Film and television – a mid-year review

Seen anything good on the tele lately…?!?!

Me neither. That’s why I borrow films and tele series’ from the library! It’s a much better way of being in control of what you’re actually watching during screen time, and you can tailor your viewing to perfectly suit your taste and your timetable, WIN-WIN and, no more infomercials!!

And it’s really just about good old-fashioned storytelling isn’t it!? For me, film and television is a coming-together of multiple artforms that, when it’s done well, has the ability to move you at a level many other artforms might not individually.

So here’s a list of the best films and series’ that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing this year, so far – many more to come!

2018 – The Best of Film and Television

List created by DevilStateDan

These are the best films and television series’ that I have explored throughout the year so far, all available to you through Christchurch City Libraries membership.

The fencer – Post WWII Estonia. The Germans are gone and the Russians are taking control. They’re especially interested in those Estonians that fought for the Germans and are systematically hunting them out. This story is about one such man, a world-class fencer who is concealing himself as a sports teacher for a country college. This is a stunning and heartfelt film about humanity, strength, and love.

Get Out – A gripping story of a young black man heading away for a weekend with his as-yet un-met in-laws… what comes after is a web of dark intrigue and something is definitely not right!

The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch – Ever wanted to know more about the mysterious Hieronymus Bosch?!? Then get a load of this – it’s a part of the ‘Exhibition on Screen’ series that takes viewers on a tour of the works and life of some of history’s great artists. This one is all about Hieronymus Bosch and is surprising in its revelations about who he was and where his inspirations were drawn, plus you get up close with some of his most amazing works!

Chasing Trane – The latest telling of the life, love, and music of the great jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane. Rare footage and loads of interviews with music legends that were close to him. He was truly a musical visionary and died at such a young age from liver cancer, it begs the questions of how much more impact could he have had on contemporary music!? A must-watch for all music fans!

Saint Amour – An old man and his adult son go on a wine-tasting road trip around France in order to reconnect. Sounds normal, but this is French comedy and things get strange! Good story.

The Limehouse Golem – I really liked this film – a Victorian Whodunnit! I loved the Victorian era look of it, the clever direction, the story was weaving and uncertain – as it should be for a classic whodunnit! And the acting was solid and dramatic without being over the top. It’s a small shame that I picked the killer in the first 20mins but I still liked the story and enjoyed it to the end!

The Dinner – A family of privileged white Americans meet for a very posh dinner to discuss an incident that involved their children. The details slowly emerge as the film unfolds and explores the issues of parenting, mental health, social navigations etc. Great performances from the four lead actors.

Detectorists – A short series about the engrossing world of metal detecting in rural Britain. Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (from the Office, and Pirates of the Caribbean), it’s full of pathos and at once hilarious, cringey-embarrassing, and full of heart. It’s about how even small lives are big and important and that everyone deserves to be happy. Highly recommended if you like British comedy.

Rellik – A dark and twisted crime series with an uniusual device; the story is told in reverse. We begin with the outcome of a police investiagtion into a series of acid-burn murders, from there we go back in increments of hours/days as the foundations are explored and new light begins to show on reasons for behaviours evident earlier/later… it’s a little confusing to explain so just watch it, it’s quality crime drama!

Swinging Safari – A gloriously retro look at family life in 1970’s Australia. Try to think of every brand name, in-safe parenting practice, cliché, and add a bit of over-styling and you’ve got it. Loosely wrapped as a coming-of-age story, it centres around 3 Aussie families living, loving, and loafing. Very funny film, especially if you’ve lived through some of these circumstances.

For more view the full list

Long ago, in a rapidly expanding galaxy, far, far away

Prepare yourselves. From this point on things are going to get increasingly Star Wars-y.

My meaning is two-fold.

Star Wars Reads day First, the official annual celebration of Star Wars and reading, Star Wars Reads Day is tomorrow. Shirley Library is playing host to a day of fun and activities and even some special Star Wars guests. It should be fun so if you’re a fan or have one in the family you should consider heading along.

Second, a new Star Wars movies is scheduled for release just before Christmas. On 17 December Episode VII: The Force Awakens (hits cinemas). Expect to see A LOT of merch in the shops between now and Christmas.

The Force Awakens is the first of the Star Wars movies to be made by Disney rather than Lucasfilm, and kicks off another trilogy (the third) in the scifi space saga. But that’s not all because some standalone films are planned, and then there’s the TV series’ and… you know what? Let’s make a nice list of these things. This is starting to feel like that time I tried to explain the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Long ago, in the seventies and eighties…

Cover of The making of Star WarsThe original Star Wars trilogy comprised of –

George Lucas had always envisaged his rollicking space yarn as the middle segment of a much broader tale but I can imagine people in 1977 being confused and wondering whether they’d somehow missed the first 3 instalments. For much of my young life I believed, somewhat despondently, that these would be the only Star Wars films ever made. Boy, was I wrong about that…

A new millennium (falcon)

Cover of Star Wars Episode I The Phantom menaceIn the meantime George Lucas and crew got busy making the first part of the story, in the process inventing, or at least popularising, the word “prequel”.

An animated series “Star Wars: Clone Wars” aired on the Cartoon Network (and online) between 2003-2005 and bridged the gap between episodes II and III.

I hoped at this point that this was the end of Star Wars viewing opportunities. Boy, was I wrong about that…

Interregnum

Cover of The Clone Wars episode guideAfter the dust had settled a bit, Lucasfilm, capitalising on the derring-do aspect of the pre-Sith Anakin Skywalker character, and the success of the Clone Wars series made another animated series set between episodes II and III called, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I did say this was a bit confusing.

A very Disney future

Cover of Star Wars Rebels the visual guideIn 2012 The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm and all the rights to Lucasfilm properties including Star Wars. Disney got into the swing of things Star Wars with their own animated television series set between episodes III and IV.

But they more famously committed to a new trilogy of Star Wars films –

However, there’s also a Star Wars anthology series of stand-alone films. A trilogy of films that exist in the same Star Wars universe but are unrelated stories.

  • Rogue One (2016) – Set between episodes III and IV, so before the original 1977 Star Wars film, the plot revolves around a band of resistance fighters stealing the plans to a huge Death Star battle station. Production is currently underway.
  • Untitled Han Solo film (2018) – Set between episodes III and IV but before Rogue One, this film will have a youthful Han Solo so definitely not Harrison Ford.
  • Untitled third film (2019) – Your guess is as good as mine. No details on this one yet.

So we’re pretty much going to have a new Star Wars movie every year for the rest of this decade. Depending on your inclination this either makes you feel tired or really, really excited. If you’re the latter we have literally hundreds of Star Wars items in our catalogue.

May the books be with you!

Cover of The making of Star Wars Revenge of the SithCover of Star Wars absolutely everything you need to knowCover of Star Wars the ultimate action figure collectionCover of Star Wars wheres science meets imaginationCover of Star Was the complete visual dictionaryCover of The secret life of droids

It’s not vegetating, it’s enriching – honest! Binge watching TV

I’ve recently become a convert to ‘binge watching’ television series. Instead of the days where you had to watch an episode a week of your favourite drama, waiting desperately for Sunday night to roll around again,  there are so many ways you can set some time aside and watch episode after episode. The Guitar Man and I like to watch 2-3 at a time for a few nights in a row. Three such series we’ve watched recently that you can get from Christchurch City Libraries in boxed sets, are Peaky Blinders, Outlander and Hinterland.

Dinosaurs relax watching TV
Dinovember display at New Brighton Library, November 2014. Flickr CCL-2014-11-05-DinovemberNB-DSC.JPG

These are all very different and interesting in their own ways:

Peaky Blinders is a tale of gangs on the gritty streets of Birmingham after the First World War. It stars not only Cillian Murphy, he of the startling blues eyes and chiselled features, but our own Sam Neill, with a very impressive Northern Ireland accent. It’s a fascinating watch and one thing I enjoyed was the lack of ‘Game of Thrones’ gratuitous violence and random sex scenes. It’s gritty all right, but not excessive. There are strong women together with men both damaged by war and desperate to make better lives, in any way possible.

You think I’m a whore? Everyone’s a whore Grace, we just sell different parts of ourselves.

Outlander is a television adaption of the Diana Gabaldon series of books of the same name.  I’ve not read the books, as romantic history is not usually my bag, but it proved to be quite a riveting series, full of Scottish highland scenery, intrigue, romance, fights, and enough hearty men in kilts to keep anyone into hearty men in kilts happy. I also find you can never go wrong with a Scottish accent.

Hinterland is a gritty bleak murder mystery series, set, not in Scandinavia as all my favourite ones have been lately, such as The Killing and The Bridge, but in Aberystwyth, Wales. Interestingly, it is the first series to be filmed in both English and Welsh, with two different versions made. Each scene was done in English, then immediately in Welsh for the first time ever. Sadly, my Welsh leaves a little to be desired, so I only saw the English version. Wales does bleak very well and Tom Mathias, is a troubled DCI with a mystery past. It’s tightly scripted with great characters, but some of the crime scenes were a little bloody and graphic, just a heads up if you’re not into that sort of thing.

With the winter dragging on, perhaps a little binge watching is in order. Do you have some favourites?

Enlightened television

In our household we like a good TV series. In fact, we like to totally immerse ourselves . In the winter of 2010 it was The Wire that captured our lives. Jimmy, Omar, Kima, Lester and the city of Baltimore were beamed into our living room every night for weeks on end. We watched Season 1, 2, 3, and 4, we were addicted. We were drawn in by the complex storylines, well-developed characters and gritty social and political realism. It was a wonderful distraction during a difficult time.

We followed this with more series, a couple being Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire both compulsive and thrilling watches. More recently it has been Enlightened. This was recommended by a couple of colleagues, independent of each other. Librarians can be counted on for their recommendations.

DVDs at South LibraryDVDs at South Library

We watched the ten half-hour episodes in one night and were well satisfied with our viewing. I did say we immersed ourselves. We talked about Enlightened after watching it, we talked about it the next morning, and I continued talking about it when I got to work. It was enlightening.

The series begins with forty year old Amy, played by Laura Dern, returning home to live with her mother after spending the last couple of months at the Open Air Retreat following a self-destructive breakdown. Amy now intends to change herself, she is determined to make the world a better place, and begins each episode with some new age insight. Her good intentions are thwarted by her self obsessed personality and she goes on to create havoc at home and work. This sets the scene for some memorable interactions with her mother, ex-husband and co-workers.

Enlightened is full of irony, very funny and yet is an unsettling watch. In fact, it can be cringe making and compelling at the same time. It is an intriguing watch as Amy’s philosophical awakening gradually uncovers a dark side to corporate America. If you need a good thought provoking television series then look no further. You will not be disappointed.

What television series would you recommend for these last winter days?

Murder in the Relentless Rain

My Christmas reading took a serious hit after being introduced to a certain  television series on DVD. I had a plan, there were books to read, magazines to skim, recipes to make from borrowed cookbooks, but it all got cast aside for a good, long dose of murder, political intrigue and endless rain.

The Killing is a Danish TV series. It  is about to start its third season in the UK, but you can find the first two seasons on the library shelves. It is completely enthralling, but it takes stamina, determination and a comfy chair. For the first season, you will dedicate yourself to 2o hours of viewing, with subtitles, which means you can’t wander off and make a cuppa while listening to the dialog and every minute you will have to watch (lesson learnt – you can’t ice the Christmas cake or check Facebook while watching it).

Now, this may seem like I’m trying to put you off, but I assure you, for your dedication you will be rewarded with a rich, involving series that actually engages the brain cells. Each episode leaves you thinking.. “What the…” and “But I thought…”. It has gone on to win a Bafta award and an International Emmy.

And at the end you’ll want to watch it all over again (almost) – to spot the red herrings, the connections between the characters and to find out who knew what when. You’ll also be struck by the sheer dreariness of a November in Copenhagen, boy does it rain! It looks like a fascinating and beautiful place, but I’d seriously look at a different time of year to visit.

The main character, Chief Inspector Sara Lund,  is as laconic and tightly wound as a person could get. Her passion for wearing the same two jumpers throughout the episodes, has apparently spawned a cult following, with people now being able to buy replica home spun jumpers on-line. But at the end, you’ll be rooting for her as much as you’ll be frustrated by her.

As our catalog describes it:

 As the investigation unfolds, Copenhagen opens up like a Chinese box, full of secrets and power struggles.

With Season Two, you’ll be rewarded with only 10 episodes to get through, but an equally enthralling story. I’m about to start reading How to be Danish: From Lego to Lund , hopefully this will enlighten me as to the city, the people and maybe even the weather?

Have you watched or did you give up at episode 3? Do you have a favourite series that just hooked you in?

Jackson Brodie: the shirtless detective

Alright, you lot:  hands up who missed Wednesday night’s screening of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories?

Really?  Sorry to hear that – you missed a treat. Even without the above-referenced (and much-mentioned-in-reviews) shirtlessness, it was a GREAT adaptation of the first of the Jackson Brodie series. I’ve read the books, so was pretty prepared for the story to be quite full in terms of characters and plots, but my family hadn’t read any, and still coped remarkably well with the large number of missing/murdered/misunderstood girls and young women in Brodie’s life.

I thought the script and casting and characterisation were all pretty much spot on, and there were never any moments where I thought: Hang on, THAT’s not what happened in the book …  And I will definitely be tuning in next week for book number two: One Good Turn.

So that’s MY 5 minute lightning-fast take on Case Histories, the TV series – what’s yours?

Hooked on the Wire

Some of you have already discovered the brilliant television series The Wire – it’s always being borrowed by someone. Like me, for instance.Cover image of "Homicide : a year on the killing streets"

I didn’t watch the series when it was being screened (late at night) on TV. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until an American friend and I were discussing our favourite programmes, and she shrieked “What?! You’ve never watched the Wire?! Oh man, YOU’VE GOTTA SEE IT!”

Now things that elicit this much enthusiasm in a person intrigue me, so I went to the  catalogue immediately. I was pleased to see the library had all five seasons of it. I was not so pleased to find out I would have to wait though,  for every copy was out on loan. Obviously my friend was not the only one who enjoyed the show.

When it finally turned up on the holds shelf under my name, I wasted no time introducing it to my DVD player.  It was love at first episode.  I am in the middle of season four now, and there’s a teeny tiny part of me that wishes my friend had never told me about the Wire. I have spent sunny days inside with the curtains closed to watch it. Once I’ve finished the fifth and final season, I’ll probably need to go to rehab. Yes, I’m that addicted.

Summing up the Wire in one sentence is difficult. The series takes you on a tour of the poorest parts of Baltimore city, introducing you to drug dealers, police officers and politicians who are, in many ways, more alike than what they want to admit. What makes it so good? The characters, the dialogue, the location, the plot. It’s gritty and shocking, but also funny and touching. The story unfolds like a rollercoaster ride, slow in parts and quick in others, twisting and turning, climbing and diving towards an end where everything is connected and no one really wins.

So if you are looking for a good TV series to get hooked on this winter, try The Wire. Just make sure you have a comfortable couch, warm blanket and lots of tasty snacks before you push play, because you won’t be going anywhere for a while. Trust me.

As for those of you who are already fans of the show, what are some of your favourite scenes? Who is your favourite character? And most importantly, what version of the theme song “Down in the Hole” did you like the best?