What We Watched – September and October 2020

Cheers and Frasier (every episode over 11 seasons)
Linda’s recommendation: Watch if you are desperate
Much misogyny, very out of date, and also still funny. (Frasier has a particularly strong ensemble cast.)

Days of Heaven (Sam Shepard and Richard Gere directed by Terrence Malik)
Linda’s recommendation: Entertaining
A thin excuse of a story, narrated by a child with an inaudible voice. Still, Richard Gere and Sam Shepard 🙂 A visually beautiful film with gorgeous music about two grifters traveling with some migrant workers in the 1930’s. Made in 1978.

The Last Dance (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Mostly fun to watch
A 10-part miniseries made in 2020 with mostly 1987 footage about Michael Jordan, with particular focus on his last season with the Chicago Bulls. It’s about five episodes too long but I learned alot of basketball basics. Michael Jordan really could fly jump! Scottie Pippen got locked into a bad contract, and found ways to strike back! Dennis Rodman really was a big time, serious basketball player (well, for a few years anyway)! Phil Jackson was a zen-master-turned-player-turned-coach who used Native American and new age practices with the team! Steve Kerr got his coaching ideas by playing on that team! Good background info if you are interested in the game but don’t know how to educate yourself about it.

Hacking Your Mind (PBS)
Linda’s recommendation: Must watch
Social economists explain how you really make decisions, including who to vote for. Interesting and important. Bottom line: we are actually dumber than monkeys.

Emily in Paris (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Si banal et vide de sens
This is from the director of Sex and the City so I should have known what to expect. This is basically the story of a particular type of ugly American, one that is better dressed than most.

My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes!
An extremely beautiful and creative film on many different levels. Craig Foster’s free diving skill is amazing, but the relationship he builds with this creature is inspiring. You won’t see many films like this.

London Spy (Netflix, 5 episodes)
Linda’s recommendation: Good but uneven
Sometimes this had me on the edge of my seat; other times I was completely lost and confused. It’s different than any thriller I have seen before – lots of style and atmosphere but a plot that is hard to follow. I’d recommend it with the caveat that you read a recap or two after each episode so you are clear on all the unspoken plot points. High points are Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Good
Not the tightest writing I have seen from Aaron Sorkin, but very watchable with a strong ensemble cast. I liked the way he used archival footage. If you have never heard of the Chicago 7, I recommend obtaining a bit of background first, because this film moves fast right from the beginning.

Say Yes

This article is a timely reminder of something we instinctively know is true: negativity is physically and emotionally bad for you. Proven over and over again: “Positive words and thoughts propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and help us build resilience when we are faced with problems.” Yes is the best!

What We Watched July and August 2020

Mr Jones (iTunes)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A beautifully filmed work with elements of film noir and magical realism. This film tells the true story of Gareth Jones, a journalist who first reported on the devastating Holodomor famine in the Ukraine in the 1930’s. This is the kind of serious film that drives you to look up a lot of interesting facts on Wikipedia later, like what Holodomor means, and whether the New York Times was found to be complicit in this cover-up. Definitely not a rom-com or a date night movie. Smart and serious.

The Appalachian Trail – A Journey of the Soul (Outdoor Adventures on YouTube)
Linda’s recommendation: Not what I thought it might be
A nice “home movie” about hiking the AT. One man’s view. Uneven, with too much detail in some places and not enough information in others. Food trucks on the trail? Shocking!

The Bureau (SundanceNow)
Linda’s recommendation: Definite yes
When you hear the word taut, this is what they mean. Five seasons of perfection – a smart, complex, psychological drama, well acted, at an extraordinary pace.  So packed that it was not bingeable; I needed to digest every episode.

Nixon
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
An overwrought Oliver Stone film that is highly relevant for our times. What could he have been with a little love?

Greyhound (a Tom Hanks project for Apple TV)
Linda’s recommendation: Numbing
All action, no story – you can’t really care about the characters because you don’t know them at all. Also, poor sound mixing. Not watchable without subtitles. 

First Cow (iTunes)
Linda’s recommendation: Different, enjoyable
“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” This is a beautiful, small, and very slow ode to friendship. I really liked it, but it is a small movie to the point of micronization, so maybe not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (directed by David Fincher)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A very long romantic and mystical film (in which New Orleans is one of the characters), ultimately about love. A three hour story, winding and slow, but very watchable.

The Social Network (directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin)
Linda’s recommendation: Great if you haven’t seen it before
I loved this on my first viewing a few years ago, but I didn’t think it aged well. Facebook is a different beast now. Jesse Eisenberg, however, was perfect as Zuck. 

Retired in the Country

Some people want to move to the country after they retire. I think that many of these folks may be operating under some illusions about this lifestyle. Let me share how I have experienced these myths; perhaps it will save you some grief.

Myth 1: It’s quiet in the country
Could it get any noisier? Everyone is mowing, trimming, edging, sawing, welding, wood-splitting, and hammering with their big gas-fired lawn tools. We listen to the roosters sounding off early in the morning, the sound of tires on the newly asphalted road much of the night, and the dogs that everyone seems to own barking all night long. How many times have I been awakened by the screaming of some small animal just below my bedroom window, fighting off the owls or the coyotes?

Myth 2: It is healthy in the country
This is another big one. While there are some terrific organic farmers here, the homeowners that I know are very into landscaping by chemicals. They would rather dump a gallon of something labelled ‘Scott’s” or “Montsanto” than bend over to actually pull a weed. Fertilizing is another thing – enough with the 20-20-20 already. The worst offenders are usually the ones who continually declare their love for the land. And I think it goes without saying that we all drink well water.

Myth 3: I can dial into all my meetings remotely
Yeah, um, for those of you who are thinking you can a jump on the retirement lifestyle early, don’t count technology to help you. 10 Mps down, 0.872 Mps up isn’t even enough for one of us never mind two. And out here the utility companies just politely “put your name on the list” when you call to demand a greater share of access.

Myth 4: I will spend my days gardening, cooking exotic meals, or reading all those books I have saved up
Maybe. It’s more likely you will spend your time driving back and forth looking for ingredients (anyone know where I can find some fresh fennel?) or waiting for your daily Amazon order to arrive. Or waiting for vendors who promised to swing by, but are too busy to even prepare bids on smaller jobs.

Sure its beautiful sometimes, and the weather can be dramatic. But you might consider transitioning slowly, until you understand the real costs of giving up your urban or suburban lifestyle.

It’s your journey. Choose carefully.

An Ode to Insomnia

I recommend this poem by James Parker in the July/August 2020 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The use of language is terrific; I love this line: The sea of anxiety loves a horizontal human; it pours over your toes and surges up you like a tide.

What We Watched May and June 2020

Still socially isolated, still watching 😊 You can see the quality slipping a bit as we try to accommodate several generations of viewers.

Fauda (Netflix, 3 seasons)
Linda’s recommendation: Made for tv binge-watching
I loved the actors and their energy, who make this series compulsively watchable. This series portrays the endless violence, testosterone, and horror of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with a river of grief, sadness, and cigarette smoke. The background to the series and the “filming of” story are also very interesting (no film for that, just via interviews on YouTube). The voice over for English version cannot compare to the original actors’ voices in Hebrew and Arabic. Highly recommended that you watch in Hebrew, with sub-titles.

Richard Jewel
Linda’s recommendation: Enjoyable
Directed by Clint Eastwood, this film is slow but very engaging. Builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Cooked (Amazon Prime)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A film about what the real natural disaster was following the heat event in Chicago in 1996. Bears on our current situation in 2020.

Knives Out
Linda’s recommendation: watch with your grandmother
Cute who-done-it; nothing special.

Locke
Linda’s recommendation: I didn’t get it
This very slow moving film is shot in a car at night, while a man drives and talks on the phone. I thought it had potential, but it never really developed.

Quiz Show
Linda’s recommendation: Just okay
Given the star power and topic of this film, it didn’t feel very dynamic. Hard to follow storyline, but some fine acting.

Paddington and Paddington II
Linda’s recommendation: Sweet, and reassuring in anxious times. For someone.
The second one has a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, and a huge recommendation from the Slate Culture Gabfest crew. It was okay.

Ramy (Hulu, 2 seasons)
Linda’s recommendation: Interesting
I subscribed to Hulu specifically to watch this Bob Lefsetz recommendation, and while I’m glad to have learned some things about the modern Muslim experience in America, I was incredibly distracted by the immaturity, indecision, and generally lazy personality of the main character, Ramy.