Category Archives: Film

TV Shows to binge-watch 


On Acorn

Antipodian: New Zealand:

800 Words“,  Suddenly a widower, an Australian writer moves with his kids to the NZ village he spent summers in as a kid. Complications ensue. Great stories, charming characters, excellent writing and acting, several seasons.

Brokenwood Mysteries“,  Brokenwood, a medium size town in NZ, gets a new senior detective, colorful but as it happens, good at his job. Slightly flaky-seeming local Maori guy turns out to know everyone and something about everything. He’s like a benificent Trickster god. Detective Sims, 2nd most senior, is the only actual adult in the plain-clthes part of the station.

Antipodian: Australian:

Rain Shadow“, – a former grain-growing area of South Australia now in drought. Perminently? Story follows a young vet from the big city

Crownies“, – Crown Prosecuturs: Ensemble, very long-form stories, each lawyer has multiple cases moving at different points in the system. 
Janet King”  (sequel to Crownies), Crownies refashioned to center on one lawyer in particular, and with a brilliant freienemy mixed in
Jack Irish“. A winning, low-rent PI, only takes cases he wants…
Mr. and Mrs. Murder” – mostly comedy, two crime-scene cleaners show up after the cops are done, but often discover what really happened. The couple are charming and their neice keeps it in the family. The slightly hapless cop they are consistantly bailing out is at least grateful for the help

My Life Is Murder” – A retired ace detective neglects her baking to come back to the force, from time to time, solving crimes her old boss can’t get cleared by anyone else. Stars Lucy Lawless, formerly Xena, Warrior Princess.

Irish:

Striking Out” lawyer drama, wonderful cast and writing- Brief adult situations. 2 seasons!
Finding Joy“, – a lot of the same cast as Striking Out.. Newspaper copy editor suddenly assigned to local-color TV reporter’s beat. Bungie Jumps, New Age retreats. Serious fish out of water.
The miniseries of Tara French’s In The Woods and The Image. Really, really, dark, but gripping.
Jack Taylor” about a former Guardi working as a private investigator. Noir-ish.

British:

No Offense” – perfect cop comedy drama, funny as hell. But bad bad guys are in earnest, dark stuff happens. Story arcs are season-long but each episode has a point and arc of its own. Inspector Deering leads her squad with if-it-isn’t-true-it-ought-to-be-true verve. Mostly.
Ackley Bridge” – luminous comedy / drama about public school for a mixed stone poor Anglo and stone poor Pakistani imigrant/2nd generation community. Colorful cast of teachers and administrators. Superb writing and acting. We didn’t expect a 3rd season, but there is! and we’re enjoying it. Drop dead funny, and heart-breaking when it gets dramatic. An amazing amount of characters and their lives are stuffed into each episode.
Loch Ness“, the protagonist detective is leading her first murder investigation, on the shore and environs of the famous Loch. Her husband does “Nessie” tours for tourists, and gets a bit of education too.
Agatha Raisin” – former fashonista / publicity person moves to the Cotswalds and starts solving murders. The senior local cop is utterly incompitent, but she can work with the junior, and local worthies. Some of the outfits Agatha gets to wear may perimently damage older TVs…
Murder (Investigation) Squad“,  – London- based squad similar to Vera Stanhope’s Northumberland and City bunch- different people with different skills, one old-school white guy in a coat and tie, Inspector is a short, intense woman, her bagwoman is a taller, quieter Mc(something), not quite as driven. This is a DENSE show- You get more in one hour than some 2 hour or multi-part shows.”Line of Duty“. Anti-corruption/internal affairs procedural, in Northern Ireland. Complex plots.”The Good Karma Hospital” British doctor returns (?) to India, running a clinic with volunteer locals, ex-pats and returning migrants. Engaging stories move around the location of the hospital. 

 

Canadian:

19-2” as good as TV gets, but dark. A country cop with back-story moves to Montreal, teams with a city cop who’s former partner was disabled in a horrific shooting. Each has to prove himself to the other, while meeting their own high personal standards. And avoiding the machinations of the creepy captain. Crimes tend to be smaller and involve less gunfire than US cop shows- sometimes they get called for a fight in a bar, and assualts, property crimes, public safety and the usual sorta-organized illegal stuff you expect in a big city. One story starts with a homeless guy who’s outdoors, that the city cop knows. on a clear night that’s going to freeze. He should be indoors… and there-in lies the tale.

We loved the first episode, and thought, “lets have another, even if they can’t all be *that* good”. But they *are* that good. Each better than the one before. Stories build and interconnect. The characters, and the rest of their station (19th precinct, they have car #2) have stuff going on, and histories. Substance abuse, domestic violence, everyone’s stupid problems and the cops own relationship issues offer a range of situations that don’t go as hoped, or planned. There are losses, and hurts that don’t heal quickly.  Yet, after 4 seasons, and the cruel and senseless challenges that most survive, there’s the matter of an out of season deer carcas that the country cop’s brother arrives with one night. Its cleaned and hanging in the back of the tractor-trailer the brother drives for a living.  The short term solution involves packages wrapped in pink butcher’s paper, but one of the cops at the station has a venison pie recipe… and there’s the happy ending!

Scandinavian:

Rebecka Martinsson” A detective from the forest and lakes part of the country is about to marry a guy from the big city, then things get complex and she has to stay where she grew up and get it all sorted out. Beautiful locations, a smaller town with more rural and less agricultural land than Wallander.

Straight Forward” A second-generation con-artist flees Denmark when her father is killed, going to ground in New Zealand and trying to rescue her daughter…

Megahertz Network / Cable channel 17:

Beck” – Swedish detective squad led by older widower, nearing retirement. Comedic relief by his wacky neighor- guy with orange-tinted glasses who always appears with a neck brace, like he just had whiplash… usually meeting inconveniently in the hallway or out on the balconies of their flats. Beck’s squad has a hot-dog guy who’s cynical but a good shot, a female nerd, normalish plainclothes dudes and one  guy clearly descended from Vikings- wild red hair and beard, He’s the emotional one. Beck has a daughter who’s a uniformed cop. Not as bleak as “Wallander,”

Baantjer“: Dutch detective, older guy, younger team, like “Beck”, or “Wallander” come to think of it.

Inspector Manara“: Groovy Italian detective, has a Zappa poster up in his apartment  and plays solo saxaphone to soothe his soul.

 

Animal shows, In order of best and most soothing staff and animals.

Bronx, NY, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-zoo/

Chester, UK, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/secret-life-of-the-zoo/

Columbus, OH, Zoo: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/secrets-of-the-zoo/

Want more?

Houston, TX, Vet Clinic: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-vet-life/

San Diego, CA, Zoo: https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-zoo-san-diego/

Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Aus. : https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/secrets-of-the-zoo-down-under/

The Georgia Aquarium, GA https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/the-aquarium/

On HBO:

Big Little Lies“, both seasons. Very dark. Spectacular cast and writing, set in Monterey! Extra intense 2nd season goes past the source book and brings in Meryl Streep!

Six Feet Under” The unexpected death of the owner/father of a family morturary in L.A. leaves his widow, their 3 kids and the partner in the business, mourning, and existentially challenged. The painfully disfunctional family have to pull together,  with the partner, to chart their own course for the business. And as idividuals, to build new lives with or without significant others. It takes 63 episodes, in 5 seasons, to figure it out, with one of the coolest end-of-the-last-episode-endings ever made.

Tremé,” set in the neighborhood of the same name in New Orleans, starting some months after Huricane Katrina. The superb cast and writing show how great TV can be made from stories of normal people trying to make a living and stay relatively honest in tragic times. Great food and music never hurt, even when the apocolypse has come and gone. Death is still in business. Love isn’t always enough. But even a character who seems to only be for themself can find some redemption, doing something for someone else.

The Wire“, further proof that good TV is character and story driven. One season follows one character into his new career as a public school teacher. No superheroics, just seemingly hopeless disfunction only occasionally redeemed by small success. Or rare grace. And yet. Andre Royo, the actor who portrays the recovering heroin adict, “Bubbles”, so intensely inhabited his role that people, in Baltamore, would see him on the street and press money on him, because he *was* that character, and that character needed the help. The good guys are good, the bad guys bad, and like any story it has to end. After far too much death and destruction. Besides its quality as art, the practical tutorial on drugs, crime, poverty, hollowed city centers and race is well worth your time.

On PBS:

Masterpiece detective procedurals:

Vera“, “Shetland“, “Broadchurch“,(UK version), “Foyle’s War

Food!:

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” A gentler, “Parts Unknown”: travel+food

KQED’s “Check Please Bay Area”

On PBS and also on Acorn:

BBC’s venerable: “Doctor Who” The new Doctor had her break-out role in Broadchurch (UK).
Endeavor“, – Inspector Morse prequil. Interesting stuff, but the imagined Morse is a bit of a stretch, the senior Inspector he works with is fun, as is the young officer Strange and young medical examiner.
Inspector Lewis“,
Inspector Morse
Last Tango In Halifax“.
New Tricks“, An active duty detective gets assigned to cold cases and recruits 3 retired detectives as her squad. They’re all characters, the cold cases are a wide range, and the retirees change, and then the lead detective, as the seasons run on. Watch from the beginning if you can.

Recently, at our house, on cable TV:

Last week BBC miniseries “Pride and Predjudice”: (Collin Firth)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” – Fred Rogers’ biopic.
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
“The Best of Enemies” (recent, not David Niven WWII movie)
“Pride and Predjudice”: (2005 Kira Knightley)
“A Star is Born” (most recent version)
at a theatre: “Onward”
Before that: “Parasite”
We enjoyed “The Bridge” (Texas/Mexico) and “The Tunnel”, UK/France, both of which are very, very dark, though also very good

Don’t Forget: (From our DVD collection)

“Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With TIme”
“My Neighbor Totoro”
“A Grand Day Out With Wallace and Gromit”
“Porco Rosso”
“Spirited Away”
“Howl’s Moving Castle”
“Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams”
“Tampopo”
“A Taxing Woman”
“Hidden Fortress”
“Seven Samarai”
“Le Mans” (Steve McQueen, 1970 = sequel to “Ford Vs. Ferrari”, in some ways…)
“Endless Summer” (Bruce Brown, mid 1960s)
“The Kids Are Allright” (The Who’s biopic, ending just before Keith Moon’s death)
“The Way Things Go” (31 minute Rube Goldberg machine made of industrial junk in a dis-used industrial space)

 

Stay safe!

Follow up to Dave Itzkoff’s NYT column about his 4 year old and home video, “Yellow Submarine & Me” .


Follow up to Dave Itzkoff’s NYT column about his 4 year old and home video, “Yellow Submarine & Me”  .

(I posted this as a comment on his greeting on Redit. Never been signed up on Redit before. I couldn’t send a message on Twitter and the letters section for the article was closed. I liked what he wrote, I hope he enjoys this additional info.)

Hi Dave, I’m Bill Abbott and I greatly enjoyed your NYT piece about “Yellow Submarine“. My kid, now 22, was also a big fan at that age. Great stuff! Same kid prefers “Help!” to “Hard Day’s Night”. Admittedly, “Help!” has more tigers, and the four attached home front doors leading to one room, with John’s bed below floor level. How I wanted one of those! Same kid offered a Nina Simone song as “what’s going through my mind now” this afternoon. I have no complaints.

Not long after “Yellow Submarine“, we were lucky enough to have another pre-schooler loan us a copy of “My Neighbor Totoro“. We didn’t know the film, didn’t know Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli. But we learned in a hurry! VERY kid friendly, and (spoiler) their mom is in the hospital but gets better! No Hollywood Movie disease! Totoro? You’ll meet the neighbor. You’ll be happy you did.

Then my brother loaned us a VHS of “The Way Things Go“. Its a 31 minuite Rube Goldberg machine made of industrial and consumer junk, in a disused factory setting. One thing knocks into a second, which tips a third, whick pulls a string, which releases a weight that falls on the end of a folded, partially inflated, vinyl boat, which unfolds, starting a tire rolling up (!) a ladder, which hits a second tire, starting it, and then a third, and a forth… you get the idea. Eventually the rhythms of the events , repetitions and variaions become identifyable, and after that, you start seeing the pauses where they had to reload the camera, every 3 minutes to 3:30 or so. I’ve probably seen it 100 times by now. When it ends, the delighted child says, “Again!” So always leave enough time to watch it twice.

Around age 5 or so, the family across the street loaned us a copy of “Spy Kids 2“. There were 3 “Spy Kids” movies, by Robert Rodriguez, and now there’s a fourth. We started with “Spy Kids 2”, because that’s what our neighbors loaned us, and they were right! Like “Night At The Museum 2“, “Spy Kids 2” explains nothing. There are characters. They have relationships. It will be come clear as it goes along. And there aren’t 30 seconds wasted in either film. “Spy Kids 2” has the great cast (Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tony Shalhoub.) of the first film, adding Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as the Kids grandparents, on their mother’s side, a second Spy family, mom, dad, sister, brother, and Steve Beucimi as the mad scientist hiding in the volcano on the invisible island because he’s afraid of the creatures he’s created. Half to himself, he wonders “…if God hides in Heaven because He’s Afraid of what He created.”

“Spy Kids” explains everything, how the Kids parents (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino) work for the OSS, and the kid’s Uncle Machete built the tree house next to their house. You get more explanation about the Cumming and Shalhoub characters. Then truey odd stuff happens, big adventures, and it winds up ok. Takes a while, but OK. That’s nice but its not the one to start with.

Spy Kids 3” involves video games and Sylvester Stalone, not as successful in my opinion. ßtart with “2”, then watch “1”. Be happy.

If you liked “Totoro” then “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a good second helping.

If you like “The Way Things Go“, there are two follow-ups, “Rendezvous“, “C’était un rendez-vous”, by Claude LeLouch, offers an 8 and a half minute, completely illegal, drive through Paris starting at about 5:30 am, so a man can meet his wife at Sacré-Cœur Basilica A “rendezvous”. They embrace in the headlights of his car. The whole thing is one shot, from the front of the car. What you see is the streets. The stop lights (they are red, the driver doesn’t even lift their right foot). Pidgeons. An early dog-walker, a trash truck. The route includes the courtyard of the Louve, because you used to be able to drive through it.

A second follow-up to “The Way Things Go” is “Rivers and Tides. Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time“. It starts with Goldsworthy up before the sun, in Newfoundland. He has a little cup of water and some icicles, which he breaks into short pieces with angled ends. He is using the water to glue them to a rock, then build a loop that goes out, curves, and returns to the rock. With one loop in place, he goes to the other end of the rock and makes tne next loop, higher. And back and forth. When he’s done, he steps back to take a photograph, and thats when the sun rises. The whole icicle “sewn” back and forth “through” the rock lights up like a Neon lamp. Like Steve Martin’s gag “arrow through the head”.

I had admired Goldsworthy’s work on exhibit around the Bay Area, and in books like “Hand To Earth”, but in the movie, you see an imperinant, temporal side of what he does. He builds something between the low tide and high tide mark, and the water rises and inundates it. He pins together bracken with thorns, and the little puffs of a light wind wrench it appart. All the rest of the film consists of wathching Goldsworthy go out into the wild world, make something with what he finds, take a picture, and leave it. And film of projects he did in the past. He narrates everything. Not every project succeeds. There’s a pinecone-ish shape he likes to build with stones, and he’s trying on a rocky shingle beach, and he hasn’t figured out how to use the rock. It keeps falling. Be talks about it while he works.

Another project is just jaw dropping. He’s drawn to the meandering shape of an old river on a nearly level plain, big loops that will be come oxbows, etc. He draws one in light snow on a frozen stream. He is offered a  wall in a gallery, and he builds a meander on it, using a soft, porus, material, and soaks it with water. Then he covers the whole wall with mud. So its a uniform, hand-smoothed, wall, entirely made of mud. And he lets it dry. Well, part of it dries quickly, there’s no water source under it. But part dries slowly, stays dark, and when it does, eventually dry, its immediately aparent where the meander is because the mud  that dried quickly has one characteristic set of cracking and the mud that dried slowly has a different looking cracking, and the two couldn’t be clearer in their difference. Although both are dried mud, the same dried mud. You can see the shape he wanted to show. How cool is that?

*Fortunate* Motorcyclist survives driving off cliff


http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2017/08/11/motorcycle-plunges-off-cliff-santa-monica-mountains-california-orig-trnd-lab.cnn/video/playlists/caught-on-camera/

My comments to CNN:

Cliff-diving motorcyclist Matthew Murray, 27, passes a “25 MPH” advisory sign in the 12th second of CNN’s video clip. This is in the 2nd run through of the crash video. In the 15th second he’s going 68 MPH as he starts to lean into the turn. He’s still going more than 50 MPH as he slides off the pavement and onto the dirt. Text on the screen says something to the effect that he “was following the turn when he thinks his steering locked up”. The video shows no such thing. He was going too fast, and could not turn sharply enough to follow the turn. He started at more than 2.5 times the advised speed. He left the pavement at 2 times the advised speed. His speed “locked” his path, not his steering.

Get the an accurate map of the curve, the size and tread pattern of the motorcycle tires and a description of the motorcycle (make, model, horsepower, brakes,weight-as-crashed) and rider (weight). Give to “Mythbusters”. Have them duplicate the failure, during deceleration, then do a binary search for the steady speed at which a motorcycle on those tires, at that weight, could follow that turn. Braking uses traction, does that change maximum speed?. Find the entry speed, before braking, that would allow the bike to make the turn. Put a GoPro on the bike for comparison pictures, and a second one showing where the front tire touches the road.

Great nerdy films: The Way Things Go, Rivers and Tides, Rendezvous


The Way Things Go – Fichelli and Wiess’ finest moment, so far.

Probably the most demanded “Play It Again!” film of all time. It has its own Wikipedia page, and the Honda Cog ad was found to violate Fichelli and Wiess’ copyright of the image of tires bumping into each other and rolling uphill….See it too, but see the original first. Repeatedly. With a child, age 5-105…

Product Details The Way Things Go 100 feet of physical interactions, chemical reactions, and precisely crafted chaos worthy of Rube Goldberg or Alfred Hitchcock – a discussion starter for …

icarusfilms.com/cat97/t-z/the_way_.html – Cached – Similar –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_Things_Go Trailer: http://www.tcfilm.ch/pop_lauf1e.htm

http://www.amazon.co/Way-Things-Go/dp/B00005UW7W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1253212612&sr=8-1

Retail $18, used from $9.13… Amazing Chain Reaction – The Way Things Go 4 min 34 sec – Jan 15, 2007 – Rated 4.6 out of 5.0 TO BUY THE DVD of the complete 30 minutes of this chain reaction called The Way Things Go go here: firstrunfeatures.com IN THIS SCENE: Fire is … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U82eWptFxSs – Related videos – And Here’s Cog: Results include your SearchWiki notes for Honda Cog. Share these notes Copy and paste this link into an email or IM: See a preview of the shared page 1.

Honda Accord Cog Commercial 2 min 1 sec – Mar 3, 2006 – Rated 4.7 out of 5.0 High res Quicktime file (original commercial). video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6006084025483872237 – Related videos – 2. The Making Of “Honda – Cog” 4 min 4 sec – Oct 4, 2006 – Rated 5.0 out of 5.0 The Making of Honda’s “Cog” commercial (Honda Accord)

video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-960793573142648647 – Related videos – 3. Cog (advert) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Cog is a British television and cinema advertisement launched by Honda in 2003 to promote ….. Honda ‘cog’ ad at centre of rip-off debate over 1987 film, … Sequence – Production – Release and reception – Legacy

A n d W h i l e W e A r e O n e T h e S u b j e c t . . . . Product Details Rivers & Tides ~ Andy Goldsworthy working with time. (DVD – Sep 28, 2004) Buy new: $26.95 $14.49 42 Used & new from $11.52 Watch It Now:  4.5 out of 5 stars (103) DVD:

If you don’t know Andy Goldworthy’s art, I think you’re in for a treat. Also QUITE child-friendly. HIs basic brief is to go out into the world and make something from what he finds there. Then he photographs is, and then lets it return to what it was. Some of his installation pieces in galleries have been stacks of slate, some have been album covers for Tori Amos’ early records. Once he made a collection of snow balls with various contents, stored the, and the put them out in the gallery to melt and reveal their content. Its all about using what’s actually there, but also all about time and how impermanent the world is. Nothing we see, not the rocks, not the mountains, not even the sea, will last for ever. Ok, ok, and the point is???? Ok. The first piece in this film is filmed before dawn, in Newfoundland. Goldworthy is out with a little bowl of water, and he’s collected a bunch of carrot-sized icicles, and he’s breaking them into segments and using the water to stick them back together to make an arc that starts and ends on the side of a big rock down by the ocean- like a letter C stuck to the rock as if: / C| / then the camera pulls back and you can see he’s made a series of these, like the old arrow-though the head gag, a series of loops on both sides of the rock

…….L/ \

…..C/….. \D

C/………. \D

so it looks like the icicle is threaded back and forth through the rock and the at the top it turns and goes up a couple of feet straight up. Nice. He’s got gloves but he’s working with bare fingers because he gets better control of the ice pieces that way. It looks COLD. Just as he’s about to take the picture, the sun comes up, its been twilight as he’s been working, and the sunlight falls on the icicle pieces and they turn on with the golden light as if they’re neon tubes or something like that… completely unexpected.

I find this charming, and it may not be the best piece in the film. Maybe the failures, the stack of rocks that keeps collapsing, the screen of sticks pinned together with thorns that a tiny breeze destroys, are the best. Good lesson for kids- some ideas don’t work out- give it your best, and if it isn’t going to happen, do something else. Its like going back 50,000 years to when art and engineering and science were more or less the same thing… What happens to the gallery wall he covers with mud is so cool I’m not going to reveal it. Suffice to say, its cool.

A n d N o w F o r S o m e t h i n g T h a t F i t s R i g h t I n . . . Product Details Rendezvous (DVD – Feb 20, 2003) Buy new: $29.95 $26.99 5 Used & new from $24.95  4.5 out of 5 stars (38) DVD: http://www.amazon.com/Rendezvous-Claude-Lelouch/dp/B000CFL6DS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1253213838&sr=8-5 Another really good one in my personal collection is Rendezvous, an inexcusable but wonderful 9 minute drive across Paris, at about 5;30am, in a Ferrari with a camera fastened to the hood. The driver, never identified by director Claude Le Leouch, assuming it wasn’t him, doesn’t even lift has he blows the red lights down the approach to the Arc de Triumph. Then a quick jaunt to the Louvre, turn north and through the various districts (1st to 9th to 18th I believe) and ends up at the Sacre Coeur, where Le Louch steps into the headlights of the car and embraces his wife. A Rendezvous.

To quote one review on Amazon: “…nearly 30 years ago I saw the film on 35mm, and it was so intense, that the memory of it has never left me. It’s like watching Leo Kottke in full flight on his 12-string; you see it, you hear it, but nonetheless your mind refuses to accept that it’s possible. Buy it. Buy it now. And while you wait for it to arrive, practice holding your breath for 9 minutes, as you’ll need that ability….. ”

Another reviewer notes: “…No streets were closed, for Lelouch was unable to obtain a permit…. …Upon showing the film in public for the first time, Lelouch was arrested…” Reckless driving of course… and he was convicted, although he has always maintained it was a professional driver… whom he has never named. The sound is simply the car, tires, street noises, pigeons, garbage trucks, etc. There’s nothing quite like it, and probably never will be.

And when all else fails: http://www.theexplodingwhale.com/

Movies seen- w/ Abby, w/Jean


We just saw:

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. Nice, very, very, nice. Much as J. K. Rowling did herself proud in writing the books and bringing off the sprawling yarn and its many loose ends, so now yet another director picks up with mostly the same actors and makes a VERY compact and effective movie. Its a keeper, no doubt. The three principals are maturing as actors as they grow taller, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman would have stolen any NORMAL movie, that they don’t says much about the focus of the script writers and directors of this epic industry. They’ll be sorry when its over, I can tell you that. The brief appearance of the now-married (in the movie, in the Movie!) Tonks and Professor Lupin is nice, and the scenery, the world outside the cloister of Hogwart’s, is just beautiful to look at. At one point The Hogwarts’ Express rolls along tracks through a autumn gold land dotted by a thousand ponds, lakes, streams. Another scene depends on raging seas against cliffs out of a nightmare. I can’t tell how  much of this is digital and how much literal, but I’m not complaining…

Recently we’ve also seen:

The 2nd Transformers movie, Abby loved it. Really. A lot. Still talking about it a week, two weeks, later. Value for money, there.

Me, perhaps not so much. The human interactions don’t make any more sense than the robot interactions (Can’t tell a Decepticon from an Autobot? You’re not alone…) One of the bad robots disguises itself as a very attractive young woman and then throws herself (itself?) at Shia LeBouef’s character. I have nothing but respect and admiration for attractive young women but this bit and the key point between SLB’s character and Megan (?) Fox, that SLB, recent highschool graduate won’t tell Ms. Fox’s character that he loves her , don’t seem aligned with a special effects spectacle derived from a cartoon and licensed product gold mine aimed at 6-9 year olds.

Up in 3D. we all thought it was terrific fun. Sad at the beginning, less so than Finding Nemo, but its no accident that Pixar can have sadder and more touching things happen in their animated features than any other animated studio, with the possible exception of Studio Ghibli (H. Miyazaki) in Japan. Perhaps Pixar will made a bad movie, someday, this one isn’t it.

Lovely, unexpected depth in the characters and the story. The whole concept of taking the little house hemmed in by the big city and floating it away is wonderful. The trick of the dog’s thoughts being rendered into speech is as funny here as in The Far Side- Abby and I are still breaking suddenly and looking to one side while saying “squirrel”…

Coraline in 3D. What a great movie! For sure wierd, very wonderful. and appealing. The apparently wish-fulfilling mother in The Other Side sets off all kinds of alarm bells from the word go. And the cat and neighborhood boy are terrific foils for Coraline. Not to mention her real mother and father, and all their messy difficulties.

Milk. Wow. “I’m Harvey Milk and I’m hear to recruit you!” boy oh boy can Sean Penn put across a character, and the supporting cast are superb. Directing tight, script crisp and emotionally satsfying. A truely great movie.

“Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day” – Frances McDormand in an overwhemling sweet and happy story. Many adventures, Amy Adams’  astonished, round, eyes and a happy ending that only gets telegraphed at the very end.  Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) has a meaty and unsympathetic character,  Ciarán Hinds  is a treasure.

Tropic Thunder. Wow again! A surprising comedy-drama. Laughs are deadly, well aimed, lighting up conventions found in far too many places. The panda bit is howlingly funny, in a very, very, dark way, and Tom Cruise shows why we bother paying attention to him- his performance is simply jaw-dropping and would have overwhelmed a lesser movie. (The strength and sure-touch of the this film are reminders of how good a movie can be. Even turned up to 11, Jack Black, well cast and with a real part that matches his talent, can’t steal more than a scene or two. The material and the rest of the cast are that strong.) Ben Stiller really has a lock on funny characters who aren’t actually likable, but remain sympathetic. Robert Downey Jr’s, “dude pretending to be another dude, who’s pretending to be another dude” (or however that goes) is even further over the top than Cruise. Its like fireworks- once the fuse it lit, everyone’s committed. Jean and I saw this by ourselves and really enjoyed it, and after talking it over, let Benjamin see it on-demand at home. The beginning is gorey-er than he was comfortable with and we’d forgotten sexual nature of one of Jack Black’s character’s drug-withdrawal-crazed rants. We were embarrassed, but it didn’t last long. This is a real “R” for violence and strong language, folks. So wait until your 12 year old turns 13, perhaps, but this one’s a keeper, for sure. Just as good, maybe better, the second time I saw it.

Night At The Museum II – Battle of the Smithsonian. A sequel which basicly wrote itself – the primary characters are known, complexity is turned down, slapstick turned up and everyitng is what you’d expect and more. The bad bad guy’s dismissal of Darth Vader (or someone wearing a Darth costume) is wonderfully realized and puts that particular icon in its place quite firmly. I must agree with the review in one national print media which noted that all the skill and attention devoted to special effects are good but what most fathers will remember of Movie Magic ™ is Amy Adams’ painted-on pants.

Ghost Town Another one Jean and I saw by ourselves and a delight, a terrific showcase for Ricky Gervais, a wonderfully wacky premise and a full measure of both romance and comedy. Gervais is less off-putting than his breakthrough role in the UK “The Office”but he’s still mining the awkward and not easy to like formula. Dr. Pinkus is not a bad person, a bit prickly, a bit odd, but not a bad person. But he’s complicated and dropping him into something MORE complicated plays to his strengths. – he has that Fred Astare thing going,, he makes it all look SO easy.

What to watch with the family, of various ages, during the holidays


So you’ve got 500 channels and there’s nothing on… and your child, parent, neice or aunt Rochelle or uncle Ralph need something to do on a rainy afternoon. Here’s a passel of movies, mostly kids movies, but not all, that are favorites of ours. These are good to get from the library, good for your Netflix list, good rentals, good stocking stuffers. Enjoy, and put your own picks up as coments!
I’ve broken out Miyazaki and Nick Park’s work at the top, the rest of the kids stuff is alphabetic:

Lets start with Studio Ghibli. If you don’t know these, I think you’ll like them:

My Neighbor Totoro
Porco Rosso
Spirited Away
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Cat Returns,
Floating Castle,
Nausicaa,
Princess Mononoke
“Grave of the Fireflies”
is a post Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and
stands aside from the rest…

Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit movies- the first 3 are shorter than 90 minutes.

A Grand Day Out
The Wrong Trousers
A Close Shave
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbi
t

More kids movies,

alphabetic order and including some additions over the annoted list below, because I haven’t caught up!

2001
The African Queen !
Avatar – the last air bender
Cars
Casablanca !
Chicken Run
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Creature Comforts
ET
Finding Nemo
Fly Away Home
Get Smart
The Great Escape
A Hard Day’s Night
Help!
Hoodwinked
Ice Age 2
Ice Age
The Incredibles
Indiana Jones, every one of them
Kit Kittredge, An American Girl
Madagascar
Mary Poppins
March of the Penguins
Men In Black
Monster House
Night At The Museum
Nim’s Island
The Princess Bride
The Pursuit of Happiness
Ratatouille
Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time
Spy Kids 2
Spy Kids
Spy Kids 3
Toy Story
Tron
Wall-e
The Way Things Go
Winged Migration


Seasonal:

How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Elf
Miracle on 34th Street
Its a Wonderful Life
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
– GE Theater stop-action animation, with the elf who wants to be a dentist.

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:

Bend It Like Beckham
Hellboy (I)
Le Mans
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III.
Raising Arizona.
Tampopo.
The Triplets of Belleville

RIght on the edge:

Bedazzled
The Lord Of The Rings trillogy- The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
O Brother Where Art Thou
Michael Clayton
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
The Shawshank Redemption
Tropic Thunder


Not for kids, imho:

The Big Lebowski
The Constant Gardener
Fargo
No Country for Old Men
Saving Private Ryan


Annotated/capsule reviews:

My Neighbor Totoro <– An animated, Japanese, Winnie The Pooh… Truly a child’s film, and beautiful to watch. One for my desert island DVDs list
Porco Rosso <– Beautiful and disorienting 1930s fable of Adriatic air pirates… Also for the desert island
Spirited Away <– An abandoned theme park contains an alternate reality which includes some dark stuff and some very odd stuff too.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
<– A young witch must spend a year away from home, Charming. Neat cat subplot.
Howl’s Moving Castle <– Really cool but hard to characterize in a sentence… you’ll have to trust me, if you liked any of Miyazaki’s other films, this one is worth your time too.

After any of these you’ll have seen enough to make sense of his other films- The Cat Returns, Floating Castle, Nausicaa, and the other adventure stories. etc. That said, “Grave of the Fireflies” is a post-Hiroshima drama/heartbreak and sort of special and stands out from the rest…

Here’s some bio and a description of Totoro:
Nick Park’s wonderful claymations:

A Grand Day Out <– introduces Wallace and Gromit, an inventor and his dog. Pure bliss. The first W & G film.
The Wrong Trousers <– Strapped for cash, Wallace lets Gromit’s room to a boarder who may be more than he seems… Ends in an amazing chase
A Close Shave <– Our heros start a window washing business, then Wallace meets a charming lady who sells yarn…
Curse Of The Weir-Rabbit <– W & G start a pest control company, using a machine Wallace has invented… Chaos follows.

Chicken Run <– As in the W & G films, Park has an un-erring feel for 1930s-1050s-ish technology, culture and wildly mixed humor. A small-time egg farm looks and runs like a WWII Stalag Luft xyz- complete with a capable lady chicken playing the Steve McQueen trouble-maker role from “The Great Escape”. She’s in the cooler, with her baseball and glove, as the story opens… it gets better 🙂

Park’s first widely seen work is in a series of shorts called “Creature Comforts“- the spoken words are quotes or recordings (can’t remember) of retirees in homes or nursing facilities, the images are of animals in the zoo… :^)

Hoodwinked – low budget fun, no fart jokes, turns a familiar story inside out… “A-” writing, “B” animation, “A” direction. And it might inspire someone to see The Thin Man.
Over the Hedge – formulaic, but this has an even funnier squirrel-on-caffeen joke. See if free. Squirrel joke near end.
Everything Pixar has ever done, but especiallly Ratatouille and Toy Story… boy has computer animation come a long way! Oh yeah, The Incredibles too.
Cars, Wall-e, Finding Nemo etc, have a lot going for them too. Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet.

Spy Kids 2 <– this is the best of the three Spy Kids movies- Richard Rodreguez is a major talent, with a major attitude 🙂 Nonstop invention.
Spy Kids <– see where it all began. You can start here if you’re feeling linear, ‘2 will be easier to follow if you do..
Spy Kids 3 <– Fun for a movie of a story-inside-a-video-game but 1 and 2 are better.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. Again, having created and justified an ensemble in the first film, this sequel ads some marvelous characters (Crash and Eddie) and just runs with the idea. And there’s more of Scrat, who is absolutely wonderful. It doesn’t hurt to see Ice Age 1 and then 2, but 2 is the richer film.

March of the Penguins, the English language version, is priceless.

Winged Migration, is another documentary about birds. Breathtaking, and the scene on the beach is a fake, they resuced the bird and threw a sandwich out to the scavengers.

Fly Away Home, a drama based on a true story about Canadian geese taught to migrate…

Rivers and Tides – Andy Goldsworthy Workinig With Time is just knock your socks off cool. He’s a stunningly good at what he does, which is making art out of what he finds in the natural world. Not all of it works, which is the whole point. He says, at one point, “I still don’t understand these rocks”… its a time machine back to when science and art were the same thing.

The Way Things Go – a Swiss art film that has been changing the world since 1986. A 31 minutes Rube Goldberg machine run, made of junk in an abandoned or disused building. There is fire, and bad chemicals, and a rhythm enforced by the need to change film magazines. They try to make it look like one shot all the way through though. You can’t watch it just once :^)

COG“, find on youTube, is a 2 minute Honda ad that’s a homage to TWTG. It was said to have required 600+ takes, over several days. My favorite part is the pushrods rolling down the springs, and the valves turning 180 degrees.

The Triplets of Belleville. Not really a kid movie, but animated, and with music and song from the characters, like 1930s animation.

Kit Kittredge, An American Girl <– Jean and Benjamin saw this and liked it a lot

Nim’s Island <– A girl and her widower father live on a jungle island with friendly animals…

Ratatouille <– correct spelling. What a wonderful film! Life, art, cooking. Can’t beat it.

Mary Poppins <– Good whenever things look too bleak. Sing along with “Chimchiminee”!! And, if you don’t see this, how can you get the “Juuuulieeee Andrewssss” (in the rich, fruity, voice) that Peter Cook uses for abracadabra in the original Bedazzled?

Monster House <– Effectivly scary, engaging, good lessons blah blah. Nice movie.

Avatar the last Air Bender<– this TV animated show comes in season and movie length servings. Good stuff.

Get Smart <– I was cringing as we went in but it turns out to be faithful to the spirit of the Don Adams/Barbara Feldman original without trying to channel them. A pleasant surprise.

Madagascar – if you can watch it for free, the penguins are worth your time.

The Pursuit of Happiness – Will Smith shines in this gently but firmly told story of a medical equipment salesman who looses his job and makes his way, homeless, with his young child, back into employment. If you don’t smile at the end you have no heart. Serious drama, suitable for all.

Men In Black. Tommy Lee Jones as the tough lawman he seems to have been born to play, Will Smith as the new guy, and its the True Story of the Aliens All Around Us. Jones and Smith are trerrific fun playing off each other, the New York locations are fun, the gags, gimicks and awesome weapons are thrilling. Of course they win in the end. A complete treat.

Night At The Museum <– The first Ben Stiller film I really liked. He plays deliberately unlikable characters, a discovery that he can make comedy without being likable (Mary, the Fockers, etc.)

A bit (only a bit) more grown up:
Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III. Johnny Depp is an astounding conceptualizer – taking a theme park ride and a one-liner (“pirates were the rock stars of their day…”) as a point of departure and creating three well made films and a zillion dollar licensing empire. It works big because it works on a small scale first and foremost. He’s completely serious. Funny as his basing Capt. Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards is, having the real Keith play the Captain’s father in the third film, successfully, is a master’s touch. Coulda been awful. Instead its great fun.

Hellboy (I) I can’t vouch for the second film but the first one is Way Cool, and the role of a lifetime for the star. The action plot didn’t do much for me but I could have watched the characters for another hour or two. Its Stephen King in reverse- the plot is just a skeleton to hang terrific characters on.

Speaking of Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is based on a story of his and is the one piece of his work I like. The movie has violent and unpleasant moments, but its a classic, lovely to watch, and some (not all) bad deeds are punished. Its eye candy and the story is told straight forwardly by and of guys who’s clothing identifies their characters standing in one place or another…Very old fashioned in that way. For when you get tired of computer generated animation. A “real movie”.

Bend It Like Beckham – Two girls in London are friends and very good soccer players- against the (different) wishes of both sets of parents. Two parallel family comedies with a sports-friends story mixed in. Of course there’s an older sister’s wedding and a thousand complications. Very, very, nice. Happy ending, of course!

Raising Arizona. <– the opening sequence is the funniest Nicholas Cage has ever been and apparently ever will be. Holly Hunter is sweet and completely winning as the cop who loves him, and their mad scheme to kidnap one of a set of quituplets is a left turn straight to Toon Town. All ends well, and Hunter and Cage’s characters visibly grow in wisdom. They make an awesome screen couple- they make it look SO easy. My brother knows people who bought only Huggies for their kid because of this film.

Tampopo. <– One of my top 10 movies of all time. I have to think about the other 9, but this is one without question. It has two ‘false’ beginnings before you really see the main character (Goro) and his assistant driver (Gunn) ride into town on a rainy night- they stop for noodles in a bad part of town, stopping bullies from beating up the son of the restaurant owner and chef. The rain pours down. The noodles are not very good, and the bad guys hanging out in the restaurant start a fight with Goro, the older man, which he loses. (you’ve seen this Western, yes?)

As he prepares to ride away, the next morning, the restaurantier, a widowed woman who’s husband started the restraunt and then died, asks Goro to teach her to cook noodles correctly, and he agrees. What follows is something
sorta like Seven Samauri or The Magnificent Seven, as experts in all fields of ramen are gathered together to teach Tampopo (Dandylion) the craft she aspires to. Frequently, someone will cross the screen and the camera will turn and follow them into a food-related subplot… The gangster from the first ‘beginnning’ re-appears. All is resolved. And the two truck drivers drive off into the sunset…

Michael Clayton <– If the Gray Suit Maker’s Association of America isn’t buying George Clooney’s wardrobe you can’t tell by looking. Damn! The man is a Movie Star, never more so than when things seem against him. Really, really, enjoyable stuff.

O Brother Where Art Thou <– a take on the Odessey, sorta, set in the depression era South. Its so good Clooney’s character can’t steal the whole thing. Glorious. Hilarious. Liberating.

Fargo. Not for kids- very dark, but VERY funny. William Macy is an unlikable auto dealer whose financial shenanigans are coming unglued. He hires a couple of bad, bad, guys in a harebrained plot to make big money, quickly, and things go wrong immediately. Frances McDormand is the chief of police, a cop’s cop, also pregnant, and a rich mix of subplots appear as she solves the crime and brings the malefactors to justice.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. An able and good hearted woman who is a bit of a square peg, awkward, without friends, recently fired, muscles her way into a personal secretary’s job for a classic 30s screwball comedy socialite and actress. With an outsider’s clarity, and the the stark realization she has nothing to loose, she be comes
indespensible, untangling her employer’s life, finding her own feet and a very happy ending. McDormand is just a joy to watch when she has a good part, like this.

No Country for Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones, again, this time in a riveting, dark, story, impecibly acted, written and filmed. You can’t look away, although its not always nice to watch. Xavier Barden’s bad bad guy in a bad hair cut is One Scary Dude, and Josh Brolin, at the center of the story, is compelling and sympathetic, with a controlled
intensity that keeps hope alive.

The Big Lebowski. ANOTHER Coen brothers movie, with John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as memorable supporting characters. Jeff Bridges IS the slacker named The Dude (Lebowski), possibly the best performance of his life. When bad guys ruin his rug, mistaking him for the BIG Lebowski, a millionare, he enlists his bowling buddies to help him sort it out. “Aw, that rug pulled the whole room together”. A Paen to slackers. I don’t think Bridges ever wears long pants.

Buscemi is unique, as always (will he and the Coens ever run out of ideas?) and Goodman’s haunted, Vietnam
vet shows every gratuitus PSD sufferer on screen the door. Its amazing how one good role and performance can completely wipe away a generation’s lazy short-hand for character development. LIke all the Coen’s movies I’ve seen, this one celibrates the individual and those who strive to do good in a world they’ll never completely understand, or master.

Tropic Thunder <– the second Ben Stiller movie I like- again his character isn’t that likable, but the ensemble acting, the comedy and the drama mixed in with it are absolutely first rate. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. are superb, and if its all not quite politically correct enough for some, sorry ’bout that. This is what “Hip and ireverant” was originally meant to convey.

Saving Private Ryan <– War movies are necessarilly part of indoors and bad weather. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that freedom isn’t free, perhaps especially at the holidays. Speilberg can’t stop himself from making this a bit of a comic book, and I hold that against him, but Hanks and the rest of the cast and crew are superb.

Seasonal:
Elf <– Every scene is perfect. He can really act, its nothing like his sports comedies.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas <– Chuck Jone’s animated version. Right length, perfect in every respect. Pair with:
A Charlie Brown Christmas <– The actual Christmas story, great music, superb characterizations. Nothing wasted.
Miracle on 34th Street <– Kris Kringle IS Santa Claus. Pair with
Its a Wonderful Life <– Another great holiday tradition