Saturday, December 27, 2014

From Time to Time

From Time to Time is a small movie about time-travel and/or ghosts.  Echoes of the past and echoes of the future.  It's not really very good, but it's not awful.  It's all about a boy during WWII who has been sent to live with his grandmother in the country, at their family estate.  Sort of "Downton Abbey: The Next Generation".  In fact, it's written and directed by Julian Fellows and stars A LOT of the same people as Downton.  Maggie Smith is the grandmother, Hugh Bonneville the man of the house, the guy who plays Tom plays a groundskeeper, and his girlfriend is played by the woman who plays his teacher gf on Downton.  Dr. Clarkson shows up as a dinne guest.  Several other non-Downton people too;  McNulty from The Wire, the Red Witch from Game of Thrones, and several other people I couldn't place caught my eye.  Other than the people watching, it's just not that great.  Solid C.

Frequencies (OXV: the Manual)

Frequencies is a strange movie, but one I really recommend.  Set in an alternate universe where our understanding of the world is based entirely on "frequencies".  Different people resonate at different frequencies.  The higher your frequency, the luckier you are, but also the less emotional.  Sort of like a very high-functioning kind of autism.

At a school for the gifted, super-high frequency Marie meets super-low frequency Zac.  The dissonance is so extreme that they can't be together for more than a minute before weird things start to happen; nature cannot abide the difference between them.

Thought-provoking science fiction, with a touch of romance, and a magical twist.  A-



Sunday, March 18, 2012

Midsummer Night's Dream

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted.  Life and such.  Today, I'm very strongly recommending this version of a Midsummer Nights Dream.  It's also available on Hulu here.  Oddly, Netflix is wrong about which version this is.  Although it says its this one, its actually this Royal Shakespeare Company production.  This is very much a theater production, with limited (and somewhat surreal) sets and costumes and .  If you're looking for a movie style adaptation, try this one.  If you enjoy theater, you'll like this production, I think.  The sets I liked, but the costumes were boring and ugly.  The acting is very good, and the direction innovative without being too pretentious.  It's faithful to the spirit of the play, but makes significant changes, some of which are questionable.  In particular, it cuts some scenes that help the flow of the play (like the hunting scene near the end). I wouldn't recommend this if you're unfamiliar with the story, or if you don't like theater, but it's highly recommended for Shakespeare geeks.  It's very original and really feels Shakespearian to me (whatever that means).  A-


ps: Although it's not available to stream, go out of your way to see the recent Helen Mirren version of The Tempest.  I LOVED it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kings

First off, Kings isn't available to stream on Netflix, but it is on Hulu (and you don't even need Hulu Plus to watch it).  Kings is a 13 episode modern retelling of the story of King Saul's fall and King David's rise to power.  It covers much of the events recounted in the fist book of Samuel, starting with David & the goliath and ending shortly before the whole witch of Endor thing.  However,  the story is a very loose retelling; even a good knowledge of the biblical version doesn't provide much in the way of "spoilers".  It would be more accurate to say that it is "inspired by" the biblical material, rather than being a retelling of it.

The biblical Saul is here renamed Silas, and is inhabited very, very well by Ian McShane, whom I know from Pillars of the Earth and you probably know from Deadwood.  Also excellent is Eamonn Walker from Oz as the Reverend (prophet) Samuel.  The other acting is also good.  The writing is solid; it moves at a good clip, the characters mostly seem believable, and there is an interesting pseudo-biblical lyricism to many of King Silas's speeches.  Jonathan, the gay heir apparent, is an interesting character of whom I would have liked to see more.  He's played by Sebastian Stan, who played Bucky Barnes in the new Captain America movie.  I'm told he was also in Gossip Girl.

I was worried about the religiosity of the show, but it's not religious in that ABC Family way at all.  It's religious in the same way Big Love or Battlestar Galactica are religious.  I wish they'd done a better job of promoting this show when it was on TV.  I didn't watch it because they promoted it as a soap opera, and totally left out the sci-fi aspects.  It's a shame, because I think a lot of people would have watched this if they had promoted it to the right sort of watchers, and I really wish there was a second season of it.  Oh well.  :(

The production values are very high.  It's clearly shot in NYC; several landmarks are recognizable in Shiloh.  It's set in the modern day, so there's nothing fancy in the way of costumes or sets, but it is very well directed, and the scenes are always beautifully and evocatively lit.  Overall, I'd give it a B+, with some early episodes rating A.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sundance on Hulu

I just noticed that Hulu has about 50 Sundance favorite movies curated in a new collection here.  I've already reviewed several of them (Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity is a favorite of mine, as well as Clerks, Trembling Before G-d, and Wristcutters), and many of them are available on Netflix (which, in my experience, has better video quality and much better audio quality) but its nice sometimes to have them all gathered up in one place.

Some Stuff on Hulu

Here's a two excellent things available to watch on Hulu Plus:

Journeyman was a casualty of the writers' strike, but it's worth giving it a shot.  It's about a newspaperman (that guy from Rome) set adrift in time, solving mysteries and righting wrongs.  In many ways, its very similar to Quantum Leap, but with much more of an ongoing story-arc.  Also, unlike Quantum Leap, there's a lot of "love triangle" plot (I'm not sure if that's good or not).  This show is well written, and the acting is good, but its nothing extraordinary.  B+ if you like sci-fi.  Probably only B- if you don't.

Fact is, NOVA is awesome.  If I need to tell you about NOVA, you're not the sort of person who would like it.  There are almost 50 episodes of NOVA available on Hulu.  I haven't seen all of them, but I particularly recommend Becoming Human, Mind Over Money, and Hunting the Hidden Dimension.  You can also watch several episodes on PBS.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Downton Abbey

I know that I'm late to this party, but Downton Abbey really is as good as you've heard.  You can watch the entire first season on Netflix, and season 2 is available (until March 6th) at PBS.org.  I'm generally not a big fan of the Upstairs/Downstairs sort of thing, so I took awhile to try this show out.  That was a mistake.  What really makes this show great is the writing and acting; every single character (and there are a lot of them) is a complicated, troubled, messy, real human being with their own motivations, ethics, and beliefs.  In addition, the production values are very high, the sets and costumes are Edwardialicious.  A+ for Season 1.  I haven't finished season 2 yet.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Life Before Her Eyes

I just finished watching The Life Before Her Eyes, and I'm not really sure how I feel about it (which, I think, is sometimes the sign of a really good movie, and sometimes just bad writing).  It's hard for me to review it without giving away the ending, but I'll try.  It's the story of Diana, who is terrorized at a school shooting as a teenager.  She and her best friend Maureen are an unlikely duo.  Diana is something of a "girl in trouble" whereas Maureen is a christian good girl.  (The movie tries to be aware enough to see how obvious this is; at one point the characters remark "virgin and the whore...we're like the whole of art history in one package") The context of their unlikely friendship unfolds in a series of flashbacks while the gunman, a freak-friend of Diana's, holds them at gunpoint, demanding that they choose which of them he should kill.  In addition to flashbacks of Diana and Maureen's past, we also see flash-forwards to Diana as an adult (played by Uma Thurman).  Until the last 10 minutes of the movie, I would have rated it as a B-, ok but nothing special.  The direction is kind of pretentious, and, while the acting is good, it's nothing special.  There were some things that didn't really make sense, and I had trouble following some of the timeline.  The ending cast the whole movie in a different light.  Having read some other reviews, I think a lot of people didn't get it.  I really think it might benefit from a second watching.  If I do that, I'll come back and update this.  A-.

As Far as my Feet Will Carry Me

Let me begin by saying I never thought I would like a movie with a Nazi solider as the protagonist.  However, in the first scene of As Far as my Feet Will Carry Me (So Weit die Fusse Tragen) we meet a young German soldier getting on a train to ship out.  His wife and young daughter make it to the train station just in time; they've come from the doctor.  They're going to have another baby.  They hug and cry, and he ships out.  The next thing we know he's on a train to a Siberian POW camp.  He escapes, and from that point on, the story is mostly him vs the wilderness.  In many ways, this movie is very, very similar to The Way Back.  However, unlike in that movie, our relationship to the main character is complicated by his Nazi past. The scenes of him in the camp become complicated ruminations on man's inhumanity to man.  It is impossible to watch gaunt men in prison stripes lined up to do hard labor without thinking of Auschwitz, and yet Stalin's death camp is filled with Nazis.  This irony is somewhat lost on the film, and it comes to an unsatisfying conclusion later on in the movie.  Aside from that, this is a good movie about surviving in the wild, but I greatly preferred The Way Back.  As a side note, because there are few native German speakers in the movie, the spoken German is slow and uses small words, which made it excellent practice for my German (and some Russian too).  (It's subtitled in English)  C+.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Endgame

I've just discovered an awesome Candian show called Endgame on hulu.  If House and Monk had a baby, it would be Endgame. (That is to say, it's another Sherlock allegory).   Here's the setup:  Several months before the show begins (maybe a few years even?), a brilliant world-champion Russian chess star is staying at a Vancouver hotel with his fiance.  She was gunned down right outside the hotel, while he watched.  He now has agoraphobia, and can't leave the hotel.  He's been living there, in a suite, ever since.  His money has run out, and he's about to get evicted.  There is a kidnapping, and he cracks the case.  The grateful father pays his hotel bill.  Thus starts his new career, solving detective "puzzles".  At first, he's just in it for the money, but soon it's all about solving the puzzle.

Since he can't leave the hotel, he has to convince others, including the gruff hotel security chief, a smart, witty abuella of a maid, and a chess-groupie (math!) grad student to do the legwork for him.  I'm on episode 4 right now, and I'm really enjoying it.

The main character's name is Arkady Balligan, and he's brilliant, funny, playful, but kind of an asshole (very much like House) and tormented by the death of his fiance (like Monk).  He's convinced that he was the real target of the assassination (maybe for murky Russian political reasons), and is consumed by guilt about it.  Other characters include the lovely well-connected bartender and Pippa, the dead fiance's sister (who is angry that Arkady is working on other cases, but not her sister's).

The acting is good, but nothing special.  The writing is the real star; the mysteries are crisp, and the dialog (at least Arkady's) is sparkly sharp.  It was nice to see (and a real contrast with American TV) in the first episode, the kidnappe's parents are a gay couple, and nothing is made of it at all.  The fact that it's two men instead of a man and a woman is completely irrelevant to the plot, and no one suspects them of being child-rapists just because they're gay.


In an interesting mechanic, when Arkady is working through scenarios in his head, we see his thoughts as series of different scenarios for the crime with him talking to the people while they commit the crime.  It's a nice glimpse into his thought process, and adds a unique touch.

B+ so far (based on 3 episodes)  There are 5 episodes available right now (2/1/2012) and new ones come out on Mondays.