What We Watched – January and February 2021

Lupin (Netflix, France, 2021)
Linda’s recommendation: Definite Yes
These best thing about this series is that it is so much FUN to watch. The “gentleman burglar” is not a really bad guy nor a wholly good one. He is ahead of everyone but just by one step; wily, rather than playing a long complex con that is difficult to follow. The writing and editing are tight, the pace is snappy. I’ve seen five of the first ten episodes, and enjoyed it very much.

Into the Wild (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, and a true story, this film is a story well told. A rare case where I thought the film superior to the book. Great acting by both big and small name cast.

The Professor and the Madman (The Virtual State)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes but no hurry
Sean Penn and Mel Gibson star in this true historical drama about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. Set in the middle of the 19th century, it is a little confused about what kind of movie it wants to be, but overall the story is good.

76 Days
(The Virtual State)
Linda’s recommendation: Meh
The first 76 days of the pandemic in a hospital in Wuhan, China shot documentary style. No added commentary or framework was provided; I didn’t really understand this film.

The Prestige (Hulu, movie)
Linda’s recommendation: No
Great cast that delivers a muddled, confusing, and ultimately unbelievable story. Mixes drama and supernatural with a silly result, it is too long and there is too much muttering.

High Fidelity (Hulu, 10 episodes)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
I loved the original with John Cusak, and was surprised at how good this remake was. A great ensemble cast mostly unknown to me – I enjoyed performances by Zoe Kravitz, David H. Holmes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Jake Lacy. The emotion I felt when this ten episode ‘series’ ended was exactly the same as after the original ended – a bittersweet, happy-sad kind of feeling. I enjoyed it.

The Morning Show (AppleTV, 10 episodes)
Linda’s recommendation: Definite Yes
This show captures exactly how it feels to work in a big corporation, both good and bad. Reveals the subtleties of #MeToo experience. I really enjoyed watching the characters reveal themselves.

Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself (Hulu)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes, Yes, HELL YES
This was fabulous. I agree with the comment that this is “exceedingly difficult to categorize, but at its core it is about identity and how we see ourselves compared to how we are seen by others.” So good, I’d say if you don’t have Hulu, get it now so you can watch this 90 minute show immediately.

Gran Torino (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Okay
Typical Clint Eastwood vehicle where he doesn’t seem capable of speaking, but this film has a warm heart and was enjoyable.

Doubt (AppleTV)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Amy Adams in a perfect representation of 1950’s Catholic life. I enjoyed the flashback, and the dilemma.

The Dig (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
I enjoyed this lyrically-paced film about a group of people whose lives intersect with an archeology project.

What We Watched – November and December 2020

The Way (2012)
Linda’s recommendation: Surprising Yes
This Estevez family project is unexpectedly touching, telling the story of a father making the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in place of his son.

Glory (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Okay
The story of the black soldiers of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. Told from the perspective of the white commanders it is overly dramatically and romantic IMO. The cinematography and a young Denzel Washington are high points.

This Is Us (NBC on Hulu)
Linda’s recommendation: Perfect for someone, but not for me.
A long, melodramatic soap opera. 18 episodes in each season is just too long. My feeling is if you can’t tell your story in two seasons of six episodes each (plus a Christmas special) then your script needs editing. That’s what television watching in the U.K. will teach you. Ultimately too much is just so boring.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Linda’s recommendation: Awful
I have never seen this movie with Steve Martin and John Candy, directed by John Hughes, so we decided to watch it on Thanksgiving day. I could not believe how bad it was. Not even remotely funny.

The Farewell (2019 Amazon Prime Video)
Linda’s recommendation: Sweet and innocent
Set mostly in present day China, this story about an extended family’s drama is fun to follow along with.

Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime Video)
Linda’s recommendation: Enjoyable with some caveats
Directed by Alan Ball, with some terrific acting by Paul Bettany. Best use of cigarettes as prop. A coming out story from the 1960’s and focussed on the South.

An Education (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Predictable but good
Required viewing for all 16 year olds. Set in Twickenham in 1961, this is the classic dilemma about choosing to own your own future or taking the fun, easy way forward before you understand how un-fun and not easy that choice is. Carey Mulligan is excellent.

Mud (Hulu)
Linda’s recommendation: I enjoyed this
Matthew McConaughey plays Mud, a fugitive hiding out on a remote island who is discovered, and then assisted, by two young boys.

Covid Winter Nights

Frost on the window

My wife’s breath is the metronome of my night,
playing a slow steady march,
the melody for my long sleepless nights.
Air bubbles clang through the hot water radiators,
the periodic pump jump,
the faint roar of the boiler kicking in.

Outside the wind relentlessly pushes from the west,
the coyotes sing over some small win,
and some where very faintly, a cock crows,
Pointing to a future whose tune is impossible to hear.

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.

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.