What We Watched – March and April 2021

Molly’s Game (leaving Netflix in March 2021)
Linda’s recommendation: Maybe
It’s a good story but I didn’t resonate with the lead actress, and I found the Aaron Sorkin verbal gymnastics, which I usually love, to be clutter.

Stray (YouTube)
Linda’s recommendation: No
About a group of stray dogs in Istanbul. Ridiculous. Prompts me to say, again, that you are not a film maker just because you have a video camera. Make an effort people!

Nomadland (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A beautiful film, and unexpected. Less about older people’s narrowing employment opportunities, and more about the choices we make. I could watch Frances McDormand all day long. 

Sound of Metal (Amazon)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A riveting film about a man learning to be deaf, and to accept his life. Riz Abmed and Paul Raci give outstanding performances. 

Sky Ladder : The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Maybe
A fairly interesting documentary about a Chinese artist whose medium is fireworks. Not for everyone. 

Wolfwalkers (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Yes
A beautiful animated film about the power of girls, and women. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

What we watched April 2020

I never expected to have this much time to watch stories on-screen, but it’s coronavirus social isolation time in Michigan, and time is mostly available!

Giri/ Haji (Duty/Shame)
Linda’s recommendation: Watch if you like the avant garde
I really enjoyed this series. Set in Tokyo and London, it follows a detective from Tokyo searching for his brother in London, and the assorted cast of characters he meets. I especially liked how the director was unafraid to frame shots, and even film long sequences, differently. The pace was slower which I appreciated in a story like this with lots of characters and tangled storylines. And the casting of Charlie Creed-Miles as Abbott, the impatient, tattooed hoodlum is just genius.

Linda’s recommendation: Not my style
This is the goofiest film I have seen in years, with moments of crass and touches of genius. With this movie, one of my many movie guidelines has fallen and one still stands. “Films with Bill Murray do not appeal to me.” That remains true. “I like any film with Woody Harrelson in it.” Cannot really say this with 100% certainty now. (Also the credits have Woody Harrelson’s name misspelled?!?!)

Three Identical Strangers 
Linda’s recommendation: interesting and worth watching. 
This 90 minute documentary is carefully constructed to not reveal all its secrets right at the beginning. Looks at the question of nature versus nurture in the raising of children.

Unorthodox (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: interesting and worth watching
This 4-part series is about a woman breaking free from her orthodox Jewish community, and fleeing from Brooklyn to Berlin. The star, Shira Haas, is mesmerizing- it’s impossible to look away when she is on the screen. (The “Making of” video is also good.)

Bosch (Season 6)
Linda’s recommendation: Always
This series, on Amazon Prime, has been consistently enjoyable. I like the use of older actors in the show, and the collective experience of the ensemble really adds polish to the show. The 10 episodes of Season 6 went by very quickly.

Get Low
Linda’s Recommendation: Yes
Robert Duvall is Felix Bush as well as the executive producer on this film that was satisfying on many levels. This film is not complex, all the questions posed are answered, and it’s not very sexy; it is just one of those small films that are a treasure.

Q1 2020 What We Watched

bank of televisions

This year I thought I would start tracking what we watch, by quarter. I did not realize, in January, how truly different this first quarter of 2020 would be, from all other periods in my life. Perhaps that contributes to what may be the most eclectic collection of videos and film I’ve ever viewed in one three month timeframe (listed in order viewed).

Final Straw: Food Earth Happiness
Linda’s recommendation: See it because it matters
Inspired by the book The One Straw Revolution, this film weaves together stories from some of the world’s foremost figures in the natural farming movement. Together they give modern-day relevance to age-old ideas about food, environmentalism, and happiness. It really is both art and documentary.

Cold Case: Dag Hammarskjold
Linda’s recommendation: See it if you are bored
Weird and complicated, this investigative documentary just gets more so as it progresses.

Dead to Me (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Fun to watch
A twist in every episode in this drama series as you uncover the characters’ secrets.

Salt Acid Fat Heat
Linda’s recommendation: Watch this if you eat or cook
Terrific. Samin Nosrat’s enthusiasm for her craft is catching.

The Rise of Amazon (Frontline)
Linda’s recommendation: Good grief
Great illustration of how executives come to believe their own lies. Hard to watch if you want to keep ordering from Amazon.

All the King’s Men (1949)
Linda’s recommendation: Good but only after you read the book
Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, it is impossible to capture the nuance and complexity of the book.

Linda’s recommendation: Must See
Previously reviewed on February 19th on this blog. Terrific, touching, meaningful.  I loved this film.

Little Women (2019)
Linda’s recommendation: I wish I had the time back
Everyone loved this but me. Boring, just like every other version ever made of this story.

The Highwaymen (2019)
Linda’s recommendation: If you like buddy films, this is terrific
About the relationship between two former Texas Rangers as they attempt to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, in a film that deepens as you watch it.

Linda’s recommendation: Watch if you love typeface
A documentary that is an ode to the font type that is Helvetica, mostly by advertising types. It was good but not great. If you want some thing about fonts in general this is not your film.

Tiger King (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation:   No!
This is Netflix’s contribution to the end of civilization. A peek at a world you didn’t know existed, don’t want to be part of, and hope ends soon – inhabited by some of the most confused and sad characters ever on screen.  Let me also just also note: there are only 4,000 tigers in the wild, while the U.S. has another 5,000 locked in cages, many in “private” zoos.

Ford v Ferrari
Linda’s recommendation: Predictable, but enjoyable
When a movie is based on a true story, I guess that means you cannot say it was formulaic, but that is how this one felt. The sound quality was poor – spoken words were mumbled, the engines were roaring. Finally, I just didn’t feel that the relationship between Carroll Shelby and Ken Davis was flushed out very well in the 2.5 hours it took to tell this tale.

Film Review: Honeyland

Nominated for an Academy Award in two categories (Documentary and International Film) in early 2020, this film about Macedonia’s “last beekeeper” is heartbreaking and memorable. You will not soon forget Hatidze Muratova, the star of this story on so many levels. Trailer here.

My Experience with YouTube

I really value all I have learned on YouTube over the past few years. I find it to be my “university at home” and am always surprised when people tell me they don’t know anything about it. Beyond the big name entertainment and actual university classes (from institutions like MIT and Yale) I follow probably a dozen subjects on this platform, embodied in the video producers listed below. Check them out if you are interested in any of these topics: 

  1. Food, including what and when to eat, what to avoid, how to shop, how to cook: FlavCity with Bobby Parrish, Serious Eats, NutritionFacts.org, The Dr. Gundry Podcast
  2. Optimizing general health, including sleep, stress, and supplements: Dr. Eric Berg DC, 2 Fit Docs, Bulletproof Radio, Silicon Valley Health Institute (also, the medical professionals I follow are here)
  3. Movement and exercise: Bob & Brad, DailyDosePD, SmartXPD, Mike Chang, Invigorate Physical Therapy 
  4. Stuff to think about: Anand Giridharadas, BookTV, Big Think, Intelligence Squared, Talks at Google
  5. Habits and intention: Matt D’Avella, Break the Twitch, The Daily Stoic, Tim Ferriss 
  6. Funny and interesting to me: WheezyWaiter, the Yarn Therapists, Sunflower Farm Creamery (the goats!), My Self Reliance with Shawn James (off grid living in rural Ontario), Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
  7. Great interviews: 92nd Street Y, Kevin Nealon (interviews while hiking in the Hollywood Hills), Rich Roll, The Commonwealth Club
  8. News and explaining the crazy: VOX, Democracy Now!, The Common Good with Robert Reich
  9. Music: NPR Music (Tiny Desk Concert), Playing for Change
  10. Local: Groundwork, Here:Say Storytelling, Traverse Area Community Media, Traverse City Film Fetival, Traverse City International Affairs Forum
  11. Home building and interior design: Apartment Therapy, Levi Kelly, House & Home, Kirsten Dirksen, Grand Designs
  12. And Weather, because, you know, I have six apps and three television sources for this topic, but this guy is really good, and my appetite for this information knows no limits! Direct Weather