Netflix, I just can’t quit you…

As this past Thanksgiving week has not included much original TV programming, it was a great opportunity to catch up with some Netflix and Streaming programs.  I also actually made it out to a real movie theatre twice!!  Here are some recommendations for you:

On the Big Screen

Ladybird This is the ultimate coming of age movie. Irish actress Saiorse Ronin (Brooklyn) plays a teenage girl in Sacramento, CA who is coming to terms with her relationships with her family, her friends, and ultimately who she really is. Delightful in every way.  The performance by Laurie Metcalfe (Rosanne) as her conflicted mother will break your heart.  Tracy Letts (Divorce) is also very touching as her long suffering father. I also loved the very sensitive and unjudgemental way that the film treats the emerging homosexuality of one of its central characters (trying really hard not to spoil things here). There isn’t anything I didn’t love about this film and I recommend it unreservedly.
The Man Who Invented Christmas This movie is not for most children. As our screening was preceded by trailers for at least 6 kids’ movies, it would appear the distributors are marketing it as a kiddie pic, but parents should be aware
that it requires a rudimentary knowledge of Dickens’ work. A neighbouring 12 year old’s overheard comment at the end, was that the movie was very confusing. It’s a biopic of Dickens’ process of writing A Christmas Carol and consists largely of his imaginary conversations with the characters in the book. Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey) is wonderful, but the movie is rather frenetic and chaotic for most tastes. It is a beautiful film that plunges you into the Victorian era of debtors’ prison, workhouses, lame children who die tragically, etc.  It’s a very broad take on a past era.  If you are desperate to get yourself into the Christmas spirit (as I am, because all this Florida sunshine is very distracting when you should be thinking about gift giving), this film may get you into the holiday mood.  The film does emphasize the essential message of the Christmas season of reconciliation, generosity and hope.

Netflix

Godless This epic stars Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jack O’Connell (Unbreakable)and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on Downton Abbey) in an epic saga of the American west. Beautiful cinematography, terrific casting in all the supporting roles including Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) and Scoot McNairy (Halt and Catch Fire) as an unforgettable brother and sister. This intricately told tale of sin and redemption is beautifully written. It requires a little patience as the first episode is a little slow paced, but the action picks up and the story is intriguing. It’s a great use of Netflix long form storytelling as it takes 7 episodes lasting between 40 and 80 minutes to tell. The many themes that are part of the narrative include sexual equality, racism, homosexuality, power, family, loss and the power of love. It’s complex and languidly paced, but I thought it was a tremendously moving series. A masterpiece in my opinion.

Wanted Season 2  I did get carried away by this terrific Australian suspense series. It’s a female buddy/road story of two women on the run from corrupt cops, honest cops and villainous bad guys. The second season takes place largely in New Zealand and is wonderful to look at. Great casting in all the main and supporting roles. If you’re wondering who the actor playing Will is, you may recognize Dean O’Gorman (Anders from The Almighty Johnsons, a wonderfully funny NZ TV series worth looking for).

A Christmas Prince is a trifle made for family viewing. Every cliche about reluctant royalty is written into this script. No offensive language or scenes make any appearances in this strange little film. I was looking for a film that a houseguest might find palatable, but this film is really almost a parody of its genre about a runaway prince and the journalist who is furtively writing a story about him. Very silly indeed.

The Punisher I am still persevering with this very dark Marvel offering.  A revenge drama, I am now up to Episode 5 of its 13 episode season. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) stars as Frank Castle, the ruthless avenger who is still seeking retribution for the many wrongs done to him and his family.  Not for the faint of heart.

Streaming

Peaky Blinders has returned for a 4th season (it will be available on US Netflix on Dec. 21).  This bonkers British crime series takes place in 1920’s Birmingham, England. Cillian Murphy is a mesmerizing crime lord, Tom Shelby.  Adrian Brophy guest stars as a Mafia hitman from NYC who has come to exact revenge for Shelby’s killing of a family member.

Berlin Station This espionage series is my substitute for Homeland.  Murky and always operating in the grey area between friends and enemies, this series takes place in the new cold war where Neo Nazis are on the rise in Germany, and they may be funded by the US State department.  Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Rhys Iffans, Ashley Judd star.

Apple Tree Yard Oh my, in Britain an affair goes terribly wrong when a married scientist begins an affair with a government spook.  Here’s what John Doyle had to say about it in the Globe and Mail:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/uk-drama-apple-tree-yard-is-as-steamy-as-it-is-woebegone/article37016227/

HULU and Streaming

Chance Starring Hugh Laurie (House), this self destructive neuropsychiatrist is on the trail of a serial killer.

Showtime and Streaming

Shameless Now in its 8th season, this family dramedy follows the adventures of the Gallagher family led by reprobate Frank (William H. Macy).  For its fans, you simply can’t look away.

SMILF I love this series about a single mother struggling to raise her child in Boston. Great performances and great writing.  Look for Connie Britton (Nashville) as a spoiled rich bitch who employs Bridgette to tutor her children.

The Girlfriend Experience Now in its second season, this series has become very complicated.  Airing in two half-hour episodes weekly, we have two different protagonists in two different storylines.  One deals with politics and the other with the witness protection program.  Still about escorts, this season requires very close attention.

STARZ

Outlander If you haven’t caught up with this romantic series (now in its 4th season) yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It does require suspension of disbelief as a British nurse is transported back in time from the 1940’s to the 1740’s.  Breathtaking!!

NBC

This is Us Maudlin and hopelessly sentimental, I am just watching this to see what all the fuss is about.

The Brave This by the numbers Special Ops show miraculously wraps up most of their complicated extraction dramas within 60 minutes.

ABC

The Good Doctor I started watching this breakout hit just to see what the fuss was all about, and now darn it, I am hooked by this medical procedural.  I adore the lead character for his struggle with autism and Savant syndrome.  Addictive!

AMC

The Walking Dead Now in its 8th season, I hearbye swear, that this is my last season of watching.  I’m so darned tired of having my hopes dashed that this band of survivors will somehow escape the cycle of having their hopes dashed that there will somehow be a way out of this post apocalyptic nightmare.

Comic Relief

Coming up this week on Comedy Central, The President Show returns for “I Came Up With Christmas”, a Christmas special.  I love this series where Anthony Atamaniuk goes far beyond Alec Baldwin’s very superficial parody of Trump’s hair and facial expressions.  Atamaniuk really explores Trump’s behaviour and manages to show his pettiness, childishness, desire to be loved, and thirst for power.  Look for it Thursday night at 10 in the US (it will air in Canada on Wed at 10 on Comedy Network).  I will be continuing to watch my favourites, Colbert, Noah, Samantha Bee, Jim Jeffries for their efforts to make us laugh at the events of the day.

Parting Words

The weather in south Florida has been remarkable this past fall.  We have one and a half weeks to go before we depart for the wintry north and the Christmas season.  We will glory in golf outings, Mahjong games, Bocce practice, exercise classes and even an upcoming basket ball game in Miami before we leave.  Enjoy the season wherever you are.

 

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Heartbreak! I lost a post

I knew my general lack of technical expertise would catch up to me and it just happened as I lost a morning’s worth of blog writing.  I will try to recap, but I sadly assumed my work had been saved as I navigated through the site.  Fingers crossed this time.  Here’s a brief recap of my first attempt to give you some recommendations for the week:

 

On the Big Screen

Thor: Ragnarok I did enjoy this film even though it suffered from CGI bloat.  Despite interminable battle scenes, there is still much humour in this film.  Directed by Taika Waititi, a New Zealand director previously responsible for the delightful What we Do in the Shadows (vampire film parody) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (coming of age/buddy film), Waititi has a cameo role in this film as the voice of Korg.  He steals every scene he’s in. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth also deliver very fine comic performances.

HBO

War Dog This touching documentary recounts the stories of the K9s specifically trained for Special Ops.  The unbreakable bond between their handlers and the dogs is very poignantly retold.

A United Kingdom This touching film tells the story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams put his kingdom into political and diplomatic upheaval.  Very timely, as Mugabe’s stranglehold over neighbouring Zimbabwe finally comes to an end after 40 years of dictatorship.

Netflix

Mudbound  This is a very gritty portrayal of the return of two servicemen to rural Mississippi after WWII.  The film doesn’t shrink from a very stark portrait of racism and takes a very violent turn at the end.  Coincidentally, my favourite film of all time, The Best Years of our Lives (1946) deals with very similar subject matter in a much more sentimental way, complete with Hollywood happy ending.

The Punisher This is the latest in the Marvel franchise that includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  This revenge fantasy is unrelentingly violent in the first three episodes that I watched.  As the season is 13 episodes long, I fear it is a real example of Netflix bloat where long form storytelling unnecessarily draws out a story so that it becomes tedious.

Showtime

SMILF I totally enjoyed this new series about a single mom trying to survive.  It reminded me of The Florida Project, another look at a single mom on the margins.  Frankie, the lead character, is incredibly complex.  She’s bright enough to tutor a Harvard University entrant, yet has a difficult relationship with her mentally unstable mom (played fearlessly by Rosie O’Donnell) and a somewhat loving relationship with her ex.

Here’s what John Doyle had to say in the Globe and Mail:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/smilf-a-small-intimate-show-and-typical-of-top-tv-right-now/article36947806/

 

HULU and Superchannel in Canada

Chance This is the latest series from Hugh Laurie (House).  Here he plays a forensic neuro-psychiatrist on the trail of a serial killer.  Great suspense!

Parting Words

I have departed from my usual format this week so if you want to see some of my usual recommendations, have a look through my archives.  It is US Thanksgiving this week, so I’m going on a bit of a holiday and shortening this post.  So sad that I lost my first attempt.  It’s time to kick back and watch my weekly moment of Zen:  CBS Sunday Morning.  It’s my moment of calm in an otherwise turbulent world.  Enjoy your week wherever you are!!

 

 

Netflix made me do it…

 

Gorgeous weather here has beckoned, and I actually spent a glorious morning birdwatching with a naturalist and several neighbours as we drove golf carts around our course and spotted many varieties of birds. In the meantime when I wasn’t glued to Netflix watching the fabulous Australian series Wanted, I did manage to catch up with a few series and films.  Here are some suggestions for you:

The Big Screen

The Florida Project is a small independent film with only 1 professional actor in it.  Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, the manager of a welfare motel in Orlando, Florida. Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadow of Disney World.  The film is poignant in its depiction of life lived on the margins of the American Dream and the Magical Kingdom. The children’s performances are truly magical.

 

Netflix

Wanted is a fast paced Australian suspense series about two strangers who become prime suspects in a murder.  I loved this series for the wonderful performances from the two lead actresses, the Aussie locations, and the incredible suspense that builds as the two characters are relentlessly pursued by both good and bad guys.  I watched the first 6 episodes in 1 day and was delighted to see that the second season is already available on Netflix.  Damn you Netflix, I just can’t quit you!

Streaming

The Hatton Garden Job is a small British caper film based on the true story of the 2015 burglary of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company by 4 elderly men.  The total stolen was valued at 200 million British pounds and has been called the “largest burglary in English legal history.”   I actually watched it for its stars Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey), Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Joely Richardson and then was charmed by its cast of British character actors who played the elderly thieves.
Berlin Station continues its tales of espionage in the new cold war.  Great performances from Ashley Judd, Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Rhys Iffans, etc.  If you are missing Homeland, this is a good alternative.
Good Behaviour stars Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)  as Letty Raines, a thief and con artist whose life is always one wrong turn, one bad decision from implosion.  She hooks up with a charming paid assassin and the thrill ride continues in Season Two of this very entertaining suspense series.
Outlander is truly the most romantic series ever made for TV as an English combat nurse from 1945 is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743.  Season 3 continues to enchant as we follow the story of the two star-crossed lovers through time.  I usually hate the time travel genre, but I have made an exception for this marvellous epic romance.
Chance stars Hugh Laurie (House) as a forensic neuropsychiatrist who reluctantly enters a dangerous and violent world of mistaken identity, police corruption and mental illness. This second season follows the story of a serial killer who is pursued by Chance.

Star Trek: Discovery is the latest reboot of this perennial favourite sci-fi series.  Starring Jason Isaacs as the latest Captain, the series takes place ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, as the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms and as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien.

 

ABC

The Good Doctor is about Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome, who is recruited into the paediatric surgical unit of a prestigious hospital.  From the team that created House, this series has actually become a huge hit, and people are intrigued by the main character’s journey.  I resisted watching this one (because honestly, I can’t possibly watch everything worth watching on TV) and it has been the breakout show of this season), however, I am now hooked.
Designated Survivor started out with the intriguing premise of what could happen when everyone in line for the Presidency is wiped out by a terrorist attack and a nebbishy cabinet secretary played by Kiefer Sutherland ascends to the presidency.  The plot lines often veer towards ludicrousness, but I can’t stop watching.

NBC

The Brave is a total guilty pleasure show about good guys confronting bad guys as a special operations unit stages rescues and interventions around the globe.

This is Us I resisted watching this during Season 1, and then relented for Season 2, since it was the breakout hit show of last season and I had to see what the fuss was all about.  Although, I still find it maudlin and overly sentimental, I’m not giving up until I find out how the Dad died.

CBS

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert continues to amuse with Colbert’s humorous take on the news of the day.

FX

Better Things is a raw and poignant series about a single mother trying to survive in LA.  Starring Pamela Adlon, hitherto known for her work with Louis CK.  As a result of his recent notoriety, Adlon has received an unwanted amount of attention for her relationship with him.

FXX

You’re the Worst is a sitcom which enters on two toxic, self-destructive people who fall in love and attempt a relationship.  Now in its fourth season, the series hasn’t maintained the quality it started out with and is actually quite cringeworthy for the most part, but I have to see how this relationship ends.

 

HBO

Real Time with Bill Maher and  Last Week Tonight with John Oliver both continue to amaze me with their satirical comedy on current events.
Tracy Ullman’s Show showcases her amazing skills as a mimic.  Her Judi Dench alone is worth watching for.

 

AMC

The Walking Dead is still on the air in its 8th season.  Who knew you could watch Zombies attack the living for this long?  Same old, same old.  I can’t look away.

The CW

Riverdale,  Dynasty, and Arrow are all pretty silly (especially the lame reboot of Dynasty from the 80’s) but they are awfully entertaining.  I know they are shows for teenagers to watch, but they fascinate me all the same.

National Geographic

The Long Road Home is a new miniseries about American forces occupying Iraq who are ambushed in a Baghdad neighbourhood.  I have recorded the first episode and will watch a few episodes together once I summon the stamina to watch a series about this terrible endless war.

USA

Damnation I actually really enjoyed the first episode of this epic saga about the secret history of the 1930’s American heartland.  It centers on the mythic conflict and bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden.

Starz

The Girlfriend Experience Our journey into the dark side of the escort business continues as the series now divides itself in two with two separate 1/2 hour storylines each airing. In one story, Erica Myles, the finance director at Right to Action, a Republican super PAC, enlists the help of an escort, Anna Garner, in an attempt to gain access to a secret, dark money donor network.  In the second storyline, Bria Jones a former escort, enters the witness protection program in order to escape an abusive relationship. When she is relocated to a small tow in New Mexico, she finds the escort world beckoning her once again.

PBS

Durrell’s in CorfuPoldark, and The Collection make up the PBS Sunday Night Masterpiece Theatre program. Delightful and soothing.  Period costumes and British accents, who could ask for anything more.

Fox

The Orville is a tremendously entertaining Star Trek parody from Seth MacFarlane.
The Gifted comes to us from Marvel’s Universe. Starring Stephen Moyer (from True Blood), it takes place in a world where gutted humans are treated with distrust and fear, where an institute for mutants battles to achieve peaceful co-existence with humanity.
Gotham, now in its 4th season, tells the story behind Detective James Gordon’s rise to prominence in Gotham City in the years before Batman’s arrival.  Campy and kitschy, this show is not for everyone, but I love its over the top performances and crazy plot lines.

Comedy Central/Channel

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is a very funny take on today’s news.

The Jim Jeffries Show is a delightful take on today’s news. As an Aussie, he takes a very sanguine view of today’s headlines.

 

TBS

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is a fearless satirical take on today’s news.

Current Events

CBS Sunday Morning is my Sunday morning alternative to Church worship.
The show takes a relaxed approach to human interest stories and celebrity profiles.  My moment of Zen.
Fareed Zakariah GPS takes a very measured approach to explaining world events.

Parting Words

There are some new shows coming up this November and I will write about them next week.  Until then, get outside and enjoy the weather if it’s wonderful where you are, and if not, stay in, stay warm and enjoy the pleasures of the winter season.

Bingeworthy shows continue…

 

It’s been a busy week as some of my regular activities (golf, Book Group, fitness) have started up and  I’ve also been catching up on some shows I’ve been meaning to watch.  I’ve watched so many of these programs on demand, that I’m henceforth leaving specific time slots for you to track down. Our cable system Comcast Xfinity in Florida includes a voice activated feature that allows you to search for your program simply by naming the show you wish to watch, so it has enabled me to watch whatever I’m interested in very easily. Here are some recommendations:

 

HBO

Spielberg is a wonderful documentary made for HBO.  I can’t recommend it highly enough if you are interested in the evolution of this extraordinary filmmaker .
Real Time with Bill Maher continues every Friday night with new shows in which Maher’s panels deal with today’s political realities.
Last Week tonight with John Oliver on Sunday nights continues to try to elucidate and educate on current events.

Tracy Ullman does hilarious impersonations of celebrities and running characters she has created herself on Friday nights following Bill Maher.

 

Streaming

Star Trek: Discovery takes place ten years before Kirk, Spock and The Enterprise.  The USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien.  Fabulous cast includes Sonequa Martin-Green (from The Walking Dead), Jason Isaacs, and Anthony Rapp (the actor who has accused Kevin Spacey of assaulting him when he was 14).

Chance (Season 2) is a suspense series that stars Hugh Laurie (House) as a forensic neuro-psychiatrist who reluctantly enters a dangerous and violent world of mistaken identity, police corruption and mental illness.

Berlin Station is a murky espionage drama set in Berlin with a fabulous ensemble cast that features Richard Jenkins, Richard Armitage, Rhys Ifans, etc.
Good Behaviour is a fabulously entertaining suspense series featuring Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey) where she plays a reformed grifter trying to raise her son.
Outlander is still the most romantic show on TV.
The Infiltrator is a Bryan Cranston film about infiltrating the financial system that underwrote the Pablo Escobar cartel.
Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers: The age of Ultron are all films I have been trying to catch up on before subjecting myself to the latest in the series, Thor: Ragnarok (now in theatres).  Full disclosure, I loved Thor, have set up Thor: The Dark World to record today, and gave up on The Avengers… after about 10 minutes. The latest instalment is directed by the same New Zealand director (Taika Waititi) who did The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What we do in the Shadows, so like those two previous films, Ragnarok is apparently filled with sly humour and has had marvellous reviews.

Netflix

The Centre Will Not Hold is a documentary bio-pic about the life of writer Joan Didion.  It is touching and sad and recreates a literary world that we only dimly remember now. It’s directed with great affection by her nephew, Griffin Dunne.
Alias Grace (like the marvellous Anne of Green Gables) is a CBC production that is now available on US Netflix.  The second Margaret Atwood adaptation of this year (after The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu), it is a dark, murky and very disturbing murder mystery.
Mascots is a silly mockumentary made for Netflix about the furry creatures who support various teams.  Great cast which includes Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods (from Silicon Valley), Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins and many other comic actors.

YouTube

An Open Secret is a documentary from 2014 that is an investigation into accusations of teenagers being sexually abused within the film industry.  In light of the Kevin Spacey revelations, this film has achieved a second life on YouTube after sinking from view when originally released.  It’s a terrific film and will open your eyes to this troubling problem. Directed by Oscar nominated Amy Berg (Deliver us from Evil  about sex abuse in the Catholic Church, West of Memphis, Janis: Little Girl Blue), the film exposes Bryan Singer (X-Men director) among many other Hollywood pedophiles preying on child actors.  Berg had great difficulty finding a distributor for this controversial film when it was initially made.  Hopefully, it will find a new audience today.

PBS

The Sunday evening offerings of Masterpiece Theatre include the following British productions:
Durrells in Corfu (Season 2) is a delightful escape to a simpler time as a family of British eccentrics tries to live cheaply in Greece after WWII.
Poldark (Season 3) tells the romantic story of this adventurer in Cornwall after the American Revolutionary War.
The Collection is a gripping family drama and entrepreneurial fable, set in a post-war Paris fashion house.  It exposes the grit behind the glamour of a rising business, spearheaded by two clashing brothers.

Fox

The Orville (an affectionate Star Trek parody created by and starring Seth MacFarlane) follows the crew of the not-so-functional exploratory ship in the Earth’s interstellar fleet, 400 years in the future.
The Gifted takes place in a world where mutated humans are treated with distrust and fear.  An institute for mutants battles to achieve peaceful co-existence with humanity. Stars Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest).

AMC

The Walking Dead is now in its 8th season of harrowing escapes and crushed dreams. Sherriff Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is still leading a group of survivors to stay alive.

NBC

This is Us follows a unique ensemble, as their paths cross and their life stories intertwine, from sharing the same birthday, to so much more than anyone would expect. As this was the breakout hit of last year, I have caught up with this season, but I do find it a bit maudlin and sentimental for me.

Saturday Night Live continues to try and make us laugh at the pop culture and current events of our times.

ABC

The Good Doctor is the breakout hit of this season, so I have caught up with it by  bingewatching it on demand.  From the same production team as House (starring Hugh Laurie as a master diagnostician with no interpersonal skills), it is not dissimilar in its plotlines which are driven by diagnoses of mysterious ailments.  The big difference is that its star is played by Freddie Highmore, who plays Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome who is recruited into the surgical unit of a prestigious hospital.

CBS

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert provides political humour nightly.

CBS News Sunday Morning (hosted by Jane Pauley) does personal interest pieces including interviews and profiles of actors, political figures, athletes, musicians, etc.  I find it fascinating and inspiring.  The perfect way to spend your Sunday mornings.  An antidote to most of the negativity of our times.

 

The CW

Arrow (Season 6) stars Canadian hunk Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, a spoiled billionaire (& mayor!) by day, and a superhero by night.  Guilty pleasure to the max!

Comedy

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah provides nightly political satire.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (available on TBS in the US) provides political satire every Wednesday night.
The Jim Jeffries Show provides political satire on Tuesday nights.
The President Show stars a Donald Trump impersonator with his own talk show and provides political satire on Thursday nights.

Parting Words

It’s another glorious day in Southwest Florida.  I have signed myself up for a birdwatching expedition later this week, so fingers crossed that our weather stays dry and sunny.  We are playing golf this afternoon and dining with friends after.  Enjoy this wonderful day wherever you are!