countries of birth was a marketable thing. I was suckered in by it, and, unless you're into Eastern European meandering swoony slop, hopefully this review will help you avoid something similar happening to you.
Yellowjackets (Season 1):
So the tl:dr review of this mystery drama that cuts back and forth between the present day and a plane crash that happened 25 years prior is blargh, i.e. I watched it all but if, at any point, all episodes were somehow removed from the entire planet due to someone unexplained mystery event that would no doubt later become a series, probably on Fox, I really wouldn't have cared. I think I finished watching more out of not wanting to figure out what I'd be watching next than out of any real interest in the show. So the basic plot is a group of high-school girls (hmm, we have "guys" which is neither boys nor men and is often degendered but someone quick what's the female-leaning equivalent that's neither girls nor women? "gals" sure has a '70s sexist ring to it so maybe... "sheilas" seems both sexist AND Australian and same with "colleens" though plug in Irish so I don't know - "lasses" feels to me like we're in a vicarage in the 1800s; okay since "guys" comes from English rebel Guy Fawkes how about uhhhh "joans" for similarly rebellious Western European Joan of Arc? I'm going with it). Right, so the basic plot is a group of high-school soccer joans are heading to the nationals in a private jet that crash lands somewhere in Canada I think. For some reason - surely not plot convenience - no rescue team shows up, and this group of adolescents is forced into survival mode in the woods. In the present tense story, there's a lot of implication that really bad things went on out there - like cannibalism (not a spoiler since it's more or less the first thing you see) - plus, and really this was where I began to drift out of the show, something about "the woods won't let us leave" and some psychic-y omen-y occult evil stuff. Fine, so the show parcels out details but essentially half of it is set with joans in the woods honestly not doing all that much in terms of survival but mostly wandering around, gossiping, and arguing with each other with this looming sense that things are gonna go really bad come winter especially given all their polyester shorts intercut with tracking four of the grown joans, now women in their '40s as their collective past out in the woods comes back to haunt them maybe literally.
Only it kind of doesn't and in a really dumb way and your tolerance for the show will be mostly based on how much you can invest in the horror/occult implications and a very flaccid and ill-thought-out present-tense plot with some very blunt and untextured characters saved primarily due to appealing acting. Really there's nothing that happens in the season to give you any confidence in the writing squad to pull this off at all, like not even remotely. As an example: so we know, obviously, that at least some of the joans were rescued and we also know the survival story they told the press et. al. wasn't the whole story and they're hiding something and, of course, there's a ton of internet speculation about what really went on out in those wood. But remember, the present-tense show takes place 25ish years later so you can imagine for yourself the level of interest you might have in an event from the mid '90s that had some cannibal-y, what-went-on-out-there implications, i.e. I'm guessing that subreddit has under 50 subscribers. I say that because one main present-tense plot involves a mysterious blackmailer who demands $50k or zie's going to reveal all (another involves the exact same thing but as a political campaign smear for a character who's running for office - see what I mean about the writing squad, like two season-long plots are literally the same but with different characters). While I certainly wouldn't love to be on the receiving end of that text, I would also be thinking, hmm given that there were no phones, no electricity out in the woods and really not that many survivors from 1996, meaning the worst the blackmailer could really do to is generate a few more subreddit subscribers due to "revealing" new information, why would anyone really care? Reveal away, blackmailer! If it were you, even if you did eat half your team after sacrificing them to an occult god, would you rush to a bank to grab $50k and hand it to a stranger or would you, like, call the police and say you're being stalked by an internet lunatic and let them deal with it and whatever crazy shit the person tells the press once they're caught? I mean blackmail, especially blackmail based on events a quarter century ago, really doesn't work without tangible evidence and since the setup of the show is that there couldn't possibly be any then, uh, why is anyone in the show doing anything they're doing?
The characters are ridiculous - no one's happy in their relationship/life/marriage, there's some occult/evil implications with one of the character's family situation, there's a character with bad hair who's basically Kathy Bates in Misery - and really there's nothing to invest in. It's not as if they have interesting deep lives; everything about them is plot setup and the plot, as noted above, is idiotic. Also, for a show that has little going for it other than that weak plot and strong acting, it's pretty draggy in a lot of places. It's a lot of people talking about stuff, but not a lot going on and, other than in terms of looks, little to no connection between the past-tense selves and the present-tense selves, by which I mean they're given somewhat blunt characteristics - the Kathy Bates one, the tough one, the one who only seems tough (a bare distinction from the tough one I might add), and the one who was supposed to go to Brown before all this happened and yeah that's more or less the only character linkage I can see between past and present - but that's the extent of what they are. The writers also have the characters do that thing where they start sentences with a lot of "You always..." instead of just showing us a character who always does something or, alternatively, a character who perceives it that way, i.e. all tell no show.
It's inconceivable to me how this series could continue - though I'm sure it will and I'm sure I'll watch it - because there's really nothing there other than a backstory reveal and fake present-tense problems that stem from that backstory. But there's nothing really to grip, like were never really friends as teen joans just teammates, and they're not friends now just people forced together by (writer-contrived) circumstance so what are we all hoping will happen here? I have no idea. The show is neither plotty enough, like Lost, to keep you fully hooked nor is it character-y or soapy enough, like The Flight Attendant (a show similarly immersed in a backstory mystery impacting a present-tense plot), to keep you watching just for silly fun. For me, it was right on the bubble of being a background-noise show and may very well be downgraded to that at some point. If you're into the occult/horror stuff with a stylistic nod to gross-out films then you might like this more than I did though it's still pretty dull. This show's closest cousin tonally is Good Girls which, despite my irritation at the network for ceasing production without letting the writers wrap up the series, is significantly better in terms of characters even though it too has a completely absurd plot. Like I said, I watched to the end but could've stopped at any point and not cared one bit so if you're looking for something like that, there's this.
How To with John Wilson (Season 2):
Well the second season of this show is exactly as spectacularly weird and great as the first. Before describing, I'll just say that I absolutely understand people who would find this show to be boring or only kinda amusing or what's-all-the-fuss-about-y; it's attuned to a specific type of humor and emotional experience that I happen to click with and as someone who has absolutely not clicked with media other people go bananas over - in fact, years ago I dubbed this experience as "Full Monty Syndrome" due to sitting in a theater surrounded by people screaming their heads off with laughter at that film as I sat there in my non-laughing all alone and kinda feeling vaguely threatenedish in that I didn't want to reveal my outsider status and have everyone turn on me (I imagine that's how non or differently religioned high-schoolers forced to watch their team praying before a game feel only they have it much worse), but mostly wondering how much longer I had to endure before it ended - so I totally understand how this show may generate Full Monty Syndrome for some people. But not for me! The structure of it is a kind of genius in which it uses clipped-together bits of otherwise unrelated footage (it looks like the crew wanders around NYC with a camera or does random things like piling up a bunch of couch cushions in front of a toilet then having someone try to walk on them) linked by a thematic that seemingly meanders but is always tied together in what to me is a brilliant way by the end of each episode. In fact, the fun of this show is that the first few minutes seem to be about nothing in particular which then coalesces into each episode's title, which is always a How To that ties the episode together but in a way I can never anticipate. You don't really need to watch the show in order, and if you want to beta-test it, I'd suggest Season 2 Episode 1 as that one is very core to what the show is and if you love it well you have 11 more and if it's giving you a case of Full Monty Syndrome, then you gave it a shot and not for you. I love it though.
False Positive - This is a Rosemary's Babyish psychological horror movie about a woman getting IVF who begins to suspect her doctor and husband have done something to her and her baby. As with Rosemary's Baby, the film makes it difficult to tell whether what she thinks is happening is actually happening or whether it's all in her head. To me, even though it didn't really hang together, I still kind of liked it. It plays the paranoia angle decently enough but it ends up not making a ton of sense at least to this Janice. For example, the lead takes a magazine from the doctor's office, something with the doctor on the cover and with an African-y midwife photo as well, and there's a whole thing where one of the prim nurses goes to the lead’s office to retrieve the magazine and is very annoyed that she took it for some reason. And then the lead goes to the midwife and it's very African-y only a few scenes later it's not so maybe the mysticism was all in her head. And regardless... what did any of that mean? On the one hand, it felt part of the whole paranoid/crazy-or-not-ness but on the other I couldn't track why the nurse cared so much about getting the magazine (like don't they have a bajllion copies of it) or, if our lead was hallucinating, what that's supposed to mean and what does having an African (or not) midwife mean either? So it would play these paranoid beats and images which seemed to imply it was all saying something about wealthy New York views on pregnancy and women and whatnot but if so, haven't got a clue here. As I said, I kind of liked it, like it wasn't terrible and probably would've been more fun as a group watch, but it sure seemed to be implying a lot of meaning while ultimately kind of meaning nothing. Oh, and filmmaker: how about turning on the friggin' lights because for like a quarter of movie I had no idea what anyone was up to because they shot it basically in the dark. Not a hate watch, though. If you like this kind of paranoid horror film and can just roll with its flaws and not think about it too much, you could do worse, or at least wind up watching a movie where Pierce Brosnan and Justin Theroux don’t make out unlike in this one.