Category Archives: Movies/TV Shows

For posts about, well, movies or TV shows.

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 27: Prime Suspect

Standard

Hello and welcome to another episode of Adventures in Netflix! It’s been a while since the last episode, but today I’m back to talk about the 1991-2006 British series Prime Suspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first encountered this series a few years ago when the final series aired on my local PBS station. I remember being impressed by it, and by Helen Mirren’s performance, so when I noticed all seven series (each consisting of two episode serial) were now streaming on Netflix, I decided to revisit the show. So far I’ve watched the first two series, and I have to say I’m impressed. Prime suspect is a powerful, relentless show that delivers a more realistic, unpredictable police procedural than most anything else out there.

In the first series we are quickly introduced to our protagonist, DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), who due in large part to her own tenacity is placed in command of an ongoing murder investigation after her predecessor died suddenly of a heart attack. Her new, male, subordinates are less than thrilled to have a female commanding officer, and several begin plotting to have her removed from the investigation. Tennison, however, is not easily bested: she begins swiftly asserting herself a tough but companionable leader, and gradually begins to earn her squad’s respect. Well, most of them anyway.

This show packs so much into each 105 minute episode that I could go on summarizing for another three paragraphs and only cover the first serial. Unlike other procedurals, where we only see our heroes at work, here we see the full picture of one woman’s life as a detective. In addition to the complex investigation storyline, we also watch Tennison’s dwindling personal life as she progressively fails to balance her work with her family.

I’m just going to say it: Helen Mirren is incredible as Jane Tenisson. She inhabits her role completely, bringing out the character’s complexity and humanity so well it’s hard not to lose yourself in her journey. And Helen Miren isn’t the only talented actor in the mix. Zoë Wanamaker, who plays Moyra Henson, the domestic partner of the first series’ main suspect, is excellent. In fact, it’s hard to think of an actor or character in the entire show that wasn’t well done.

Aside from the superb acting and writing, one of Prime Suspect’s greatest strengths is how effectively it conveys the sheer brutality and unpleasantness of murder. In most other shows, even grittier ones such ans CSI and Bones, the actual murders feel somehow less impactful than they should. It can be hard in those shows to feel any real emotional response to the sight of a decaying corpse, or even think of it as a person; not so in prime suspect. I can’t entirely tell why, whether it’s the camera work, the graphic imagery, the writing, or a some combination thereof, but when Prime Suspect shows you a body, you feel something. And by the time the story’s over, when they’ve finally caught the person responsible it’s not empty, as is so often the case with such shows as Law and Order. No, when Prime Suspect shows its hand and reveals the culprit they’re not just the suspect who happened to have actually done it, they’re a murderer, and you loathe them for it.

If, like me, you enjoy a good procedural, and the number of them on TV would suggest a lot of you do, then Prime Suspect is a must watch.

~NekoShogun

Advertisements

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 26: Sweet Land

Standard

In this installment of Adventures in Netflix!I will be reviewing the 2005 independent film Sweet Land.

When I think about Sweet Land, the term “perfect movie” springs almost immediately to mind. There are no flaws to be found in it, no missteps or plot holes, no weaknesses or unfulfilled promises. Every inch of this movie is perfect, fulfilling its potential to the highest degree possible.

So, how then to review a “perfect movie?” As you can guess, I have nothing negative to say about it. I could simply sing its praises for a few paragraphs, but that would be boring. Instead, I think I’ll try to convey just what it is about this movie I like so much, though it might be easier to just make you watch the movie and let it speak for itself.

Set in rural Minnesota in the wake of World War I, Sweet Land tells the story of Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), a young German woman newly arrived in America, and Olaf (Tim Guinee), her husband-to-be. Things become difficult for the two almost immediately after they first meet, as Inge’s nationality causes many, but not all, in their small town to shun her and her fiancé.

Meet the original iPod, kids. Still, it’s better than carrying an orchestra around in your suitcase.

The soft-spoken beauty Sweet Land Possesses in everything from cinematography to set dressing and costumes is difficult to convey with just a few words. Everything about the look and feel of the movie feels so superbly real it’s impossible not to lose yourself in it. In a single, unassuming shot the sheer enormity of a corn field is conveyed so powerfully as to be almost staggering.

The characters, both in terms of writing and acting, contribute significantly to the movie’s sense of realness. Reaser so effortlessly inhabits Inge that it doesn’t matter that the character can only speak a handful of words in English, you can understand her perfectly by the tone of her voice and the strength with which she conducts herself. Guinee is wonderful as well and Olaf, while generally quiet and mild mannered, possesses a kindhearted determination that fits well with Inge’s vibrancy.

While the movie is at its heart a love story, it feels like so much more. It’s a story about people, and in turn, life. As such, there is no shortage of hardship and difficultly in its events, but even when things go wrong the characters always manage to maintain an attitude of positivity that is, though I hate use such a sappy phrase, heartwarming.

No, they’re not dead, just resting. Turns out harvesting a whole field by yourself BY HAND is a lot of work.

I could easily go on, but I doubt anyone would want to read much more. Simply put, Sweet Land is a beautiful movie, and I sincerely urge anyone even remotely interested go watch it as soon as possible. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

~NekoShogun

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 25: To the Ends of the Earth

Standard

Today on Adventures in Netflix! I’ll be reviewing the 2005 BBC miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, based on a trilogy of books of the same name by William Golding.

Set in the early 1800s, To the Ends of the Earth is an expertly crafted story that goes beyond the usual romanticism typical of such period pieces and delivers one of the most convincingly realistic depictions of life at sea that I’ve ever seen.

The miniseries is divided into three 90 minute episodes, each covering one of the three books. As such, each episode is essentially a self contained story, though the overall progression and ever evolving characters tie the three acts together and make it feel like one continuous, epic story.

To the Ends of the Earth tells the story of Edmond Talbot (Benedict Cumberbatch), a young English gentleman as he and his fellow passengers make the long and uncertain voyage from the British isles to the far coasts of Australia. Along the way he must navigate a series of hardships and unexpected events.

Talbot is a compelling character that takes many of the well known tropes of youth and gives them a much needed coat of paint. In his component parts, Talbot seems like any other character in a coming of age story–arrogant, naive, often tactless–but as portrayed by Cumberbatch young Edmond feels like more than just the sum of his parts: a real, dynamic character whose strengths of character are perfectly balanced against his many relatable flaws.

The rest of the cast, including Sam Neill and Jerad Harris, are equally wonderful, giving life to a motley band of characters as unusual and temperamental as the real world itself.

Equally impressive as the superb acting and story are the special effects. True, you’ll not find any big budget scenes of naval combat, what you will find however is one of the best, most nauseating depictions of just how turbulent the sea, and anything that floats upon it, can be. Especially in the first episode, characters are frequently shown vomiting, staggering, falling, and generally being abused by the motions of the ship. The camerawork, the acting, and whatever other tricks the filmmakers employ make the viewer feel as if they were right there with the characters in a way I haven’t experienced from other movies and television.

If period pieces are your thing, or you just really love a good naval story, To the Ends of the Earth is a must see.

~NekoShogun

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 24: Life

Standard

Welcome back to Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be talking about the 2007-2009 television show, Life.

In world where crime shows and police procedurals are a dime a dozen, it can be difficult to find on that’s actually worth caring about. Every now and then, however, a show comes along that does something interesting with the genre. Life is one of those shows.

I recently watched the first three episodes of the series–I do have vague memories of the show from back when it was first on, but for the purpose of this feature I’ll only be going off of those first three episodes.

Life centers around Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis), a detective who’s spent the past twelve years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Now exonerated (with a sizable settlement) and back on the force, Crews pursues justice with his new partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), and the zen mindset he developed in prison.

Crews and Reese.

The strength of Life lies chiefly with its characters: Crews is a uniquely unusual character, what with his philosophical ramblings and his odd obsession with fruit. There’s a sense of both positivity and intensity in the way Crews interacts with other people, an almost childlike energy that, combined with Lewis’ excellent performance, makes him instantly likeable.

Crews seems happiest in the presence of fruit, so what better to spend his new fortune on than an orange grove.

His partner, Reese, is equally well written and played. A more human, realistic version of the no nonsense tough girl trope, she makes an interesting yin to Crews’ yang. Or yang to his yin; I can never remember which is which.

I don’t think she liked it when I called her a trope…

The actual crimes in Life are, while well put together, fairly standard stuff by today’s over-saturated standards. But like I said, that’s not the draw here. Life is all about the characters: from the core group to the lowliest suspect, everyone is interesting and feel like they have a story behind them, not like some of the cardboard cutout stereotypes to be found on certain other procedurals.

If crime dramas are your thing, or if you just like shows with a quirky edge, Life is well worth checking out.

~NekoShogun

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 23: Lost in Translation

Standard

Welcome once again to Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be reviewing the 2003 movie Lost in Translation.

Lost in Translation is one of those movies that dosn’t really fit into any particular genre. It doesn’t care whether it’s a dramady or a romance or a slice of life: it’s too busy being itself to have time for all that.

The movie tells the story of two wayward Americans adrift in Tokyo–Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an aging movie star with a penchant for melancholy, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman struggling to find herself and adjust to married life–who meet and form a deep, immediate bond.

“I feel like I made a wrong turn somewhere…”

Lost in Translation is a movie that takes its time, giving its characters a chance to develop slowly as we watch them wander through their lives. There are numerous scenes of both Murray and Johansson just being: sitting at a bar, on the bed, in a bath, giving us a beautifully understated glimpse into the loneliness that consumes them.

Thinking up a witty caption is difficult when the characters look so gloomy all the time.

The setting–Tokyo city–is depicted with so much personality and culture that it becomes almost a character itself, a metaphor for the characters’ situation, its strangeness and unfamiliarity a reflection for the lostness they feel in their own lives. This strangeness manifests itself in a number of bizarre, random, and often very funny occurrences and situations. These non sequiturs are left largely unexplained or contextualized, and do a great job of making Tokyo feel like an alien culture, leaving the viewer just as lost and bemused as the characters themselves.

There’s a certain charming innocence about Murray and Johansson’s relationship, a sense of genuine friendship and chemistry that goes beyond the simple infatuation found in most stories of the sort. It’s clear the two have strong feelings for each other: there’s a deep longing betrayed in the way the characters look at each other, not necessarily for something physical, but for the companionship they offer each other, the comfort of spending time with someone else who truly understands them.

When you get right down to it, Lost in Translation is simply a wonderful movie. There is a captivating sense of realness to everything, a heartfelt honesty that makes it easy to lose yourself in this wonderfully crafted film.

~NekoShogun

Adventures in Netflix! Episode 22: The Red Baron

Standard

Ah, it feels good to be writing one of these after a two week (longer, since this is two days late) hiatus. Today on Adventures in Netflix! I’ll be reviewing the 2008 German biopic/action movie The Red Baron, a fairly decent movie that unfortunately suffers from its chosen style of storytelling.

As one might guess from the title, The Red Baron is the story of, you guessed it, the Red Baron, aka Manfred von Richthofan (Mathias Schweighöfer), the famous WWI German pilot. After a brief scene from Richthofan’s childhood, the movie jumps right into the midst of World War I, and the height of his career as a pilot. The movie then follows him through the war and his burgeoning romance with Käte Otersdorf (Lena Headey), a disillusioned nurse in the German military.

The Red Baron struggles in its beginning, particularly with its character introductions. This is due largely to the movie’s jerky pacing, a side effect of the ambitious attempt made at covering such a long stretch of time–two highly eventful years– in the narrow confines of a feature length film. For the first half hour or so The Red Baron feels more like a collection of loosely related scenes than a coherent movie, barely spending any time in one place before abruptly shifting focus to the next poorly contextualized dogfight, or conversation, or character introduction.

The Red Baron, aka Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen. Or as his friends call him, Manny.

The pacing does even out some by the halfway mark, and the movie manages to, eventually, make you care about the characters, but I feel like the film could have benefited from taking a little more time in the beginning instead of barreling through at breakneck speed.

Once you get past the pacing issues, the story itself is actually quite compelling, if a bit standard. Richthofan’s character arc, the cold hearted solder who, for the love of a woman, learns to see the world in a new light, is a well trodden but effective archetype.

As for the acting, well… I have mixed feelings. The actors all seem competent, and there were several scenes in which I found the performances genuinely moving, but as a whole there was something stiff about everything, something unnatural and forced. Maybe it has  to do with the fact that, despite being a German film starring mostly all German actors, all of the dialogue is delivered in English. But what ever the  reason, there was a woodenness in most of the performances that makes it more difficult than it ought to be to connect with the characters.

Richthofen’s squadron, made up of Germany’s finest pilots.

The Red Baron actually is less of an action movie than I expected, from both the poster art and the trailers I have vague memories of seeing back when the movie released in the US. That’s not to say there’s no action–there are several reasonably exciting  dogfights–but these scenes don’t feel like the focus of the movie.

Ah, biplanes, the convertible of the sky. Nothing but you, the clouds, and the wind in your hair.

All in all The Red Baron is a movie that, while perfectly fine, fails to live up to both its potential and its opinion of itself. If you’re in the mood for an action movie with a dash of romance you could do a lot worse than The Red Baron.    However, you could also do better.