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Much misogyny, very out of date, and also still funny.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. 

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.

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.

Kingpin
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.

Honeyland
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.

Helvetica
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.

Staying Informed

One source of information I am finding very helpful during this time of poor leadership is Dr John Campbell out of the U.K. He is publishing at least one video a day (on YouTube) full of very helpful background, tips and tools, what is going on in other counties. Highly recommended.

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.

Books I Read in 2019 and Recommend

I read 37 books this year – 13 were non-fiction, 2 were collections of short stories, and the rest were fiction. I’m pleased with the variety in this group of books.

I rated each book from 1 to 5. Eight earned my solid “3” rating, 11 got a very good rating of “4” and another 11 earned a superlative “5.”

I can recommend the ones I rated “4” as very good and well worth reading. They include (in the order I read them):

      • Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith
      • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
      • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
      • Baby, You’re Going To Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
      • The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
      • Your Duck is my Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
      • The seven Pete Thorsten mysteries by Robert Wangard
      • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall
      • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
      • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The ones I thought merited a “5” were so amazing, I still cannot believe I got to read them. I hope to revisit them, or other books by these authors, in the coming months.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A long book – 500 pages – this Man Booker runner up is a giant in every way. The story is unique, the language precise, and the world created as the story unfolds is exquisite. Barbara Kingsolver called it “A gigantic fable of genuine truths.” I’d tell you it’s about trees and people, and taking non-human life seriously.

Virgil Wander by Leif Engler
This author tells a good story about some interesting characters in a small town, and he does so with language so precise and a voice so clear that it made my heart skip. His voice is perfectly that of the upper midwest in the United States. I know these people, and Engler knows their story.

The Endurance, Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Adventure by Caroline Alexander
I read a good chunk of this on an iPhone, sitting on an airplane, surrounded by modernity – and this book transported me right back to 1915-1917. I could feel the cold hopelessness of these 28 men struggling to stay alive. An incredible true story I had missed somehow until now.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A survey of today’s climate change references – from science, culture, and literature. I found this compelling. “I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of life itself.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Traces a Korean family dynasty over seven decades of the kind of everyday adventure that makes up all our lives. This book draws you into the family drama and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
“Painful and beautiful” one reviewer says. Barry is one of my favorite authors, and he outdoes himself here. He transports you into the rough tumble of western America in the 1860’s – the west with its Indian wars, the civil war – told in a unique voice. Lots of surprises from his beautiful and complex characters.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
Epic. This book is huge in scale, masterfully researched, extremely well written. It was a great read, and it taught me a ton of stuff I never realized about the white privilege I have enjoyed my whole life. Highly recommended.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
A thriller on multiple levels, including a finely drawn psychological portrait of a 14 year old girl growing up under extremely unusual circumstances. Set in a remote area of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the Man Booker long list in 2018, Normal People is “is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons.” Her writing is fabulous, and the story feels modern and true.

The Parade by Dave Eggers
Described as an “allegory” for our times, this short book pulls you forward with a feeling of dread, as the characters Four and Nine are caught up in something bigger than themselves, embodying each of us. Barely a novella, it tells us about ourselves now, a dark joke with a final gut-punch punchline.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes, as well as the value of listening to your gut. When something is wrong, there are red flags everywhere. A page turner by a WSJ journalist. Couldn’t put it down.